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O's star prospects likely to get chance to shine

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

The weekend-long minicamp the Orioles held last month in Sarasota, Fla., served as a closed-door preview for what spring will provide on a grand scale: competition, yes, but also a lot of what new manager Brandon Hyde calls "getting to know."

Players and staff. Executives and coaches. Prospects and their peers, and all the permutations in between. So much turnover has occurred in Baltimore over the last eight months that the Orioles have a chance to break camp with a roster nearly 60 percent different from a season ago. And for the first time in years, the main focus will be on players who are unlikely to crack that roster immediately.

The weekend-long minicamp the Orioles held last month in Sarasota, Fla., served as a closed-door preview for what spring will provide on a grand scale: competition, yes, but also a lot of what new manager Brandon Hyde calls "getting to know."

Players and staff. Executives and coaches. Prospects and their peers, and all the permutations in between. So much turnover has occurred in Baltimore over the last eight months that the Orioles have a chance to break camp with a roster nearly 60 percent different from a season ago. And for the first time in years, the main focus will be on players who are unlikely to crack that roster immediately.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

During this spring of transition, some of the more important assessments figure to come between the executives brought in to rebuild the Orioles, and the blue-chippers acquired by the old regime to kickstart that process. Of the 15 players imported via last summer's flurry of midseason trades, 10 rank among the Orioles' Top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline. Seven of them will be in camp with the club in Sarasota, giving the O's new front office its first extended look at the farm system it has inherited.

"Put some faces to all the video I've been watching," Hyde said.

Front and center will be three of the players acquired from the Dodgers for Manny Machado last July: outfielder Yusniel Diaz and right-handers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop. The triumvirate of young arms acquired from the Yankees for Zack Britton -- righties Dillon Tate and Cody Carroll, plus southpaw Josh Rogers, will be on hand as well, along with right-hander Luis Ortiz, who was acquired from the Brewers for Jonathan Schoop.

Video: Top Prospects: Yusniel Diaz, OF, Orioles

Carroll, Ortiz and Rogers all made cameos for the Orioles last summer, and they enter camp fighting for jobs. Diaz, Kremer, Pop and Tate project more upside, and they could all debut at some point this season. Together, they form the foundation for a future the new regime plans to spend much of 2019 building upon.

General manager and executive vice president Mike Elias compared the crop to one he inherited in Houston earlier this decade. While Elias was part of the front office that spent years restocking the Astros' farm system, that system already featured the likes of Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel and George Springer when the rebuild started.

"And Keuchel was not a heralded prospect at that time," Elias said. "It took a while for Altuve and Keuchel to reveal themselves into the talents they are today. … Factors like that are going to dictate things."

Diaz is already far from a secret. Seven months after he was the centerpiece of the Machado trade, the outfielder ranks as the Orioles' top prospect and No. 64 in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline. The Dodgers signed the former Cuban National Series star for $32 million in November 2015, then he spent the next three seasons showing why. Diaz posted an .890 OPS across 90 games in two stints in the Texas League. He slumped after switching to the Eastern League last summer, but he still finished his age-22 season hitting .285/.392/.449 with 11 home runs in 97 games combined at Double-A.

Diaz profiles as an advanced hitter with on-base skills and the ability to play all three outfield positions. His stock rose considerably with a two-homer performance in last year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Washington, D.C.

Hyde said seeing Diaz live for the first time was one of the highlights of minicamp. He called Diaz's swing "very impressive."

Kremer and Pop are two right-handers who enjoyed breakout seasons in 2018. Originally a 14th-round pick by the Dodgers in 2016, Kremer went 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA across 25 starts last summer, his first as a full-time starter. He led all Minor League hurlers in strikeouts by racking up 178 over 131 1/3 innings, including 53 in 45 1/3 innings at Double-A Bowie. Kremer excelled after switching organizations, going 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA in eight starts for the Baysox.

Video: Kremer discusses thriving in Orioles system

Kremer said he's hoping to complement his fastball-curveball mix with a slider and changeup "because you can't be a two-pitch starter in the big leagues and stick."

"I'm big into analytics, so I like to see the data that I produce, how my pitches play off each other," Kremer said. "I went at 2018 with a more aggressive mindset than I did in 2017, challenging hitters."

Pop's profile as a late-inning reliever might give him the most accelerated path to the Majors. The 22-year-old can reach 99 mph with a sinker he throws from a lower arm slot, and he also features a slider as a swing-and-miss pitch. The control issues he showed with the Dodgers cleared up during his 14-game cameo with Bowie, where Pop posted a 2.53 ERA and issued just six walks in 21 1/3 innings. If his command is here to stay, he could be on the fast track.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.

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