Notes: Diaz shut down, Mayo mashes

Westburg, Henderson and others turning heads at O's instructional camp

November 8th, 2021

The Orioles are shutting down outfielder  due to a left shoulder strain, ending another injury-plagued season for the former top prospect on a discouraging note.

Diaz, 25, was limited to seven Arizona Fall League contests due to the issue, after appearing in only 65 games this summer due to toe and quad ailments. Diaz, who is on the Orioles’ 40-man roster but did not debut in September, hit just .157 with four homers at Triple-A in 2021. 

The headliner in the five-player return for Manny Machado in 2018, Diaz dealt with a litany of lower-body injuries over his first four years in the Orioles system. He also spent 2020 at their alternate training site because there was no Minor League season. As a result, his production stalled both at Double-A Bowie in ’19 and with the Norfolk Tides in ’21. Since ’19, he’s hit .217 with 16 homers and .380 slugging in 141 games at the upper levels. 

Pass the Mayo

For weeks now, the Orioles have hosted their second annual fall instructional camp in Sarasota, Florida, where many of the organization’s top prospects are convened to train in preparation for 2022. The camp is especially geared toward less experienced prospects, whether that be the 17 2021 draftees in attendance or several ’20 picks rehabbing injury or making up for lost time. 

A standout in the latter category is third baseman , who is the club’s No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline and considered one of its fastest potential risers. Known for his big power, Mayo is coming off a productive first professional season after being slowed by a knee injury early, the 6-foot-5 slugger hitting .319/.426/.555 with nine homers in 53 games across two levels. Mayo, 19, said he produced exit velocity readings as high as 112 mph during the season, which he finished at Class A Delmarva.

“I’m just trying to find pitches that I can hit hard in the air,” Mayo said. “We really preach hitting the ball hard and keeping it in the air, because that gives you the best shot for creating more runs. So that’s what we’ve been working on here. I’m happy to see that’s gone onto the field and into the games.”

That power potential was what initially attracted the Orioles to Mayo, whom they signed for a well-above slot $1.75 million bonus out of Stoneman Douglas High in Florida in 2020. It’s also the skill that could help him catapult through their system, given Baltimore’s dearth of other third base prospects. Mayo is the only natural third baseman on the club’s Top 30 Prospects list; the hot corner is also a position of need at the big league level as well.  

So are impact bats. Many believe Mayo is close to developing into one. Scouts have compared Mayo to Pat Burrell, Troy Glaus and Austin Riley due to his clean right-handed swing, tendency to swing and miss and freakish raw strength. Orioles hitters produced only 14 hits of at least 112 mph in 2021, per Statcast, tied for 17th in MLB and by far the lowest among American League East clubs.

“I don’t think it’s really beneficial for me and for the team if I swing at pitches out of my zone, just hit ground balls,” Mayo said. “I think it’s more beneficial if I can find my pitch and hit hard balls in the air.”

Making progress

The Orioles are encouraged by the progress shown by No. 27 prospect , who cleared a significant hurdle recently in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Throwing off a mound at the club’s training facility in Sarasota, Baumler completed the first phase of his throwing program roughly a year removed from his operation. The club’s fifth round pick in the 2020 Draft, Baumler, 19, is eying his professional debut in 2022. 

“I’m cleared to have a pretty normal offseason,” he said. “There are still a couple of things we are still kind of working on, like a throwing program going into next year. For the most part, I’m pretty much a full go getting ready for 2022.”

The Orioles used their early-round savings to sign Baumler to an above-slot, $1.5 million deal in ’20, the right-hander forgoing a commitment to Texas Christian University. He impressed club officials in two instructional camp outings later that year before complaining of elbow pain; he underwent surgery to repair an ulnar collateral ligament tear on Oct. 28, 2020. The timing allowed the Orioles to work Baumler back cautiously, given his age and upside. 

“I’m super excited, but I definitely do need to stay patient and just go day-by-day with it,” Baumler said. “It has been a little tough (mentally) at times. The TJ rehab process is tough for anybody and is something you definitely can’t prepare for. The biggest part about it is just being patient, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. But I think it’s been a good thing for me and I’ve learned a ton through the whole process.”

Around the horn

Another added benefit the Orioles see for instructional camp is to get prospects like  and Jordan Westburg on the field together again. Not like that didn’t happen a lot in 2021.

The organization’s two highest-rated infield prospects, Henderson (No. 4) and Westburg (No. 6) both jumped three levels in ’21, from Class A Delmarva to Double-A Bowie. That required juggling both natural shortstops between short and third base, in what the Orioles foresee as a possible future arrangement at the big league level. The club began working to increase both players’ versatility at its 2020 instructional camp, where Henderson and Westburg both moved around the infield and dabbled in outfield work as well. 

Both followed that experience up with productive 2021 campaigns. Westburg, 22, hit .285 with 15 homers and 17 steals in 112 games, the majority coming at Advanced-A Aberdeen. Henderson, 20, watched his numbers sag a bit at Aberdeen after excelling at Delmarva, but still paired 17 homers and 16 steals in 105 games across three levels. Both could begin 2022 at Double-A Bowie. 

“I think I made huge jumps this year,” Westburg said. “At instructs, that was my first taste of pro ball. I was coming right off that COVID shutdown, so while I had a good instructs, I feel like this season, the more you play the better you’re going to get. Repetitions are probably the best way of learning this game, and I just feel like I’m better in all facets from playing 120 games.”