Door Open For Diaz This Spring
Craig Gifford | On 25, Feb 2018
Yandy Diaz has another golden opportunity this spring to kick down a door to the Majors and earn a spot on the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster.
With several starters already ailing this Cactus League season, Diaz has a shot to break camp with the Indians just as he did a season ago. This time around, the moment may not be too big for him.
Last year, Diaz had such a strong spring training showing that he made it impossible for the Tribe to not include him on their Opening Day roster. He did in Arizona just what he has done at all his minor league stops the last four years and that is hit at a high level. The problem was, his bat did not convert to the Major League level, at least at first.
Diaz, who was 25 at the start of the 2017 campaign, seemed a little bit in over his head in April. He hit just .236 in 61 at bats and his lone extra base hit was a double. He was sent to Columbus after Clevealnd’s April 20 game. He came back up to the Majors, briefly, for three games in May and went hitless in nine at bats.
The Indians determined Diaz might need a little more minor league retuning, or at least a restoration of confidence. The minors have always been Diaz’s personal playground, as he has hit for a strong batting average at all his stops. In 688 Triple-A at bats, he has hit to a tune of a .315 batting average to go with 23 home runs and 184 RBI. At Double-A, in 560 at bats, he batted .311 with nine bombs and 69 driven in. He flew through the Single-A level, but belted three homers with 25 RBI while batting .365 in that short stop along his big league path.
Clearly, Diaz has little left to prove in the bush leagues. Now he has to prove himself in the Majors. He began doing that when he was finally called back to Cleveland late last August. With Jason Kipnis hurt and Jose Ramirez having moved from third base to second, the Indians needed help at the hot corner. Giovanny Urshela is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, but has not proven the ability to hit much over .200 throughout his professional career. Cleveland was looking for more pop. Enter Diaz.
The 2017 rookie was given extensive playing time over the final month and a half of the regular season. He was a big part of Cleveland’s epic 22-game winning streak. He stepped to the plate 28 times in August and hit .400. He started showing glimpses of power with three doubles and a triple, driving in five runs. In 72 September/October at bats, he hit .277 with four more doubles. He has yet to his first MLB home run, but at least he started flashing extra base power at the end of 2017.
Despite the solid finish to last season, Diaz was left off Cleveland’s playoff roster in favor of the better-fielding Urshela at third and Erik Gonzalez in the utility infield spot. Both of those two were also integral parts of the Tribe’s record-setting streak and hot ending to the regular season. Manager Terry Francona truely had some tough decisions to make as the team was gearing up for the ALDS against the Yankees.
Last year, Diaz got his feet wet in the Major League waters. Obviously, it was a mixed bag with both ups and downs. He came into this spring with a shot, even if he is not a favorite, to again open a season in Cleveland.
Outfielder Michael Brantley, as well as Kipnis, have opened the spring hurt. So, too, has outfielder Brandon Guyer. Brantley and Guyer may open the 2018 regular season on the disabled list. Kipnis is not considered to have a serious injury, but it is tightness in his back, a body part that can always be iffy when it comes to a strong diagnosis and the potential to come back.
Diaz is going to have plenty of opportunities in this Cactus League season to again show the he can be a help to an Indians team with World Series aspirations. His natural position is third base, where Urshela and Gonzalez are also in the mix to break camp as backups/injury replacements at the position and as utility infielders. What helps Diaz is he can also play in the outfield. He played all three outfield spots in the minors and three games in left for the Indians last year. The outfield is full of question marks and with very few answers. Perhaps Diaz could become one of those answers.
The key for Diaz is proving that he can hit for more power. It has never been his forte, but he at least showed decent pop in Columbus. If he could hit the long ball on a more frequent basis in the big leagues, he would really have a chance to stick and become more of a regular in an Indians lineup that just lost a pair of mashers to free agency in Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce. Perhaps his fellow Cuban and newly acquired Tribe first baseman Yonder Alonso can help there. Alonso, at the age of 29, smashed his career best mark with 28 home runs by reinventing his swing. It is possible he could be an asset to Diaz in that regard. There has been talk of teaching Diaz the same upper cut swing that help Alonso become a power hitter for the first time in his career.
Either way, adding more extra base hits to his repertoire would go a long way toward Diaz earning a Cleveland roster spot in late March and then earning more Major League playing time. The Indians know he can hit. He has done that at all of his professional stops. That even included Cleveland by the end of last year. Getting better in the outfield and with his power swing will be the key to Diaz becoming a very good MLB player.
There are opportunities to be had this spring. Diaz is on a short list of back ups and minor leaguers who really have a strong shot of kicking down the door and earning one of those few up-for-grabs spots on a loaded Tribe roster. Rather than knocking it down, he may want to power through it with more home runs and then flash some leather in the outfield just to show that the up and comer may finally be arriving to stay.
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images