Name: Javis Diaz
DOB: June 25, 1984
Signed as a non-drafted free agent on August 7, 2002, Diaz' first two seasons in the DSL showed glimpses of something special. His batting average wasn't great but he was one of the few Dominican prospects that showed patience at the plate, drawing 78 walks those first two years in 132 games while striking out just 69 times. Once on base, and he managed a .385 on base percentage (OBP), he could use his speed to make things happen, nabbing 52 steals in 68 attempts.
He was slated to be in the United States to begin 2005 but visa problems kept him in the DSL. He got off to a hot start, hitting .322 over 20 games before coming stateside. In 39 games for the Arizona Rookie League Padres he hit .352 with a .425 OBP, stealing 19 bases in 24 attempts.
"Javis has all the tools and has put up good numbers wherever he has been assigned," Felix Francisco, a Dominican scout for the Padres, said. "In the Dominican Republic for two years he was our number one outfielder and then in the states this year he went to Lake Elsinore and hit well when someone got hurt, he hit .260, which is pretty good coming out of extended spring. He had the problem with his finger or wrist and he couldn't finish the season and what he started, playing one game in the Arizona League. Hopefully he will be healthy next year and be able to play in Lake Elsinore and have a good season."
After beginning the 2006 season in extended spring training, Diaz was called up to Lake Elsinore as an injury replacement. He played in 31 games for the Storm, hitting a fair .262, including a .308 mark when he led off an inning. His work with runners in scoring position, however, became a detriment – notching two hits in 19 at bats. He also struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, batting .158.
He was sent down to Low-A Fort Wayne in early June and reached base in 23 of 27 games with a hit in 21 of those contests.
"At the top of the order, if he got on base, he could wreak havoc," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "I think the biggest detriment to Javis was just out of the 110 at bats he had there was 33 strikeouts. If he gets the opportunity to put the ball in play and utilize his speed that will be a big advantage for him."
A wrist injury claimed the final month-plus of the season; he managed to play in just one more game the rest of the way, going 2-for-3 for the Arizona Rookie League Padres.
Before he fell, Diaz was in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak with eight runs scored and three stolen bases.
The left-handed hitter ended his run in Fort Wayne with a .306 average but the struggles against southpaws continued, as he mustered one hit in 11 at bats while hitting .330 off right-handers. He again proved to be a threat to start an inning, batting .370 to earn the moniker "table-setter."
Diaz is just that. He is a singles hitter who uses the opposite field to his advantage, going with the pitch to punch hard grounders and line drives into right field.
When he lifts the ball it normally is a sure out, but his line drives have a funny way of finding the gaps.
"What is funny is people who don't see a lot of him think he is a Judy because of his approach but he has some sock in that bat," Randy Smith, the Padres' director of international scouting, said. "He can drive the ball."
He has a long trigger that some believe will haunt him in the future. Diaz holds his hands on the right side of his body as the pitch is being delivered. That means his hands must travel back to his left to get into hitting position before springing forward. Oddly enough, there are few balls that he can't catch up with, although it does cause him to pull the ball too often because of the urgency in his reaction time not keeping him in balance.
"He has had success so you don't change him," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "You didn't see the real Javis Diaz in Instructs because he had an injured finger. I have never seen him late on a fastball – until that happens there is no need to change him."
His quick wrists and incredible bat speed have the Padres believing he does not need to change; he just needs to be smarter on his pitch selection – a trait he has shown in the past.
Diaz struck out 34 times in Fort Wayne – the highest whiff rate in his career. Blessed with above average speed, the Padres want him to make more contact, upping his chance to generate offense and take the pitcher off his game.
"Javis is a guy that is a typical leadoff type guy that will put the ball in play and create total havoc with his speed," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "He must have had at least 15-20 bunt base hits. We would sit there and go, ‘Here comes a bunt base hit.' And the opposing team had no chance at all. It was funny to see. He executed it very well. Although Mike Sansoe and (Mike) Baxter did a pretty good job hitting leadoff, with that speed that Javis has it is incredible to have at the top of the order. I think he has a bright future."
Also, Diaz got away from working the count, putting more pressure on himself to make something happen rather than allowing his game to play naturally. He was swinging at balls he used to lay off, dropping his walk totals down.
He ended the season with nine steals in 13 attempts spanning 59 games. He has good first step quickness but will need to continue his study of pitchers to be more effective.
"The injury really hurt him," Smith added. "We could never get him quite 100 percent healthy.
"His defense improved. He has the quick bat and will have to let his good legs and defense allow him to move up. He is obviously not going to profile as a corner guy with power but he can be a guy that creates havoc on the bases and drives balls to the gaps. The strides with his defense were important to make him a more interesting prospect."
Diaz split his time in left field and centerfield. He has good range and has improved his outfield play by taking better routes to the ball. His arm has been a question mark but he did contribute seven assists on the season.
"There was some question about his defense but he played fine in the outfield in his routes and threw the ball well," said Ready.
ETA: When healthy, Diaz, 22, is a definitive sparkplug at the top of the order. Getting on base and creating some havoc is where his game is at. He should begin the year at Lake Elsinore. He has the type of speed and ability to create runs scored, as long as he remains patient at the plate. Still, given his age, Diaz remains a longer-term project, provided no one takes a flier on him as a Rule 5 Draft pick. The 2009 season would be his time to shine if he progresses well.