Baltimore Orioles

Orioles observations on Yusniel Diaz making an impression, John Means’ progress and a brutal day on the infield | ANALYSIS

Bradenton, Fla. — Yusniel Diaz might not be the Orioles’ top prospect anymore, but he still has plenty of talent to put on display in this his first major league camp while on the big league roster.

In the spring opener last Sunday, he hit a towering home run. In the ensuing week, he’s made diving catches, laced opposite-field doubles and shown a strong arm from the outfield. For a player who is trying to leave an impression on the Orioles brass who will be in charge of eventually making him a big leaguer, he’s certainly hard to miss.


“I really would like to highlight all aspects of my game,” Diaz said through Ramón Alarcón, the team’s coordinator of Latin American operations. “I think I’m fortunate to have many different tools and I want to showcase them every single day.”

On Sunday, he simply had a professional single and played a strong right field in a miserable 13-1 loss to the Pirates. But even if he’s going to be ticketed for the minors to start the season and get some Triple-A experience once that season starts in May, Diaz isn’t wasting the chance to show he belongs in the big leagues.


Truthfully, he’s probably felt that way for years. He said Sunday he feels “pretty close” to being in the big leagues and that improvements to his swing and his defense at the alternate training site in Bowie last summer were enough for that elusive promotion.

“I thought I made all the necessary adjustments to be called up,” Diaz said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. But I still wanted to take advantage of that camp and advantage of all the resources that were available for me to improve as a player overall.”

At this point, the Orioles have too many outfielders to bring Diaz north when the season starts. When he joins them, it will probably because one of them has run out of chances or performed so well that the Orioles cashed in and made a trade to free up a space.

But Diaz is not one to shrink from the moment. His teammates from 2019 at Double-A Bowie still talk about what he did to carry them on their playoff run. He seems to be the type who will elevate his game with the stage, even if he sometimes has to calm himself down.

Whether he’ll be breaking camp with a roster spot, however, doesn’t mean much for a team simply looking for bright spots. He is one.

Means on the mound

When left-hander John Means was at his most frustrated and least effective in 2020, it was easy to tell — he’d yell obscenities on the mound in an empty stadium.

Means is certainly in a better place stuff-wise through two spring starts than he was last summer. But the fact that he’s pitching in games at all means such competitiveness is even possible — and that’s a good thing as Means gets ready for the season.

This time last spring, the Orioles were keeping him on the back fields in simulated games and hiding him from the public and other teams’ eyes. Now he’s benefiting from facing real opponents.


“I like pitching in games,” Means said. “Spring training is obviously a lot different than the season, but I like the adrenaline before the game, the routine aspect of going out there like a real game. It doesn’t really matter to me a whole lot whether it’s backfields or in game. In spring training, it’s all about getting your work in and getting to the season healthy.”

Means was charged with four runs in two-plus innings Sunday, though that doesn’t tell the full story. His changeup in particular was sharp, even if he admitted he couldn’t put hitters away. But he could have been out of his three-run second inning if the Orioles turned a double play for him.

Luckily for him, he’s not someone who needs to put in a good statistical showing to know what his place is on this team. It’s more about the work right now.

“I’m healthy, I feel like my pitches are breaking well,” Means said. “Just not executing them as well as I’d like, especially with two strikes. That’s the name of the game. You can get two strikes all you want but you’ve got to get the out. I like where I’m at. I like where my pitches are at.”

Bad day on the dirt

The Orioles had their infield of the present playing Saturday night against the Detroit Tigers with Freddy Galvis at shortstop, Rio Ruiz at third base and Yolmer Sánchez at second base.

A possible infield of the future was playing across town in Bradenton with Gunnar Henderson at third base, Jordan Westburg at shortstop and Adam Hall at second base in the prospect-heavy “B” game.


The infield of the in-between played in Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates with Jahmai Jones at second base, Ramón Urías at shortstop and Pat Valaika at third base, and had a bad time of it.

From their inability to turn a 5-4-3 double play in Means’ three-run second inning to a throwing error from Urías in the fourth inning and an infield single on a relatively simple ground ball Valaika fielded in the hole later that inning, it was tough to watch.

Jones, too, had an infield single credited to a Pirates hitter on a ball he would have been expected to convert into an out in that inning.

“We’ve got to start playing better defense,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Our work in the backfields and the mornings is great. It’s been fantastic, actually. As good as I’ve seen from a standpoint of the work we’re getting in. It’s just not translating into the games. We just need to play better defense overall.”

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One of Valaika and Urías will likely be on the team as a utility player, and Jones has a lot of work left to do to finish his development after making his big league debut with the Los Angeles Angels last summer.

It was just made apparent Sunday that the Orioles’ infield depth remains an area of deficiency, even if the future is bright.


Around the horn

The Orioles reassigned catcher Brett Cumberland, right-hander Marco Diplán, infielder Mason McCoy and left-handers Zach Muckenhirn and Josh Rogers to Twin Lakes camp.

Spring training


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