BOWIE, Md. - After hitting two homers in the recent All-Star Futures Game and moving into the rankings among the top 50 prospects in baseball, young outfielder Yusniel Díaz was rewarded with a trade.
Three days after he blasted a pair of homers for the World Team in the Futures Game, the 21-year-old Cuban-born Díaz was the headline player the Orioles acquired among five minor leaguers as Manny Machdado was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Díaz said it felt strange to be traded but he’s feeling better about it now after six days with his new teammates at Double-A Bowie. Three of his old Dodgers teammates are with him, as the Bowie roster also includes pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop and infielder Rylan Bannon.
Considered a solid gap-to-gap hitter and a plus outfield defender with an above-average arm, Díaz was rated No. 47 by Baseball America on its midseason top prospects list. He was No. 49 on the ESPN version. The Orioles hope he proves to be that and more as the top player in the first trade for a now-rebuilding organization.
Before the deal, Díaz put up some very solid numbers for Double-A Tulsa. In 59 games he was batting .314/.428/.477 with 10 doubles, four triples, six homers, 30 RBIs and a .905 OPS. He was batting .429 in 11 games in July at the time of the trade.
But he has gotten off to a slow start with the Baysox, batting .100 (2-for-20) with two singles and six strikeouts over his first six games.
Díaz said he doesn’t feel any pressure, even though he is the key player in the trade.
“It feels good to be the key of this trade. But I don’t feel pressure. It is what it is and feels good to be here. I’ve been adapting slowly and everything is going well with my teammates,” he said through translator Macarena Aquirre of the Bowie staff.
Díaz said making the transition to the Orioles organization was made easier by doing so with three other players from the Dodgers organization.
“Feels good to not be the only one coming here. Good to come with friends from the Dodgers that were already my teammates. They are adapting well, as I am with our new teammates.”
Díaz gives the Orioles a third top-100 prospect on the Baseball America mid-year list. That list also includes Austin Hays at No. 65 and Ryan Mountcastle at No. 66. Hays could return soon from an ankle injury, and Bowie could have all three of those players in the same lineup.
Díaz has shown some major gains in plate discipline from last year when you compare his Double-A numbers from a promotion late last season to Tulsa and his 2018 Tulsa numbers. His walk rate jumped from 8.5 to 15.5 and his strikeout rate decreased from 24.6 to 14.8.
“I think I am good with making contact,” Díaz said. “I think there are other aspects of my offensive game that I need to keep working on. I am strong but need to keep working on hitting the ball hard. I’ve worked a lot on the physical aspects of the sport. A lot of work on batting and running, just been getting better at everything to make this a good season.”
That was on display for all to see on the big stage of the Futures Game, where Díaz blasted two homers out to center field off Team USA pitchers. Scouts rate his hit tool ahead of his power right now and he’s known more for doubles and gap-to-gap power, but he hit two longballs at Nationals Park.
“It was great to have the opportunity to play in that game. A game like being in the majors. I was happy to play well with such a chance,” he said.
Considered one of the top international prospects in 2015, Díaz signed with the Dodgers that November for a $15.5 million bonus. The Dodgers paid a 100 percent tax on that for going over their pool amount, so the signing was at a total cost of $31 million.
Bowie manager Gary Kendall has only seen Díaz play six games since Friday, but already likes what he sees.
“He’s got a lot of energy,” Kendall said. “Very impressed so far. He’s played center and right and his routes have been good. He throws well to bases and has arm strength and is accurate. He’s got real good instincts out there.
“Offensively, he’s been hitting in the three-hole and the ball comes off his bat well and he shows some power. I think he’s a good-looking hitter with a lot of qualities we’re looking for with a young guy at 21. Very toolsy, and he is going to help us.
“Teams have thrown him a lot of breaking balls. I think (he’s been) wanting to do something and show us what he can do. I just want him to relax. He doesn’t have to show us all his tools in one night. He’s going to help our ballclub and help the Orioles down the road. He’s got the makings of a fine player.”
When asked if he has any players he really likes currently in the majors, Díaz named two players, one a current Oriole.
“There were a lot of them, and I look up to a lot of players, especially Mike Trout and Adam Jones,” said Diaz.
Now that he is having Double-A success and getting a top 50 national ranking, Díaz can forsee a day in the not-too-distant future when he might get a shot with the Orioles.
“I can see myself playing there,” he said. “They have given me this great opportunity, and I want to work hard to make it and play with the Orioles.”
Duquette talks international signings: During the rain delay last night, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette joined the MASN telecast. Click here to watch his 22-minute interview, in which he discussed several topics that will be of interest to fans.
That includes the team’s renewed committment to signing international players.
“The Orioles are going to be involved in international recruiting, and that’s a real passion for me. I have excellent contacts in international recruiting and I’ve been able to do well in terms of being aggresive on the international market to bring some talent.
“I’m glad that we are doing that again. It’s the right thing for the organization. We have an established staff. We have a team in the Dominican. We have scouts that go around the world and we’re in the process of signing several players for this new period that just started July 2.
“We are going to add additional scouts and resources to that. The ownership group and team is behind it. I think it will help us add to our talent base as we sign some players from around the world. We’ve had some good young position players that we’ve had our eye on for a period of time, and we’re going to sign a few in the next couple of weeks.”