After one of the shortest starts of Edwin Diaz's career earlier in the week and his first relief appearance since his 2012 debut in the Rookie Arizona League last night, the Seattle Mariners confirmed that the move with the 22 year old right-hander and No. 2 Prospect on the SeattleClubhouse Top-50 is a permanent shift to a bullpen role.
Back in Double-A pitching for the Jackson Generals again where he ended his 2015 season, making 20 starts with mixed results, Diaz turned in three very strong Southern League starts to open 2016, earning two wins, posting a 1.69 ERA and striking out 24 of the 58 batters he faced while walking just two in 16 innings. But Seattle's third round pick from the 2012 Draft allowed 17 hits and eight runs in 11 innings in his next two starts, and a visit from minor league pitching coordinator Rick Waits followed. The plan was put into place then to start getting Edwin ready for his bullpen role, a role that he has taken to with a good attitude.
Although he has added strength to his frame, Diaz remains rail thin at 6-foot-3, with a slim, high waist and long limbs. The Puerto Rican has electric arm speed, with a fastball that regularly hits the high-90s, and his primary secondary offering is a sweeping slider with big movement away from right-handers. It is easy to see that combination working in the bullpen, and the failure of his changeup to develop into a consistent third offering after more than 350 MiLB innings as a starter makes it easy to see why Seattle has made this move now. While the player development staff communicated their confidence to me in the off-season that Diaz could make it as a starter and handle the innings workload despite his smaller build, this move certainly accelerates his timetable to the big leagues, and it should definitely increase the likelihood of him sticking, too.
Part of my scouting report from the Top-50 piece linked above is as follows:
Diaz has some funk in his delivery, with long limbs and a little bit of an odd kick in his front leg before release. He also throws across his body a bit, stepping more towards the right-handed batter's box than directly to his catcher. It's the type of delivery that we see from junkballer lefties at times. But Diaz touches the upper-90s regularly with his fastball, working comfortably at 93 to 95. The slider tends to flatten out when Diaz lets his release point drop, but even then it has enough movement to it that he can get swinging strikes on the pitch, but it is a better offering for him when he is firm and tigher with it, usually pushing it in around 85.
Diaz hit 98 on Tuesday night according to one source with the team and there were several 96's in there, too. Jackson's Brandon Liebhaber liked what he saw. "He looked really sharp," Liebhaber said. "The fastball had even more life than usual." And while pitching is pitching is pitching, it's good to note that Diaz didn't exhibit any uneasiness with the new role. "He looked remarkably comfortable for a guy making his first relief appearance in four years," according to Brandon. His velocity could be a welcome sight in Seattle, where two of the club's hardest throwers -- Tony Zych and Joaquin Benoit -- are currently on the DL. The Mariners are 21st in MLB in average fastball velocity this year at 91.8 mph.
I spoke with Andy McKay this morning about the move, and he said that the decision with Diaz worked out perfectly as a combination of two things: "We saw it as being the best thing for the player and the best thing for the organization. We're planning on playing postseason baseball this year in Seattle, and it is important to have as many bullets as possible," McKay said. As for Diaz's future, McKay did not say that this is a permanent move for Diaz, but relief pitching is his immediate future now. "It is not a final thing, but as we all know, big league pens are very volatile. As Bill Walsh always said, it is good to plan for all contingencies. And we feel that Diaz could help us this year." Again, the right-hander has a big arm, but McKay said that Diaz's fastball speed isn't really a factor in this at all in his eyes. "That isn't why we made this move. If a pitcher can get three outs before they allow a run, that is really all that matters for me," he said.
The club has a scripted plan that they're following for Diaz over the next couple of weeks, and if that plan -- which will include back-to-back appearances soon -- goes well, they'll evaluate and move to the next steps, which could include a promotion to Tacoma in the not-too-distant future. But, "I don't feel that a move to Tacoma is imminent," said McKay, "we're going to follow our script and see how that looks then reevaluate," he added.
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