Cleveland Indians third base prospect Yandy Diaz may be the exciting solution to the injury problem surrounding Jason Kipnis.
Tyler Naquin has some knee soreness but he insists he’ll be fine. Cody Anderson will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season, though he was not slated to pitch a ton for the big league club to begin with. Michael Brantley is continuing to make progress, but he still exists in that precarious place of “oh so close yet still so far away”.
The most discouraging news from Indians camp right now is that Jason Kipnis is “unlikely to be ready to play in a Major League game for another four to five weeks,” per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. Without being overly pessimistic or paranoid about the Indians’ recent track record with injuries, it’s clear at this point that Kipnis will miss at least a couple of weeks of regular-season action.
Losing a starting second baseman and two-hole hitter is difficult for any team, and the Indians are no exception. But the Indians still have to submit a lineup card on April 3 when they take on the Texas Rangers in Arlington, which means the starting second base job—or perhaps the starting third base job—is up for grabs.
The most interesting name to potentially take Kipnis’ place on the lineup card is Yandy Diaz. For those unfamiliar with Diaz, this recent profile by Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com is a good place to start. But if you’d rather stick around Wahoo’s On First, here is the CliffsNotes version:
- Diaz signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 after defecting from Cuba at the age of 21.
- Since signing with the Indians, he’s done nothing but hit. In 2014 Diaz slashed .286/.396/.376 in 338 plate appearances at High-A. In 2015 he slashed .315/.412/.408 in 564 plate appearances at Double-A. And in 2016 he slashed .318/408/.446 in 526 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A.
- He’s primarily played third base with a sprinkling of games in the outfield corners.
Sounds perfect right? The Indians can just slide everyone’s favorite everyman Jose Ramirez to his natural position at second base and use Diaz as the everyday third baseman until Kipnis is ready to come back.
Of course, life is never as easy at it seems it should be. While you, me, and the entirety of Indians Twitter would install Diaz at third and be done with it, the Indians seem to have other ideas.
One supposed issue is Diaz’s defense, which according to Terry Francona, still needs work. There’s also a roster management issue because Diaz is not yet on the 40-man roster. And ultimately there’s the fact that Diaz has yet to play in a big league game and the Indians have other options that have, mainly Giovanny Urshela and Michael Martinez (yes, that Michael Martinez).
So who’s right: Indians Twitter or, you know, the Indians? Well, there’s no doubt Diaz can hit. NO ONE DENIES THIS. While Diaz has yet to flash big power (just 14 home runs in his minor league career), anyone who posts on-base percentages around .400 is a valuable guy to have in the batters box. But don’t just take it from my box score scouting reports. Here’s former Baseball Prospectus prospect writer Chris Crawford on Diaz from last year’s Futures Game:
Diaz was not supposed to be here (he received the call when Jeimer Candelario received The Call), but he looked like he belonged. He has a swing that allows him to shoot line-drives to the opposite field—as he did today—and he looked like a long-term third baseman in my limited look. He’s not gonna hit for a ton of power, but with an above-average hit tool and a chance for above-average defense, he doesn’t have to.
As for Diaz’s defense, the reports are mostly positive. The Crawford quote above expresses belief Diaz can handle third, and in 2014 Baseball America rated Diaz as the best third baseman in the Carolina League. It’s hardly definitive, but it doesn’t seem like Diaz would be a disaster in the field.
The 40-man roster concerns are legitimate. Right now the Indians have Urshela and infielder Erik Gonzalez as options on the 40-man who can cover third base and second base, respectively. Adding Diaz would require a corresponding move such as putting Cody Anderson on the 60-day disabled list, a move the Indians might want to reserve for adding another pitcher down the road.
The team’s claim of 40-man roster concerns is somewhat mitigated by their claims that Michael Martinez, a non-roster camp invitee who is not on the 40-man, is also in the hunt to get time in Kipnis’ stead. But as much as fans don’t want to hear it, Martinez is a team favorite who may find his way onto the roster regardless of how the team decides to replace Kipnis.
The Indians probably have other concerns. They’ve said they’d like to keep Jose Ramirez at third base full-time, which would eliminate Diaz from immediate consideration. They would probably like to avoid starting Diaz’s major league service clock for only a couple of weeks of games, a valid reason to go with a different option to start the year.
And once Kipnis returns to action there would be no place for Diaz to play. The team is also taking a closer look at Richie Shaffer, a former Tampa Bay Rays first-round pick who has shown some intriguing skills during spring training.
The Indians could very well decide that it’s not worth overriding all these concerns to get Diaz up for a couple of weeks of action, especially when there’s no guarantee he would be significantly better than Urshela or Gonzalez (let’s all cross our fingers that the Indians don’t just stick Michael Martinez out there everyday).
But whatever way you look at it, it seems pretty clear that the Indians base 25-man roster sans Jason Kipnis includes Yandy Diaz. Whether Diaz breaks camp with the team remains to be seen. But either way, the Indians seem to have another exciting talent on their hands who is sure to make some noise at some point this season.