Mateo embracing super-utility role in 2024

February 20th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Over the past two seasons, has rarely played a position other than shortstop for the Orioles. Of his 263 fielding appearances during that time, 259 have been at short, with the other four coming in center field last year.

In 2024, Mateo’s job could expand into more of a super-utility role. Baltimore is planning on giving the 28-year-old additional spring reps in center field and second base, two positions that he worked on during the offseason and while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

If that ends up stretching into the regular season, then Mateo will embrace the opportunities.

“I’m ready for it,” Mateo said Tuesday morning in the O’s spring clubhouse. “The more at-bats, the more opportunities I have to improve everything I can do.”

A four-year big league veteran, Mateo has moved around the diamond a bit. He’s made 35 appearances in the outfield, 23 at second and nine at third. He was sometimes used as a defensive replacement at all three outfield positions while with the Padres in 2020 and ‘21.

“He just adds so much versatility to us because he can play so many other positions, and he is so athletic,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We just kind of want to keep our options open with him.”

Although Mateo hasn’t contributed a ton offensively in Baltimore -- he owns a .219/.267/.363 slash line in 266 games the past two seasons -- he’s valuable because of his defense and baserunning abilities. Mateo led the American League with 35 stolen bases in 2022, then swiped 32 more in ‘23.

Mateo had a strong first month last season, entering May with a .347/.395/.667 slash line, five doubles, six homers, 17 RBIs and 10 steals in 23 games. But he was less effective the rest of the way.

“I need to stay a little bit more focused,” Mateo said. “Be aggressive, be ready for every opportunity they give to me and be confident.”

The Orioles might need Mateo’s flexibility depending on their roster construction. If they opt to carry shortstop/second baseman Jackson Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect), they’ll still have Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Ramón Urías and Mateo. None of them are likely to be left off the team.

So Baltimore may carry only four outfielders, rather than five. In that scenario, Mateo could be a backup in center field, while first baseman Ryan O’Hearn could serve as depth in the corners.

If Holliday doesn’t make the team, then Mateo could see more time at second and short. But his versatility could still be useful over the course of a 162-game season.

Mullins shows off new ‘dad strength’
Cedric Mullins made some loud noise during the Orioles’ session of live batting practice on the Ed Smith Stadium field Tuesday morning.

Facing right-handed prospect Justin Armbruester, Mullins connected with a pitch and sent it deep into center field. So deep, in fact, that the ball hit off the top of the new scoreboard for a home run.

The extra strength? Maybe it’s because Mullins became a dad during the offseason, when he and his wife welcomed a daughter.

“I did see where it hit off of,” Mullins said of the homer, “and then I looked back and was like, ‘You know, that dad strength is kicking in a little bit.’”

Mullins set his career high in home runs in 2021, when he clubbed 30. He had 16 in ‘22 and 15 in ‘23, but perhaps the 29-year-old center fielder will tap more into his power in ‘24.

More live BP highlights
• Holliday had an impressive swing during his at-bat against right-handed prospect Seth Johnson. The 20-year-old rocketed a ball off the center-field wall for a hit that likely would have been a double in game action:

• Left-hander Cole Irvin, who is now likely to be included in Baltimore’s season-opening rotation, was the first pitcher to take the mound. His appearance featured a strikeout of Austin Hays: