The Orioles have yet to announce a starting right fielder for Opening Day, setting up a competition that Yusniel Diaz seized in the first week of Grapefruit League games.
Though warnings are issued about falling in love with spring training stats, the Orioles have been impressed with Diaz’s body of work and want to get him more at-bats moving forward. Part of the five-player return from the Dodgers in last July’s trade of shortstop Manny Machado, Diaz was 9-for-20 with two doubles and a home run through his first seven spring training games.
In one of the more noteworthy samplings, Diaz collected three hits against the Phillies in Clearwater, driving the ball to both right and left field. What followed were even more positive reviews on the organization’s consensus No. 1 prospect.
“He’s taking really good at-bats,” said Orioles’ first-year manager Brandon Hyde. “Being able to lay off offspeed (pitches) underneath, which a lot of young hitters have problems with, being able to cover the whole plate, hitting pull-power as well as going the other way.
“It’s great to see a young kid being able to drive the ball to both sides of the field with confidence.”
With Diaz still only 22 years old and coming off a disappointing run at Double-A Bowie last season, when he slashed .239/.329/.403 in 152 plate appearances, the Orioles could lean toward returning him to the Eastern League and delaying the start of his service clock. The latter consideration hasn’t been discussed within the organization.
“Obviously, he’s a huge part of our future and he’s showing why,” Hyde said. “It’s the first few games of spring training, but he’s going to be a big part.
“We’re going to make the best decision for us, for him, wherever he goes when he breaks camp. But I’m just excited to watch him play. Not only is he doing it at the plate, he’s playing really good defense. I didn’t know he has the arm that he has. He runs well. He’s fitting right in.”
Diaz, a native of Cuba, didn’t show up in camp only to make a good impression before bolting to the minor league complex.
“The whole purpose for me being here is to try and make the team, from the very beginning, make the roster, get along my teammates, help my team,” Díaz said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “That is the whole purpose of my being here.
“Definitely, I see more opportunities here. I’m excited about that. I’m very happy that I’m here, so I’m trying to take advantage of that opportunity and project myself better.”
The Orioles acquired righthander David Lebron from the Rangers for international signing bonus money. Lebron made 10 relief appearances last summer between short-season Spokane and low Class A Down East in his first professional season. The Rangers’ 26th-round pick in 2018, the 25-year-old Lebron allowed three runs and 12 hits with six walks and 19 strikeouts in 20.2 innings.
Righthander Dean Kremer, who was also acquired from the Dodgers in the Machado trade last July, arrived to spring training with a strained left oblique and is awaiting clearance to start throwing. Kremer led the minors with 178 strikeouts in 131.1 innings last season, ending the year with eight starts at Double-A Bowie.