SARASOTA, Fla. — Jorge Mateo is no stranger to this arrangement, even if it has been years. Early in his career, Mateo broke through with the San Diego Padres as a utility player, filtering into the outfield late in games.

But that was a few years ago. And even though Mateo moonlighted as an outfielder for 20 innings last season, there are nuances to learn at the position that one can only master through experience.

The wind. The sun. The quirky ballpark dimensions.

They’re forever changing, and even for a regular in the outfield, they can prove challenging. Mateo is taking it on again this spring, with the goal of becoming Baltimore’s super-utility option — from middle infield to outfield to pinch running.

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“For me, it’s really important, because it gives me a way of being on the field constantly. I think that’s great,” Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It’s a long season and you never know what can happen in a season. I just try to do my job and I try to be ready for whatever is coming.”

In addition to shortstop, Mateo has spent a little time at second base, third base and all three outfield spots during his career. He has been a high-level fielder at short, according to Fielding Bible, finishing the 2022 season with 14 defensive runs saved, which is a metric that studies variables such as range and throwing to determine how many outs above average a player records. That was good enough to rank third in the league. He took a step back in 2023 with just two defensive runs saved at shortstop.

Much of Mateo’s range translates to the outfield, but he still experienced the challenges of the position last August, the highs and lows that can occur in quick succession for an outfielder.

Mateo robbed a home run in the fourth inning. Then in the ninth, his first read on a ball turned Mateo the wrong direction. His high speed made up the distance, but as he ran up against the wall, Mateo couldn’t complete the catch. The next batter, Kyle Tucker, hit a grand slam to win it for the Houston Astros.

In those 20 innings, Fielding Bible charged Mateo with negative-1 defensive runs saved.

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“I definitely have to continue getting a lot of repetitions,” Mateo said, “and if the time and place comes for me to be out there in that position, I have to be ready for it.”

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Still, the Orioles could need Mateo’s athleticism all over the field, and Mateo’s ability to play center field on occasion could play a large part in which full-time outfielders make the opening day roster.

Heston Kjerstad, for instance, is only a corner outfield option. Kyle Stowers has only played a brief amount of center field in the minor leagues. Colton Cowser can play center, although Fielding Bible handed Cowser a negative-5 defensive runs saved rating.

“In Jorge’s case, the speed factor alone, he’s going to be able to get to a lot of balls,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “You definitely want to be able to cover center and left at our place. For me, that’s why Mateo is a little bit of an X-factor for us.”

At LECOM Park on Sunday in Bradenton, Florida, Mateo made his first appearance in the outfield of camp. The talk was nearly constant out there, flowing between Mateo and Cowser in center and left, respectively.

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“We just kept bouncing back and forth off each other,” Cowser said.

While Mateo wasn’t called into action for a ball that would test his extensive range, he did stay calm when the bright Florida sun gobbled up a high fly ball. He paused, used his glove to shield the sun and adjusted late to make the catch. Both Hyde and Cowser brought up the play as a positive sign for Mateo’s ability out there; as routine it might look to an observer, the sun can be an imposing monster.

Add in the wind and the unique stadium dimensions and center field can be a headache for a newcomer. But in his bid to make the roster once more, Mateo will only bolster his chances if he can prove capable.

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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