Eyewitness Report: Who Is Jose Diaz?

When you first see Jose Diaz milling around with the pitchers at the Mets' spring complex in Port St. Lucie, you might easily mistake him for one of the non-roster catchers in camp to play receiver for the enormous number of pitchers. But that changes as soon as he steps out onto the mound.

Diaz is built like a fireplug and is, in fact, a converted catcher. Though he is early in his development as a pitcher, his pre-pitching career already has him in a position where he is protected on the Mets 40 man roster. The Mets saw enough out of Diaz last summer in A ball to keep him there at the expense of David Mattox and Lenny Dinardo being selected in the Rule V draft.

Their reasoning immediately becomes clear when you see Diaz throw. His fastball explodes at high 90s speed and has terrific movement. He also has a surprisingly good breaking pitch. He is a nightmare for hitters as his stats attest.

Last season in high A ball, Diaz pitched 98 innings, striking out 117 hitters and allowing just 60 hits. The only mark on his stats sheet is that he also walked 76 guys. That's too many walks. But being "effectively wild" is part of Diaz's game. It's hard to dig in against a kid who throws as hard as Diaz does, and isn't always sure where the ball is going.

The Mets acquired Diaz from the Dodgers in last seasons Jeromy Burnitz trade, a deal which may turn out to be the one Jim Duquette is most proud of. The Mets also got AA 2B Victor Diaz, who hit .350 in Binghamton, and closer Kole Strayhorn who boasts numbers as impressive as Jose's.

On Tuesday, Jose Diaz faced four batters in the Mets' Intrasquad game and struck out the side, around plunking Craig Brazell in between the second and third Ks. One of those Ks was top hitting prospect David Wright, who is otherwise 4-6 this spring with a homerun.

There's no doubt that Diaz possess the "stuff" to get hitters out at the upper levels. His stuff is electric. His pitches have outstanding movement.

The only question is can he lower his walks total enough for his wildness to be an asset, not a liability.

Though Manager Art Howe has been quoted as saying Diaz could even win a job in the Mets' pen this season, it seems more likely the Mets will keep him here in St. Lucie to start the season, where he can work with the organizations staff and facilities to refine his pitching mechanics. The Mets have looked at Diaz as both a starter and a reliever and will choose a course for him based on his performance this spring. The Mets will likely accelerate Diaz up the ladder once he has made the necessary progress during the spring and early summer.



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