Diaz still can’t crack crowded Orioles outfield

The Orioles begin the non-mathematical second half of their season tonight in Kansas City with six outfielders on the roster if counting Ryan Mountcastle, who’s listed as an infielder on the team’s website. He’s made 31 starts at first base and 18 in left field.

Let’s just say the Orioles have six players on their roster who can play the outfield - seven if including Trey Mancini, but he hasn’t done it since 2019.

That’s the kind of excess talked about over the winter and in spring training, but slow to materialize due to injuries.

Also debated was how the Orioles would make room for Yusniel Diaz, who finally reached Triple-A in 2021. But he’s injured again.

Thumbnail image for Diaz-Comes-Home-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgDiaz remains out of Norfolk’s lineup with turf toe. He hasn’t played since Sunday against Durham.

This is another setback in a series of them. Diaz left a May 9 game in Jacksonville with a right quadriceps strain and didn’t return until June 15.

The season has amounted to 22 games for Diaz, who’s batting .167/.228/.274 with three doubles and two home runs in 92 plate appearances.

Losing the 2020 minor league season during the pandemic was a jolt to Diaz’s development, delaying his arrival at Norfolk. He hasn’t been able to take advantage of the opportunity this summer.

Maybe later.

He’s only 24 years old and toolsy. The No. 8 prospect in the system, according to MLBPipeline.com, though adjustments are coming with the 2021 draft class. There’s a lot to like about him. But he’s requiring a lot of patience.

At least the outfield is a depth position, which increased earlier this week with the selection of Sam Houston State’s Colton Cowser with the fifth-overall pick in the draft.

The Orioles expanded their bench to hold four reserves, enabling them to carry rookie Ryan McKenna, who’s been up and down while other outfielders have gone on the injured list. He’s 12-for-65 (.185) with a double and triple, but batted .269/.367/.582 with three doubles and six home runs in 17 games with the Tides.

“Obviously, it’s awesome to make my debut. That’s been the highlight of it,” McKenna said.

“When I was getting regular at-bats I felt pretty good. Triple-A, I felt confident and I was doing good work and continued that here. For me personally, I think it’s been a fun experience and just kind of observing and learning a lot of stuff that goes on at the major league level.”

The same message was delivered to McKenna as others sent down. Play like you don’t belong there.

“Every conversation when I was optioned was positive,” McKenna said. “They said, ‘Go down there and put up some numbers, have fun and do what you need to to get back here,’ and that’s what I took to heart. I felt like I did that and definitely looking forward to being an everyday guy, but when the time’s right.”

McKenna currently profiles as a fourth outfielder, a speed and defense guy, tools that manager Brandon Hyde values. But so did Cedric Mullins and look what happened to him.

Mullins sets a nice example for McKenna as he rejoins the team following his first All-Star selection.

“I think me and Cedric have a lot in common,” said McKenna, a fourth-round pick in 2015 out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, N.H. “He’s having a great year so far and it’s been awesome to see. I think that we all knew he was capable of this and we’ve seen it in the past years, so it’s definitely been fun to be a part of, seeing his journey.

“For sure we have some things in common, but I think getting the work I need to every day is what I have to do to eventually be that guy that they can lean on.”

John Means made his third injury rehab start last night and first with Norfolk, going three-plus innings and charged with two runs and five hits with three walks and four strikeouts. He left with a runner on base after throwing 74 pitches, 46 for strikes, and Memphis’ Clint Coulter homered off Evan Phillips.

Means is expected to rejoin the Orioles in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Rylan Bannon hit his fourth home run and second in three nights. Ryan Ripken hit his first career Triple-A home run and Jahmai Jones had a double and his fifth home run.

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