Yandy Diaz was signed by the Cleveland Indians for $300,000 dollars in 2013, after he defected from Cuba in order to pursue a baseball career in the United States. This was a low-risk investment on behalf of the Indians, as Diaz’s bonus falls on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of notable signing bonuses given to international prospects.
Over his last three seasons in the minors, Diaz has slashed .307/.403/.410 while playing primarily third base. Most scouts and public sources of baseball knowledge have given rave reviews to Diaz as a defender, ranging from “plus” to “outstanding.” He was able to establish himself as one of the Indians’ top 10 prospects, and drew significant trade interest this offseason.
The Indians decided to hold onto their 25-year old infielder, and invited him to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. The plan with Diaz, and fellow top prospect Bradley Zimmer, was to get them some experience with the Major League team, and let them further develop in the minors.
Interestingly enough, Diaz had an eventful spring. It started with star second baseman Jason Kipnis succumbing to a shoulder injury that will set him back through the end of April. Infielders Gio Urshela, Michael Martinez and Erik Gonzalez were set to compete for at-bats at third base, with the versatile Jose Ramirez moving over to second base.
So far this spring, Diaz has forced his way into the Indians’ plans, hitting an outstanding .429/.529/.667 with 2 home runs in 42 at bats. Yandy Diaz has a few things working against him when it comes to making the Majors. For one, he is not on the 40-man roster, and it would likely require taking the risk of losing another player in order to make space for Diaz, possibly utility infielder Michael Martinez.
Perhaps the biggest issue that Diaz faces in his uphill battle to make the team is Indians manager Terry Francona, who is notably down on Diaz’s defensive abilities as a third-baseman. Francona has been quoted, referring to Diaz as “Defensively, he’s still a work in progress” and that “the other stuff [problems in the field] doesn’t go unnoticed, either.”
Francona’s negativity about Diaz’s defensive ability is interesting, because most scouting reports consider Diaz a plus-defender. Minor league managers voted him the best defensive third baseman in the Carolina League (Single-A, 2014) and Eastern League (Double-A, 2016). There are two reasonable explanations for this, the first being that Diaz’s competition, Gio Urshela, is considered possibly one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball, despite limited hitting ability, and that Diaz looks weak in comparison.
The second possible explanation, is that Diaz is an above average third baseman in talent, but is not polished enough to be successful at the major league level. Yandy Diaz does not speak fluent English, so the language barrier could make it more difficult for Major League coaches to suggest and implement minor adjustments to put Diaz in a position where he is a quality major league ready infielder. These adjustments might be easier to make at the minor league level.
Personally, I hope Diaz cracks the major league roster as Cleveland’s opening day third baseman, because he is an exciting player who could contribute significantly to the team’s offense. Cleveland lost only two significant players — Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis — from last year’s roster which took them to the World Series, and gained a more exciting Edwin Encarnacion, clearly showing that the Indians are pushing all their chips into the center, trying to get that World Championship which eluded them last season, after suffering a loss in Game Seven to the Cubs.