The Orioles are performing an exhausting juggling act with their prospects. The kind that doesn’t bring joy, like when another player moves up the affiliate chain.
They arrange an injury rehab assignment. They reinstate someone else from the injured list. They are forced to shut down someone else.
Talk about having a lot of balls in the air.
The club passed along good news this week regarding outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who joined Double-A Bowie on his rehab assignment. But wait, there’s something wrong with Baysox left-hander DL Hall, the No. 4 prospect in the system whose soreness in the elbow/triceps area is shelving him for at least a few weeks.
Not too serious, we’re told, but concerning to the point where the Orioles arranged an MRI that didn’t reveal any structural damage.
The Orioles used the second overall pick in the 2020 draft on University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who was diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart, and didn’t participate in any summer camps or workouts.
Kjerstad, the No. 3 prospect in the system, was performing light baseball activities and conditioning exercises this month in Sarasota, Fla. until the Orioles shut him down. More inflammation and more concerns that go far beyond the timeline to get him started on his professional career. This is life.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias described it as “a bump in the road,” but also a serious condition that must be handled with extreme care.
So, we’ve covered the good, the bad and the scary.
Coby Mayo also is waiting to get his career started, though his situation is different. Chosen three rounds after Kjerstad last summer, he couldn’t play because minor league baseball was canceled due to the pandemic. He’s coming out of high school and ticketed for the short-season Florida Complex League that starts June 28.
“I just tweaked it a little bit,” he said earlier this week. “I’m not rushing to get back out on the field. Obviously my first year, just trying to get healthy, 100 percent. I’m working hard in the weight room, just making sure everything’s 100 percent before I get back to play.
“I was swinging and I just kind of twisted my knee up and just had discomfort. The athletic staff told me to just rest for a little bit, stay off it and get back to work in the next few weeks, and that’s what I did. I’m working really hard here and having a good time in extended. Really put in the work with these guys and having a good time.”
Mayo said he’s doing “everything,” besides playing in games and said the plan is to be ready for the start of the rookie league or really close to it.
“I’ve been hitting, throwing, taking ground balls, stretching, I’m in the weight room,” he said.
“If it’s a week later or the day of the game, it is what it is, but the plan is for me to start Game 1, and I’m excited for that.”
The Orioles gave Mayo a $1.775 million bonus, well above the $565,600 slot value for that pick, and began their evaluating at the fall instructional camp.
“I haven’t played a game since around the middle of March 2020, so it’s been a year and some months,” Mayo said. “I’m extremely excited to get back on the field and play a season. Instructs and spring training games are just games against some pitching, but once I start a season and get back into everyday playing, I think it’s going to be a blast. I’m going to have a lot of fun.”
The Orioles made sure that Mayo stayed busy last summer during his idle time, finding ways to keep their young players engaged with a varsity of creative activities meant to educate and bond.
“They did a really, really good job,” Mayo said. “They had a lot of the new players on Zoom calls every Monday/Thursday and we read books together and got to know each other through Zoom. That was kind of a new way of communicating with the team and some of the guys. We read some books that were really key in our organization, what the Orioles preach, so that was really good.
“We did Zoom cooking and they just did a really good job of keeping the guys together and really learning about each player, so when we got to spring training we knew each and every one a little bit better than we would have known.”
The book is called “Legacy,” and Mayo said it chronicles how the veteran players set examples for the younger guys and all the things that come into play when, as he put it, “it gets down to grind time.”
“Just how to win, really. Those little things, how to come out successful, those tough games, what we could do better with each teammate to get better,” he said.
Much of Mayo’s work has been with Anthony Villa, one of the Florida Complex League hitting coaches, and the strength and conditioning staff. He gets his work at third base with the infield coaches, and Dave Walker, the minor league medical coordinator, has helped Mayo through his rehab after a few weeks in shutdown mode.
“We did a really, really good job doing that,” Mayo said. “I feel like my body’s in good shape right now, and I’m just really excited to get back on the field.”
There seems to be a mix between working on the skillset that Mayo brought from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where he grew to 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds with 70-grade power, and introducing him to some new methods. No drastic changes.
“I think that they’ve done a good job, even back at instructs when I got here, to let me kind of do my thing,” he said. “Something here and there they saw that they thought I could improve on, they’ve helped me out a little bit, and I would say it’s the same thing in spring training. I got there and I felt my body was in the best shape it’s ever been and I felt really, really good with my swing and my glove and my feet. I was actually running really well, moving well.
“Obviously, I’m 19 years old and I’m still young. There’s going to be adjustments that have to be made, whether it’s on the field, off the field. But I think they did a good job trying to help me out.”
The analytics apparently will come later into his world.
“I have never been a huge analytics guy,” he said. “I think that if you need it, it will come along, but right now I’m just trying to do what I’ve always done and just hit the ball and let my size and let everything play out.”
Mayo was able to spend some time with Kjerstad in camp before the outfielder’s medical setback.
“Talking to him, he’s a great, great, great guy, just to be able to talk to him about what he went through with college ball and being the second-overall pick in the draft and how much pressure that’s kind of being held on him.,” Mayo said. “But I think he’s going to be fine. I don’t think he’s in a big rush. I think he’s going to be the player that everybody thinks he’s going to be. I’m excited to see what’s in store for him.”