Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 7, Yandy Diaz

Quickly becoming one of the Tribe’s most popular minor leaguers, third baseman/outfielder Yandy Diaz comes in at number 7 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.

Who is Yandy Diaz?

For the second year in a row, Yandy Diaz begins the year as a top ten prospect, moving up three spots from last year. He joined the Cleveland Indians in 2013 when he was signed as an amateur free agent out of Cuba for $300,000.

The 25-year-old throws and hits right-handed. After playing strictly third base for the Tribe prior to the season, Diaz expanded his versatility in 2016, playing all three outfield spots and even second base in addition to third base.

Diaz began the 2016 season at Double-A Akron (where he finished 2015) but was promoted to Triple-A Columbus before Memorial Day. It was the second year in a row he started the year at Akron and finished at Columbus, having done so in 2015 as well.

He also spent some time playing winter ball in Venezuela after the 2016 season, where he spent most of his time in center field. He was invited to the Tribe’s big league camp this spring and remains there as of this article being written.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Diaz joined the Indians after playing multiple seasons in the Cuban National Series, a professional league in his native Cuba. Thanks to this, he was a more established player than most of the Tribe’s international signings.

He hit .286 at Advanced-A Carolina in 2014, in his first year with the Tribe. He followed that up by hitting over .300 at Akron and Columbus in 2015. His average then increased to .318 in 2016, including a .325 mark in Triple-A.

In addition to hitting for a high average, Diaz has some of the best on-base skills in the Tribe’s system. In fact, Baseball America rated him as having the best strike-zone discipline in the system. He’s actually walked more than he’s struck out in the minors (198 BB, 191 K), which is almost unheard of these days. His walk rate of 13.7 percent has also allowed him to post a career on-base percentage of .403.

The one negative with Diaz’s bat to this point has been the lack of power. He has hit just 18 home runs in 333 minor league games. He also has just 44 doubles in that time, which explains his mere .410 slugging percentage and .103 isolated power (ISO). He did show more power at Columbus this past season, though, hitting seven home runs in 95 games.

Related: Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 8, Yu-Cheng Chang

However, he still only posted a .136 ISO, which is well below what one would expect given his solid 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. There’s still some hope the power will still come but he’s already 25.

Defensively, Diaz has gotten a lot of mixed reviews the last few years. He was originally a second baseman in Cuba but the Tribe moved him to third upon signing him. He is very athletic though and moved to the outfield where he could show off his average speed and above average arm.

Depending on who you ask, Diaz is either below average defensively at third base or slightly above average. I still believe he can be an average defensive third baseman or corner outfielder at the big league level, similar perhaps to Casey Blake. He won’t win any Gold Gloves at third but will more than hold his own.

Where does he go from here?

One of the biggest storylines this spring has been about Yandy Diaz and if he’s ready for the big leagues. He has 99 games at Triple-A Columbus the last two years (not counting this year’s playoff games) and offensively, looks every bit the part of a major leaguer.

However, the Indians have a set starting infield when everyone is healthy with Jose Ramirez at third, Francisco Lindor at short, Jason Kipnis at second, and Carlos Santana/Edwin Encarnacion at first/designated hitter, so a return to Columbus looked in order.

Of course, the Jason Kipnis injury has really made things interesting on the Diaz front. Originally, the Indians said they were opposed to moving Ramirez to second base while Kipnis was out but they’ve recently changed their tune.

This could, in theory, open a spot for Diaz to make the opening day roster as he could be the Tribe’s solution to Kipnis’ injury. Diaz is also doing everything in his power to convince the Tribe, hitting .444 this spring with a 1.188 OPS.

However, an injury early in camp limited him and, for a prospect trying to show off to big league coaches, that could end up costing him. The Indians still want Diaz to work on his defense more as well so I still expect him to open in Columbus, but as we saw with Tyler Naquin last year a great spring could sometimes be enough to entice the Tribe.

Diaz was one of my favorite prospects entering 2016 and nothing has changed a year later. Health permitting, he will certainly see Cleveland at some point this year. In what capacity remains up in the air, though.

He could prove to be a Ben Zobrist-type super utility player this season, playing four or five different positions for the Tribe. Long-term, he still has the ability to start every day at third base but his value could start in the outfield as well if the need is there.

The bat should play anywhere and at worst he should be a platoon bat that crushes left-handed pitching. If things click he could end up being a Kevin Youkilis-type hitter in the big leagues, though the power may not quite get there.

Bradley Zimmer is still a better prospect than Diaz but I would not be surprised if Yandy contributes sooner in Cleveland. His time is coming and soon, and he could even be a Rookie of the Year candidate.