SARASOTA, Fla. -- While it’s still early in Spring Training, Richie Martin is doing all he can to make the Orioles’ decisions difficult come time to break camp at the end of the month.
Martin, who played 117 games at shortstop as a rookie last season, is slashing .333/.400/.722 through eight Grapefruit League games, numbers that include two doubles, a triple, a homer and a monster four-RBI game against the Pirates.
The results come from a small sample, but are still a welcome sight at the plate after Martin struggled to a .208 average in 120 games in 2019. Thrown into the mix after the O’s nabbed him in the Rule 5 Draft, the now-25-year-old learned on the go at the plate and worked to a .971 fielding percentage at shortstop (224 assists, 10 errors).
“I pretty much just stuck with what I learned last year,” Martin said. “It was good to be in the fire last year and kind of learn and grow from that. I just took that and kind of build on it every day.”
When Baltimore signed José Iglesias on Jan. 7, it filled a veteran need at shortstop and also put Martin’s immediate future in question. For starters, the move expanded the Orioles’ options with Martin: For example, they can now send their sophomore to Triple-A for a little more seasoning or bring him on in a utility role.
They might also opt for another one of several contenders, some who, like offseason waiver acquisition Andrew Velazquez and Pat Valaika, are also impressing staff and fans this spring. Valaika is tied for the O’s lead with three Grapefruit League homers, and Velazquez is tied for tops with three stolen bases.
“There are a lot of question marks right now with a lot of our guys and what our roster is going to look like,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “[Martin is] swinging the bat great right now, and he’s definitely making a bid.”
That bid includes reaching out to veterans for guidance, something Martin said he’s done with Iglesias more than once. Martin chose a solid brain to pick: Iglesias is an eight-year veteran and 2015 All-Star who’s made a name for himself with his flashy defensive moves and ranking in the 97th percentile in Outs Above Average in ’19.
What’s better is that Iglesias is prepared to mentor in the field as Martin continues to cut his teeth in the big leagues.
“I ask him questions. He’s amazing with the glove,” Martin said of Iglesias. “I like just sitting back and watching him sometimes; it’s impressive. I used to watch videos from guys like him online growing up, so it’s cool to see in person, and just to pick his brain and learn from him.”
“I like Richie. He’s a young guy that is hungry to get better,” Iglesias said in turn. “He’s willing to learn, and I’m willing to help him out each and every day if I can.
“It feels right. It makes me feel good and makes me work harder.”
Martin is tight-lipped about his various tweaks and personal goals for the spring, but Hyde made specific mention of the infielder’s swing adjustments and approach to fastballs. Hyde also mentioned that Martin will see time at second base as well this spring.
If he’s done enough in this short stretch that the O’s are trying to create opportunities for him, Martin is more than happy. If there’s not a spot for him quite yet, however, he’s willing to work until there is.
His early spring results are a testament to that already.
“I’m always trying to put myself in the best position to feel confident and trust in what I do, and that just comes with preparation,” Martin said. “We take leaps in the offseason and in practice, so I’m just trying to maintain that.”