BALTIMORE — Having already given three different players 14 or more starts in center field this season, the Orioles added another option to the organizational mix Wednesday.
Baltimore acquired Keon Broxton from the New York Mets in exchange for international signing bonus slots after the 29-year-old was designated for assignment last week. He was batting just .143 with 22 strikeouts in 53 plate appearances for the Mets and had expressed disenchantment over his lack of playing time.
In parts of five major league seasons and 851 plate appearances, Broxton owns a career .216 average, but his best production came with Milwaukee when he batted .220 with 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases two years ago and posted a career-best .784 on-base plus slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances in 2016. He’s also registered 13 defensive runs saved playing center field in his career, but his career 36.9 percent strikeout rate is higher than Chris Davis’ (32.6 percent), a clear factor that’s prevented him from establishing himself as an everyday player.
“We had our eye on him,” general manager Mike Elias said. “Speed, excellent center-field ability, he’s got some raw power. He hasn’t gotten a lot of consistent playing time — certainly not this year and even in the past year. But two years ago, he put together a pretty good campaign for Milwaukee.
“We’re trying some different things in center field, and we wanted to give him a look and hopefully give him a little bit more extended time than he’s had. We’ll just see how it plays out.”
The Orioles have received surprising play from Stevie Wilkerson in center, who’s handled the position adequately in recent weeks despite having never played there before this season. Broxton’s arrival could allow Wilkerson to slide into more of a utility role, but his .783 OPS entering Wednesday’s game is among the best on the club and will make it difficult for manager Brandon Hyde to keep his name out of the everyday lineup.
Cedric Mullins began the season as the starting center fielder before a 6-for-64 start led to his demotion to Triple-A Norfolk where he has continued to struggle at the plate. Joey Rickard has also received 14 starts in center for Baltimore, but a .198 batting average hasn’t helped his case for regular playing time.
The acquisition of Broxton could impact the promotion timetable for Norfolk corner outfielder DJ Stewart, who has batted .435 with five home runs, 23 runs batted in, and a 1.439 OPS in May. The 25-year-old and 2015 first-round pick has caught the organization’s attention with his .962 OPS this season, but he may need to wait a little longer to be recalled.
“We have two corner outfielders up here with [Trey] Mancini and [Dwight] Smith who are doing great, so it’s just hard to find an easy way to get him here,” Elias said. “But we would love to have him join this team, and I’m hopeful that we can figure out a way to do that on the sooner side.”
It remains to be seen how the Orioles will make room for Broxton on the 25-man-roster, but Rickard does have minor-league options remaining. Baltimore moved right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb to the 60-day injured list and designated right-hander Yefry Ramirez for assignment Wednesday to clear spots on the 40-man roster for Broxton and right-hander Chandler Shepherd, who was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and optioned to Norfolk.