The fact that Major League Baseball was able to squeeze in 60 games last summer remains an impressive achievement. Over a year after the 2020 season was originally postponed, baseball is still feeling the effects.
While attendance at games will still be limited, the largest COVID restriction still in place deals with the one thing most O’s’ fans have spent the last few years focusing on— prospects.
It was disappointing to see a year without minor league baseball last season, and fans must now wait a little longer after the Triple-A season was delayed until the month of May. While everyone remains hopeful that farm teams will play this summer, the delay will continue to limit fans’ ability to get their eyes on top youngsters.
It also places an emphasis on any glimpse the public can gain at spring training. While several of the Birds’ top prospects will not make the Opening Day roster, they have spent at least some time at big league camp. What have we learned so far?
Felix Hernández’s elbow was always going to be the story of the day yesterday, but the Orioles also made another round of cuts. Rylan Bannon, Tyler Nevin, Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna and right-handed pitcher Ashton Goudeau were all assigned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Bannon arrived in Sarasota with the best odds of the bunch to break camp with the Orioles. With Rio Ruiz’s well documented struggles over the last two seasons, Bannon was a strong spring away from a potential timeshare at the hot corner or even winning the job outright.
Instead, Bannon appeared overmatched with just three hits in 17 plate appearances this spring. The Orioles officially signed Maikel Franco yesterday, which figures to delay Bannon’s debut until at least the second half of this season. Bannon managed to work seven walks this spring, and still should have an opportunity to force his way to Baltimore with a strong start at Norfolk.
The name Yusniel Díaz carries the most weight among the group after the prospect was acquired (along with Bannon and starting pitcher Dean Kremer) for Manny Machado back in 2018. While the idea of Díaz failing to debut by 2021 would have seemed like a major disappointment at the time, Díaz does appear set to make his way to Baltimore at some point this summer.
Díaz showed some pop this spring with a .261 average and .346 OBP. He blasted an absolute no-doubter against the Pirates early on, and tallied five RBIs. Unfortunately, Díaz struck out 11 times in 23 at bats. It’s easy to think the 24-year-old could have been pressing a bit, but Díaz must get the K-rate under control prior to a potential call up.
The Orioles acquired Nevin in a deal that sent reliever Mychal Givens to Colorado. Nevin put up a respectable .263 average and .348 OBP in 19 at bats. The first baseman never really figured to be a part of the mix with the return of Trey Mancini and presence of Ryan Mountcastle. Still, Nevin could play his way to the show at some point if Chris Davis remains on the injured list.
McKenna made a name for himself in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, but has failed to produce consistently at Double-A. McKenna hit just .222 in 18 at bats but posted a .400 OBP and scored five times. The 24-year-old is pretty far down the list of potential outfielder options, but his age and ability to play all three positions make him a candidate for a late season addition.
The Orioles must find out what they have in McKenna eventually. Baltimore added the speedster to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule- 5 draft, so playing time is not out of the question.
The Orioles claimed Goudeau at the Winter Meetings last December. Goudeau pitched only four innings for Baltimore this spring. He represents bullpen depth after struggling through four appearances with Colorado in 2020.
Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson have dominated the headlines this spring and for good reason. Still, there’s a chance that anyone from this group plays a part in the 2021 season. Will the Orioles finally see results from Díaz, and is the clock running out on anyone else? Only time will tell.