SARASOTA, Fla. — Out on the backfields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, the first day of Orioles spring training offered Coby Mayo a chance to show all he had accomplished in one year’s time.

He fielded grounders, then whipped throws over to first and second bases. He did it accurately, to the chest, managing his big arm in a way Tony Mansolino had never seen before. One year earlier, the Orioles’ infield coach doubted whether this tall slugger would be able to play third base for a Major League Baseball organization.

“If you had asked me last year, and mostly because of the throwing, I would’ve said no chance,” Mansolino said in an honest assessment of one of Baltimore’s top prospects.

No chance?

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“Last year? Yeah.” Mansolino was frank.

But last year was last year, and in the time between then and now, the 22-year-old Mayo has taken leaps and bounds in the field. Seeing him then, on the first day of spring — and on each day since — has reversed Mansolino’s evaluation of Mayo’s ability to play third for the Orioles.

“This year? Big chance. He’s come a long way,” Mansolino said. “He’s doing great. He looks good. Now, we talk about him in the breadth of being a major league option at third base this year.”

The difference between a major league-caliber third baseman and a player who might have been forced into a position change to allow his top-tier bat to reach the highest level is a matter of degrees, it seems. About 30 of them.

That’s the largest adjustment to Mayo’s game — dropping his arm slot when throwing from over the top to three-quarters, aligning the angle to better suit an infielder’s needs. In the past, Mayo’s 12-o’clock release point played a role in his spraying errant throws, spiking some into the dirt or sailing a ball over a fielder’s head.

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Mayo has read and heard critiques of his defensive ability and doubts about how it might translate to the majors since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. His strides forward in that area, then, have been most satisfying.

“That’s the biggest thing, is trying to prove to them that I can play defense, and that my glove can get to where my bat is,” Mayo said. “I think I’ve worked really hard over the past few years, and especially this offseason was a lot of hard work right after the season had ended.”

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Mike Baumann (53), with infielder Coby Mayo (86) next to him, returns to the dugout during a Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers at Ed Smith Stadium on February 27, 2024.
Mayo (left) hopes to change the minds of skeptics about his ability to play third base. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

There’s little skepticism around what Mayo can produce at the plate. He sprays the ball hard to all fields, and between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Mayo hit .290 with 29 home runs.

In spring training this year, he’s come through against major league pitchers. Mayo has five doubles and nine RBIs, as well as four walks to five strikeouts. He hit his first home run in Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, a 10-3 Orioles win in which he drove in four.

But it’s plays such as the one he made Wednesday that give credence to the idea Mayo is a complete player. On a slow roller down the third base line, Mayo charged the ball, scooped it with his glove, then slung a side-arm throw on the dot to first.

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There’s a full gamut of arm slots required to play third base. His adjustment to a three-quarters angle is a major one, but there will be times when Mayo’s athleticism takes over on the run. Then, the ball will come out any which way — and hopefully reach the target.

“The biggest thing is the feed to second base, the double play balls, because when I threw over the top I was giving the second baseman a tough throw down by their ankles, and coming in pretty hard, it’s tough,” Mayo said. “So, if I can get it to them on a pretty flat angle from that three-quarter slot, that would be ideal.”

Mayo’s defensive work has spanned years and includes a focus on footwork.

With Aberdeen IronBirds manager Roberto Mercado in 2022, Mayo began fiddling with his arm slot to improve accuracy. Baltimore’s player development pipeline emphasizes consistency in drills and approach between levels, so Mayo’s rise to Double-A didn’t disrupt his progress.

With the Baysox, he worked with infield coordinator Tim DeJohn. Mansolino became involved during Mayo’s first major league spring training last year, then Mayo carried the efforts into the 2023 season.

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“At 22, we’re learning how to do a lot of things,” Mansolino said. “We’re learning how to do a lot of things better. It really comes from Coby. The openness from Coby to take the risk, to say, ‘Hey, you’re 20 or 21 at the time, this is how you throw, we want to change it.’ That’s scary. That’s a really hard thing to do for Coby.”

But Mayo bought in. He knew there was room to grow in the field — he heard plenty of the critiques — and so he adapted and improved.

Still, Mayo said, “it’s hard to break up that narrative. It really is.”

The more Mayo patrols third base, though, the more a keen eye realizes the narrative is out of date. Mayo may always be known for his bat. But his glove is hardly far behind.

Baltimore Banner reporter Kyle Goon contributed to the reporting of this story.