After latest run-scoring hit, is Yusniel Diaz pushing for a roster spot?

SARASOTA, Fla. - After his latest important and attention-grabbing hit - a three-run double for the lead yesterday versus the Tampa Bay Rays - the question may be asked again: Can 22-year-old outfielder Yusniel Diaz make the Orioles’ opening day roster, and should he be a strong candidate to start in right field?

The young outfielder who is the club’s No. 1 ranked prospect initially struggled after he was traded to Baltimore last year. He came to the club in the Manny Machado deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 18. He was just coming off playing in the Futures Game, where he hit two homers, but then he hit .239/.329/.403 with a .732 OPS in 38 games at Bowie.

Diaz-Swings-Bowie-Orange-Sidebar.jpgBut he is not struggling now under the Florida sun. His well-struck double down the third-base line yesterday in the eighth turned a 5-3 deficit into a 6-5 Orioles lead, and the Birds won 9-6 at Charlotte Sports Park. Diaz is 10-for-26 (.385) with three doubles, a homer and six RBIs. He made a nice running catch earlier this week when playing in center field. The skills and tools are apparent.

But his time on the major league roster may have to wait. Since Diaz struggled a bit last year at Bowie and has yet to play at all at the Triple-A level, is it in his or the club’s best interest to skip the International League and send him to Baltimore later this month?

Diaz is impressive in camp, but so is Austin Hays. And Anthony Santander. And Joey Rickard. And Eric Young Jr. And DJ Stewart has had his moments too.

When he was my guest on an Orioles.com broadcast on Monday, I asked executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias how service-time considerations might come into play as the club begins to set its opening day roster. And we specifically discussed how that could relate to Diaz.

“We want to put the best team on the field,” Elias said “In our situation, though, we have to prioritize the individual development of the players and probably err on the side of development. Just because there is no hurry to get these guys up when we are looking long-term, big picture with them.

“In the case of Diaz and some of the guys here that have had a tremendous camp, you look at what they’ve done in the minor leagues so far. And Yusniel struggled a bit when he got to Bowie. He’s young and he’s yet to spend any time at Triple-A, and you could argue he’s yet to really graduate Double-A. So, we’ll see how it shakes out. I can tell you, I’m extremely excited to have him in the organization. I think he’s legit and so we’re going to do the best thing for his future and our future.”

And the best thing for the future of both may not be Diaz on the roster early this year, no matter how exciting that prospect might be to fans. When it comes to prospects, sometimes it doesn’t take long for fans to herald the arrival of one young player and then quickly turn the page to say, “Who is next?”

Cedric Mullins’ call-up last August was exciting, but fans might wonder who will follow him to Baltimore. When it comes to these young outfielders, and even those not so young, the Orioles are facing some tough choices. But team management no doubt would rather have such a decision than have to look around and wonder who will fill out the roster.

Spring training stats can fool us sometimes, but right now it’s all we have for the 2019 season beyond the sometimes scant track records and histories for these players. Diaz and several others are thriving.

They are showing the talent that the Orioles were always confident they have. There are some great signs with these players in camp. Now the club has to decide how ready they are for the majors, and when the right time to make the call to bring them to Baltimore might be.

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