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Orioles looking for stability in outfield

Hays could play a more prominent role in 2018
MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli

With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around horn to break down each area of the Orioles, starting today with the outfielders.

The Orioles' outfield came under a fair amount of scrutiny in 2017. For a long time, the club had Adam Jones in center field and Nick Markakis entrenched in right. But since Markakis' departure after the 2014 season, it's seemed like a revolving door on both sides of Jones as the O's tried to make different pieces fit.

With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around horn to break down each area of the Orioles, starting today with the outfielders.

The Orioles' outfield came under a fair amount of scrutiny in 2017. For a long time, the club had Adam Jones in center field and Nick Markakis entrenched in right. But since Markakis' departure after the 2014 season, it's seemed like a revolving door on both sides of Jones as the O's tried to make different pieces fit.

Last season, they had rookie Trey Mancini step up and assume an everyday role in left field, which added some badly needed stability to the mix. Mancini, who moved from first base, helped give Jones some familiarity on one side with a rotating case in right that included Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo, Joey Rickard, and September callup Austin Hays.

Mancini finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting and proved to be a serviceable fielder who should only get better with more time in the outfield.

With Jones entering the final year of his contract, the outfield is an interesting position to examine. The thought is Jones will eventually move to a corner outfield spot, though manager Buck Showalter said that isn't a conversation he thinks he needs to have with Jones just yet.

Jones batted .285 with 26 home runs in 147 games. Defensive metrics suggest his fielding has dipped some in the past two years. According to FanGraphs, Jones posted a minus-10 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2016 and a minus-12 mark in 2017.

Video: BAL@MIN: Statcast™ measures Jones' two home runs

Hays was a bright spot in a small sample in right field, and heading into Spring Training he appears to be a frontrunner for the spot. A third-round Draft pick in 2016, Hays moved quickly last season. He began the season at Class A Advanced Frederick and ended it in Baltimore. He hit .329 with a .958 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) between Frederick and Double-A Bowie and is considered to be an above-average defender. Hays showcased his arm in his brief time with the O's and held his own at the plate.

Hays also has the ability to back up Jones in center, a move that could help spell the veteran outfielder and keep Jones healthier down the stretch.

Switch-hitting Anthony Santander, selected in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, is another possibility.

Santander was hurt most of last season. so he will need to spend the first month and a half on the active roster before he's eligible to be optioned to the Minor Leagues. The O's still like Santander's bat -- he hits .267 in 13 games with Baltimore -- though it remains to be seen if he can hold his own defensively in the Major Leagues.

Rickard and Trumbo are returning players and could see some time in right, and there's always the possibility the Orioles add an external option this winter. One of their priorities this offseason is adding a left-handed bat and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette mentioned at last month's Winter Meetings that it very could come in the form of an outfielder.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Baltimore Orioles, Austin Hays, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini