How Orioles could split time at first base

January 6th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill's Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Ryan Mountcastle is Baltimore’s top first baseman after starting 205 games there over the past two seasons, including 123 in 2022. He’s entering ‘23 as the obvious starter at the position.

But who else will spend time at first? That’s a bit less clear.

Mountcastle isn’t going to start all 162 games at first base. He made 21 starts at designated hitter last season, and he’ll be in the DH rotation again this year. Plus, his offensive numbers dipped a bit from 2021 to ‘22, when he posted a career-low .729 OPS.

Set to turn 26 years old on Feb. 18, Mountcastle likely still hasn’t reached his full potential. He could take his game to another level in 2023, and he’s going to get ample opportunities to do so.

However, the O’s have expressed their desire to carry a left-handed hitter on their roster who can complement the right-handed-hitting Mountcastle at first base. They’d also likely want to have another option to turn to in case Mountcastle falls into a slump at any point.

Let’s break down the candidates who could get some time at first base in the upcoming season:

Lewin Díaz
It’s been an eventful offseason for Díaz, who has been designated for assignment by four teams, including the Orioles on Dec. 21. The 26-year-old was traded from Baltimore to Atlanta on Dec. 23, but he returned to the O’s on Thursday, when they claimed him off waivers from the Braves.

If Díaz makes it to camp with the Orioles, he’ll be a prime candidate for a reserve role. He hasn’t had much offensive success in the Majors over the past three seasons with the Marlins (a .181/.227/.340 slash line with 13 homers and 27 RBIs in 112 games), but he’s a solid defender at first, where he has made 86 big league starts.

When Baltimore brought back Díaz, the club DFA’d Ryan O’Hearn, whom it had acquired in exchange for cash considerations in a trade with Kansas City on Tuesday. If the 29-year-old O’Hearn clears waivers and stays in the O’s system, he could also compete for a roster spot in the spring.

Franchy Cordero
Unlike Díaz, Cordero is not on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, as the 28-year-old inked a Minor League deal last month. But he’s also a lefty hitter with experience at first, and if he impresses in camp, he may prove to be deserving of a 26-man roster spot.

A six-year big league veteran, Cordero slashed .219/.300/.397 with eight homers in 84 games for the Red Sox last season. He might have a bit more offensive upside than Díaz, but he’s struggled defensively at first, where he committed eight errors in 53 games in 2022.

Adley Rutschman and/or James McCann
Could the Orioles rotate their two catchers to serve as backup first basemen? Perhaps. Both have a bit of experience at the position, and it would be a way to get the switch-hitting Rutschman into the lineup even more, if he proves he can handle the extra workload.

McCann, who was traded from the Mets to the O’s on Dec. 21, recently shared that in his initial call with the team, he was told that both he and Rutschman could get time at first and/or DH. That may still be a possibility in some lineup combinations even if Díaz or Cordero makes the team.