It could be a tough year for spring training non-roster players looking to break north with the Orioles for opening day 2023. And while the non-roster invitees list has not been announced yet, maybe a reserve lefty-hitter at first base has the best chance to make it among several NRI candidates.
But among those signed to minor league deals to try and make the club in the outfield, one interesting candidate is 27-year-old lefty hitter Nomar Mazara.
Interesting because he has a bit of a resume, even though the Orioles are his fifth team in five years following Texas, the Chicago White Sox, Detroit and San Diego. Once a top 100 rated prospect, Mazara has been a reserve corner outfielder the last two seasons for the Tigers and Padres.
Mazara was once a bonus baby, signed for a then record $4.95 million for an international amateur by the Texas Rangers in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic. He first made the majors at age 20 in April of 2016 and went on to finish fifth that year for the AL Rookie of the Year honor with a .739 OPS and 20 home runs.
On his way to the big leagues, Mazara was a Texas Rangers' top 30 prospect every year from 2012 through 2016. He was ranked in the top 100 at No. 87 by Baseball America in 2015. In 2016 he was No. 9 via ESPN and No. 21 by Baseball America when he was the Rangers' third-ranked prospect.
Mazara hit 20, 20, 20 and 19 homers in his first four years in the bigs from 2016-2019 when he batted .261/.320/.434/.754. But his OPS plus in that span was just 94 as we saw more offense in the game then. He averaged 19.8 homers, 24 doubles and 77 RBIs those four seasons. Last year, in a reserve role with San Diego, he batted .264/.316/.352/.668 with two homers in 55 games, producing an OPS plus of 96.
A lefty thrower, Mazara has played in 549 career games in right field and 90 in left field. He has also made some starts as a DH, but none ever at first base.
His defense I don’t think has ever been considered plus but in 2019 and 2020 he rated in the top 34 percent of outfielders in Outs Above Average per Statcast. And he ranked in the top 15 percent last year for outfield arm strength.
Last season he produced a 5.9 walk rate and 23.4 strikeout rate. For his career he has a 7.3 walk rate and 22.0 K rate.
Mazara, signed by the Orioles to a minor league deal on Dec. 6, has a career .633 OPS versus lefty pitching and .760 against right-handers. For what it is worth, in 23 career at-bats at Camden Yards he has not homered with an OPS of .569.
The Orioles starting outfield may be set with their 2022 holdovers of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays. Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers also saw time during the season. Since the year ended the club added Marara in addition to others like Daz Cameron and Franchy Cordero that could have a shot via the non-roster path. Robert Neustrom from their farm could get a spring look and Colton Cowser, the Orioles top draft pick in 2021, is closing in on the majors after getting in 27 games at Triple-A Norfolk.
So where does Mazara fit in? Depth in case of injury and does he start the season in Triple-A or break north with the Orioles?