SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles won’t commemorate Dec. 2, 2022 with a special celebration in future years. Patches won’t be sewn onto uniform sleeves. Just another day in a baseball offseason, except it stood out because of two transactions that illustrated one of their priorities.
They wanted left-handed hitters who could play first base and compete for jobs in camp.
Residency on the 40-man roster wasn’t a prerequisite, nor was it promised.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias claimed Lewin Díaz off waivers from the Marlins and later signed Franchy Cordero to a split contract that the team announced as a minor league deal.
Díaz found his way back after a trade to the Braves, a waiver claim and an outright assignment after being designated for assignment. A chaotic winter. Tracking it from the outside was almost as stressful.
Cordero didn’t leave the organization. He just waited for camp to start with his fourth organization since 2019.
The Padres and Royals traded him. The one-time prospect couldn’t avoid the minor league shuttle or injured list. Groin, forearm, elbow surgery to remove a bone spur, wrist, COVID-19, ankle. The bingo card was filled a long time ago.
Cordero bruised a baseball Tuesday afternoon in Bradenton, lining a pitch from Pirates reliever Hunter Stratten over the fence in left-center field. The man is known for his power and exit velocities, hitting the second-longest home run in the majors in 2018 with a 489-foot shot on April 20, 2018. He also led the minors in triples with 16 in 2016 and 18 the following year.
The transition from outfield to first base with the Red Sox hasn't gone smoothly. The Orioles need him to at least be adequate at the position and present himself as a legitimate candidate to back up Ryan Mountcastle.
“Before last year, hasn’t played a ton of first base,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I want to give him some reps over there, see how much he’s improved defensively at first base. You saw the bat (Tuesday). We saw it against us a couple times last season.
“This guy was a big-time prospect in San Diego for a reason. He’s athletic and he’s got huge power, left-handed bat. A guy who’s making a little bit of a transition into first base, and just want to give him an opportunity to make our club.”
Cordero, 28, is a career .221/.290/.386 hitter in 227 major league games. He hasn’t hit more than eight home runs, but he also hasn’t received more than 275 plate appearances, which came last summer. He struck out 92 times in 84 games.
In Sunday’s game at Lakeland, Cordero had a single and a run-scoring fielder’s choice grounder in a 10-6 win over the Tigers. He followed Jordan Westburg’s RBI double Tuesday with his first spring homer.
“Just continuing to emphasize the approach at home plate and working really hard and just continuing to do good things moving forward,” Cordero said yesterday via translator Brandon Quinones.
Cordero didn’t make it into yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. Díaz broke up the combined no-hit bid by lining a single into right field in the ninth inning, and he scored with two outs on Heston Kjerstad’s single in a 2-1 loss.
Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, is 5-for-6 with two home runs. But he doesn't directly impact Cordero.
Díaz is 4-for-8 with two doubles and a homer this spring, and he’s a plus fielder at first. But Cordero, whose deal pays $1.35 million if he's in the majors and $450,000 in the minors, appears to welcome the challenge.
“I think that competition is really good,” he said. “It’s going to help us push each other, but at the same time, we’re all friends from playing with each other or playing against each other, like Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn. It’s really cool to be a part of.”
Cordero smoked a Stratton fastball that dared to hover middle/away, getting out in front and tattooing it without much of a launch angle.
Gotta hit to keep up.
“Sure enough,” he said, “some of the things I want to emphasize in this camp are I want to make hard contact when I hit the ball.”
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