When utility player Ty Wiggington was brought on board at the beginning of last season, it made a lot of sense- get a career .270ish hitter who can play the corner infield spots and second base serviceably for the low price of $6 million for two years of play. He scuffled through an underachieving first year with the club, complaining all the while about a lack of playing time and an insistence that if he got his at-bats in consecutive games rather than a spot start here or there, that he would start raking. Now, if “raking” meant his hitting of previous years, Orioles fans would rather have taken their chances with Luke Scott in the DH spot and of course Brian Roberts at second. Melvin Mora had too much tenure to place permanently on the bench, and the team waited patiently for Aubrey Huff to erupt into his second-half surge that never came.
When Brian Roberts went down in Spring Training (and still hasn’t quite gotten up), both fans and the front office scrambled to find some sort of band-aid to fix the position until Roberts returned, Wiggi was the only obvious replacement. The Orioles still haven’t found lead-off hitter to replace Roberts, but they have found a bat. Since taking over for Brian, Ty Wiggington is on pace to crush his single-season home run (24) and average (.302) career highs, and has developed quickly into a clean-up hitter that this ballclub sorely needs. In his last ten games he has hit all eight of his home runs, has drawn nine walks (an important stat for a team that has not been patient at the plate) and has gotten on base in 9 straight games. It is not a stretch to say that he has been the catalyst behind the Orioles sweeping the Red Sox, and for a team in desperate need of a clutch hitter Wiggington has provided it, just like he did in the 10th inning yesterday afternoon.
Will he keep up this pace? At 33 years old and given his previous career stats, it is highly unlikely. However, he only needs to do so until Roberts comes back healthy (though who knows when that will be). At that point a hard look will have to go to whoever is playing first at that point (Rhyne Hughes or Garrett Atkins) and how Luke Scott is performing as DH. If Wiggington is still swinging the bat like he is now, Trembley (assuming he is still the manager) will have to find a place for him in the lineup. On a team with so much underachievement at the plate, it is good to see one player who is making the most of his opportunity to play. Maybe he was right all of last year when he decried his lack of playing time- now he is getting his chance to prove it.
It wasn’t long ago that Rhyne Hughes was a Player to Be Named Later, the dreaded term for a throwaway prospect tossed to the other team in return for the bag of peanuts they’d just received. This time the bag of peanuts was Gregg Zaun, traded to the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Hughes was a high power, high strikeout player who just never seemed to develop enough patience at the plate the merit a spot at the major league level. Like Wiggington, Hughes has gotten his opportunity and is making the most of it. When faced with the choice between an ineffective Garrett Atkins and a prospect, a team like the O’s has to take the younger player- there is no room for error to endure Atkins’ struggles. In seven games so far this season Hughes has started to add a third name in the conversation for corner infielders of the future along with Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder with his poise at the plate and his early .296 average.
It is too soon to know whether either of these players will keep up their success, but one has to take solace in seeing someone, anyone step up and seize their opportunity to cement their place on the roster.