Sanders talks about Diaz, McKenna and Mountcastle

The Orioles are counting on Yusniel Diaz, one of their top position prospects, to make his major league debut during the summer of 2021. A promotion that was put on hold due to COVID-19.

Diaz will be in camp whenever position players are cleared to report. Published dates are written in hopeful strokes.

First base coach Anthony Sanders doubles as the Orioles’ outfield instructor and he had an opportunity to work with Diaz earlier this month at the three-day minicamp in Sarasota, Fla.

“He looked good,” Sanders said yesterday in a phone conversation. “The minicamp definitely was for some guys who I thought we wanted to make sure we saw coming into spring training, making sure they’re all on the right track. And Diaz, I’ve been following up with the strength and conditioning guys on his workouts and he looks like a man, to be honest with you. He’s a lot stronger. You can tell he put some good weight on. Obviously the arm strength, and the routes and everything are getting crisper.

“I’m excited to see him hopefully get an opportunity at some point this year.”

The next step is Triple-A, assuming there’s an actual minor league season. His arrival in Baltimore at age 24 is anticipated later as long as he’s healthy and playing up to his potential.

The Manny Machado trade came down in July 2018. It’s time for Diaz to debut.

Though viewed primarily as a right fielder, Diaz is capable of handling center and shouldn’t be confined to one spot in projections. The Orioles will evaluate him in the middle and both corners.

The need in center is minimized by the presence of Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, but it’s good to know that Diaz is an option. He’s made 115 appearances in center in the minors, and 179 in right.

“When I talked to the kid and I asked him what’s his favorite position, it’s center field,” Sanders said. “As an outfield coach you love to see that because you never want to lose that ability, if you have it, to play center field.

“He definitely can go back and get it. He may project at some point probably in the corner, but he can definitely go out there and play.”

Ryan McKenna also was at minicamp and no one needed to evaluate him in center, the position he’s played in 408 games during his five minor league seasons. He’s a plus defender who can run, and he’s also expected to reach the majors at some point in 2021.

He may need to settle for a backup role, but the Orioles like what he brings to the outfield party.

McKenna-Can-o-Corn-White-sidebar.jpg“Makes it look easy in the outfield, just like Austin Hays and Mullins do,” said Sanders, who’s beginning his second season with the Orioles. “No issues with him defensively in center field. He can play all three.

“He’s just a kid that needs to play. It was tough for him last year, not getting the development that he probably needed, but he’s on the fast track. He’s definitely a guy who can contribute.”

The Orioles set up the minicamp for five outfielders, including Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart and super-utility player Stevie Wilkerson. Only Mountcastle is assured of a starting job on opening day.

Left field is the fourth position for Mountcastle since the Orioles drafted him in 2015.

“He’s made tons of strides,” Sanders said. “When I first took the job last year, from where he has come from last year to now, if no one knew about him, they would never know that he was converted. It’s still a work in progress, but I think the kid is more relaxed and comfortable out there, which is half the battle. I’m looking forward to him having a really good year.”

There was talk last spring of evaluating Mountcastle in right field, but he seems locked into left unless he’s backing up at first base.

“Right now I think left field is where he’s had the most reps and is comfortable,” Sanders said. ‘I don’t think he’d have any problem going to right field if needed. Obviously I don’t think he’s a center fielder, but I think he’s gotten comfortable in left field and I think that’s probably the plan where they’re going to keep him the majority of the time.”

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