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Two years later, Orioles prospects acquired in Manny Machado trade have progress stalled by shutdown

Orioles outfielder Yusniel Diaz gets ready to take swings in the batting cage. Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 16, 2020
Orioles outfielder Yusniel Diaz gets ready to take swings in the batting cage. Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 16, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Perhaps fittingly, Orioles pitching prospect Dean Kremer’s addition to this summer’s player pool came with an assignment to the secondary camp at Double-A Bowie.

So, too, could the assignment for former top prospect Yusniel Diaz, who manager Brandon Hyde said Tuesday is “a definite candidate to go to the alternate site” if he’s added to the player pool.

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Two years after the July 18, 2018 trade that brought Diaz and Kremer plus infielder Rylan Bannon, reliever Zach Pop and infielder Breyvic Valera from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Orioles in an All-Star break trade for star infielder Manny Machado, Bowie has been the place those players have spent nearly all of their time with the organization.

That would have changed this year, with expected Triple-A assignments putting Diaz, Kremer, and Bannon each on the cusp of his major league debut before the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball and ultimately canceled the minor league season.

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Instead, the payoff of a trade that featured five high-minors players who could quickly make an impact on the major league team is further delayed.

Valera was an up-and-down infielder with major league experience at the time of the trade who was out of the organization the following winter, but the remaining four players arrived at Bowie that summer with plenty of fanfare.

Diaz had just hit two home runs in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Kremer was en route to striking out 178 batters that summer, most in all the minors. Bannon was coming off a dominant stint in the California League that was so good that he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player despite being traded with six weeks left in the season.

Each took some time to find his footing that summer, but Diaz, Kremer and Pop all began 2019 with invitations to major league spring training and had a chance to make an impression early. Diaz did, though Kremer didn’t pitch after suffering an oblique injury before reporting and Pop had elbow soreness that eventually led to Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last spring.

Diaz was limited to 76 games at Bowie in 2019 because of injury, but showed flashes of the elite talent that placed him atop the organization’s prospect rankings the previous winter. He hit .262 with an .805 OPS and 11 home runs for the Baysox and carried the team at times on their march to the Eastern League playoffs.

Bannon, too, helped during that playoff run, batting .255 with a .740 OPS and 34 extra-base hits in 110 games before an August promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. Kremer was also promoted to Norfolk in August after 84⅔ innings with a 2.98 ERA and good strikeout numbers for Bowie, though his four starts there showed the learning curve as he struggled a bit.

Each was in the organization’s offseason Top 30 prospects, according to Baseball America.

All three of the healthy prospects were back in major league camp this spring, with Kremer added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. In a normal season, they would have all been at Norfolk at the beginning of April. Kremer might have already made his major league debut, with Diaz not far behind.

Instead, the wait continues for fans to see the talent the Orioles got in return for a generational star like Machado.

Whether that happens this summer is unclear. Kremer has just four Triple-A starts, though he impressed Hyde in spring training.

“This year is obviously a lot different where there’s no Triple-A season,” Hyde said. “We’d love to see him get some experience there, but there’s a chance that he could pitch up here sometime this summer.”

Diaz might ultimately be the type of player who doesn’t realize his true potential until he gets to the majors. It’s hard to imagine a return to Bowie, even if it’s for a major league camp, will bring out the best in him. Neither will the fact that, even though he’s a certainty to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason, the team showed last year with Ryan Mountcastle that such players aren’t going to get September call-ups ahead of that addition.

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Bannon might end up as a late addition to camp as well, depending on how the major league bench shakes out and who is there to play at the second site. Pop is about a month into throwing off a mound in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and progressing well.

All those individual circumstances mean players who are always going to be grouped together as the Machado trade return have quite a climb ahead of them to meaningfully contribute to the Orioles in 2020.

Had this year gone as planned, that would have been a major blow to the hindsight evaluation of the trades. Instead, those trade pieces remain prospects, likely wondering how a year in which they could have made their major league debuts they instead ended up back at Bowie.

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