Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has “Gold Glovers” all over the place. Picking your best defense isn’t easy.

The Orioles' strength has often led manager Brandon Hyde to say he has 13 positional players he wants to play. But with the exception of the designated batsman, he can only put eight players on the field at any given time.

However, Hyde wasn't interested in finding out which eight combination would constitute his best defensive lineup.

“It's like saying, ‘Who do you like more?'” Hyde said. “I have Gold Glovers everywhere.

“The four guys sitting today will probably play tomorrow. … It's good to have problems. I'm comfortable with everyone to be honest.”

That is understandable. Hyde's roster includes two quality catchers, two capable first basemen, five versatile infielders and four talented outfielders. The flexibility throughout begs the question not only of who the Orioles' top eight defenders are, but also where they should play in this ideal lineup.

Take rookie infielder Jordan Westburg, for example, who has made 22 second base appearances and 18 third base appearances since his debut in June and has impressed Hyde at every position. Earlier on Tuesday, Statcast's outs ranked him above average in both positions as the Orioles' leader.

In spring practice and this week, Westburg admitted he's more comfortable second than third; He played the latter more frequently during his minor league career, but spent more time in second position as an adult and finds it more akin to his most-played position as shortstop.

With Gunnar Henderson and Jorge Mateo available, Westburg has never played as a shortstop in the majors and has confidently transitioned between his two neighbors. Given that Hyde has five infielders for three spots, Westburg isn't in the squad every day, a role the 2020 first-round pick described as “unlike anything I've had in my career.”

“I think it's fair to say that,” Westburg said. “It's also fair to say that everyone here does their part and deserves to play every day. So it's one of those things that's impossible to get excited about.

“It's easy to understand the days you don't play and the days you play because whether it's a matchup thing or if it's some guy brandishing a hot bat or what always.” I think this clubhouse is just built in such a way that nobody has an ego about playing time.”

Hyde has taken advantage of his players' mindset to give them frequent rest days and create lineups for optimal offensive matches. Towards the end of games he would sometimes use his bench to field better defenders, often replacing Anthony Santander in right field. But unless an offensive opportunity forces a switch, he usually lets his starting field finish games.

In that sense, Hyde hasn't often shown what defensive combination he thinks is Baltimore's best. In many places it is not clear.

The Orioles were happy with what they got from backup backstop James McCann. In Sunday's decisive win over Seattle, his visit in the 10th inning against Shintaro Fujinami brought the dynamic right-hander into the attacking zone to make his first save of his career. But young star Adleyrutschman is considered the superior blocker, framer and pitcher, according to Baseball Savant.

Ryan Mountcastle is the only positional player for the Orioles, along withrutschman and midfielder Cedric Mullins, not to have appeared in multiple defensive positions, and became a first baseman after falling behind on defense, which included stops at shortstop, third base and left field. Advanced defensive stats are shared between Mountcastle and O'Hearn as Baltimore's top defensive first baseman, but Hyde may have hinted he would favor both in the lineup.

O'Hearn has not DH'ed with Mountcastle since June 6, while Mountcastle has been on DH's first base in eight of O'Hearn's last nine starts. In 31 second-half games, O'Hearn started 16 games first, while Mountcastle started 14 games, with Santander also playing a draw.

But that could be due to O'Hearn being used as a DH, which would be a waste of his ability to play corner outfield when needed. His ability to do so has helped bring Mountcastle into the line-up as well, giving Santander partial days off at DH, and allowing Slipman to DH on days he's not catching.

“There's value in being versatile and being able to make a name for yourself in the lineup in every way you can,” O'Hearn said.

The other Orioles infielders agree. Henderson struggled defensively early in his rookie year, but as of early May he has tied with Westburg as Baltimore's top infielder as he was worth five outs above average for his work as shortstop and third; According to Baseball Savant, he has the third strongest throwing arm of any second baseman, third baseman, or shortstop in the majors. His extended stint in the last of those positions has meant that Jorge Mateo, who led the American League shortstops in the OAA last season and won the Fielding Bible Award, has spent some time in midfield.

Ramón Urías' efforts were also recognized last season when he won a Gold Glove alongside Brooks Robinson and Manny Machado as the Baltimore third baseman. After being worth 7 OAA there in 2022, he's down at minus 6 this year and has also seen time on the first and second tiers. Adam Frazier's defense has also slacked, and his minus-15 OAA is the third-worst of 155 qualified infielders after scoring positively at second base every season since 2018. But the veteran has also provided some highlights while playing sporadically in the outfield.

There, the Orioles have four trusted defenders. When Mullins was healthy he provided top-notch defense in midfield, which is best illustrated by this Sunday's robbery would have resulted in a game-winning home run in Seattle. Austin Hays ranks second among left fielders in defensive runs held and has a strong arm and reach Camden Yards' extended left field.

As a Gold Glove finalist in 2020, Santander is perhaps an underrated defender, having posted a positive defensive runs held rating and a neutral rating in the OAA for the past two seasons. Signed to replace Mullins after his initial right quadrant strain, Aaron Hicks came with a reputation as a solid defenseman who brought one of baseball's best outfield weapons and the ability to fill all three positions.

Hyde has reason to trust all of these players, a fact that should help the Orioles keep them fresh as they prepare for a post-season run.

“We have a lot of squad flexibility and versatility and people who can fill a lot of different places,” said Hyde. “There are good players on the bench every night.

“It's nice to have that luxury.”


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