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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Marcos Diplán

If you blinked, you already missed seeing Diplán. He remains on the Orioles 40-man, just back in the minors.

Orioles pitcher Marcos Diplán poses with a baseball
The Mark Brown who took this photograph is not me.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

When he arrived: Outrighted from Orioles 40-man 11/4/21, became free agent, signed minor league contract 11/18/21, contract selected 4/17/22

Who left: John Means placed on 60-day injured list (sigh)

Less than two weeks into the 2022 Orioles season, the Orioles have already summoned four different pitchers to the MLB team who were removed from the 40-man roster last year after not pitching very well. I wrote almost this exact sentence the other day in writing about Travis Lakins Sr. The number has only increased. The Orioles, it seems, really lined up the organization so any needed early-season pitching reinforcements were familiar to them.

Through the first 11 Orioles games, there have been 18 pitchers who have appeared in games. Only two of these pitchers are currently younger than 26 years old. Marcos Diplán is one, Alexander Wells the other. At this moment, both are with Triple-A Norfolk and not the big league team.

Diplán is unique among that group of returning pitchers in that he has already been outrighted off of the Orioles 40-man roster twice. Diplán, who entered the professional ranks after receiving a $1.3 million bonus as an international amateur on July 2, 2013, was designated for assignment by two different teams during the 2019 season and waived by a third after the season. That’s when the Orioles claimed him.

Following the 2020 season, the Orioles outrighted Diplán without having called him up in that shortened campaign. He remained in the organization, paving the way for Diplán to be used for the last two months of the 2021 season. Then they outrighted him again after last season. It’s tough to be a fringe roster guy.

Four teams have actively booted Diplán. He has twice passed through waivers unclaimed by any team. The league has collectively looked at him and said, “Nope.” The Orioles are still in a phase where this is the sort of player they collect, even when they are a team that has said “Nope” about him multiple times.

A player who has previously been handed an outright assignment in his career can refuse a second one and become a free agent. That was the choice Diplán made after the second time the Orioles removed him. It seems Diplán did not have hard feelings. Two weeks later, he signed a minor league contract and was back with the Orioles. This paid off for him, at least in the sense that the season is only 11 games old and Diplán is now officially a two-year MLB veteran.

An obvious question presents itself. Why would the Orioles bother with Diplán after all of this? That’s probably because he did have some prospect heat once, as evidenced by his $1.3 million bonus and some prospect stock early in his career. After his three trips through waivers in 2019, he still checked in as the #28 Orioles prospect on the 2020 FanGraphs O’s list. His assessment at that time:

Diplán was electric early in his pro career and looked like a top 100 talent back in 2016, when he mowed over the Midwest League. Since then his conditioning has been mixed, and his control increasingly problematic. ... He once had three potential plus pitches, so we’re still on Diplán to some degree in the hope that he can recapture the stuff of his teenage years in Baltimore’s bullpen.

In the 2016 campaign mentioned, Diplán struck out 129 batters in 113.1 innings as a 19-year-old. Pretty good! He walked 50, which is less good. The strikeouts decreased and the walks increased. In 2019, he walked 44 batters in just 68.2 innings. And so the waiver game began.

Using him exclusively in relief, the Orioles have tamed this a little bit. At Triple-A, Diplán has “only” walked about a batter every other inning, and his 24 big league innings have been similar. Experience has taught me not to get too excited about “If he could just cut that walk rate a little bit...” guys. Sometimes they do, but mostly they don’t.

There are pitchers who can survive with that kind of walk rate. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has walked a batter every other inning in a 13-year MLB career. Of course, Chapman averaged 100mph on his fastball at his peak, and still averages 98. Diplán’s fastball is about 94 miles per hour. That’s a wide gulf. In an era when it feels like so many teams have bullpens full of 98+ guys, 94 just doesn’t stand out.

The Orioles Opening Day bullpen, meanwhile, was stocked with newer waiver claims than Diplán. Bryan Baker, Joey Krehbiel, and Cionel Pérez were all claimed last year. This trio has thus far combined to allow just one earned run in 14.1 innings. The sample size is small, but it is positive.

Which leaves Diplán, unless something changes, as a “summoned when we need a fresh reliever and sent back down when he’s not fresh” guy. That’s how he got his brief 2022 big league taste already, arriving after Wells was optioned, pitching in one game, then being optioned in turn to make room for Tuesday’s starting pitcher, Chris Ellis - the fourth of those “removed from the 40-man but he’s back again” pitchers and the subject of the next of this series.

Still to come: Chris Ellis