Sánchez believes he could be O's starting 2B

Righty Eshelman to start Sunday's Grapefruit League opener vs. Bucs

February 25th, 2021

When the Orioles traded for José Iglesias prior to the 2020 season, nobody anticipated the type of offensive year he’d enjoy. The famously glove-first Iglesias got off to a white-hot start and took advantage of the shortened sample, hitting .373/.400/.556 with 20 extra-base hits in 39 games.

They were numbers that, yes, probably would have deflated had the season extended to its normal length. But they also hint at the kind of offensive upside the O’s hope to mine from their brand new middle infield this season, after trading Iglesias to the Angels and signing Freddy Galvis, and replacing Hanser Alberto with Yolmer Sánchez at second base. Both Galvis and Sánchez are known for their gloves at this stage in their careers.

“There is opportunity and room for these guys to get better offensively, and they’re working on it,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think as guys get older, they are able to make adjustments and figure things out … You watch them do their defensive work, they make it important. I know they’re working hard with our hitting guys now and want to have good offensive years.”

The durable Galvis, 31, was a Gold Glove Award finalist from 2016-18 with the Phillies and Padres, but he had hit .246 with a career .664 OPS across six seasons until that point. He hit a career-high 23 home runs in ’19 and he has hit .252 with 30 homers and a .730 OPS in 194 games across the past two seasons.

Sánchez won Gold Glove honors for the White Sox in 2019. He hit .245 with 32 homers and a .660 OPS across parts of seven seasons with Chicago, while constantly rating as an above-average defender. At his best, Sánchez hit .267 with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and a .732 OPS in 141 games in '17, producing 3.2 WAR. He also led the American League with 10 triples in '18.

“I think I can do better than that,” Sánchez said. “I always try to get better and I believe in my talent.”

Hitters improving with age (plus a new home at hitter-friendly Camden Yards) is hardly unheard of, and it’s not like Igleisas is the only example. Sánchez's predecessor, Alberto, was an unknown quantity before he hit himself into the Orioles' everyday lineup in 2019. When Alberto was released this winter, it was as the club's leading hitter from the past two seasons.

Sánchez too must work to re-establish himself, after appearing in just 11 games for the White Sox last summer. That capped a difficult year in which he was non-tendered by Chicago, signed but never appeared for the Giants and then returned to the South Side in a reserve role. As it stands, Sánchez has the inside track at the everyday job in Baltimore, but he could face pressure from the O's No. 19 prospect Jahmai Jones this spring.

“I believe in my talent, but I don’t take anything for granted,” Sánchez said. “Last year was a tough year for me, but I believe I can play my best baseball in the big leagues and I see myself as a starting second baseman.”

Pitching plans
The Orioles have tabbed right-hander Thomas Eshelman to start their Grapefruit League opener Sunday against the Pirates, Hyde said. Hyde did not reveal any other scheduled pitchers for the game or outline any of the O’s future pitching plans, but he did say Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey would both start during the first week of spring games. Baltimore opens its 28-game Grapefruit League schedule Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET at Ed Smith Stadium.

Return to normalcy?
It appears as if the Orioles will play in front of fans not only this spring, but on Opening Day as well. This after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that Boston arenas and ballparks would reopen at 12 percent capacity effective March 22. The O's play the Red Sox in Boston on April 1. Per the announced policy, 4,000 fans would be allowed in Fenway Park for the opening series.

Neither the Orioles nor Maryland officials have announced any similar or related policies regarding sporting events in Baltimore as of this point. The O’s open their home schedule April 8 against the Red Sox.