Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #5: Checking in on an ex-O

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 5: 8-7 over the Seattle Mariners

2020 Topps Gypsy Queen Hanser Alberto

After a sweep by the Red Sox, the Orioles managed to right the ship with a walk-off win against the Seattle Mariners in the second game of a double header. They had battled back to send the first game into extra innings, but couldn't pull off the victory. In the second game they battled back from a four-run deficit, blew a two-run lead, and then won in the bottom of the 7th when Ramon Urias lined a single back up the middle that plated Rio Ruiz with the winning run.

Currently, Urias is the only reserve infielder on the roster. That's the joys of having a 14-player pitching staff along with 5 outfielders currently. It'll be interesting to see if that changes throughout the season, or when Austin Hayes returns. Ryan McKenna is most likely to go back to the alternate site once Hayes is healthy, but it's also possible that DJ Stewart may go back down as well.

One of the reasons that Urias is on the roster at all is because the organization opted to let Hanser Alberto walk in the off-season. The amiable infielder went through a waiver journey prior to the 2019 season where he was claimed four times, twice by the Orioles.

He rewarded them with a fantastic season slashing .305/.329/.422 in 139 games while playing second, third, left field, and right field. He also tossed an inning of relief. All together he posted a 3.6 WAR, not bad for a waiver-wire pick up making $578,000.

That was good enough to bump his salary in 2020 to $1.65 million, a figure he agreed to with the Orioles prior to going to arbitration. He justified the raise in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as he slashed .283/.306/.393.  While the numbers weren't as gaudy as what he posted in 2019, he absolutely destroyed left-handed pitching with a .375/.396/.521 slash line. For much of the season he was hitting well over .400 against lefties. The numbers are slightly more impressive when you realize that he doesn't walk, like ever. He posted 2.9% and 2.2% walk rates in his two seasons with the Birds.

In a sense, he's the opposite of the modern day hitter, and a throwback player that was more prevalent in the 1970's and 80's. He doesn't hit the ball hard (82.3 MPH average exit velocity), but he doesn't strike out a lot either carrying a 12.3 K rate over his career. He sprays the ball all over the field, pulling the ball just 36.6% of the time over his career. 

Another good season on a bad team meant he was looking at another raise in the off-season, to the tune of over $2 million. The Orioles decided they didn't want to pay that and non-tendered him. At the end of January the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor-league deal that would guarantee $1.65 million if he made the roster and another $350k in potential bonuses.

It was kind of odd that all he could garner was a minor-league deal, but teams might have been concerned about his low walk rate and tendency to swing at anything vaguely resembling a strike. Well, their loss is the Royals gain. With a strong spring training he earned a spot as a back-up infielder. While he's not going to unseat Whitt Merrifield as Kansas City's starting second baseman, he should find plenty of playing time backing up Merrifield, Nicky Lopez at short, and Hunter Dozier at third. 

So far in 2021 he's appeared in seven games and started four. Early on  his bat is taking time to warm up: .222/.222/.389. In the limited sample size, he's actually hitting better against righties (.235) than lefties (.200), but he's only had five plate appearances against southpaws so far. That number will go up as the season moves on.

Not only is he a useful ballplayer, he has fun on the field and his teammates really seem to enjoy playing with him. 

I can understand why the Orioles would let him go this season. He isn't going to be part of the next contending team and they wanted to do as much as possible to slash their payroll, but it really sucks that he's not playing in front of fans in Camden Yards. It's players like him that help make a long season tolerable. Hopefully they appreciate him in Kansas City and he gets a shot at the post season.

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