Wednesday's start to minor league spring training games meant several top prospects ended their time at major league camp for the Orioles, some surprisingly and others less so, but all armed with a far better experience at Ed Smith Stadium in hopes that their own extended runs in the majors aren't far off.
On Sunday, top prospect Yusniel Diaz and infielder Ryan Mountcastle, and former first-round draft pick DJ Stewart, joined top-10 prospects Hunter Harvey, Ryan McKenna, and Dean Kremer from the first round of cuts back at minor league camp. But however disappointing it is to be across town in Sarasota away from the major league scene, none left feeling like they didn't benefit from it.
"It was a big experience for me," Diaz said through interpreter Felipe Alou Jr. "I really appreciate that a bunch of the players took me under my wings. Also, the coaches, I think they did a pretty good job setting things up to take me to the next level."
"To get a big league spring training under my belt like I did last year, I felt a lot more comfortable," Mountcastle said. "We've got a lot of good work in, and obviously the move over to first base, just trying to learn your stuff over there, I had a good time but I think I'll be up there a couple other times before the end of spring. But it was good."
While Diaz, the top prospect gained from the trade of Manny Machado last summer, entered camp with designs on winning a major league job and played like it for his entire time in major league camp, Mountcastle's presence for the second straight year was more for development than anything else.
He was still relatively new to third base last spring, and this spring he began working at first base in an effort to find him a long-term defensive home.
"Wherever they want me to play, I'm willing to do it, and whether it's first or third or wherever they want me, I'm down to work and get ready and prepare for the season," Mountcastle said.
Manager Brandon Hyde said he'd play both spots going forward.
"We look at him as a guy who's going to play both spots in the minor leagues, to continue on the throwing program we put him on," Hyde said. "I just want to see him have some versatility. I don't want to give up on the third base option. I thought he made huge strides with his throwing the last two weeks. We put him on a throwing program that he started doing every single day. We all saw big strides in his throwing."
There's little positional ambiguity for Diaz and Stewart. They're outfielders, and the Orioles have more players in the high minors or with a few weeks of major league experience at that position than anywhere else.
Hyde indicated that it was a numbers game that had Stewart, who made his major league debut last September and held his own, optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and back to minor league camp earlier than many expected.
"We like DJ a lot and he played really, really well," Hyde said. "I love his style of play, and he epitomizes what we're kind of going to be about. His defense is very, very important to him. He hustles. He gets down the line. He hustles doubles. He did a lot of things really well.
“Loved his energy every single day. We just think he needs more at-bats. He needs more controlled at-bats. He's just not going to get that here, and because he's a prospect and we like him a lot, we want him to get into an environment where he's going to get a ton of at-bats every day."
Stewart said he was surprised at the assignment only because he wants to be with the major league team and contributing at that level, but that he was encouraged that they told him to keep on the path he's on to get back.
"They like what I did in camp, it was just time to trim-down camp a little bit," Stewart said. "They wanted me to start in Triple-A, so that's what we're going to do."
Diaz, who was among the club's best hitters in spring training, wasn't as surprised because he's not on the 40-man roster and so many other outfielders are. But he, too, got words of encouragement on his way down from Hyde, and feels he's in a better place to succeed than he was when he was coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers last July.
"It feels much, much better," Diaz said. "From the beginning, I met with the manager and GM and they gave me that kind of confidence I actually was hoping for. I feel even comfortable here around all these guys."
He said he has "lots of confidence" based on what he did in spring training for the major league team that he can make an impact at that level soon.
"I'm going to put my head down, keep working and hopefully I'll be there pretty soon," Diaz said.
Time in the minors allows top young players to prepare for the role they'll actually have during the season instead of wedging them into a major leaguer’s schedule on the pitching side, where Harvey has been preparing as a starter for the last week after being part of the first round of cuts.
"They want me to start, and over there I was coming out of the bullpen, so really just getting into a routine and start getting in some inning," he said. "I assume that we're full-go, so we'll see as we go on."