Richie Martin has heard the whispers about starting the season in the minors to give more time to work on his swing.
The steady infielder is not ready to concede that he won’t be in the Orioles’ lineup on Opening Day.
“I can’t make those decisions,” Martin said at the recent Birdland Caravan in White Marsh, Md. “I’m not even thinking [about it]. I’m going to go and play my game and do what I can and control what I can control and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
While Martin is exceptional defensively, he has struggled with his bat. Last season, he slashed .208/.260/.322 with six homers, 23 RBIs and 10 stolen bases throughout 120 games (309 plate appearances).
Furthermore, the Orioles signed longtime infielder José Iglesias to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with a $3.5 million option in 2021 in January. Iglesias is expected to take over the job as the everyday shortstop and provide a spark to the young team.
Iglesias, 30, appeared in 146 games (136 starts) for the Cincinnati Reds last season. He slashed .288/.318/.407 with a career-high 11 home runs, 62 runs scored and 59 RBIs. He was second on the Reds in hits (145) and games played and was the team’s recipient of the 2019 Heart and Hustle Award.
Martin, who turned 25 in December, understands his best chance to make the major-league club might be as a utility infielder or primary backup to Iglesias. Martin has also played some second base at the minor-league level. The active roster will grow from 25 to 26 this year, and that extra roster spot must be used on a position player.
“That guy is amazing,” Martin said of Iglesias. “His glove is unbelievable. Some of his tricks that he does, glove flips to second, throws off-balance, I study that stuff and I watch guys like him. It’s going to be cool to have him in the same locker room and be able to watch him and compete against him.”
As a Rule 5 player, Martin had to remain on the major-league roster for the duration of the 2019 season or the Orioles would have risked losing him. Martin was a first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics in the 2015 MLB Draft and was their No. 12 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) before being scooped up by the Orioles.
Now that Martin fulfilled his Rule 5 requirements, he can spend some time with one of the Orioles’ minor-league affiliates. The Orioles can take a more patient approach with Martin and give him the time and coaching to further his development.
General manager Mike Elias likes Martin’s potential and is confident that he can play a key role in the future of the rebuilding franchise. Elias, however, wants to ensure the team handles him properly.
“Last year, when you take a guy straight out of Double-A in the Rule 5 draft and stick him in the American League East, it’s not necessarily the smoothest development curve, and Richie did great,” Elias said when the club signed Iglesias. “Kept his head above water. He played great defense for us. He showed us some tools.
“But this will allow him to get back on a natural development track, take some of the pressure off us relying on him to play shortstop and then give him somebody to look up to. … It will probably be a good thing for him overall.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox