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Former top prospect Diaz’s departure reminds how much has changed for Orioles in four years

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

Next week marks four years since the Orioles hired general manager Mike Elias to orchestrate a massive rebuilding effort that only began paying dividends at the major league level this past season.

But Thursday brought a reminder of just how much has changed since then as former top prospect Yusniel Diaz was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk before choosing minor league free agency along with former first-round pick DJ Stewart and former Orioles minor league pitcher of the year Alexander Wells. The 26-year-old Cuban outfielder made his major league debut to very little fanfare this past summer, striking out in his lone plate appearance in an Aug. 2 win at Texas before being optioned back to Norfolk the following day for veteran trade acquisition Brett Phillips.

Diaz had been the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade in 2018, but the hype that accompanied the former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect who homered twice in the MLB Futures Game never materialized with the Orioles because of injuries and disappointing play. The development of starting pitcher Dean Kremer goes down as the only saving grace of that Machado trade that came too late for an organization whose competitive window all but closed after the 2016 season.

Despite struggling with Double-A Bowie upon being traded in 2018, Diaz remained a consensus top 100 prospect across baseball and was regarded by many as the organization’s top prospect entering 2019, but injuries limited him to just 85 games that season. The cancelation of the 2020 minor league campaign because of the pandemic didn’t help his development, of course, but Diaz’s 2021 season proved to be a disaster as he again struggled to stay healthy and batted .157 with a .476 on-base plus slugging percentage in 54 games for Norfolk. Diaz hit a more respectable .251 with a .707 OPS for the Tides last season, but injuries again limited him to just 70 games as it was clear he was no longer regarded as a real prospect in one of baseball’s best farm systems.

That sentiment was apparently shared by the other 29 clubs as Diaz cleared outright waivers this week.

While Diaz blossoming into an impact player would have helped Baltimore’s rebuilding effort, it’s a good reminder that there are no guarantees with even the best prospects. As the Orioles now try to take the next step toward a playoff berth and serious contention in 2023, Elias shouldn’t hesitate to move minor-league talent if the right deal comes along to augment a roster that’s ready to win in the majors.

The Orioles dealing from their abundance of prospects could be the move that helps put them over the top at some point in the near future. And while the Dodgers only rented Machado and fell in the 2018 World Series, they certainly don’t regret trading Diaz and Kremer for that October opportunity in which the former Orioles infielder played a major role.

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