Aledmys Diaz (Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports Images)

In Aledmys Diaz, the St. Louis Cardinals have an established Cuban player who could help with the transition of others from his homeland.

The St. Louis Cardinals have spent $5.5 million on Cuban free agents this year alone and could go higher. They already have a trailblazer in their clubhouse in shortstop Aledmys Diaz.

When the St. Louis Cardinals open their clubhouse to the media early each morning, the scribes typically scan the room, then head over to the bulletin boards toward one corner, seeking out the day’s posted lineup.

At first blush, the following may have seemed a run-of-the-mill observational tweet from Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold, but it really made me think.

https://twitter.com/dgoold/status/835481090844463107

As many know, the Cardinals inked Cuban outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia to a $2.5 million minor league contract on Friday. It includes an immediate invitation to big-league camp. Hence, Goold’s notation of the newest Cardinal’s initial appearance with his new teammates.

http://www.scout.com/player/215506-jose-adolis-garcia?s=321

Garcia’s choice of Aledmys Diaz as his first landing spot is surely not coincidental.

In fact, in Garcia's introductory meeting with the media Saturday morning, the newest Cardinal attributed his decision to the organization's tradition, also noting that Diaz' presence is comforting to him.

Three years ago, it was Diaz who was the newcomer dropped into the midst of Cardinals’ major league camp. After a series of spring showcases, the shortstop came to terms on a four-year, $8 million contract in March 2014. Back then, however, there were no Cubans in the clubhouse to help ease the significant transition he was thrust into.

http://www.scout.com/player/187201-aledmys-diaz?s=321

In those intervening three years – and especially since last July 2nd – the Cardinals have gotten extremely aggressive in the international market. Of their 28 new recruits signed during this period, four are Cuban natives. Including Garcia, the Cards have dropped $5.5 million in signing bonuses on the quartet, which also includes outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena plus pitcher Johan Oviedo.

Cuban signees Pos Age Bonus Spring camp Notes
Jonatan Machado OF 17 $2,350,000 Minors TCN rank #27
Johan Oviedo RHP 18 $1,900,000 STEP TCN rank #18
Randy Arozarena OF 21 $1,250,000 STEP TCN rank #17
Jose Adolis Garcia OF 23 $2,500,000 MLB NRI pool exempt
total     $5,500,000    

As the above table indicates, because of the age of Garcia, his bonus does not apply to the international pool limits. His experience opened the door to big-league camp, while the others, younger and less experienced, will start 2017 in minor league camps.

However, it will not be long for the trio to work their way up toward St. Louis. All three are already ranked among The Cardinal Nation’s top 27 prospects for 2017. And when they do arrive, the now-27-year-old Diaz should be waiting for them in the clubhouse – just as he is today for Garcia.

Despite having just one season of Major League experience, Diaz already has a National League All-Star selection on his resume. Perhaps more importantly, he is well-positioned to become a mentor and leader for these newer Cardinals, who like him had make the dangerous and risky decision to defect from their shared homeland to pursue their major league dreams.

As I detailed in this recent article, Diaz should remain under Cardinals organization control for at least five more seasons – through 2021. That can only be a good thing for these and other yet-to-be signed Cuban youngsters.

Speaking of which, the Cardinals are reportedly interested – as are many clubs – in Cuban Luis Robert. As opposed to Garcia, who was the 20th-ranked unsigned Cuban according the Baseball America, Robert is numero uno - at least in many talent evaluators' hearts.

As a result, the hype about the yet-to-be-cleared to sign outfielder has reached extremely high levels. The clamor is to the point one American League scouting director calls Robert “The best player on the planet and that’s no exaggeration."  

Of course, it probably IS exaggeration, and given the inevitable bidding war for Robert's services ahead, the Cardinals may not win out on him. But if they do, knowing Diaz will be there waiting could only make matters easier.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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