Yandy Diaz deserves to be playing and suiting up every day in a Major League Baseball uniform. His bat could be very useful to the Indians, who have seen the bottom of their batting order struggle during many stretches this season.
The problem is, there is not much room for a player, even as talented as Diaz, when the player’s best position is third base.
With two-time All-Star and MVP-candidate Jose Ramirez manning third base at a Gold Glove-caliber level, getting playing time for the 27-year-old hitting prospect Diaz is no small task. When the team is fully healthy, taking swings as a designated hitter is not even an option. Edwin Encarnacion, though slowing down a little bit, is still a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy. There is no reason to push him out of the DH role.
Right now, Diaz is getting an opportunity because Encarnacion is out with an injured arm and hand. He should be back later this week or next. Diaz will be back at Triple-A Columbus, at least until the September call-ups hit, simply because there is nowhere for him to play in Cleveland. The roles that he best fills are taken up by high-profile players.
Sometimes, life is not fair and that Diaz cannot become a regular in Cleveland right now is proof of that. There is nothing more for him to do in the minors. He has spent parts of four seasons now in Columbus, where he has hit .319 in 1,235 at bats. Clearly, he is a polished hitter at this point at the minor league level.
Diaz finally broke into the Majors last season as the Indians battled injuries in the outfield. The team tried to convert him to an outfielder and it proved to not work out really well. He was not comfortable as an outfielder. Hitting-wise, Diaz was fine in his first go-round in Cleveland in 2017, hitting .263 last year. He broke camp with the Indians due to injuries and got off to a slow start to his MLB career. He hit .203 before being sent back to Columbus on May 10. He came on strong when he was called up in late August, finishing the year looking like the solid hitter that he had proven to be in the minors. Diaz hit .400 in 20 August at bats and .279 in 68 September at bats.
He came to spring training this year with little shot, barring injury, to break camp with Cleveland. After the failed outfield experiment, it is obvious that he will need to make it to, and stick in, the big leagues on the hot corner. That will be tough with Ramirez there.
Diaz has been given some opportunities in the last month thanks to Encarnacion being hurt. All Diaz has done is hit. He has 11 hits, including one double and one triple, in 21 at bats entering the weekend series with the Baltimore Orioles, a .524 batting average. He is still looking for his first Major League home run. However, the lack of power is not a surprise as he only has 15 bombs at the Triple-A level in all his time there. Still, he can hit and hit well against Major League pitching.
Diaz had hit safely in six of the seven games that he had played in going into Friday night’s game with the Orioles. The one game that he did not hit safely in was a pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday. He has a four-hit game and a three-hit game in limited time this season. If there was any room for him on the Tribe’s loaded roster, there is not question his time in the minors would be over with. However, manager Terry Francona does not have room for a good, young hitter at third or DH.
One thought to keep Diaz around is to move Ramirez to second base and push veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis to center field. The Indians played Kipnis in center at the end of last season and in the ALDS. However, Francona has balked at that this season. Kipnis was put there last year because he was coming off of injury and Ramirez had moved to second to cover there. By the time Kipnis returned, the team did not want to disrupt the great double-play combination Ramirez had formed with shortstop Francisco Lindor. Kipnis also was only okay in center. Working out this scenario would be better served for spring training than trying to move Kipnis on the fly back to center six weeks before the playoffs and what the club hopes will be long October run.
Diaz was reportedly spotted with a first baseman’s glove in Cincinnati this past week. However, 20-homer hitter Yonder Alonso is capably playing first base and is not going to be moved from there any time soon.
It is unfortunate, but the fact seems to be that once the Indians are back to full health, with Encarnacion back in action, Diaz will have nowhere to play in Cleveland. As talented as he is, that can be life with a contending ball club. Obviously, a team with World Series aspirations like the Indians already has numerous great players in multiple spots that will not be passed over by anyone in the minor league system. Diaz will have to bide his time. That time could very well come next season if the Indians move J-Ram to second. Whenever that time does come, it is a pretty good bet that Diaz will be ready and will hit. The team and fans look forward to seeing his talented bat in the lineup every day, when the time is right.
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