Skepticism is a word a lot of Cardinals fan would associate with Aledmys Diaz. Skeptical in his ability to play shortstop. Skeptical is his ability to recreate a spectacular rookie season. I’m going to try to convince some of the skeptics, why I believe, and I think the club believes that Diaz is a marquee player and will join the core group of players.
Signed in March 2014 after defecting from Cuba, Diaz doesn’t come with the fanfare of Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, or Yoan Moncada. He was seen as a project bat that could play shortstop as a best case scenario, or utility bat as the worst case.
After a unenthusiastic debut in the minors, he was designated for assignment in July of 2015. I’m sure this is the point a lot of certainty started to creep into the minds of fans. This is after a season and a half facing minor league competition, but also getting back into game speed. Diaz sat out almost two full calendar years without any baseball activity. He played a total of 47 games in 2014 before starting a full season in 2015. The club took a gamble with DFA, after needing the spot on the 40 man roster. The gamble has started to pay off.
When returning from his near release, the bat started to take off. He recovered enough offensively and defensively to earn a spot in the Arizona Fall League. A spot reserved for the highest level prospects, where he continued to hit and solidify his position as a shortstop. Earning an invite to major league camp, he continued to impress.
After a Jhonny Peralta thumb injury, many thought he would at least be able to split time at shortstop. The club continued to monitor the free agent market, looking for a possible short term solution and to give Diaz more time in Memphis, where he had only played 14 games. It took another injury after the season began to give Diaz a full look at at the position.
Taking full advantage of the starting opportunity, 2016 was a success for Diaz. He finished fifth in rookie of the year voting, even after missing 6 weeks with a broken thumb. Diaz returned at less than 100% to be a major contributor down the stretch. He improved defensively month by month after a shaky start. I attribute this to allowing the game to slow down. He will improve in this area moving forward.
Diaz will be a main stay atop the Cardinal lineup. He is the best instinctual base runner on the team. The metrics show him as a minus in this area, but he was the absolute best at first to third, and taking advantage of extra bases. Showing the signs of a very fundamental player.
A projected lineup of Fowler-Diaz-Carpenter will create a ton of scoring opportunities for the Cardinals in 2017. Some will argue that Carpenter should hit second, which we will hear plenty this season. I prefer to see him second for two reasons. One, Diaz base running ability. Two, the right/lefty split. Any lineup configuration of those three could very well make Piscotty an All Star with plenty of RBI chances.
Its difficult to go far down the list of great shortstops last year without getting to Diaz. Some called for an upgrade defensively, but I don’t think it is warranted. Diaz has shown that he can come along way in a short amount of time. I think he’ll continue to prove skeptics wrong and will quickly join the core.
Thanks for reading.