This is the slash line produced by Yandy Diaz so far this spring. It is fantastic.
Sure, a hot spring doesn’t necessarily translate to a phenomenal season. Every year there are nameless players that arrive in one of the corners of the nation who put up gaudy numbers. Most of the time, these players return to a nameless town in the Midwest to play for a minor league team named for a local fried delicacy.
Other years, legends emerge. Consider 2001, the year that Albert Pujols slugged his way onto the St. Louis Cardinals at age 21 after a year in Single-A Pieroia. For much of the spring, reporters hounded Tony LaRussa, asking if Pujols would make a roster on which there did not appear to be any room. It became a bit of a joke, and LaRussa eventually made the following statement when asked about the reality of Pujols making the team:
What's the difference between reason and reality? The reality is that he's playing like hell. The reason is that he probably would continue to do so if you keep playing him. So the key is to quit playing him.
Sometimes a kid shows up in the spring and plays so well that managers can’t even form coherent sentences.
Surely you’re not saying that Yandy Diaz is as good as Albert Pujols
I’m not. Pujols played multiple defensive positions well that spring, and blasted monstrous home runs every week. He was also 21. Yandy Diaz is a bit of a different story at age 25 with some questions about his ability to play any position. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a comparison to be made.
With little time left in 2001’s spring training, Bobby Bonilla pulled his hamstring. Suddenly the starting job in left field lay wide open, and the Cardinals slotted Pujols into the 25-man roster. That season he hit 37 home runs with a slash line of .329/.403/.610.
This spring, Jason Kipnis is sidelined with shoulder inflammation. We’ve talked extensively on Let’s Go Tribe about the possible shuffles the front office may make to adjust for the injury. One of the more popular options is moving Jose Ramirez to second base, opening room at third for Diaz.
Whether the Cleveland Indians call him up at the start of the season or a little bit later to retain another year of arbitration, he appears to be ready now. Terry Pluto commented earlier this week that Diaz “may be the best young hitter that I've seen in a Tribe spring training since Victor Martinez.” Like Pujols in 2001, his continued onslaught at the plate will eventually force the hand of the front office.
Yandy Watch by the numbers
March 16: Did not play
March 17: 1-2 with a two-out RBI single. Infield assist on a ground out.
March 18: 1-4 with a two-out RBI single. Made no errors at the difficult DH position.
March 19: 3-4 with *gasp* a two-out RBI single. DH once more.
March 20: 2-3 with four RBI, including a three-run home run in the fifth inning. He started a double play on one ground ball, earned an assist on another, and committed his first error of the spring on the last.
March 21: The Cleveland Indians did not play a baseball game. Another error-free effort from Yandy.
March 22: 2-3 with another two-out RBI single, though he was picked off “pitcher to first to second to pitcher” to end the inning. It does not appear that he had any defensive chances in the game.
Last week Yandy stayed put, as he barely played any baseball. This week, we see some movement on the Yandy Watch matrix.
Yandy scoots his way up the chart on the fielding axis, and nudges slightly in the direction of the great fielders. While Yandy did make an error on one ground ball, he converted every other play that went his way. One other play of note in the field — I can’t recall which day and the play-by-play doesn’t reveal it — he and Michael Brantley both went for the same pop-up. Depending on whom you ask, Yandy either made the right decision on an unclear call by Brantley, or he recklessly endangered the life of Brantley by charging after it. I see that he recorded an out, and leave it at that.
Our last note on this edition of Yandy Watch: for those of you confused about the stories painting Diaz as a defensive liability, I think I may have figured it out. Early scouting reports on Diaz state that he’s a tremendous athlete with an excellent arm and range. He played 2nd base in Cuba, and since arriving in America has primarily played 3rd base and corner outfield. My guess is that the tools are still excellent, but have not yet adapted to their new deployments. Jordan Bastian goes in-depth on Francona’s statements here.