The Orioles don’t necessarily have a screaming need for an outfielder as they set about the task of starting their rebuild process, but they listened when the Dodgers offered Yusniel Díaz as part of the five-player package for shortstop Manny Machado.
Alex Verdugo was off the table, as were a few of the top young pitchers in the Dodgers system, which threatened to curtail trade talks. But Díaz became the centerpiece and Machado headed west.
(I thought it was important to land at least one stud starting pitcher prospect, but teams balked, so to speak. Maybe it becomes Dean Kremer, but I once had visions of Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Yadier Alvarez, Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes. Guess it wasn’t realistic for a rental.)
Double-A Bowie outfielder Austin Hays has been ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the system after earning minor league Player of the Year honors in the organization last summer, but he’s been out since May 24 with an ankle injury and posted a .224/.259/.374 in 43 games. Cedric Mullins is poised to make his major league debut later this summer, the rise perhaps hastened if Adam Jones is traded. DJ Stewart also could have his contract selected, based on his on-base capability and status as a first-round pick - not necessarily in that order. Ryan McKenna has been promoted from Single-A Frederick to Bowie and is an early favorite to succeed Hays as Player of the Year. But Díaz is regarded as having the highest ceiling.
Multiple scouts from outside the organization used the term “toolsy” to describe Díaz. But they also were quick to note the amount of room that exists for Díaz, only 21, to grow as a player.
“He’s a really toolsy kid, young, and he’s still crude,” said a scout who has followed Díaz closely and watched him hit two home runs in the All-Star Futures Game. “He’s a kid that he’s a plus runner, he’s still learning in the outfield, but he could be a center fielder. He can really throw. He’s like a 60 runner. Not a burner.
“He might wind up in right field. He’s got that kind of an arm. He can play center field right now, but his routes and reads right now, he’s not that natural. He has some issues at times with that, but he’s very athletic and he’s got a 65-70 arm (on a scale to 80) and he should be a 60 fielder, 70 arm, 60 runner. And he’s more of a line drive, gap guy. He’s not a power, power guy. He should be maybe 15-20 (home runs), but hit about .280-.290 when he’s ready.”
The Orioles won’t rush him, despite the opportunities for younger players to filter through the active roster.
“I don’t know that he’s big league-ready at this moment, but I think he’d be a September call-up and there’s a chance next year,” the scout said. “It might be pushing it a little bit to be ready to play every day, but he’s an everyday player down the road.
“I don’t think he’s a superstar player, but I think he’s a good player. If he would be Adam Jones, that would be ... no one has him being Adam Jones when you saw Adam Jones at that age, but he’s good. I mean, he’s still on the crude side, but he’s got bat speed. He’s got more of a line-drive stroke, but he hit two home runs in the Futures Game. He runs well. He can really throw. For me, he’s going to be a corner outfielder. He’s not going to be a center fielder.”
Díaz has more walks (41) than strikeouts (39) this season at Tulsa, going against a reputation that he’s developed since the Dodgers signed him out of Cuba in 2015.
“He gets crazy at the plate sometimes, just chasing and being overly aggressive, but there are other times when he’s just a natural player and he just crushes the ball,” the scout said. “His upside is good. His upside is as an All-Star player.”
Another scout said Díaz has the potential to be an everyday player for a first-division club. The Orioles are banking on it.
“He has raw baseball tools, can really run, speed-type player,” the scout said. “High-maintenance type of swing, lots of movement. Aggressive-type hitting approach. He needs to improve plate discipline and must learn to be more consistent with the quality of his at-bats. He has sound defensive action. Often plays out of control, both offensively and defensively.”
A third scout complimented Díaz for his physique and also focused on the potential.
“Young, raw, toolsy outfielder,” he said. “Plays solid defense in center field and right field with a plus arm. An above-average runner that should learn to steal more with instruction.”
It’s going to take plenty of it. Díaz is 24-for-54 in stolen-base attempts in his three minor league seasons.
“Has all-field ability with the bat despite some shuffling of his feet,” the scout said. “The raw power is there and the production will evolve. First-division regular ceiling, but not elite at this point. Just getting started.”
Other scouts have used the word “stud” to describe Díaz. Time will prove them right or wrong.