Mansolino talks about Holliday defense at second and Mayo at third

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles third base coach Tony Mansolino carried his fungo bat to the left side of the cage yesterday and began spraying ground balls to infielders. He moved near the stands behind the plate and fired baseballs into the padding to get his arm loose, then threw his appointed round of batting practice.

Also the team’s infield instructor, Mansolino was separated from two of his prized pupils who made the trip to Dunedin for the other split-squad game against the Blue Jays. Jackson Holliday started at second base again and hit his first spring home run, a grand slam that disappeared over the right field fence and everything beyond it. Coby Mayo made his initial start at first base to put a temporary hold on his tutelage at the opposite corner.

Holliday has a quick bat and he’s a quick study.

If the Orioles were searching for an excuse to reassign him rather than take him to Baltimore for Opening Day, inexperience at second and the need for more reps in Triple-A would have sufficed, especially if he wasn’t performing to their high defensive standards.

An .050 average also might have done the trick, but Holliday is hitting .286 with a .917 OPS, two doubles, two triples and one monstrous homer. Only his 11 strikeouts against one walk in nine games could be held against him.

Mansolino is impressed with Holliday in every way, like anyone else in the industry who’s put eyes on him. He just wishes that Holliday would be tested more in games. The kid has said the same when asked about progress made away from shortstop.

“It’s kind of unique because on the back fields and in all of his practice work it looks really clean," Mansolino said yesterday after the remaining Orioles began filing back into the clubhouse prior to first pitch. "It looks like he’s played second base for a long time. But if we’re counting actual game action at second base at this point, there hasn’t been a lot.

“He hasn’t had to start a double play. He’s had to turn a couple. A little bit jumpy, as to be expected, on a couple of the pivots in-game. But that is going to calm down the more he does it. We need to see some more action at second base, where he’s actually getting balls at second base.

“He’s had some good work at short during games, but I think he’s had probably four or five ground balls at second base. Today, with how things are, the biggest thing is starting the double play at second base, so we need to see it in a game. On the back field it looks professional, like he’s done it 10 years.”

Holliday can lean on a new teammate, Kolten Wong, who’s done it for 11 and won two Gold Gloves.

“It’s incredible,” Mansolino said. “It’s the same as having Brian Roberts and J.J Hardy and these guys who come in. As an instructor, we all have a lot of pride in being technicians and our expertise, but the reality is guys who have done it for a long time, the information that they have and the connection that they can create with a current major league player is different than a guy who hasn’t played in the big leagues, or different than a coach who maybe played in the big leagues a long time ago and has been coaching for 10 years.

“Guys who are kind of fresh out of the game or are still playing, it’s just a little bit different, so we’re thankful for Kolten and we’re thankful that he’s taking the time to mentor Jackson.”

Mayo collected another hit yesterday and is batting .333 with a 1.029 OPS, five doubles, a homer, nine RBIs and four walks in 13 games. His 10 hits are tied with Tyler Nevin for the team lead, his nine RBIs are tied with Colton Cowser for first, and he leads the pack in doubles and at-bats (30).  

The Orioles weren’t obsessing over Mayo’s offensive output. They knew what they were getting in him pretty much since draft day. But they want to develop him as a third baseman before considering first, right field or life as a primary designated hitter. And they needed to see improvement this spring, especially in throwing accuracy across the diamond.

It’s virtually impossible to engage in a conversation about Mayo without plaudits pouring out over his defense. Mansolino is no different in that regard.

“He’s come a long way,” Mansolino said. “Seeing him last year, I think there were a lot of question marks from everybody who watched it. Seeing him this year, you see a path forward. Is he a guy right now who could come to the big leagues and be a plus defender in the major leagues? Probably not there yet. But can he be? We hope so. He’s gonna have to continue to work hard.

“There is a precedent for big-bodied third basemen. We saw one in (North Port) in Austin Riley. I think that’s kind of like the mold you want is that type of size. So, as you look at it and we see the progress, I think it gives us a lot of hope. He's come a long way. And he’s actually a guy now who, you could probably throw him in a game in the big leagues and feel like we’re going to be OK. But we need more than that, too, going forward.

“We want plus defenders all around the field. That’s what this current iteration of the Baltimore Orioles, that’s what we need to be to win the AL East. Coby’s on his way. He’s come a long way. We have a lot more faith and confidence in his ability than what we had in the past, and that’s a credit to him and it’s a credit to the minor league staff to get him to this point. We’re thrilled, but we have to keep building on it.”

The real work began in 2022 in High-A Aberdeen with new manager Roberto Mercado and pitching coach Forrest Herrmann. The organization saw Mayo throwing over the top and sent instructions to the minor league staff to lower his arm slot to three-quarters. Something more “traditional,” as Mansolino called it. Something that would prevent the ball from sailing or crashing into the dirt.

“He went down to Aberdeen that year, and Roberto Mercado and (Herrmann) put a good program in place for Coby and they got him on his way to lowering his slot. And then last year he came to major league camp, it got lowered a little bit, we continued to work on it here,” Mansolino said.

“To Coby’s credit, we asked him to change his throwing motion and he jumped all over it. He wasn’t scared. That’s terrifying as a baseball player, a guy that, you kind of see your future right in front of you. He jumped all over it, he went all-in. He continued to work last year in the minor leagues, and now we see him here and it’s playable accuracy.

“Again, it’s not plus accuracy. It’s going to have to get to that point someday, and that’s the goal. But for a young kid, usually throwing accuracy is one of the last things to come defensively, and he’s now on the path to getting to the point where we need him to be.”

Mayo appreciates the attention Mansolino is giving him and a relationship built on a strong work ethic from both parties.

“He has my best interests in mind and he wants me to be the best player that I can be, whether that’s going to games and watching a third baseman, how they’re set up and how they approach the ball and their starting position,” Mayo said. “He’s done a lot for me so far these last two springs, and I’m just excited for more in the future.”

The days aren’t duplicates. There’s always glove work, making sure it’s in a good spot, but other times it’s more about his throws and consistently hitting his target.

“Sometimes,” Mayo said, “we set up a screen with a little white box on it and you hit that box every time with not full intent, not throwing it 100 percent. Working just on feel throws. Other days it’s lateral footwork, going to get balls on your left, going to get balls on your right. High velo machines shooting out and trying to get the right hop and react the best you can, getting your feet in the right spot. So, it’s a little different. You have some footwork stuff and some arm stuff. He does a good job mixing it up and trying to get the best out of me.”

Besides the instruction and advice that Mayo receives from Mansolino and Wong, he also has the luxury of simply watching Ramón Urías, a Gold Glove winner in 2022.

“Ramón’s very good because he obviously fields the ball great, he’s always in a great position to field a grounder. And he always gains ground when he fields the ball. He makes the throw a lot shorter. He gains ground really well,” Mayo said.

“We’re different players, though. My arm will always help me out a little more, just because sometimes I might not have to make up the ground. He has a fine arm, nothing bad against his arm, but I obviously have a good arm. So, sometimes it’s similar with certain things and sometimes it’s different.”

What stays the same is the impression Mayo has made in camp. He destroyed a ball in North Port, sending it into the parking lot beyond the left field fence, and had the bat control to poke a two-run double down the right field line, but the way he’s playing third base keeps hogging the attention.

Yesterday’s start at first wasn’t the beginning of a trend.

“He doesn’t have a ton of experience over there and I want him to make sure he got three or four at-bats,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I’m trying to give these guys as many at-bats as possible and move guys around a little bit. He’s taken ground balls over there a couple days. I don’t know if you’re going to see him over there again, but I wanted to make sure he got a start (yesterday).

“Coby’s going to be able to play third, first, corner outfield, down the road, kind of wherever it fits. I’m really excited about him going forward. I think he’s a really, really exciting young prospect. He’s got a ton of ability. I think his defense has really trended up.”

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