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 []