Terry Francona and Yandy Diaz: A (very) Public Divide

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Generally, publicly available scouting reports and public organizational statements are relatively similar. Indeed, it is infrequent that a plethora of publicly available information would contradict the opinion of the Indians and manager Terry Francona.  Francona since late February, however, has maintained that farmhand utility man Yandy Diaz likely is not ready defensively:

“Defensively, he’s still a work in progress…”

Francona continued his assault Diaz’ defensive competency just two days ago:

“But the other stuff (problems in the field) doesn’t go unnoticed, either.”

Hearing Francona discuss Diaz defense one would expect that these knocks would be common public knowledge but until a month ago, few had heard such criticisms of young Mr. Diaz. Here is widely respected prospect guru John Sickels, formerly of Baseball America with his 2017 prospect report (emphasis ours):

12) Yandy Diaz, 3B, Grade B-: Age 25, Cuban, hit .318/.408/.446 with nine homers, 71 walks, 86 strikeouts in 444 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; polished hitter with very good feel for hitting, consistently puts bat on ball for hard contact; home run power not strong and given his age you wouldn’t think a lot more would come, but I think it is possible it still may do so; above-average glove at third base. I like him. ETA: 2017.

Am I just being opportunistic in which scouting report I pick? No. Eric Longenhagen Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst:

There are scouts who think he could play a passable shortstop. He played at several different positions (second base, third, left field, right) this year in preparation for his utility destiny but he’s best, and plus, at third base.

Clay Davenport’s minor league defensive projections have Yandy Diaz at plus-5 in right field and 0, or average, at third base in Columbus in 2016. Don’t buy into defense projections? There is more.

Every year Baseball America polls minor league managers at each level who the best defender is at every position. Yandy Diaz was voted by the managers in the Carolina League as the best defensive third baseman at the level in 2014. One time? No big deal, random things can happen. Interestingly, in 2016, Diaz won the same award at AA as best defensive third baseman in the Eastern League as voted by managers.

Our own Jim Pete who covered Carolina  at Indians Baseball Insider when Diaz was there:

Really interesting in all of this is that every one of these information sources, all respected in the industry did not just say Diaz was a competent defender but more above average to plus at third base. Meanwhile, every word coming out of Arizona appear to be aimed to dampen any excitement surrounding a player whose bat is far and away better than what someone like Michael Martinez can bring to the table.

Francona and the public appear to be, in this moment, diametrically opposed. Francona deserves respect and deference. Yet, when pressed there is little specificity about Diaz’ flaws, but rather broad platitudes about “finished products.” With this sort of polar discrepancy between public and private evaluation we are faced with three potential realities.

  1. The public evaluators, and minor league managers are horrendously wrong.
  2. The Indians and Francona are wrong.
  3. The Indians are playing super-2 and player control games with Diaz and need a reason to substantiate this decision.

The third appears most likely, but Diaz’ age—25 soon turning 26—makes this sort of contract manipulation strange. Teams like the Indians generally are not so concerned with player contract status at ages 31-33 but rather with a players late 20’s. That the Indians are vying for a World Series this year while having no idea what 2023 holds makes this all the more curious.

In the near future, either the public or the Indians will likely look foolish. Only one of the parties, however, benefits from Diaz returning to Triple-A Columbus.

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