With Mookie Betts having just been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects and budding star Alex Verdugo, I was reminded of a similar trade just a couple of seasons ago. A young, hot-shot superstar unlikely to re-sign with the team that developed him being traded before inevitably losing him for nothing more than compensation picks. Sound familiar?
When the Orioles traded Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the summer of 2018, it signaled the end of the winningest era of Baltimore baseball since the mid-80s. The return (four prospects and Breyvic Valera) was blasted within baseball circles, as the haul the Orioles received netted just one high-level prospect at the time in Yusniel Diaz, who immediately became the team’s top prospect.
When the trade went down, Keith Law of ESPN said, “the Orioles did not get the Dodgers’ best prospect, or their second-best one, instead getting a quantity return that might yield four or five big leaguers but seems unlikely to give them back a star.”
Law went on to say that “it’s unlikely — not impossible, of course, baseball being what it is — that the Orioles got a future star or even above-average regular in return for a player who, by Baseball-Reference.com, ranks 15th in franchise history in WAR for position players, despite playing just 860 games in orange and black.”
A year and a half removed from the trade, Manny Machado is now a $300 million mega-star for the San Diego Padres and the Dodgers have yet to win a World Series, while the Orioles, tied with Detroit as baseball’s losingest franchise of the last three seasons (310 losses), have three of those prospects knocking on the door in Baltimore.
The highlight of the return from the Dodgers, Diaz got off to a slow start in his limited time at Bowie, the Orioles Double-A affiliate. In his first experience in the organization, Diaz struggled to find consistency, batting just .239 with 11 XBH in 38 games after arriving in 2018. Still, he was invited to big league camp last spring in Sarasota and turned heads with the bat that was expected when the deal was struck.
In 15 games of Grapefruit League action, Diaz batted .306 and drove in seven runs, though he was an early cut and reassigned to minor league camp. In the early going at Bowie, Diaz got off to a slow start and slashed just .225/.313/.338 before a hamstring injury sideline the outfielder for more than a month just 20 games into the season.
Upon returning from the Injured List, Diaz performed much better, slashing .270/.340/.488 with 9 HR, 15 2B, and 46 RBI in 55 games before another injury sidelined him for three more weeks, this time an injury to his quadriceps.
Though he managed just 85 games for the season, Diaz seemed to improve as the season progressed and managed to bat .314 over his final 10 games before entering the playoffs with the Baysox. His hot hitting continued in the postseason as Diaz notched four straight multi-hit games in leading Bowie to the Eastern League Championship Series, though they came up short in their efforts for a Double-A title.
It has been reported that Diaz performs better under pressure and enjoys playing in the spotlight, as evidenced by his Grapefruit League success and his postseason performance with Bowie. If things go according to plan, Diaz should start his 2020 campaign playing everyday in Norfolk and with success, he could find himself in Baltimore by September, if not sooner.
When Kremer made his way to the Baltimore organization, he was leading all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts, and nothing changed as the season progressed. Kremer finished his 2018 season 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA and a MiLB-leading 178 Ks between three different Dodgers and Orioles affiliates.
Heading into 2019, Kremer was poised to further solidify himself as a top Orioles prospect, but he first had to overcome an oblique injury he sustained during the previous offseason. Kremer missed all of big-league camp that year and reported to extended spring training in April. It wasn’t until May 9th that he made his season debut with the Frederick Keys, and after two shutout appearances coving 9.2 IP, Kremer was promoted to the Bowie Baysox, where the results were less than desirable.
In his first five starts after returning to Bowie, Kremer went 1-4 and pitched to a 5.02 ERA, clearly needing to shed some rust before returning to his dominant form. Then, on June 22nd, everything seemed to click as Kremer went out and pitched five shutout innings vs. the Harrisburg Senators and got his season back on track.
Over his last 10 outings for Bowie, Kremer went 8-0 with a 1.93 ERA and struck out 57 batters in 56 IP. Half of those 10 outings were scoreless for the young hurler, prompting a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk.
Though Kremer didn’t find the success at Norfolk that he had at Bowie (0-2, 8.84 ERA in four starts), he is ticketed for the International League to start 2020 and should improve upon those numbers. Kremer has found success at every level, and even pitched to a 2.37 ERA in the Arizona Fall League over six outings.
Featuring a five-pitch mix, Kremer seemed to be a potential backend starter coming out of college, but his fastball, which sat in the 90-91 MPH range at the beginning of his career, has gained velocity and touched 96 MPH in a bullpen session back in January. Kremer looks better and better with each outing and could project as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher eventually.
Bannon won back-to-back Big East Conference tournament championships and appeared in back-to-back NCAA tournaments at Xavier in 2016 and 2017. Drafted in the 8th round of the 2017 First Year Player Draft after batting .339 his senior season, Bannon showed no signed of being overmatched in his pro debut. Short in stature, the 5’7” third baseman played much bigger for the rookie level Ogden Raptors, slashing .336/.425/.591 with 10 HR in his first 40 professional games.
In his first full season of professional baseball in 2018, Bannon started out at High-A Rancho Cucamonga where he batted .275 and mashed 20 HR for the Dodgers affiliate before being packaged as part of the trade for Machado. Rather than assign him to the Frederick Keys, the Orioles decided to challenge Bannon, immediately promoting him to Double-A Bowie. The challenge was met with a bit of a thud as Bannon batted just .204 with 2 HR in 32 games for the Baysox.
Still, Bannon rose to the occasion in 2019 as he started his year in Bowie and slashed a respectable .255/.345/.394 in 110 games before being promoted to Norfolk. The International League was an explosively offensive league in 2019, and Bannon fit right in, batting .314 while slugging .549 in 20 games for the Orioles Triple-A affiliate.
With a small sample size of success at Norfolk, Rylan Bannon will be the everyday third baseman for the Tides to start 2020. The Orioles are weak at third base with Rio Ruiz yet to find consistency and Renato Nunez’s defensive struggles. Considering the latter will almost assuredly be the everyday DH in Baltimore, the phone could ring early for Bannon if Ruiz falters out of the gate. A steady spring and fast start at Norfolk could have Bannon in Baltimore ahead of any prospect acquired in the trade two summers ago.
Another prospect acquired in the trade is reliever Zach Pop. Pop had a stellar season for both organizations in 2018, pitching to a 1.53 ERA while allowing just one home run in 44 games covering 64.2 innings. He was off to an even better start in 2019, allowing just one run in 10.2 innings with 11 Ks at Bowie before Tommy John Surgery ended his season.
It’s hard to imagine Pop pitching anywhere competitively before the end of 2020, but he could be thrust into the bullpen competition sometime in 2021. The book is still out on Pop, and everybody’s recovery from such an invasive surgery is different, but his body of work cannot be ignored.
For the Orioles, highlights have to be found in silver linings and prospects these days as the big-league club begins year two of their rebuild. Another 100-loss season could be on the horizon, but players like Diaz, Kremer, and Bannon could soften the blow of another lost season. Right now, that’s more than even Keith Law could have envisioned.