Coby Mayo wasn’t having a bad season, per se, but he was frustrated.

He was one of the youngest players in Double-A at 21, and on the afternoon of May 18 he was carrying an .868 OPS and had hit just four home runs when he met with Orioles minor league hitting coordinator Anthony Villa and Bowie hitting coach Sherman Johnson to discuss his season.

“These young kids expect so much of themselves — as they should — and at times you just have to let them vent,” Villa said. “You take a step back, and just let them talk through these things, and direct their attention to what practice should be looking like: ‘If we can give good inputs in practice, then over time, we have reason to believe that there’s going to be good outputs in the game.’ To Coby’s credit, he’s been giving us good inputs in practice for three seasons now.”

The message coming out of it was simple, Villa said: “Dude, just stick with it. It’s only going to be a matter of time before these skills really start to get expressed in the game.”

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It proved prescient. Two days later, Mayo hit a milestone home run —the first in his professional career that went to the opposite field, on a 98 mph fastball low and away from top Pirates prospect Jared Jones that he sent at 109 mph to the right of the batter’s eye in Bowie.

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The home run, it turned out, unlocked something special in Mayo, who entered Monday’s game with 12 home runs and a scalding 1.208 OPS in 38 games since that home run, displaying a level of all-fields power, plate discipline, and overall hitting prowess that on paper is better than what Gunnar Henderson did at Bowie last spring when he launched his climb to the big leagues.

“I hold myself to a high standard, and I didn’t feel like I was doing the damage I should be doing at this level,” Mayo said. “We had a sit-down talk for about 30, 45 minutes, and we kind of were just talking about what adjustments I could make or what I did make during spring training, and when you make those adjustments, it takes a little bit to tap into that power. But after that, started hitting well, and it was just funny how we had that talk and all of a sudden, it just turns on.”

In reality, plenty has gone into this stretch of Eastern League dominance. An over-slot signing in the shortened 2020 draft, Mayo climbed to Double-A by midseason in 2022 but was slowed by a back injury and never got going on his return. He went into the offseason knowing specifically what to work on — he was dangerous on fastballs and pitches he could turn on, but was vulnerable to right-on-right breaking balls and outer-half channeling.

He came into the season not willing to minimize his strength to cover a weakness, but has chipped away at what he needed to improve on in many ways. In major league camp, he worked with the Orioles’ hitting coaches on drills that “slowly helped my path go to right-center, and helped me stay on those fastballs away and hitting those to right-center instead of pulling off or rolling over or hitting a soft line drive,” Mayo said.

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There’s also a daily dose of sliders and pitches meant to challenge him on the outer half in the Orioles’ pregame work, with Villa referring to the “exposure therapy” the coaches provide in “throwing fastballs and sliders at him and giving him this opportunity for him to learn which ones to swing at and which ones to take.”

Mayo uses those pitches to work to the right side of the field for the first few rounds of batting practice so he’s “really covering all parts of the plate,” he said. Seeing them so often has helped him cut down on his swings on those challenging pitches on the outer half, which has boosted his walk rate. Last year, it was 9.1%, with a 26% strikeout rate and a 10.4% swinging strike rate. This year, he’s walking 14.4% of the time and striking out 23.8% of the time. In 2022, his OPS against breaking balls was .571. Entering Tuesday’s game, it was .796. His OPS against righties is up from .800 last year to 1.150.

“He’s got that understanding now,” Johnson said. “He’s doing the work when it comes to that, using the whole field, and now you see him taking some really tough pitches down and away, in off the plate, and you see the walk rate where it’s at, and it’s just a credit to him and how hard he’s worked this year.”

Part of that work, Mayo said, was understanding that he didn’t have to hit those tough pitches on the corner and could just let them go. When he does swing at them, it’s not meant to be a defensive swing. Johnson recalled in that May meeting that they told Mayo their hope wasn’t that he’d hit the ball the other way, but that he’d cover more of the plate in the manner that allows him to do damage in the air. Instead of trying to push the ball to right field when it’s not in his pull zone, Mayo began to attack those balls over and on the outside of the plate and saw immediate benefits — that home run off Jones included.

“If he catches it a tick deeper, it goes over there (to right field) for a double or a homer and he’s just as happy as the one he’s hitting over the scoreboard (in left field) right now—which he should be,” Johnson said. “He’s just becoming a more complete hitter, and that goes with the plans going up to the plate, that goes with his practice, and just his mentality when he looks at these pitcher plans.”

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The resulting hitter is one of the best in all the minors at this point. His 1.055 OPS entering Monday was the highest in Double-A and fourth-highest in all the minors among those with 250 plate appearances this year, with the only three higher a group of older Triple-A players. By wRC+, a rate stat that gives hitters the value of each offensive outcome with a league-average of 100, Mayo’s 188 is the highest among all minor leaguers with 250 plate appearances this year.

It’s being driven by the impressive power Mayo has always possessed, but the way he’s getting to it now makes his offensive profile one of the game’s most promising. He’s firmly onto league-wide top-100 lists this summer, and will likely be in the organization’s top five by the winter, if not higher.

“With Coby, it’s been awesome to see him start to display slugging at a high clip against multiple pitch types, in multiple pitch locations,” Villa said. “It’s something that he’s continued to grow into being. It was primarily fastball slug, up-and-in, and now we’re seeing the slug able to push out over into he outer thirds of the plate, we’re seeing him slug off-speed, not just fastballs, and it’s a testament to a lot of the hard work that he’s done and continuing to grow into his body, gain strength, gain coordination and just display himself as a really good hitter, a really athletic hitter.”

jon.meoli@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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