With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training next week, we're taking a position-by-position look at the Orioles' roster options and remaining questions. In this installment, we take a look at third base, where as many as a dozen players could be fighting for playing time.
The incumbent: Renato Núñez
Nothing is guaranteed for Nunez, who ended up being a nice surprise for the O's down the stretch in 2018. But he gets the initial nod due to how he finished the year, hitting .288 with a .815 OPS over his final 53 games. The 24-year-old hit for power in the Minors but was waived twice in a month last year before landing in Baltimore. Nunez will have to continue to hit this spring, given the glut of infielders set to compete down in Sarasota, Fla.
The challengers: Rio Ruiz, Hanser Alberto
The left-handed-hitting Ruiz offers a natural platoon option, though the right-handed Nunez has actually fared better against righties over his brief career. Though with just 487 career plate appearances between them, the sample sizes for Nunez and Ruiz might both be too small to properly assess.
Either way, the O's new front office clearly wasn't comfortable entering camp with just Nunez in the fold. Instead, the Orioles will do so with a whopping 12 players who could ostensibly slide over to the hot corner, eight of whom are on the 40-man roster, including seven who were acquired this winter.
Alberto, like Ruiz and Jack Reinheimer (more on him later), was claimed off waivers and comes with the positional flexibility Ruiz and Nunez don't. The 26-year-old was predominantly a shortstop in the Minors, and he has played both middle-infield positions at the big league level. Nunez and Ruiz have mostly been limited to the corners.
Also in the mix: Drew Jackson, Steve Wilkerson, Reinheimer
Jackson has not played beyond Double-A, but the Orioles felt he was worth taking a chance on in the Rule 5 Draft, in large part due to his versatility. Wilkerson has joked that he's going to bring nine gloves with him to camp, so he could be in the mix everywhere. The same can be said for Reinheimer, who has played second, short, third and left in his career. All speak to the skill set the O's coveted heading into a year where they plan to try out a lot of players at a lot of different places.
Truth is, every infielder in camp except Chris Davis is a candidate to see time at third base, including non-roster invites Christopher Bostick, Jace Peterson and Zach Vincej.
Prospect to watch: Ryan Mountcastle
In the end, the Orioles hope everyone else ends up being a stopgap for Mountcastle, who could debut in Baltimore as early as this summer. The club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline has hit at every level since being taken 36th overall in the 2015 Draft, including last summer at Double-A Bowie as a 21-year-old. The biggest questions center around his glove, and whether or not Mountcastle will stick at the hot corner or transition to a corner outfield spot. This spring could go a long way toward determining that.
The Minor League options remaining for Nunez and Alberto, which will likely impede their chances of making the club. Almost as much as positional versatility, teams in the O's position value roster flexibility. To win jobs, Nunez and Alberto will likely have to hit enough to outweigh those restrictions. Being out of options has already forced Alberto on and off three teams' rosters this offseason.