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Orioles prospect Yusniel Diaz still showing glimpses of elite talent in camp: ‘I think he’s got another gear'

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

SARASOTA, FLA. — In the nearly 18 months that Yusniel Diaz has been in the Orioles organization, arriving in July 2018 as the crown jewel of their return from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade, he’s been at Double-A Bowie and lost his status as the team’s top prospect.

What he’s done in the interim, and so far in major league camp, is shown that the skills are still there — and possibly more.

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“He’s got a lot of power, and I think it gave our team, especially when we were in Bowie, a lot of energy when he came up with that big hit,” said right-hander Dillon Tate, who joined the Baysox shortly after Diaz. “He was one of our big prospects, so to see him go out there and do the things that he does with the bat, it’s special.

“The interesting thing about him is I think he’s got another gear. I think he’s got another gear to tap into, so it’ll be fun to see that over the next few years. It’ll be exciting to see what he does in Baltimore, and how he impacts this team and makes noise around the league.”

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Diaz hit .262 with an .807 OPS at Bowie last year, with 11 home runs and 19 doubles in 76 games. Like the Baysox as a team, Diaz started slowly, and he had an injury in April that didn’t help. When he returned, however, he went on a hot streak that helped propel Bowie to the Eastern League playoffs.

Through it all, even if the overall numbers weren’t eye-popping, he often did something that was. His home runs were typically lasers to left field. When he uncorks a throw from the outfield, it gets to the infield at a similarly impressive pace.

“He definitely flashes it commonly,” said right-hander Dean Kremer, who also came over in the Machado trade. “He’s extremely toolsy, he can do pretty much everything. He just needs to put it together, I guess. But he’s really good.”

Outfielder Ryan McKenna said: “It’s special. He’s definitely got some power. He’s very, I would say, agile for somebody that’s a little bit heavier than I am as an outfielder. He’s got a really good arm and can contribute a lot of ways in the game.”

Kremer and McKenna are two of a handful of players who have been at Bowie for the majority of Diaz’s time there. Especially in 2019, teammates said, Diaz had stretches where he just carried the Baysox when he was on the field.

“We started winning, and he did a lot of the work,” catcher Martin Cervenka said. “He drove in guys and was on base a lot. He played good defense. If he can do that consistently for as long as he can, he can be fine.”

Tate said it’s tantalizing to watch Diaz find consistency, even in circumstances that don’t bring it about.

“It almost seems like he gets a little bored out there, with what’s around him,” Tate said. “It’s like he needs an additional challenge to give him that boost. That’s what makes me say he has another gear. It’s going to be special to see it come out.”

The Orioles will hope that spring training can be a launching pad for Diaz in a way it wasn’t last year. In that camp, Diaz was a nonroster invitee who made a consistent impact at the plate but was never really in the major league roster conversation. He’s more of a consideration to possibly debut in 2020, as he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason and could be added to the roster ahead of that.

He’s using his time in major league camp to continue to make an impression on manager Brandon Hyde, who noted early in camp as Diaz was missing time with shoulder soreness that he was among the first to arrive at Ed Smith Stadium every day.

Hyde likes how Diaz goes about his work every day, especially nights like Tuesday, when he came off the bench to smack his second triple of the spring off the center-field wall. He also has stolen two bases this spring after not stealing one in three attempts in all of 2019.

“D is an exciting player," Hyde said. "He plays with great energy, he’s doing a great job defensively. I think his at-bats are starting to pile up now. You’re starting to see some better at-bats now that he missed time early. But he’s a guy that can drive the ball to all fields, drove one to right-center tonight and showed off his speed. There’s a lot to like about him.”

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