Watching and listening to the first series of the 2017 season, I came away with several takes, but I’ll just name a few. One, this could be a dog fight with the Cubs all year, with games hinging on one inning or one play. Two, the Cardinals have to do a better job with RISP. Putting two on with one out in the 8th and having your biggest homerun threats due up should have been an advantage. Instead they were dismissed on two strikeouts. Randal Grichuk couldn’t contain himself (that’s okay, in the long run I want him to stay aggressive) and Gyorko wasn’t expecting a breaking ball over the heart of the plate. Now, my third take involves our stud (yeah, I said it) shortstop, Aledmys Diaz. This guy is a legitimate star.
Okay, so his play really isn’t all that surprising considering his rookie year. He went out and slashed .300/.369/.510 with 17 HRs and 65 RBIs over just 111 games. And he did a lot of damage despite batting 8th into May. He earned an All-Star nod and finished 5th in the NL Rookie of the Year. Had it not been for a stray fastball fracturing his hand (thanks Andrew Cashner) and knocking him out for 6 weeks, he may have been a serious challenger to Dodger’s sensation Corey Seager.
Like I said, the way he is playing is not new. However, one of the many questions regarding this team coming into the season was whether or not he was the real deal. Could his success be sustained? Or was it just a flash in the pan season? After the first three games, I’m ready to call it. He is for real.
We all saw the gutsy baserunning on Sunday night. He was one of the rare players to actually take full advantage of Jon Lester’s yips. This is a fearless player on the bases. And I don’t mean that in the Mike Matheny, ‘I’d rather aggressively run into an out than play it safe’-fearless. No this guy actually knows what he is doing. He knows his speed and has baseball instincts to know what bases he can and cannot take. We haven’t seen much from Dexter Fowler yet so we can only go on his reputation, but Diaz should certainly be right with him as the top two baserunners on the team. Last season he was 6 out of 8 scoring from 2B on a single. Just as impressive and even more valuable, he was 6 out of 9 scoring from 1B on a double.
Diaz padded his BA and OBP a little bit last year on infield hits, with 24 infield hits and 2 bunt hits. He added another in Thursday’s game. However, those weren’t just lucky breaks. He has the speed, or more importantly acceleration, to beat the throws to first. It’s a bit of a tie-breaker. Plays in the hole or up the middle where the average player is out by a step, Diaz collects a single.
There is a pretty sound school of thought that the best overall hitter (Carpenter) should actually be hitting 2nd. The hitter a notch below him would then bat third. We see the Cubs do this with Bryant. With that in mind, Diaz would be a dynamic No. 3 hitter. However, I have no problem spacing out the lefties in the lineup. Actually, I like the way Diaz fits in 2 spot. Batting behind Fowler, his extra base pop and penchant for putting the ball in play serves to make the most of Fowler’s baserunning skills. Fowler isn’t a straight steal guy, he will grab a bag here and there but his speed plays more in the 1st to 3rd or Home, 2nd to Home category. Diaz brings the hit and run into play.
Diaz’s skills on the bases are a great fit in front of the cat and mouse bat handling of Matt Carpenter. Carpenter hits a lot of doubles (1st in the NL in ’13 and ’15), and Diaz has the ability to score from 1B on those doubles. His efficiency scoring from 2B on singles will also be an asset in from of a solid situational hitter like Carpenter.
In His Defense
This was the biggest question. Is he a good enough shortstop? He may not be a gold glover or even above average and his range is not the best, but he is athletic and has tools to be an average defender. We twice won the division with Jhonny Peralta simply not hurting us at SS. Diaz has to make the plays he is supposed to and not hurt us in the field. That’s the bottom line.
A lot was made of his errors last year. He had 16 overall, but 12 occurred in April and May while only 4 happened from June 1st on. Errors aren’t a great measure of defensive skill, but they do show mistakes. The way that Diaz’s were distributed last year clearly show a player doing too much, rushing, or just getting used to the speed of big league play before settling in later. Simply put, errors won’t be a problem going forward. His defense should be good enough to not affect the team negatively.
His future is likely at 2B. This is not an indictment of Kolten Wong, rather a statement of fact. Top pick Delvin Perez is set to stick at SS. The team has been giving contracts to “young veterans” lately. If the Cardinals choose to lock down Diaz passed 2020, then he will have to shift positions. But that is still a ways down the road.
In the present let’s sit back and enjoy this exciting player. He will be an under the radar star in the NL all season long.
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