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Who Has The Edge In Orioles' Utility Player Competition?

February 24, 2018
SARASOTA, Fla. -- There's at least one spot that's wide open on the Orioles, and the winner of the competition may not currently even be in camp. For the moment, four players are vying to be the team's backup infielder.
 
After the Orioles re-signed starter Chris Tillman Feb. 21, Dan Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, addressed the need for utility help.
 
"We're going to need some more depth in our infield, especially our middle infield," Duquette said.
 
That depth was tested last year when J.J. Hardy, then the team's starting shortstop, missed more than two months with a broken right wrist. With longtime utility infielder Ryan Flaherty out with a right shoulder injury, one that would cost him half the season, the Orioles resorted to Paul Janish and Ruben Tejada, who is in camp as a non-roster infielder.
 
"You don't realize how important it is until you don't have it," manager Buck Showalter said about the infield depth. "It's something that we're really going to have to come out of here feeling good about, not just that guy but the guy that's behind him. ... Our depth in the infield has been a challenge. It's an area we haven't been able to produce a lot from down below."
 
Let's look at the candidates:
 
Engelb Vielma
 
Vielma is the only one of the four on the 40-man roster. He's a 23-year-old switch-hitter who doesn't have any major league experience, but this winter, he was well-traveled, as least on paper.
 
Over the offseason, Vielma went from Minnesota to San Francisco to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and back to San Francisco before the Orioles acquired him Jan. 26 for a player to be named later or cash.
 
"I was calm. Baseball is a business," Vielma said about the myriad transactions through a translator. "There are so many things I can not control. I have a really good relationship with my agent so he provided me with really valuable feedback, so I felt comfortable."
 
Vielma was delayed in his native Venezuela because of visa problems, and took his physical Feb. 24, but thinks he can still make the Orioles.
 
"I know I reported late, so they definitely have an advantage in that regard," Vielma said. "I still feel confident that I can go out there and compete."
 
Ruben Tejada
 
Tejada has by far the most major league experience of the four. He's played eight seasons with the New York Mets, St. Louis, San Francisco and the Orioles.
 
The 28-year-old right-handed hitter hit .230 with five RBIs in 41 games last season for the Orioles.
 
He was re-signed to a minor league contract in November.
 
Luis Sardinas
 
The 24-year-old switch-hitter hit .229 in four major league seasons (174 games) with Texas, Milwaukee, Seattle and San Diego. He was acquired by the Orioles on waivers from the Padres last May and spent the rest of the season in Triple-A Norfolk before being re-signed in October.
 
"I think it was a good learning opportunity for me," Sardinas said through a translator. "That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come back again."
 
Erick Salcedo
 
Like Sardinas and Vielma, the 24-year-old Salcedo is a switch-hitter. Salcedo, Sardinas, Tejada and Vielma are all primarily shortstops, which is an Orioles requirement for a utility player, and all four also play second and third.
 
Salcedo also has experience at the three outfield positions, which could endear him to Showalter.
 
He hit .260 with five home runs and 47 RBIs for Double-A Bowie last season.
 
"If they give me an opportunity to be in the game, I can show them I can win that spot," Salcedo said. "I know I can play wherever the team needs me."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen PressBox