Mayo, one of the Orioles’ fastest-rising prospects, has transformed from power hitter to complete hitter. Now to find out where to play it.
We all know that Mike Elias and his front office don’t prioritize high school player selection. After all, in the most recent draft, Elias & Co. selected just two high school students out of 20 picks. However, when they dip into the high school ranks, they certainly swing for the fences and often knock it out of the park.
The first big high school success story came in the development of Gunnar Henderson from the 42nd pick in the 2019 draft to the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Jackson Holliday is the latest to carry the banner for Orioles high school selections. However, perhaps no former prep prospect has seen bigger gains this season than infielder Coby Mayo.
Mayo entered the Orioles’ organization much less heralded than either Holliday or Henderson. A fourth-round pick in the 2020 abbreviated draft, the Orioles clearly saw something early in May that forced them to cancel his commitment to the University of Florida. The O’s paid more than $1 million over the value of the space to get Mayo out of Stoneman Douglas HS, the same high school that produced All-Star Anthony Rizzo.
It’s not hard to find reasons to fall in love with Mayo as a prospect. The infielder tops most opponents at 6’5” and has plenty of power to match that imposing frame. Coming out of high school, MLB.com scouts rated his power tool a 55 on a scale of 20 to 80 and his arm strength a 65. Those explosive tools have only continued to grow as Mayo grows in its structure. His power now scales to 60 while his arm goes up to 70.
To put those numbers in context, here are some fellow prospects who have similar qualifications. Among MLB’s top 100 prospects, none have a higher power rating than Mayo, and the O’s prospect is on par with highly touted prospects like Jackson Chourio, James Wood and Druw Jones. When it comes to arm strength, only three other prospects have an arm rating over 70 and only receiver Henry Davis (former No. 1 overall pick) and outfielder Andy Pages have an arm rating over 70. 70 and a power of 60.
The concern with Mayo coming out of high school was whether he would make enough contact to make use of his prodigious power. After all, young power hitters have a tendency to swing too much instead of focusing on making solid contact, which often leads to low averages and strikeout rates.
The May 2022 season didn’t do much to allay those concerns. Mayo hit .247 in a season split mostly between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, also striking out 114 times in 388 AB (29.4% K rate). Sure the extra-base hitters were there, as Mayo produced 19 HRs and 20 doubles, but the 20-year-old still seemed more like a project than someone knocking on the big league door.
Mayo has used the 2023 season to completely change the narrative surrounding him as a prospect. As Jon Meoli detailed in his report on May for the Baltimore Banner, the 21-year-old changed both his focus at the plate and his mindset to become one of the most feared hitters in the minor leagues. Mayo is now driving the ball to all fields, being more selective in the pitches he swings at and in many ways allowing the game to come to him. He’s also paying dividends on the stat sheet, as he was hitting .307 with a 1.026 OPS in Bowie before his call-up to Triple-A Norfolk last week.
There’s still a fair amount of swing and miss in Mayo’s game. However, the fact that he has increased his walk rate from 9% last season to nearly 15% this season speaks to the improvement in plate discipline Mayo has shown throughout the season. The fact that Mayo is now poised for a potential major league debut in his age-22 season is a testament to both his work ethic and another shining example of the Orioles’ success with player development.
However, there is a potential problem as to where to place Mayo once he arrives in Baltimore. So far, he has played nearly 95% of his minor league defensive innings at 3B. However, with the hot corner seen as Henderson’s long-term home (especially once the O’s promote Holliday) and Mayo’s classification as an average defenseman, it doesn’t seem like Mayo is much of a major league third baseman.
That probably leaves first base and the corner outfield as their most natural defensive homes. However, both come with their own complications. The outfield, with Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Colton Cowser already on the MLB roster and Heston Kjerstad on the brink of promotion, is perhaps the deepest position group in the Orioles’ organization. However, if Mayo isn’t going to play third, placing him in right field at Camden Yards and any smaller corner of the road would allow the O’s to make the best use of their elite throwing arm.
As I documented above, first base is the position that appears to be the most up in the air in the future. Mayo’s offensive profile seems like a natural fit for first base and he could make a defensive transition similar to what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did when the Blue Jays called him up. And yet, putting one of baseball’s best arms in a position where he’ll hardly ever use that arm seems like a waste of one of Mayo’s greatest talents. Ultimately, Mayo may not have a true defensive home, as Brandon Hyde could opt to move him around the diamond just to keep his bat in the lineup.
What’s certain about Mayo, though, is that he possesses the same kind of limitless advantage that made all of Birdland enamored during Henderson’s meteoric rise in the minors. In the original draft profile of MayMLB.com described Mayo as a prospect who just might become the next Austin Riley. Now, the Braves’ All-Star third baseman no longer seems like an unlikely ceiling for Mayo, but rather his MLB double. It’s definitely something we can all get excited about as we patiently await Mayo’s arrival in Baltimore.