SARASOTA, Florida—This is a big spring training for outfielder Yusniel Diaz. Three years ago, Diaz came into spring training as the team’s hottest minor league prospect, eight months after he was the centerpiece of the five players the Orioles obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade for Manny Machado.
Now, Diaz is 25, and he has had many injuries and little production. Last season, he had a groin injury and turf toe and hit .161 in 65 games at Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. In 2019, Diaz had quadriceps and hamstring injuries, batting .262 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 76 games at Bowie.
“I know I’ve changed a lot, and the biggest thing has been my mentality, trying to keep a positive attitude through all the things that I’ve gone through,” Diaz said through an interpreter. I did make some changes [in the offseason]. More importantly, I added more muscle mass, but I also did a lot of running, increased my agility, which I think will help me out in the long run. Running, doing a lot of different drills, just being in the weight room and focusing on my legs a lot more than I used to do.”
Diaz also has changed his diet.
“I want to eat steak and plantains like [I] did in Cuba,” Diaz said. “Here, [I’m] going to eat a lot more salads and leaner meats as much as possible.”
Diaz’s first camp was also the first one for manager Brandon Hyde.
“I think we’ve seen the tools in spring training,” Hyde said. “He’s shown flashes of being a really good outfielder my first year here, hitting line drives all over the place. I think I played him in three spots in the outfield, gave him a ton of playing time, he was really impressive.
“He’s had a tough time staying healthy since then. I’m hoping he can rebound through that and he can stay healthy throughout this camp, give him as many at-bats as possible, showcase what he can do. He’s a guy with a ton of ability. Now he needs to stay on the field and make some adjustments. Hopefully, he’ll be ready for the big leagues at some point.”
Diaz is no longer listed as one of the Orioles’ top prospects.
“When I was with the Dodgers, I was ranked number four, so I never had those expectations as big on me,” Diaz said. “When I got here, I was number one, so there are a lot of nerves going into that. Now, I feel a lot more comfortable, I feel a lot more ready and excited for this upcoming season.”
Diaz isn’t concerned with how he’s rated at this point.
“No, it doesn’t make me upset or angry that I’m not at the top of that list anymore,” Diaz said. “The focus now is to stay healthy and become a better ballplayer every day and help the Orioles once I make it to the major league …”
“Every year there are a lot of new prospects that come in, and it’s exciting to see all the talent around,” Diaz said, “but you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are given and do the best you can.”
Catcher Beau Taylor signs: The Orioles signed catcher Beau Taylor to a minor league contract. With Adley Rutschman’s status for Opening Day doubtful because of a strained right triceps muscle, Taylor can compete for the backup job behind veteran Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom and Jacob Nottingham, who lack a lot of major league experience.
“I’m going to try to share it as much as I possibly can,” Hyde said. “Take a look at all those guys. I think you’ll see them play pretty much equally throughout.
“Robinson probably won’t play for a few days, let him catch a couple more guys, let him get his legs under him a little bit. In the meantime, those guys will share.”
The 32-year-old Taylor played 25 major league games from 2018-2020 with Cleveland, Oakland and Toronto, hitting .118 with two home runs and four RBIs. He’s thrown six of 11 runners attempted to steal.
Hyde is putting an emphasis on defense.
“How they’re handling the pitching staff,” he said. “From what I’ve seen from Bemboom, Nottingham, we already know about Robinson. Those two guys have some leadership qualities behind the plate. You see that in live [batting practices]. You see how they interact with pitchers. Now, we’re just going to evaluate in games.”
The Orioles have 66 players in camp.