Indians

Yandy Diaz fits on the 25-man roster

Yes, the spring of Yandy continues here at WFNY, but why shouldn’t it? He’s absolutely raking in Arizona, and while some will credit that to Goodyear’s thinner air, or perhaps Double and Triple A pitching, Diaz is doing it in a non-traditional way.

He’s getting on base. According to Twitter Stat Guru Kevin Dean:

He has four doubles, a homer, and has walked eight times, while striking out only five times. And just so we’re clear, that’s not an anomaly. In his minor league career, he’s walked 198 times, vs. 191 K’s. The guy understands the strike zone, and his growing power, and high level contact rates takes his offense to the next level.

I’ve been afraid to utter the word “star,” because that word is so antiquated these days, but he will be at the top of the league in a few categories, once he makes the team.

My point of this article, though, isn’t to rave about the hear-and-now Yandy. While he’s in a battle for spots opened up by injury, the bigger question is, “What’s his long time future with the club, once everyone is healthy?”

A little over six months ago, the Cleveland Indians’ front office sat with Terry Francona and looked over players to help supplement their roster over the final month of the season. With some interesting players in the minor league system, yet the ability to swing a trade during the waiver period, there were several options available at their disposal.

When it was all said and done in September, the Indians traded for Brandon Guyer, then traded for A’s outfielder Coco Crisp, and brought up utility man Erik Gonzalez, catcher Adam Moore, and pitchers Cody Anderson and Joseph Colon. Later in the month, pitchers Kyle Crockett, Shawn Armstrong, Austin Adams and Adam Plutko made appearances as well.

Yet infielder/outfielder Yandy Diaz was left off the list.

According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, and Terry Francona himself, Diaz was considered for a call-up. But once Crisp was acquired, the Indians chose not to burn an option by calling him up.

This spring Diaz has battled through a groin issue, but the offense, as I mentioned before, has continued down the path of being MLB-ready. He has equally been putting in hours of reps defensively, trying to prove that he’s ready on both sides of the field. While I still find that an interesting stance, defensively, for the team to take, I’m not here to change perception. If the organization feels that way about Yandy’s defense, be bucking the system does absolutely nothing.

Instead, the take aways are this: He hits better than anyone, and his skill-set means he doesn’t need reps. It’s just what he does. Like Michael Brantley, he’s a hitting savant. Defensively, he works his butt off on a daily basis in the infield, and the outfield. In interviews in the Dominican after his defection from Cuba, Diaz continually said, “I’ll do whatever it takes to help my club win.” In other words, Diaz is a guy that gets it. You can tell with how hard he works in the gym. He was never a wiry guy, but he’s gone from a trim, fit baseball player, to a guy that clearly wants to improve his power.

It’s clearly a steep hill to climb for Diaz in the next few days to make the roster, with injuries to Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and the lingering Michael Brantley health-issues, there could be a chance for Diaz to break camp with the club.

While there was an interesting dichotomy of thoughts coming out of camp discussing Yandy’s offensive prowess vs. a perceived struggle at defense, a trend has begun to shift in the organizational thinking. According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastion, Diaz is working mercilessly at becoming a better defender.

Injuries notwithstanding, I was asked an interesting question via twitter regarding a full-time position for Diaz, once the club is healthy.

While I’ll ignore the Zimmer piece to this for now since he hasn’t made the major league roster breaking camp, I want to take a quick look at the potential of Diaz in the roster, not necessarily out of spring, but after the Indians’ roster is healthy.

My perceived Cleveland Indians healthy 24-man roster:

Rotation (5):

Corey Kluber (rhp)
Carlos Carrasco (rhp)
Danny Salazar (rhp)
Josh Tomlin (rhp)
Trevor Bauer (rhp)

Bullpen (7):

Andrew Miller (lhp)
Cody Allen (closer) (rhp)
Bryan Shaw (rhp)
Boone Logan (lhp)
Dan Otero (rhp)
Zach McAllister (rhp)
Shawn Armstrong (rhp)

Catcher (2):

Yan Gomes (rh)
Roberto Perez (rh)

Infield (5):

Carlos Santana 1B/DH (switch)
Edwin Encarnacion 1B/DH (switch)
Jason Kipnis 2B (lh)
Jose Ramirez 3B (switch)
Francisco Lindor SS (switch)

Outfield (5):

Michael Brantley lf (lh)
Tyler Naquin cf (lh)
Lonnie Chisenhall rf (lh)
Brandon Guyer of (rh)
Austin Jackson of (switch)

You can argue about a couple of these slots, but barring unforeseen circumstances, this looks like the healthy core. The only slots that are available of the 24 listed at the top are the final spot in the bullpen, as well as the final spot in the outfield. If Austin Jackson maintains his health, and somehow turns the tide of his career in spiral decline, he will take Almonte’s slot full-time. I prefer Almonte, but these are the breaks when you have an option remainder.

So can Yandy grab the “25-slot” on this roster, and if so, where would he play?

The answer to the first question is yes. He is absolutely talented enough both offensively and defensively to earn a slot on the roster. I would equally argue that he wouldn’t be the 25th-man. Yandy may make the last roster spot, but he would likely find more regular at bats than guys like Brandon Guyer and Austin Jackson.

Where would he play? My guess is he’d find time at two primary positions, in both left field to spell Brantley, and at third base to spell JRam, Lindor or Kipnis. How can he do that by simply covering third base? The right-handed hitter just crushes left-handed hitting, but he’s adept against righties as well. He could slot into third, and either replace JRam, or allow JRam to take over another slot at short or second, should Lindor or Kipnis need a break. With Kipnis and Brantley nursing potential injuries that can nag, this is monster important. You also can slot Diaz into left or right, and in a pinch, center. Even if you think he struggles defensively, don’t forget about JRam moving to the outfield. JRam has proven to be athletic and sufficient in left, and could play center in a pinch.

Diaz would likely find himself in three or four games a week, and become the primary pinch hitter. Playing every day is something that is greatly exaggerated, but he’ll have more than regular at bats, would be the primary utility player, and would actually be filling in the role that JRam fit into last year. While Diaz doesn’t profile into quite the same defensive player1 as JRam, they are very similar offensively. Diaz may ultimately have the advantage offensively.

Either way, here’s my case for Yandy making this roster, regardless of injury. In the end, the Indians need the best 25-man roster available to them.

Ultimately, my guess is Diaz slots into left field, as early as next year, depending on Michael Brantley’s option. In two years, it’s quite likely that the Indians outfield will have Diaz in left, Greg Allen in center, and Bradley Zimmer in right, if all three players stick with the club, and aren’t traded away in “right now” parts.

But until then, once the team is healthy, Diaz will likely be utilized as the “JRam” super-utility. He’s a guy that can give you innings in right, left, third, and can also find some time in center and second in a pinch. No, he’s not a defensive savant, but he’s had some time at all those positions, and has performed fairly well there. And while there are those that will say, “he needs daily reps as a starter.”

He doesn’t, and the Indians know that. Diaz will fight his way onto this club, and sooner, rather than later.

  1. I still say he’s better defensively than the credit that’s been given []

  • Hopwin

    I feel like KFunk is channeling me.

  • Steve

    First, Santana is the better hitter. And you want your best OBP guy leading off because he gets on base and sets the table more often for your middle of the lineup guys. The clock in baseball is the number of outs made, so you want to give the most opportunities to the guy who makes an out the smallest percentage of the time.

    But, if you want Lindor at the plate when runs are to be driven in, then you want him to hit third, fourth, or fifth, not first. When Santana leads off, he comes up after the bottom of the order, guys the least likely to get on base. There are fewer runs to be driven in then, and more of his goal should be to get on base for the next guys in the lineup.

  • KFunk

    Yeah, I understand the theory, but in the late innings when the lineup rolls over, I want the opposing manager to have to deal with Lindor as soon as possible. I wonder if his OBP in 7-8-9 are better, because having watched last year, I feel like it is– like he’s just more clutch (I haven’t looked up the stats). And about the 7-8-9 hitters being on base less, that’s true, but they often get PH for late in the game, so the conventional wisdom doesn’t always ring true.

    Like I said below, sometimes it’s just painful to see Santana hit into the shift, and I’d prefer if he’s not the one getting the most AB on the entire team.

    If it were up to me, I’d bat Santana 3rd, sandwiching him between Brantley (#2) and EE (#4). He’d see a ton of pitches to hit. That puts Kipnis #6 (when healthy), who can serve as a hybrid RBI man + leadoff hitter for the bottom of the order. It also puts maximum distance between him & Brantley, the other everyday lefty– to make it tough to bring in a LHP to face the heart of the lineup.

    I know Santana @ #3 is unconventional, but I’d protect him there, and give Lindor & Brantley even more ABs.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure what you mean by the OBP in 7-8-9 are better. Those are our worst hitters.

    I’m still not seeing a defense of why not Santana other than shifts. Despite the shifts, he’s still our best threat to get on base and set the table. The shifts don’t neuter him enough to warrant moving him.

    And Santana is maybe the last guy in the league who needs protection. He’s been successful without it, despite getting worked around a lot, and he already sees a ton of pitches. That’s also why he’s an ideal leadoff guy, few batters make a pitcher work as hard as he does. Make them throw those extra pitches.

    If you have much of a choice, you don’t want a second leadoff type at #6. He’s setting the table for your weakest hitters. You want more of an all or nothing type guy. A second leadoff hitter works better at 9 than 6, as he gets to hit in front of your better hitters.

    And Encarnacion between Brantley and Kipnis is more than enough deterrant against LHP. You don’t need to move them more than that.

    This analysis seems little more than “look at batting average” when we’ve made much better progress in the area.

  • KFunk

    I meant Lindor’s OBP in the 7-8-9 innings, when folks are generally facing relievers, and the game is on the line

  • KFunk

    First, I don’t think the Tribe will have problems with run production this year either way.

    I just know that in the late innings, I’d rather see other hitters come up to bat before Santana. I just prefer to put his power further down in the lineup, and greater speed (i.e. basepath disruptors) near the top of the lineup.

    I know it won’t happen, I’m just saying..

  • mgbode

    another reason the Indians lineup is so fun — Lindor & Santana are both switch hitters, so the other team cannot take advantage to a great deal with a specific reliever because of handedness

  • KFunk

    Agreed! And Ramirez too

  • Steve

    Lindor OBP by sets of three innings: 1-3 – .379, 4-6 – .341, 7-9 – .338

    We should expect it to go down, as relievers are more effective than starters. Smaller samples sizes also wash out a lot of the usefulness of these numbers. Either way, this isn’t much of a reason to move Santana down.

  • Steve

    You don’t need speed at the top of the lineup. More power from 2-5 does a lot more work in helping guys get around the bases. And besides, Santana has been a decent baserunner despite his lack of speed, while Lindor hasn’t been great despite being quick. Santana is running into fewer outs on the bases, which means he’s taking the bat out of the hands of the big boppers less often than Lindor is.

  • KFunk

    Thanks for looking that up, Steve. I guess it just comes down to personal preference. Even you would have to admit that having his power further down the lineup would make sense, though

  • KFunk

    Wouldn’t you be surprised if Santana is even with the Tribe through the end of the season? I would be

  • Steve

    For the umpteenth time, nowhere near as much as it makes sense to have the best guy at not making outs leading off.

  • Steve

    Not even in the slightest. Why would they move an important player in the season with such high expectations?

  • Frank

    Santana’s OBP is exactly the reason he is fine in the leadoff spot. His BA doesn’t matter if his OBP and slugging % are good

  • Frank

    He’s not the better hitter though.Santana led our whole team in WRC+ last year. He had a higher OBP and SLG% than Lindor. Lindor is awesome, but there is no way to justify saying Lindor is a better hitter unless Santana takes a big step back this year

  • Frank

    Also, OPS+ incorrectly overrates slugging percentage. Santana’s WRC+ of 132 is even better.

  • KFunk

    Just to get something before he walks. Packaging him + a couple prospects might get you a quality SP

  • Steve

    A helluva challenge trade there. Would require a team in contention (one who isnt wouldnt trade for Santana) willing to part with a SP. I don’t see how that happens.

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  • woofersus

    Kipnis’ wRC+ vs LHP last year was 109, and his 4.8 fWAR was 2nd on the team. Diaz is an exciting prospect but I feel like it may be premature to say Kipnis is just there because he’s there.

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  • Steve

    I’m taking the larger sample size over the smaller. And the argument is only about a situation where Diaz impresses.

    And the argument isn’t that Kipnis is just there because he’s there. It’s that he’s not going to lose his job even if he struggles.