9. Yandy Diaz – Third Baseman/Outfielder
Born: 08/08/1991 – Height: 6’2” – Weight: 185 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Diaz is a defector from Cuba that the Indians signed as an undrafted free agent in January 2014. In 2015, he finished 1st in the Eastern League in walks (78), 1st in on-base percentage (.412), 4th in batting average (.315), 4th in OPS (.819) and was top 10 in several other offensive categories. Last season, he finished 2nd in the International League in batting average (.325), 1st in on-base percentage (.399), 9th in slugging percentage (.461) and 3rd in OPS (.860 and also finished 3rd in the organization in batting average (.318). He also had a very good showing playing winter ball in Venezuela over the offseason where he hit .371 with 2 HR, 18 RBI and 961 OPS in 40 games.
Offense: Diaz is not a bat that is going to produce big power numbers, but he’s a productive bat who puts up good at bats by working counts, patiently waiting for a pitch to drive and getting on base. He displays a consistent low effort line drive swing and some great hand-eye coordination and above average pitch recognition skills that give him excellent bat-to-ball ability. He doesn’t try to do too much with his swing by trying to yank everything and instead looks to drive the ball the other way to the right-center gap. He combines a high contact rate with a low strikeout rate and great feel for the strike zone to be a tough out for any pitcher. His great approach takes his bat to another level as he shows such extreme patience and a good understanding of the strike zone which results in a lot of walks – and when combined with his high hit rate makes him an on-base machine. His plate discipline is unbelievable as there is such little swing and miss from him, he lays off well located strikes early in the count, he doesn't chase very many pitches out of the zone, he recognizes spin very well and he has an advanced feel for how pitchers are trying to attack him. He just keeps things simple where he is patient to wait for a pitch to come into the zone and if it doesn’t he is satisfied with taking a walk. While he doesn’t project to hit for much power and very many home runs, he has some strong forearms and wrists and has some good muscle tone to him so there is some strength to impact the baseball. His power is fringe average but the Indians believe with his very good bat speed, innate ability to consistently square up the baseball and the way the ball jumps off his bat that he could have solid average power and pile up a lot of extra base hits by pounding the ball in the gaps.
Defense: While the bat has been impressive for Diaz, what really makes him attractive is how versatile he is and how he can fit in at several different positions. Up until last season he was primarily a third baseman only with the Indians, though came into the system rather seasoned at many positions around the diamond during his time in Cuba. Knowing his versatility, his unique skill set and their need at the Major League level, the Indians moved him around the diamond last season and he answered the challenge well logging in 52 games in the outfield, 52 games at third base and 5 games at second base. He is a reliable defender who makes the routine play and grades out average defensively at third base with the upside to be a little more and has a chance to be average in the outfield. He shows some solid hands, good instincts, some good lateral quickness to his left and right and a strong throwing arm. His athleticism shows in the outfield as he is able to range to balls well and in the infield he does a nice job of coming in on slow rollers and throwing on the run to first base. His athleticism and experience at so many defensive positions provides him the versatility to handle any position on the diamond except catcher, though he would be limited some if used in center field and at shortstop.
Speed & Intangibles: Diaz has a long, lean build with tons of athleticism and is an average runner, though because of some good instincts on the bases he grades out as a slightly above average baserunner. His consistency day in and day out with his work before games is off the charts as he has developed a very good routine to prepare himself for the daily grind of baseball – which is a big reason why he has been such a consistent offensive performer over his career. He shows an ability to adapt and make adjustments, and is a silent leader on the field. He has a good heartbeat to handle high pressure situations as he thrives in them and shows the ability to come through in the clutch. While he missed two months early in the 2014 season because of a left wrist fracture, he has proven to be a durable player who can handle the workload of playing every day over a long six month season.
Focus: Diaz showed some improved power last season, but some of that has to be taken with a grain of salt as he did it in the bandbox that is Huntington Park. The Indians have worked with him to tap into his power a little more as they feel he has the ability to impact the baseball a little more than he has to this point in his career. He carries one of the higher hard hit percentages in the organization, but he doesn’t hit for much power because he doesn’t get a lot of balls into the air. During batting practice when things are more relaxed he shows some aggression and drives the ball to all parts of the field with ease, but doesn’t carry it into games as he mostly just tries to work the ball the other way and doesn’t try to pull balls much for more impact. The Indians would like to see him elevate the ball a little more so some of his hard hit balls can plug the gaps, get over the head of outfielders or even over the wall. It is a balancing act because his swing is so good and consistent that they don’t want to lose what he does so well already, but what they want him to do is get himself into a better position to drive balls and find a way to create a little more angle at his contact point which could allow for more line drives and get more loft and backspin on the ball. They would also like to see him try to pull some more balls early in the count that he can drive rather than settle for taking the ball the other way. The end result is not necessarily for him to hit more home runs, but to pile up a lot more doubles and see his extra base hit totals rise. His lack of a true defensive position hurts him some, but he is coming along as a potential everyday option at third base. He still needs to work to pick up a better feel for the position, smooth out some of his inconsistencies, stay focused and move on from mistakes quicker and just get innings and experience at the position so he can grow.
Future: Diaz had his best season as a pro last season and put himself on the doorstep of a Major League opportunity. He handled his early season transition to Triple-A well and ended up putting up a great stat line on the year with an 11.3 BB%, 16.8 K% and a career best .136 ISO and 149 wRC+. He’s a career .307 hitter in the minors with a .403 on-base percentage, and that ability to hit, get on base and limit strikeouts (career 13.7 K%) provide an interesting skill set at the plate that makes him an intriguing option for the Indians. In just two full seasons of action he has raced through the system and now has a cult following in Cleveland anticipating his Major League debut. Unfortunately, he did not get a call in September last season because the Indians had six outfielders and didn’t have at bats to give him, plus he didn’t need to be rostered in the offseason as a Rule 5 protect, so the Indians made the unpopular decision to not bring him up for the stretch run. Regardless, he has moved quickly through the system and established himself as a legitimate Major League depth option in the outfield and infield this season for the Indians and because of an injury to Jason Kipnis found his way onto the opening day roster. When Kipnis returns he will probably go back to Triple-A Columbus at least for a few weeks to correct his service time, but a strong showing right out of the gates may make it hard not to have him stick around in a super utility role.
Ranking History: #13 (2016), #29 (2015)