Sunday Notes: Orioles Prospect Coby Mayo Continues To Mash

Coby Mayo is No. 23 on our Top 100, and a power-packed stroke is a big reason why. Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles out of Parkland, Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School in 2020, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound third baseman is coming off of a 2023 season where he bashed 29 home runs while logging a 156 wRC+ between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. Moreover, he did so as a 21-year-old.

His maturation as a hitter has been more nuanced than pronounced. When I talked to Mayo in March 2022, he told me that he doesn’t “like to think about hitting too much,” and has “always been a see-ball-hit-ball kind of guy.” For the most part, that hasn’t really changed.

“I try not to think too much when I get into the box,” Mayo said when reminded of those words. “That’s stayed the same. A lot of people will get into the box and start overthinking. They’ll try to manipulate their swings here and there. I just try to have a good approach, a game plan, and kind of let that take over.”

The promising slugger does feel like he has a better understanding of his swing than he did two years ago. When things are going well, he knows what he’s doing right. When things are going wrong, he understands why and can adjust accordingly. The swing itself has changed since we first spoke. Mayo explained that his load, hand placement, and bat path are all “a little bit different” — albeit in a subtle manner. As he put it, “You can’t really notice them with the naked eye.” Creating more loft and allowing him to better use the entire field have been the goals behind the tweaks.

One thing that hasn’t changed is what our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen has descried as a “sometimes ugly looking cut, which has a strange, choppy stride… an odd look, but it works for him.”

Mayo has read about his atypical moves toward the baseball. Those opinions remain a mystery to him.

“It’s something that’s always come naturally,” said Mayo. “I’ve never really understood how people think it’s weird. It’s what I do, and… yeah.”

In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Mayo is slashing .346/.452/.654 with five doubles and a home run in 30 plate appearances this spring.

———

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Gabby Hartnett went 10 for 16 against Noble LeMaster.

Johnny Grubb went 10 for 17 against Paul Hartzell.

Jim Ray Hart went 10 for 21 against Lew Burdette.

Corey Hart went 10 for 21 against J.A. Happ.

Bubbles Hargrave went 10 for 25 against Mule Watson.

———

Bob Melvin knows all about Matt Chapman’s elite arm strength. They were together in Oakland from 2017-2021. Both are now across the bay in San Francisco, Melvin having been hired to manage the Giants last October, and Chapman subsequently inking a free-agent deal just a few days ago.

The velocity of Chapman’s throws across the diamond — and how the team’s first basemen will need to acclimate to it — came up when Melvin met with the media on Thursday. That prompted me to ask a related question: Do some infielders get a lot of hop on their throws, much as high-spin hurlers get plus ride on their heaters?

“It’s similar to a catcher that throws really well,” said Melvin, who caught in the big leagues before becoming a manager. “For an infielder, there will be times where you think it’s not getting there and it continues to carry. A lot of times, a second baseman on double-play balls, that ball can get on you a lot quicker than you’re used to. So we’ll do some infield, and stuff to catch up, as far as learning [Chapman] and his arm. It’s pretty unique.”

Melvin went on to say that Ichiro Suzuki was similar from the outfield, his throws back to the infield coming in with both more velocity and carry.

“Typically, it’s the guys who have really good backspin and throw from a certain angle, which both of those guys do,” Melvin explained. “There’s an acclimation period.”

———

A random obscure former player snapshot:

Wildfire Schulte’s 1911 season was one of the dead-ball era’s best. An outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, Schulte slashed .300/.384/.534 with 30 doubles, 21 triples, a league-leading 21 home runs, 23 stolen bases, a 149 wRC+ and 5.9 WAR. The left-handed hitter’s home run total was the highest in MLB since the turn of the century, and he became the first player with at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 20 doubles, and 20 triples in one season. Born Frank M. Schulte in Cochecton, New York, the long-forgotten fly chaser played 17 big-league seasons, 13 of them with the Cubs, with whom he won a pair of World Series.

———

A quiz:

Jim Kaat pitched for five teams over 25 big-league seasons and was on just one World Series-winner. With which team did Kaat win a Fall Classic?

The answer can be found below.

———

NEWS NOTES

U L Washington, a switch-hitting middle infielder who spent the first eight of his 11 big-league seasons (1977-1987) with the Kansas City Royals, died last Sunday at age 70, Known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth, Washington was a product of the Royals’ Baseball Academy.

Ed Ott, a left-handed-hitting catcher who played from 1974-1981, has died at age 72. A Pittsburgh Pirate for his first seven seasons — he finished his career with the California Angels — Ott was a mainstay on the “We Are Family” Pirates who captured a World Series title in 1979.

SABR’s Oral History Committee will host a live Zoom interview with former big-league player and manager Mike Hargrove this coming Thursday, March 14, at 8pm EST. More information can be found here.

Baseball Prospectus founder Gary Huckabay was honored with the 2024 SABR Analytics Conference Lifetime Achievement Award. Huckaby was on hand for yesterday’s presentation, as were original BP writers Clay Davenport, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahl, and Joe Sheehan.

———

The answer to the quiz is the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom Kaat played in 1982. The longtime lefty’s only other World Series opportunity which came 17 earlier when he was on the losing side with the Minnesota Twins.

———

One of the panels at yesterday’s SABR Analytics Conference addressed MLB rule changes, one of which will see the pitch clock reduced by two seconds with runners on base beginning this season. Bobby Scales, who sat on the panel along with FanGraphs managing editor Meg Rowley and Sports Info Solutions’Mark Simon — MLB Network’s Brian Kenny served as the moderator — is fully on board with the modification.

“I do like that change,” said Scales, whose résumé includes big-league infielder, multiple player development roles, and broadcast analyst. “You train. You do all these things. You have enough time as an athlete to process so many things in your head.” Scales also related how pitcher-turned-analyst Dallas Braden said a year ago that players would adept to the pitch clock, and did just that.

Simon suggested that getting rid of the ghost runner/zombie runner — “a pandemic rule” — would be good for the game. A separate discussion of the subject included an opinion that the rule should be left in place but not implemented until the 12th inning.

Rowley suggested a compromise to the automated strike zone, a forthcoming rule change that seems inevitable.

“I’m a pitching-framing enthusiast, so the idea of the robot zone is tragic,” our managing editor said. “But having seen the challenge system in action, in [the Arizona] Fall League, it is… we’re looking for balance, right? It strikes the perfect balance, because it allows us to address egregious missed calls but doesn’t completely shift the way that we understand the strike zone. And it adds a strategic element to the game. Having a catcher have to be good at knowing when to challenge — that’s interesting… I like the challenge system.”

The tested-in-the-AFL rule Rowley referred to allowed for a small number of pitch challenges per game, with the automated ball-strike system either confirming or changing the home plate umpire’s call. As seen in this video, the definitive ruling comes with seconds.

I’m firmly in favor of both Simon’s and Rowley’s suggestions. I’m on the fence with shaving a few seconds off the pitch clock.

———

Tarik Skubal was featured here at FanGraphs earlier in the week, my conversation with the Detroit Tigers southpaw centering on how he uses his mix-and-match repertoire to flummox big-league hitters. In want of an accompanying perspective, I asked his regular battery mate what makes the emerging ace as good as he is.

“He has great stuff,” Jake Rogers told me. “He also knows his stuff and how it works, and is comfortable throwing any pitch at any time. He’s really good at sequencing. He’s one of those guys where the catcher is kind of on cruise control out there. I can call whatever I want. And maybe the biggest thing is his competitiveness. He doesn’t care who’s up there; he’s going to throw it over the plate and make him hit it.”

Rogers went on to say that he typically sticks to the script with his pitch-calling, exploiting hitters’ weaknesses while also playing to Skubal’s strengths — of which there are many. As stated in the intro to Tuesday’s interview, “The 27-year-old southpaw is emerging as one of the top left-handed starters in baseball.”

———

Count Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer among those not overly concerned with spring training performances. The exec estimated that hitters need “50 or so” plate appearances during spring training to “get their eyes ready for major league pitching,” then went on say that what they do in those PAs should be taken with a large grain of salt. Addressing the subject with reporters earlier this week, Hoyer brought up how Dansby Swanson was “godawful” last spring, only to come out of the gate smoking (16 for 40 over the first 10 games) once the regular season started. The same goes for hitters having hot springs. Raking in March doesn’t mean you’re going to rake once the games count in the standings.

“It’s about getting your body ready to play,” Hoyer said of Cactus League action. “It’s getting accustomed to playing a certain amount of innings. That’s what it’s about. I think we probably put too much emphasis on stats.”

Hoyer went on to add that hitting environment factors into the numbers. As he pointed out, a 98-mph-exit-velocity fly ball might leave the park in warm Arizona air, but in chilly Chicago air it will be a warning-track out.

“You can feel really good about yourself hitting here, then feel really bad,” said Hoyer. “For pitchers, it’s the exact same thing. The contrast between here and there is alarming.”

———

Sticking with the Cubs, which player is the key to the club’s success this season? I asked that question to Maddie Lee, who covers the North Side squad for The Chicago Sun-Times.

“I think it’s going to be Cody Bellinger,” Lee opined. “As we were getting into spring, when we didn’t know if he was going to re-sign, that was kind of the question hovering over the team. They hadn’t replaced his offensive production from last year, and needed to in order to say that this offense looked as good as the group in 2023. He doesn’t have to replicate exactly what he did last season (26 home runs and a 134 wRC+), but if he can provide some pop in that lineup, be a weapon against right-handed pitchers — and he hits lefties pretty well, as well — he can really elevate this lineup. That was the one question mark left after they bolstered the rotation and the bullpen.”

———

Which player is the key to the Mariners’ success this season? I asked that question to Shannon Drayer, who covers the team for Seattle Sports.

“The obvious one is Julio Rodriguez,” replied Drayer. “We saw last year that the offense often goes as Julio goes. There is a little bit of a better offense around him this year, but this team is kind of built around pitching — and Julio Rodriguez. When he struggled last year, people were looking at a fourth place in MVP voting. That’s a struggle? He, himself, called it a sophomore slump. It was in that the consistency wasn’t there. That’s going to be the key for him, and it’s what he’s working toward — having that consistency. The sky is the limit for him. He’s almost irreplaceable.”

———

A Roger MarisJosh Donaldson statistical comp:

5,847 PA, 1,325 hits, .260 BA, 275 HR, 2,429 TB, 127 OPS+.
5,856 PA, 1,310 hits, .261 BA, 279 HR, 2,458 TB, 129 OPS+.

Which is which? Maris, who arguably merits a plaque in Cooperstown thanks to his historic 61-home-run season and back-to-back MVP awards, is listed first. Donaldson, who announced his retirement earlier this week, is listed second.

Despite attaining only a fraction of Maris’s celebrity, one could reasonably argue that Donaldson had the better career. He won an MVP award of his own, and finished with a higher WAR (46.2 to 36.9). The periodically-prickly third baseman wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he was a helluva hitter. Happy trails, “Bringer of Rain.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

How might the San Diego Padres fill the Juan Soto-sized hole in their lineup? Lucien Kisch delved into that question at Pitcher List.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey examined some of the key decisions left for Pirates GM Ben Cherington.

MLB.com’s Anne Rogers wrote about how pitching prospect Blake Wolters is turning heads in Kansas City Royals camp.

Also at MLB.com, Brian McTaggert wrote about Houston Astros pitching prospect Tayler Scott, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A prominent MLB team physician is sounding an alarm on pitching injuries, with the sweeper and power changeup among the perceived culprits. Eno Sarris talked to him for The Athletic. (subscription required.)

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Pittsburgh Pirates go into the 2024 season with a franchise record of 10,763-10,733. They have scored 96,355 runs and allowed 96,481 runs.

The Texas Rangers will hit the 10,000th home run in franchise history this season. Formed as the Washington Senators in 1961 before relocating to the Lone Star State in 1972, the defending World Series champions currently have 9,971 round-trippers in their annals.

Mike Zunino has the most home runs by a catcher in both Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays franchise history. He is the only player to hold the catcher home run record for multiple active franchises (per @CooperstpownDave).

Larry Walker had 2,160 hits, the most among players born in Canada. Joey Votto, who signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this week, is second with 2,135.

Jon Lester pitched nine seasons with the Red Sox and six seasons with the Cubs. He had a 3.64 ERA and a .636 winning percentage with each team.

Rube Marquard began the 1912 season 19-0 before being charged with a loss on July 8. The New York Giants southpaw would have started out 20-0 had he not been credited with a save rather than a win — this per the rules at that time — in an April 20 relief appearance. He finished the year 26-11.

The Kansas City Royals traded Kirk Gibson to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Neal Heaton on today’s date in 1992 (raise your hand if you knew that Gibson played for either of those teams). The Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers legend logged 11 hits in 56 at-bats with the Pirates before being released in May.

The Chicago White Sox signed catcher Muddy Ruel on today’s date in 1934. Behind the plate when Yankees right-hander Carl Mays threw the pitch that killed Cleveland’s Ray Chapman 14 years earlier, Ruel wrapped up his 19-year-year career with the ChiSox, then went on to become a manager, a general manager, and an assistant to the commissioner of baseball.

Players born on today’s date include Darcy Fast, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in eight games for the Chicago Cubs in 1968. A native of Dallas, Oregon who became a pastor after his playing days, and wrote a book about his experiences in and outside of baseball, Fast logged a 5.40 ERA over 10 innings and was on the losing end of his only decision.

Also born on today’s date was Emil Huhn, a catcher/first baseman who played for the Federal League’s Newark Pepper in 1915 and for the National League’s Cincinnati Reds in 1916 and 1917. The North Vernon, Indiana native’s lone career home run came with Newark, a two-run shot off Buffalo Blues righty Russ Ford, a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame who’s signature pitch was a nominally illegal emery ball.

——

I neglected to mention it at the time, but the 10-year anniversary of FanGraphs Sunday Notes was last month. On February 16, 2014. having been given the go-ahead by then-managing editor Dave Cameron, I debuted this column with a hope, more so than an expectation, that it would gain traction and become a staple on the best baseball site in existence. With the exception of two missed Sundays — one while I was on vacation in Europe and another due to illness — it has now run weekly for a decade and counting. Thanks for reading.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

27 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
j dmember
2 months ago

Finally got a trivia question right. Loved those early to mid 80’s Cardinals, so much speed. They were my team on rbi baseball back in the day.

Left of Centerfield
2 months ago
Reply to  j d

The only teams I could remember him playing for were the Twins/Senators and the Phillies. I went with the Phillies.

PC1970
2 months ago

Ditto..& I honestly thought he was on the 80 Phillies that won it all.Didn’t remember he had moved on by that point.

Cardaughter Transtulli
2 months ago
Reply to  j d

thanks Jon Bois

Left of Centerfield
2 months ago
Reply to  j d

Here’s what I think is a more interesting Jim Kaat trivia question (for anyone who’s still reading).

Kaat won the Gold Glove every year from 1961-1977. When he finally failed to win in 1978, what pitcher beat him out? (HINT: Like Kaat, this pitcher was known for pitching forever and was the same “baseball age” as Kaat).

Ivan_Grushenkomember
2 months ago
Reply to  j d

I saw Kaat steal a base in 1980 for the Cardinals at age 41. He was still quick as a Kaat