The Orioles provided plenty of disappointment this season. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s farm system rocketed to the top spot of several rankings. If you’re tired of reading about a bright future despite the major league team’s struggles, then boy do I have a story for you.
Not all of the club’s prospects contributed to the rise in the rankings. While Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez garnered national attention, a pair of high-level prospects turned in two abysmal seasons.
The Orioles acquired Yusniel Díaz and Rylan Bannon in the trade that sent Manny Machado to the Dodgers back in 2018. It’s important to point out that the move was made by former general manager Dan Duquette and not Mike Elias— important for Mike Elias’ sake, that is.
Díaz entered the organization as the price piece of the deal. Few expect him to equal the talent of Machado, but there were reasons to be excited. The Dodgers dropped $31 million between salary and a penalty fee to sign Díaz as a young prospect in 2015. He had just hit two homers in the MLB Futures game, and had already reached Double-A.
At the time of his arrival, it was easy to picture Díaz arriving in Baltimore by the end of 2019. Flash forward to present day, and Díaz will not make his MLB debut until at least 2022.
Díaz has flip-flopped between injured and underperforming over the last few years. He went for the double whammy this season with a .157/.225/.251 slash line in just 54 games. The outfielder suffered injuries to his toe and quad and never pressed for major league time.
It’s almost surreal that Díaz has yet to make his debut at Camden Yards. Several readers picked him to be the first prospect called up this season in the 2021 pre-season contest, but he never forced his way to Baltimore.
Once the Orioles’ top ranked prospect, Díaz struck out 69 times compared to just 14 walks for Norfolk. He hit just .179 in 11 rehab games with Bowie, and tallied only five home runs between the two affiliates.
The guy was clearly banged up, even when on the active roster, and it’s fair to wonder why Baltimore continued to play him in games. The club clearly felt he was healthy enough to play and that he could receive some type of positive development this season. Sure, he’s only twenty-five, but the Cuban prospect began playing minor-league ball as a teenager.
Díaz may still have time to figure things out, but he’s no longer in the Orioles’ immediate outfield plans. Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays are definite pros, and Ryan McKenna appears to have a leg up in the fourth-outfielder competition for next season. Kyle Stowers advanced all the way to Triple-A in 2021, and Anthony Santander remains with the team.
Díaz will join Stowers and several other Baltimore prospects in the Arizona Fall league this month. It’s unknown if Díaz feels better than he did at the end of the season—he managed just two hits in his final eight games—but he must show something. Díaz already fell out of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects according to MLB.com.
Baltimore swapped a 26-year-old Machado for a package of five prospects. Starting pitcher Dean Kremer arrived in the deal. So did infielder Breyvic Valera and pitcher Zach Pop, but they are no longer with the organization.
Duquette called Bannon a “versatile defender with excellent on-base skills” at the time of the deal. Unlike Díaz, Bannon actually played to his potential early on. The righty slashed .317/.344/.549 over his final 20 games at Norfolk in 2019. After a lost minor-league season in 2020, Bannon arrived in Sarasota this year with a real chance to break camp with the team.
Unfortunately, Bannon caught the injury bug early this season. While fans dreamed of Jahmai Jones and Bannon to replace Rio Ruiz and Maikel Franco, Bannon strained his oblique. He did not return until July and slashed just .172/.242/.310 in his first 95 plate appearances.
Bannon limped through most of the summer before catching absolute fire in the middle of August. The 25-year-old rattled off 10 home runs in a 10 game stretch that had fans wondering what in the world he’d been eating. The streak included two multi-homer efforts, and represented a rare power surge for a guy not thought of as a deep threat.
Bannon cooled off in a hurry and slashed just .181/.352/.264 over the month of September. Bannon is regarded as a serviceable defender, but his bat does not possess the desired pop at third—you know, when he’s not channeling his inner DJ Stewart/Babe Ruth.
Bannon lacks the pedigree of Díaz, and 2022 truly figures to be a make or break year for the player. Both Bannon and Díaz are already on the 40-man roster. It’s possible, although not likely, that Bannon could get squeezed out as early as this offseason.
It’s very safe to say that the Machado deal did not turn out how Baltimore intended. Díaz, Bannon and Kremer all have work to do to prove they even belong on a major-league roster. All three should have an opportunity to prove it next season, but the trio certainly did not help its cause this season.
Monday: Tyler Nevin