There was no hesitation from Jordan Westburg.

Does the Orioles infielder think he did enough last year to solidify his spot in Baltimore come Opening Day?

“I don’t think I solidified anything in my role,” Westburg said.

Part of that is because Westburg, like many elite athletes, is a perfectionist. He can look at his rookie season and poke holes here, there and everywhere, even though the overall performances were strong. But Westburg is also astute enough to look around Baltimore’s infield to notice a roster stocked with talent.

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There are more infielders than spots on the Orioles. There are prospects, several established major leaguers, and a few veterans thrown into the mix as depth. There will be a fierce competition during spring training, and even after the Opening Day roster is set, that competition will continue and be decided by results.

So, Westburg knows, nothing is guaranteed about his role.

For anyone not named Gunnar Henderson, that’s the case. The Orioles’ first base situation appears to be set with Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn returning, but at second base, third base and shortstop, the only certainty is the certainty that jockeying for positions will be the central storyline during the season.

“When I got here, we were talking about how we didn’t have any infielders,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “And now we’ve got probably one of the better stockpiles in baseball, and we’re cognizant of that, and we don’t want to not use somebody who’s ready. But we’re putting the best team out on the field, and I think the spring training competition is going to be a big component in that.”

This is still the case even after Baltimore traded for ace Corbin Burnes, swapping left-hander DL Hall and major-league-ready infielder Joey Ortiz for the dominant right-hander. Moving Ortiz, a do-it-all fielder who also impressed with the bat in Triple-A, doesn’t rid the Orioles of a good problem to have, however.

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The candidates are as follows, and they fall in several baskets:

Realistically, excluding catchers Adley Rutschman and James McCann, the Orioles will break camp for Opening Day with seven infielders. There will be four starters — first, second, third and shortstop — with the addition of a backup first baseman and one or two utility options who can rotate into each position.

That leaves roughly six players on the outside looking in when the Orioles make their Opening Day 26-man roster decisions. That decision process, in some cases, will be made based on a player’s performance during the spring. In other cases, however, there’s an almost-certain chance some of them will run down the orange carpet on Opening Day.

Henderson is one of those locks. He’s the reigning American League Rookie of the Year after hitting .255 with an .814 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 82 runs batted in. The only real question ahead of Henderson is whether he’ll play more at shortstop or third base; he started 68 games at third and 64 at shortstop in 2023.

Mountcastle and O’Hearn — a right-handed and left-handed batter, respectively — will each get their share of starts at first base and designated hitter. They combined for 32 homers, and each hit in the high .200s.

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The rest of the infield construction is less certain, although Westburg — for all his hesitancy to label himself as a fixture — is presumably ready to play a large role. The Mississippi State product was a perfectly average hitter in 2023 (he finished with a 100 OPS+, a metric in which 100 is league average and anything higher is better than average). Westburg hit .260 in his 68 games, and while he didn’t show much power, there were signs of it in the minors.

That’s a major area for improvement. Westburg, who can play second, short and third, could be the Opening Day third baseman. The 24-year-old could cement that position if he shows more pop, mirroring the 18 homers he hit in 67 Triple-A games last year.

“I know I have power. I know I can hit for power,” Westburg said. “It didn’t show itself last year. There were times I was worried about it. There were times where I wasn’t worried about it. This is a big ballpark for a right-handed hitter, so I understand power numbers to the left part of the field probably are going to be skewed a little bit, but I’m just going to continue to work on my approach. I think the power will come as my approach continues to evolve and as I get more comfortable in the box in the big leagues. I trust that it will come. Maybe not replicate what I did in Triple-A, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Westburg did suffer some from playing many of his games at Camden Yards, which now boasts a deeper left field. According to Statcast, Westburg would have ended up with five or more home runs had he played all of his games in 15 different ballparks — including a projected nine in Cincinnati or Seattle. His 90.2 mph exit velocity also shows an aptitude for hard-hit balls. Should the power fill out more this year, Westburg’s starting place could be as good as secured.

Aberdeen IronBirds shortstop Jackson Holliday (11) runs to first base after singling in a game against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium on Tuesday, May 9. This game against the Renegades was Holliday’s home debut for the IronBirds. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

To round out the infield, No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday could find himself starting at second base for the Orioles before too long.

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At just 20, Holliday has shot through Baltimore’s farm system at a historic rate. He finished 2023 with a .323 average across four levels of the minors, and while that dipped to .267 at Triple-A, the then-19-year-old was seven years younger than the average Triple-A player.

Now, he’s a non-roster invite to spring training for the second year in a row. He impressed last spring. The pressure will rise with a chance to make the club, but manager Brandon Hyde said Holliday “checks a lot of boxes.”

“This is the first time he’s trying to win a major league job, and a lot goes into that,” Hyde said. “And we’re going to give him a look.”

A major point in Elias’ thinking around prospects is that he doesn’t want to take regular at-bats away from them by promoting one too early. Holliday will need to prove his ability to perform regularly for a team with postseason aspirations again.

Otherwise, Mateo and Urías could be more experienced options to start. Still, the two utility infielders have an inside track on making the roster, especially should Mateo prove himself as a backup option in center field.

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Mateo underperformed at the plate in 2023 despite a rip-roaring start to the season, slumping his way to a .217 average. But Mateo’s value also comes on the bases, with 32 steals, and his defensive acumen. Urías won a Gold Glove for his work at third base in 2022 and managed a .264 average last season, making him a valuably versatile option.

Those seven players — Henderson, Mountcastle, O’Hearn, Westburg, Holliday, Mateo and Urías — should enter camp as the favorites to earn positions. But Elias has more options at his disposal, with Mayo a major one.

The 22-year-old has plus power from the right side of the plate and can play third, first and potentially corner outfield. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Mayo clubbed 29 homers and hit .290. Considered the third-ranked prospect in the Orioles’ farm system, per Baseball America, he and Basallo, catcher and first baseman, are two of the must-watch young infielders invited to spring.

Basallo’s ascension to the majors this year isn’t likely. He’s only 19 and has just reached Double-A. But Basallo has rocketed up prospect charts and hit .313 between three levels last year, making him an intriguing future piece. Norby is also in the mix after hitting .290 during a full season with the Norfolk Tides.

To round out Baltimore’s infield camp competition, Elias added three players recently designated for assignment from their original teams: Soto, Nevin and Maton. They have outside chances, but a bright spring and defensive versatility could make them useful depth candidates.

The options are ample. The decisions are likely not easy. And the competition begins soon.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the position where Gunnar Henderson started 68 games in 2023.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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