Bullish in Baltimore

Earlier in the offseason, I ran a review on some of the guys who I considered to be the best players available in December’s Rule 5 Draft. Of the six guys I mentioned, the Baltimore Orioles were able to secure two of them: infielders Drew Jackson and Richie Martin. This pair of shrewd, buy-low pick-ups could very well be the Orioles double-play combo of the future. While most prospect analysts are somewhat bearish on the pair, mainly due to offensive questions, I believe that these concerns are rather overblown.

Despite slashing a solid .300/.368/.439 in Double-A last season, Fangraphs gave Martin’s bat a scouting grade of 35 and MLB.com gave him a 45. Some may point to his somewhat high BABIP of .357 as a cause for concern, but what many fail to see is that his bat has progressed rather steadily since he was drafted in 2015. Here are his batting lines over his career with the BABIP neutralized to the league average of .300:

  • 2015 (Class A Short Season): 226 plate appearances, .232/.348/.337 (.685), 20.8% K-rate, 11.1% BB-rate, two home runs, seven stolen bases
  • 2016 (Class A Advanced): 382 plate appearances, .244/.338/.328 (.666), 19.1% K-rate, 9.4% BB-rate, three home runs, 12 stolen bases
  • 2017 (Double-A): 235 plate appearances: .258/.340/.349 (.689), 17.5% K-rate, 7.4% BB-rate, three home runs, 12 stolen bases
  • 2018 (Double-A): 509 plate appearances: .247/.311/.382 (.693), 16.9% K-rate, 8.6% BB-rate, six home runs, 25 stolen bases

Martin has seen his strikeout totals fall and his contact rates rise over time, while showing improvements in both the stolen base and power departments. Meanwhile, his walk rates have remained rather stable between 8%-12%, which is above average.  Obviously, Martin could very well face some growing pains going from hitting in Double-A to the major leagues, but what we’ve seen is his ability to make improvements over time. My projections have his overall slash line taking a bit of a hit, with a .219/.293/.334 line and a .286 BABIP (or .233/.307/.348 neutralized), but his contact rates are projected to be very similar with a 16.32% K-rate and an 8.12% BB-rate.

Based on his well-above average glove, Martin should see the vast majority of reps at short, with a projected 282 plate appearances. Going into 2020, he will have had a full season of major league reps under his belt. Based on his mature approach at the plate, I would expect his contact rate to plateau at around 77% with the walk rate increasing to roughly 9% and his strikeout rate coming in at about 14%. Long term, I would put prime Martin at a .260/.350/.375 hitter with an annual case for a Gold Glove.

I would consider myself to be even more bullish on the 25-year-old Jackson. The former Dodgers’ farmhand oozes tools while bringing just enough polish in his game to reap the benefits of them. Here are Jackson’s BABIP-neutralized numbers throughout his career:

  • 2015 (Class A Short Season): 266 plate appearances, .244/.318/.333 (.651 OPS), 13.2% K-rate, 11.3% BB-rate, two home runs, 47 stolen bases
  • 2016: (Class A Advanced): 596 plate appearances, .248/.322/.335 (.657 OPS), 17.6% K-rate, 8.4% BB-rate, six home runs, 16 stolen bases
  • 2017: (Class A Advanced): 298 plate appearances, .238/.351/.413 (.764 OPS), 22.5% K-rate, 11.4% BB-rate, eight home runs, 14 stolen bases
  • 2017: (Double-A): 130 plate appearances, .229/.341/.319 (.660), 21.5% K-rate, 8.5% BB-rate, one home run, seven stolen bases
  • 2018: (Double-A): 410 plate appearances, .253/.358/.449 (.807), 22.7% K-rate, 11% BB-rate, 15 home runs, 22 stolen bases

Over time, Jackson has matured as a hitter, watching his walk rate become more consistent and his swing produce more power. While I don’t see Jackson ever hitting for much average, my expectation is that of a .250/.365/.425 hitter who can be counted on for an annual 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases while playing exceptional defense at second base and the ability to play center field if needed. My expectation is that his adjustment period to the major leagues will be a bit shorter than Martin’s. While I have him projected to hit for the same average as Martin initially, his on-base and power numbers look as though they could be higher. I have him slashing .219/.311/.372 with a .280 BABIP, translating to a neutralized .239/.331/.392. I have him walking at a 9.09% clip compared to a 19.12% strikeout rate.

While the Orioles seem likely to fall toward the cellar of the American League for a second consecutive season, these two will at least give the fans in Baltimore a bit of hope for the future.

As a bonus, here is my projected 2022 Orioles Opening Day roster:

CF: Cedric Mullins

SS: Richie Martin

LF: Yusniel Diaz

DH: Ryan Mountcastle

3B: Rylan Bannon

2B: Drew Jackson

1B: Renato Nunez

C: Chance Sisco

RF: Austin Hays

Rotation: Grayson Rodriguez, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer, Brenan Hanifee, Luis Ortiz

Bullpen: Tanner Scott, Branden Kline, Zach Pop, Dillon Tate, Blaine Knight, Cody Carroll, DL Hall

Bench: Brett Cumberland, Ryan McKenna, Adam Hall, D.J. Stewart

**Rio Ruiz could threaten to take a spot from Nunez or Stewart.

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