As recently as five years ago, a prospect as good as Coby Mayo would have been the most exciting Orioles hitting prospect there was. It is a testament to the collection of talent now in the organization that Mayo, who led the entire O’s organization in several offensive categories including home runs and slugging percentage while reaching Triple-A as a 21-year-old, is not only not the top-ranked prospect but might only be third or fourth.
The 2023 season was a breakout one for Mayo, whose results started to match the potential that prospect writers have believed him to have ever since the Orioles drafted him in the fourth round of the shortened 2020 draft. Hardly anyone ever doubted Mayo’s raw power, which is the scouting term for the ability to hit the ball hard in batting practice. A question was whether he’d be able to display game power, which as it sounds is the ability to translate the raw power into game results.
If it weren’t for the plethora of players already in Norfolk to start the season, Mayo might have gotten promoted from Double-A Bowie earlier than he did. He spent those games bombing the Eastern League, putting up a .307/.424/.603 batting line that showcased both impressive power and plate discipline while he was nearly three years younger than the average player at this level.
This was not a given for Mayo to dominate Double-A this way. In a month-plus taste of the level to close out last year, Mayo OPSed just .729 and struck out in more than one-third of his plate appearances. There were challenges to overcome there, and at least as far as the results go, it looks like he’s answered those challenges.
The Florida high school product kept on rolling once he got the second half of the season call to Triple-A. Now more than five years younger than the average competition and regularly going up against MLB experienced players in the International League, Mayo went on a slightly less impressive but still incredible two month tear. 62 games was still enough time for Mayo to hit 12 homers while slugging .512.
One crucial improvement for Mayo this year is just that he didn’t strike out as much. Across both levels, he struck out in 24.1% of plate appearances this season. That would be on the high end for MLB players; just 32 of the 133 guys who qualified for the batting title struck out at least that often.
There are a number of players who are productive or even star-level talents in the 24-28% strikeout rate range, though, including one who’s occasionally mentioned as a comparison for Mayo, Atlanta’s Austin Riley. Riley’s MLB strikeout percentage this year was 24.1%, just like Mayo’s in the minors, and Riley, a third baseman like Mayo has mostly been, walked less often than Mayo does on the way to a 5-6 WAR season, so you could even argue that Mayo has something on Riley.
Riley has 108 homers in the past three seasons. That would be a heck of a comparison to live up to. It is worth noting while on that comp that Riley did not find his footing at the plate until his third MLB season when he was 24.
As for Mayo, it’s not looking like he will remain at third base. That’s as much because of the fact of his being a 6’5” power hitter, not a group known for maintaining the agility needed for the hot corner over their careers, as it is the reality of who the Orioles already have in the left side of the infield mix.
If Gunnar Henderson is your third baseman and Jackson Holliday is your shortstop, where do you squeeze in Mayo? First base feels like an easy option, and perhaps the Orioles think this too, since Mayo made 28 starts at first this season. This might be something of a waste for an arm that, according to MLB Pipeline, grades an elite 70 on baseball’s weird 20-80 scouting scale.
People who have spent a lot of time watching clips of Mayo launching home runs for Norfolk would probably happily shuffle Ryan Mountcastle to the side to get Mayo in Baltimore as the first baseman right now. It would not fit the established patterns of the Mike Elias front office to behave in this way.
If Mayo is meant to handle, say, right field, the Orioles haven’t tested him there yet. We all know that there’s also a crowd in combining the Orioles outfield present and near future as well. Elias joked - or perhaps gave a half-serious half-joke - that he thinks about the prospect logjam every day of his life. He will continue to think about it until trades of some of the really hyped prospects he’s drafted thin out the ranks.
Should Mayo be looked at as an untouchable in such trade talks? It certainly seems to me that he should. Though it’s not automatic that he’ll be able to succeed in MLB thanks to his existing strikeout issues, Mayo’s 2023 minor league performance when he’s still just 21 suggests that he might just be able to be one thing that the Orioles, for all their quality this season, truly lacked: An elite power threat in the lineup. They just didn’t have that guy, and had to settle for Henderson and Anthony Santander tying for the team lead with 28 home runs. A 35+ home run guy would be nice.
Another question about Mayo is whether he could be that guy when considering that he’s a right-handed batter who would go up against the altered left field dimensions at Camden Yards. Consider Jordan Westburg, who hit 18 home runs in 67 games for Norfolk this very season and only hit three in 68 games with the Orioles.
Mayo hit plenty of homers that looked like it wouldn’t matter where the fence was, because they were just laser line drives that were destined to go a long way. He might be punished less than some righty batters who were cashing in on some of their weaker fly balls just turning into home runs. If the Orioles believe this about Mayo, he’s got to be untouchable. If they don’t, then they’ve got to trade him before other teams start to notice he’s not going to live up to his prospect hype.
Will he be on the 2024 Orioles?
Yes. This is my prediction: The Orioles will not trade Mayo, nor will they trade anyone who would ease the path to playing time for Mayo. When next September rolls around, he will be the guy who they have to find a place for on the roster, just like Gunnar Henderson last year and Heston Kjerstad this year.
2023 prospect reviews: Alex Pham/Trace Bright, Billy Cook/John Rhodes, International Prospects, Carter Baumler/Seth Johnson, Creed Willems, Justin Armbruester, Max Wagner, Jud Fabian, Mac Horvath, Cade Povich, Chayce McDermott, Dylan Beavers, Enrique Bradfield Jr., Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, Samuel Basallo
Tomorrow: Heston Kjerstad