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Baltimore Orioles

Oriole of the Day: After another season spent injured, Yusniel Diaz’s place amid rebuild in question

This week, Major League Baseball and its players union will meet daily to try to complete a new collective bargaining agreement.

The league has already elected to postpone the start of spring training games until at least March 5; at any point, the owners could choose to lift the lockout they unanimously implemented when the previous CBA expired and allow baseball season to begin. Instead, negotiations between the league and players over a collection of issues are threatening Opening Day, scheduled for March 31.

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In the meantime, the Orioles and other teams are unable to adjust their 40-man rosters or even acknowledge the players who are members of them. The Baltimore Sun can at least do the latter, and in the final stretch of its Oriole of the Day series, The Sun will take a close look at some of the youngest members of Baltimore’s 40-man roster. The remaining players have yet to make their major league debuts.

That’s disappointing in the case of Yusniel Diaz. He joined the organization nearly four years ago as the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, immediately becoming Baltimore’s top prospect, but many others have since bypassed him as he’s struggled to stay on the field or perform when healthy.

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Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 25

2021 stats: .157/.225/.251, .476 OPS, four home runs, 33.0 K%, 6.7 BB% with Triple-A Norfolk

Under team control through: 2027

2021 in review

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Number to know: 72. Between another sequence of lower-body injuries and a left shoulder strain, Diaz appeared in only 72 games between the minor league regular season and the Arizona Fall League. Since joining the Orioles, he’s consistently dealt with injuries that have prevented him from staying on the field long enough to be a fully productive player, and 2021 was another example of that. He didn’t have an extended run of playing time until mid-August, and when Baltimore tried to make up for lost at-bats by sending Diaz to the Arizona Fall League, he was shut down as a precaution with the shoulder strain.

What was good: Even by the cherry-picking standards this section has sometimes needed to rely on, it’s difficult to pull a positive out of Diaz’s 2021 season. Perhaps the best aspect is that it’s over and he enters 2022 still on the 40-man roster with an opportunity to put last season behind him.

What wasn’t: With Norfolk, Diaz struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, and when he managed to put the ball in play, it was on the ground more than half the time. Both of those rates were career highs for any level. He walked once every 15 plate appearance — a rate of about once every four games — and hit a line drive on under 12% of his balls in play. Both of those rates were his lowest since rookie ball.

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Outfield depth.

What’s projected: Until Diaz stays healthy and plays well, it’s hard to consider him anything other than a depth piece. In 2021, the Orioles chose to promote Ryan McKenna instead of Diaz when they needed early-season outfield help, and Kyle Stowers could be the 2022 edition of that transaction, though Diaz at least has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster. Both Steamer and ZiPS project that if Diaz reaches the majors, he’ll struggle there, with an estimated batting average floating near .200 and an OPS of about .600.

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A step forward: Simply staying healthy and collecting a full season of plate appearances would do Diaz a lot of good, and ideally, consistent at-bats would bring improved performance along with them. In putting (and losing) former first-rounder Hunter Harvey on waivers this offseason, the Orioles’ front office has already shown a willingness to move on from prized acquisitions of the previous regime who can’t stay healthy. Diaz needs to stay on the field to avoid being next.

Three up, three down

This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. For the remaining players, who have yet to reach the majors, they are ordered by when they were added to the 40-man roster and their prospect rankings. The past three players featured in the series were Cionel Pérez, Kelvin Gutiérrez and Jahmai Jones. The Orioles due up next are Rylan Bannon, DL Hall and Kyle Bradish.


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