Prospect Yusniel Díaz, the top player the Orioles acquired in last month’s blockbuster trade for All-Star Manny Machado from the Los Angeles Dodgers, is only just starting to tap into his impact potential as the season winds down for Double-A Bowie.
The 21-year-old Cuban outfielder homered twice in his past eight games, and despite a rough weekend that dropped him to .216/.310/.360 in Bowie colors, manager Gary Kendall said last week that Díaz was starting to let his natural talents come out.
“I think he’s starting to show his tools that you heard about when he was acquired,” Kendall said Thursday. “A lot of it is, I think, when you get here, you want to impress. You’re coming off that [MLB All-Star] Futures Game performance [with two home runs July 15], you might press a little bit. You want to show your teammates what you can do.
“But I think he’s settling in, he’s relaxing, and he’s getting better pitches to hit. He’s getting his walks, he’s stealing a couple bases. He’s not a hard guy to pencil in the lineup. It’s going really nice.”
What the Baysox and the Orioles are seeing so far is a player who is getting his bat on a lot of balls, albeit not with the most return. He has 23 strikeouts in 32 games, an 18.3 percent strikeout rate, but his career-low .238 batting average on balls in play shows he’s not exactly being rewarded for the contact he does make. Kendall said they’ve been trying to help him get his barrel on more pitches since he arrived in mid-July.
“When he got here, his back toe was actually like pointing toward the umpire,” Kendall said. “We got that even. He’s getting better direction to the ball. There’s still pitches that he needs to work on getting, but for the most part, he’s getting his barrel to the breaking ball, he’s getting his barrel to the fastball. He’s got a better chance to hit an array of pitches. He’s getting his barrel to it, and he’s getting some hits.”
Some of that has to do with Díaz’s tendencies as what’s known as a bucket hitter, in which he loads up and steps toward shortstop during his swing, getting his weight out in front of him and causing some difficulty reaching balls on the outer half of the strike zone. There are plenty of successful hitters who have such tendencies. Yankees rookie Miguel Andújar, who crushed the Orioles this past weekend, is one of them. As he broke out last year, Andújar made the key change that Díaz will need to make — the ability to adjust during at-bats and stay back on pitches on the outer half to shoot them to the opposite field late in counts.
Otherwise, Díaz has plenty of bat speed and a quick load with quiet hands in the upper half of his swing, and the way his lower half works means he generates plenty of pull and straightaway power. He’s also played a solid outfield, Kendall said, with most of his time coming in right field, while stealing four bases to make him a perfect 12-for-12 on attempts this season between the Baysox and Double-A Tulsa.
It’s clear to him at times that Díaz remembers his success with the Drillers — he hit .314 with a .905 OPS and 20 extra-base hits in 59 games there before the trade and made himself a top-100 prospect — but the key as he recaptures that form is playing like the type of player who can impact a game across the board, even when hits aren’t dropping, Kendall said.
“You’d see flashes of it,” Kendall said. “Occasionally, I’d have to tell him to run every ball out. I’d see him run really well to first base, and I’d see him getting disgusted when he didn’t hit the ball the way he wanted to and he’d not run a ball out, so once in a while I’d have to let him know about it.
“There’s that part where if you’ve seen it once, you want to see it again. This game is all about repetition. Day-in and day-out, the ones that repeat are the ones who stay around. You want that player to shine. You want that player to shine nightly. He can go hitless and have some productive plate appearances, whether it’s line-outs, whether it’s moving runners — you want that hustle and that enthusiasm, so if someone’s watching them play, you can’t tell if they got two hits or no hits. That’s something I try to convey to him.”
Checking in on the Machado trade
Díaz was one of five players to come to the Orioles from the Dodgers for the services of their lone All-Star, with each having received a month to settle into their new environments. Here’s a quick update on how they’re all faring.
RHP Dean Kremer – With six shutout innings Sunday for the Baysox, Kremer has two straight scoreless outings spanning 12 innings, with 14 strikeouts combined. He’s 4-2 with a 2.29 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings with a 1.19 WHIP for Bowie.
INF Breyvic Valera – A 26-year-old utility man, Valera had a few games with the Orioles this season and is trying to find his swing at Triple-A Norfolk in the meantime. He’s batting .248 with a .713 OPS for the Tides.
INF Rylan Bannon – A five-game hitting streak entering Monday has helped pull Bannon out of a prolonged funk. Before this successful stretch, he was batting .100 as the adjustment to Double-A took time for the 22-year-old. Bannon hit .291 with 20 home runs in the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate at Rancho Cucamonga, but has homered twice while batting .162 with a .573 OPS for Bowie.
RHP Zach Pop – A 2017 draftee who is already in Double-A, Pop hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight of 10 appearances with Bowie, striking out 12 in 14 2/3 innings with a 0.95 WHIP and a 3.05 ERA.