SARASOTA, Fla. - Outfielder Nomar Mazara is new to the Orioles, signing a minor league contract on Dec. 6. He knows catcher James McCann and non-roster outfielder Daz Cameron from previous stops, but it’s one of the team’s former hitting coaches who’s created the strongest ties.
Scott Coolbaugh, who held the job with the Orioles for the last four seasons of manager Buck Showalter’s tenure, has worked with Mazara in three organizations – the Rangers in various capacities after they signed him as an amateur free agent in July 2011, the White Sox in 2020 and Tigers in 2021.
Has to be some sort of record, or darn close to it.
Mazara appeared in 55 games with the Padres last summer and he just missed another reunion with Coolbaugh, who was hired in January to serve as an assistant hitting coach.
“Nomar Mazara is a great guy, good character and usually very quiet and goes about his business,” Coolbaugh wrote in a text message. “I’ve known him since he was 16. Offensively, he is very capable of being a threat versus right-handed pitching and is less versus left-handed pitching. His biggest issue is that he has slowed down defensively with range and speed. Very accurate with his arm but slow to transfer.
“I have always been a big supporter of Nomar, as I was able to get the White Sox and Tigers to give him a chance. He’s very good with Latin players. He’s always played a very good role in the clubhouse with that part of the team. I’m rooting for him to do well.”
Mazara, 27, hit 79 home runs in four seasons with the Rangers beginning in 2016, when he finished fifth in voting for American League Rookie of the Year. He had 30 doubles and drove in 101 runs in 2017.
The White Sox acquired Mazara in a Dec. 10, 2019 trade for outfielder Steele Walker. The Orioles are Mazara’s fourth organization since that day, and he’s hit six home runs since leaving the Rangers, who gave him a $5 million signing bonus as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic.
Mazara appeared in 35 games with Triple-A El Paso last summer, reaching base in all of them and batting .367/.454/.641 with 14 doubles and seven homers. He was slashing .292/.348/.392 with the Padres on July 26 before his playing time dwindled after the trade deadline and they released him Aug. 23.
Ryan Flaherty, an Orioles utility infielder for six seasons after his selection in the 2011 Rule 5 draft, is entering his fourth year on the Padres’ staff. He was promoted in February to bench coach and offensive coordinator, essentially taking over as hitting coach but without the title.
He, too, knows a lot about Mazara.
“The thing is, after the Detroit season he really set out on a swing change, and I think a lot of that showed up last year, especially when he was in Triple-A here,” Flaherty said in a recent phone conversation. “He played sparingly in the big leagues, but even then, he was serviceable. I think he just ran into a crowded outfield situation and he kind of got the short end of the stick.
“Like a lot of older guys in the game, he really tried to adapt to what was happening and become a productive player again like he was in Texas. He was very open about the change he made and the path changes to his swing after the 2021 season. We saw a lot of that. I think he’s going to come in and have a productive year with Baltimore.
“He has it. The game adjusts, the game changes, and it’s so easy in the modern game to find weaknesses in hitter, and if don’t cover it up and you don’t adjust, then you’re out of a job. I think after the 2021 season he was at that point of like, ‘Look, I’ve got to change,’ and he did. Even watching him in the cage and the way he challenged himself in spring training, he went to El Paso and was very productive and then he got limited at-bats with us. He still has what he had in those years in Texas. There’s still a lot left.”
Flaherty also noted Mazara’s positive clubhouse influence.
“He’s a great guy,” Flaherty said, “very mature.”
Mazara worked on reducing the unnecessary movement when he batted.
“I had a really good year, but I wasn’t consistent,” he said. “I was really, really good and then really, really bad. I think last year with all the hard work that I put in, that was like one of the best years I felt like swinging-wise, just the consistency. I wasn’t playing every day, and (not) playing every day, it’s hard to hit, but just doing platoon stuff I was able to be consistent with the stuff that I fixed.”
The Orioles are heavily stocked in outfielders, with the starting trio of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays returning and the roster also expected to hold Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers. Fitting Mazara will be tricky, especially since he doesn’t play first base and can’t back up Ryan Mountcastle.
“You want to have depth and he’s definitely a major league option that just makes our camp deeper, our spring training roster deeper from the ability to play the outfield, a left-handed bat,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “You saw how many left-handed bats that they signed this offseason and he’s one of those. We’re looking for bench pieces, also, platoon pieces, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to see what he can do this spring.”
Mullins and Santander are leaving camp for the World Baseball Classic, which provides more outfield reps and swings for other players.
“Makes it a little easier to have two guys who would be playing every other day not here,” Hyde said. “We’d love to have them here, but they’re both doing a really cool thing by playing in the WBC. But it does give some at-bats to others that we want to take a look at.”
Mazara just wants a chance, and he expects to receive it. The numbers don’t discourage him.
“One of the main reasons why I came here, it was a minor league contract to make the team,” he said.
“They’re cooking something good here. If you saw what they did last year, that’s impressive. Just talking to them and everything, where they’re at right now, they’re trying to fix a lot of stuff and they’re moving forward on the right path. They’re trying to put the pieces together and I think I can help them at some point or whenever they’re going to need me.”
Maybe the latest change of scenery can bring back Mazara’s plate production from his Rangers days.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “This is baseball, everybody can have a bad year, but as a human being I look bad, and I went back and looked, there’s probably like a year and a half that wasn’t great and fixed stuff that needed to be fixed. Just looking back last year, I felt really, really good, and all the hard work I put in last offseason is paying off. Just keep grinding, keep working hard, because I still have a lot in the tank.
“We as a player want to keep getting better and try to find stuff that’s going to make you more consistent, and I think I found that consistency last year. And moving on this year, I’m going to try to do that, too.”
Mazara won’t balk at being the designated hitter if that’s all he’s got.
“I’m here to help them any way that I can,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s DH or if they want to put me where they want to put me. It’s going to be up to them. That’s why they signed me. They think they’re going to need my bat at some point, so I’m happy with whatever decision they make. I’m going to go out there and work my tail off and just try to help anyway I can.
“I’m considered a veteran now, so whatever they need me (to do), any way I can help, I’m going to be right there ready for them.”