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Inbox: Does prospect Diaz have O's in sight?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers questions from fans
@JoeTrezz
January 24, 2020

BALTIMORE -- Just a few weeks separate the Orioles from the official start of camp in Sarasota, Fla., and all the sunshine and optimism that date annually brings. While we wait, we figured we’d bide the time by tackling another batch of Orioles questions. Fresh faces and young players were

BALTIMORE -- Just a few weeks separate the Orioles from the official start of camp in Sarasota, Fla., and all the sunshine and optimism that date annually brings.

While we wait, we figured we’d bide the time by tackling another batch of Orioles questions. Fresh faces and young players were a theme again as we crack open the Inbox for the second time in 2020.

I do. Yusniel Diaz, currently the club’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is going to get a longer look this spring than last, at the very least. He’s ticketed to begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk and get a chance to reach the Majors by this summer. Mike Elias all but confirmed as much this week, speaking at a fan engagement session at the Delmarva Shorebirds' annual offseason dinner.

There are just two things Diaz must do hold up his part of the deal: stay healthy and hit. He likely would have reached Triple-A had not been for a quadriceps injury last season; he also missed time due to hamstring ailment and was limited to 76 games at Double-A Bowie overall. Those layoffs sent Diaz to winter ball this offseason, where he hit .173 without a homer in 14 games.

All told, he’s hit .255/.331/.450 with 16 homers in 114 games at Double-A since coming over in the Manny Machado trade, compared to .314/.428/.477 with six homers in 59 games at the level prior.

I still think the Orioles are going to sign a veteran starter, whether that’s before camp begins or after. So there probably aren’t going to be as many open rotation spots as it appears now. But it’s a fair question for a club that cycled through 18 starters last season and is again going to need all the depth it can get.

The O’s added another option with the Minor League deal for righty Brady Rodgers on Thursday, so let’s begin there. Rodgers, 29, is another former Elias draftee from his time with the Astros, having made eight career appearances for Houston. He missed most of 2017 and part of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, then pitched to a 4.58 ERA in 18 games (16 starts) at Triple-A since. Rodgers is a control artist who has averaged just 1.7 BB/9 across eight Minor League seasons.

Rob Zastryzny is another offseason addition, but besides him, there are a lot of names you are probably already familiar with. Luis Ortiz, Tom Eshelman, Chandler Shepherd and Ty Blach are all expected in camp after being outrighted to Norfolk, and they all are candidates to be summoned to make spot starts at the big league level throughout the summer. They all will probably begin the year, though, at Triple-A, along with non-roster prospects Alex Wells, Zac Lowther and Bruce Zimmerman. The Orioles are intrigued by, but are not going to rush, that lot.

Two more names to watch for on the relief side: Isaac Mattson and Marcos Diplan. Mattson was part of the Dylan Bundy trade, reached Triple-A last season and puts up huge strikeout numbers. Diplan was claimed off waivers from Detroit in December. The Orioles might want to get eyes on him.

Given where they are on their competitive cycle, the Orioles haven’t exactly spent the winter stockpiling veteran insurance in case their incumbent starters flounder. They do have more infield depth than at this point last year, with guys like Richard Urena and non-roster invitees Dilson Herrera and Jose Rondon in the fold. They could push Rio Ruiz, especially, for playing time this spring. If Ruiz slumps this summer, No. 24 prospect Rylan Bannon presents another option. The biggest threat to Renato Nunez is the imminent arrival of Ryan Mountcastle, who is going to need at find at-bats somewhere in the Nunez, Trey Mancini and Chris Davis mix.

I actually think the opposite. It’s true the Orioles went heavy on position players last year, especially from the college ranks. That was what the board dictated and also what their system needed. Baltimore remains strong on pitching prospects, but mostly at the upper levels. The O’s are not going to draft based on need with the No. 2 pick, but it is probably reasonable to believe they might balance out the lower half of their system by targeting extra arms in the mid-tier rounds.

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