After chaotic offseason, Díaz eyes O's roster spot

February 23rd, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whenever Lewin Díaz’s phone rang during the offseason, there was a good chance the news of a roster move was on the other end. Between Nov. 15 and Jan. 11, he was designated for assignment five times, claimed off waivers three times and traded once, bouncing around among four organizations.

Many texts that Díaz received over that span were from friends and family members reaching out to wish him luck. Well, at least early in the process, anyway.

“The first couple times, people would reach out to me and tell me, ‘Hey, we’re super excited for you, for this new opportunity, being part of a new team,’” Díaz said through Orioles team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “But after a few more times after that, they kind of stopped reaching out. They were like, ‘You know what, maybe we feel bad for him, like let’s not reach out.’”

But Díaz’s wife, Silenia Calicchio, continued to offer support. As the 26-year-old first baseman grew frustrated amid the uncertainty of where his baseball career was headed -- all unfolding while he was in the Dominican Republic playing for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League -- she was there to provide comfort.

“She would call me and tell me, ‘Things happen for a reason. You’ve just got to stay strong and get through it, and you know your time will come,'” Díaz said.

After going from the Marlins to the Pirates to the Orioles to the Braves and then back to Baltimore, Díaz received clarity on Jan. 17. Six days after getting DFA’d by the O's, he cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Díaz knew he could finally book his travel plans for Spring Training, as he’d be heading to Sarasota to the Orioles’ complex at Ed Smith Stadium. He then received a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training on Feb. 2, meaning he’d get an opportunity to compete for a spot on the team.

“After they DFA’d me for the last time, I was to the point where I was like, ‘You know what, hopefully I just get to stay here and be done with this process finally, and start to get to work pretty soon,’” Díaz said.

A former top prospect in Miami’s farm system, Díaz is a plus defender at first base. He hasn’t made much of an offensive impact in limited big league time, recording a .567 OPS in 112 games with the Marlins over three seasons. But he has potential, which he’s shown by posting an .829 OPS in 156 games with Triple-A Jacksonville between 2021 and '22.

In order for Díaz to earn a spot on Baltimore’s bench, he’ll need to beat out a host of other candidates. The Orioles have stockpiled left-handed hitters who could serve as backups to Ryan Mountcastle at first base, including fellow non-roster players Ryan O’Hearn and Franchy Cordero.

By manager Brandon Hyde’s estimation, there are “about 10” options to get time at first base. Infielder/outfielder Terrin Vavra and catcher James McCann are in the mix. Outfielder Anthony Santander will work at first a bit when he returns from the World Baseball Classic in late March. It’s also possible catcher Adley Rutschman could end up in the conversation.

“It’s way more complicated than, I think, people understand a little bit, playing first base,” Hyde said. “I mean, you can play over there, but to be able to be a serviceable, good first baseman, there’s a lot of detail that goes into that ... There’s footwork around the bag, there’s the ability to catch a ground ball, the right footwork to feed to second base.”

Díaz has a defensive advantage over the other candidates. Even though he’s played only 98 big league games in the past two seasons, he ranks second among MLB first basemen with eight Outs Above Average (per Statcast) during that time, behind only Arizona’s Christian Walker (17).

If Díaz impresses with his bat this spring, it could lead to a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“We want to see what we have [with Díaz], honestly,” Hyde said.

After a winter in which Díaz spent more time focused on transactions than he’d have liked, he’s happy his focus is back to on-the-field baseball and battling for a job with the Orioles.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here, so far,” Díaz said. “I think that if I just continue to do good things and go about my work in a good way, then good things are going to come out of it.”