Today’s meeting will be a little bit different from the others.
As you are all well aware, Yandy Diaz returned to AAA Columbus last week when Jason Kipnis returned from the disabled list. That this coincided with a short vacation of my own explains our unfortunate lack of a meeting last week.
That delay presents us an opportunity to take a step back. Much of our focus here drills down to the measurable. How hard did Yandy strike the ball this week? How many tallies in each fielding column? Is his slugging percentage still .011?
Part of this statistical obsession is self-aware, as it always culminates in the matrix. That won’t be going anywhere. Our normal format returns next week, as chronicling Yandy in Columbus will in some ways be more exciting than his cup of coffee with the Indians to start the season. Today, I wonder what larger themes we can extract from his career so far.
Yandy did not become a nationally known prospect until quite recently. Indians fans who spend time checking the stat lines of minor leaguers got an early jump on his potential as a hitter, but he never appeared to be a sure thing at the major league level. He never has, if we’re being honest. This goes to his time before the Indians.
At age 21, he defected from Cuba with friend (and fellow eventual Indians prospect) Leandro Linares. It took Yandy three attempts to defect; on the third, he watched as sharks circled the raft for part of the journey, as Paul Hobynes documented. Even after arriving in the Dominican he signed a contract for $300,000. This came after several weeks of workouts, and John Mirabelli admitted to Hoynes, “We didn't even know his name until we went to the workouts.”
That someone managed to defect after multiple failed attempts is incredible; to then reach the major leagues after never being considered a serious prospect is improbable. It appears that way, at least. When Yandy first joined the Indians system scouts described him as lanky but athletic. The current nature of his stature is well-documented.
What is it, then, that drives Yandy time and again to prove and improve himself? I don’t want to get into the hand-wavy “he’s just a competitor with a chip on his motor and a shoulder that never stops” stuff. In 26 years of life he’s conquered challenges that some never encounter; many of those that do choose not to face them.
His father, Jorge, defected from Cuba early in Yandy’s childhood to achieve a career as a major league player. As of last year, at least, this is the last time Yandy ever saw his father. After only one season in the minor leagues with the Rangers he bounced around the Independent leagues, then hung up his cleats.
It is not clear to me whether or not Yandy and his father have reunited since he started for the Indians on opening day. However, a son driving to accomplish the feat that his father could not, and then sustain it? I could certainly see that propelling Yandy’s continuing journey. It will be interesting to hear about when (perhaps if - Yandy does not like to discuss it) the two finally meet again. Will there be pride? Joy? Envy?
It could simply be love for the game. Though Diaz doesn’t flash the perpetual smile of Francisco Lindor, each movement he makes on the field telegraphs his joy. Every once in awhile it breaks through between plays.
The final, curious thing I wonder about with Diaz is whether or not he would get a second serious chance at the majors thirty or forty years ago. It seems clear that the Indians intend to do so. They understand how hard he hits the ball, that he has great athletic ability to defend, and that even though he is massive, he is nimble. While he lacks power production, that’s simply because his swing is still developing. Will it take an overhaul, like Josh Donaldson? Perhaps. Is it a small timing issue, like Jose Bautista? I’d love for it to be so simple and pray it does not take as long.
The most interesting piece I’ve seen on his peculiar power is by Jordan Bastian. If you’ve not read it yet, please do so; it describes how it might simply be Yandy’s inexperience at picking pitches he can do damage on, and where in his swing he attempts to make contact.
I’ll continue to watch Yandy. I hope his next return to the majors lasts longer — perhaps long enough that someday he might reach free agency and reap a massive reward for his unending pursuit of success on the diamond.