Hall of Fame season is over and over-eager-pitchers-and-catchers-report-countdown season isn't quite here, which leaves already-starving baseball fans just about out of things to talk about. Friday's big news? A Justin Upton trade that didn't end up happening. Which means the latest Cuban free agents—Aledmys Diaz, a 23-year-old shortstop, in particular—have chosen a great time to work out for interested Major League teams. There are 10 of those, at last count, and Derrick Goold reported last week that the St. Louis Cardinals are among them.
A shortstop! 23 years old! Vague enough in his outlines (you may know him as Aledmis Diaz) that we can project our wildest shortstop-related dreams onto his hypothetical contract! Setting aside the inevitable—which is that we will, in the absence of any other baseball stimulus, get excited—should we get excited?
He's a 23-year-old from Cuba, so it's difficult to answer that with any certainty. (Although the simple fact that he's a young player in a league that's difficult to translate is probably reason enough to answer with an uncertain no.) But inasmuch as we can know anything about him, it's worth answering two questions: Who is Aledmys Diaz, and how would Aledmys Diaz fit into the Cardinals' infield picture?
Who is Aledmys Diaz?
Well, he's "... an average runner with an above-average arm," according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Some people have suggested he might not stick at shortstop, but I can't track down the first-generation observation that generated that conventional wisdom.
Luckily, we do have a little more to go on. Clay Davenport, a major part of Baseball Prospectus back when all of us were reading Moneyball in hardcover, uploaded a decade of Cuban League stats last year just in time for Cespedes-mania, with Diaz among them. After I grabbed Diaz's 2012 stats from this very Google-Translate-able fansite, I was left with these four half-seasons to go on:
Now we have stats, and a bunch of difficult questions to answer about them. For instance: The Davenport database, which was most fans and bloggers' first experience with Cuban statistics, presents its data as his 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons, but Cuba's National Series actually runs through the winter. It's hard to figure a player's "baseball age" when the universally ascribed baseball age date (July 1) is in the middle of the offseason—so you're looking, I guess, at Aledmys Diaz's age mostly-19 through mostly-22 seasons.
And you're not looking at much, either—1090 at-bats over a period in which an American prospect would advance from rookie ball to the high minors. The Davenport Translations, an attempt to translate his numbers into an MLB context, help a little—from 07-08 (in which Diaz drew 32 at-bats) to 10-11, they make him look like a punchier Daniel Descalso, with a line of .258/.320/.353.
Those numbers leave out last year's power surge and are weighed down by an 09-10 that translates to .239/.284/.304. They're also an attempt to estimate what he'd do in the majors from 19 to 22 years old. Which brings us to the other question.
Where is he relative to the Cardinals' other options?
It's hard to keep international free agents in the right context—to think about them as prospects with track records, and not black boxes or finished products. When I first saw Diaz's translations it somehow didn't occur to me to build any upside into them.
It would help to have a control group. Luckily, the Cardinals already have an in-house 23-year-old shortstop with nice plate discipline and a whispered-about defensive reputation: Greg Garcia, who hit .284/.408/.420 last year in AA Springfield.
He sits behind the un-prognosticatable Pete Kozma and the defensive-minded Ryan Jackson at shortstop, and AA teammate Kolten Wong on all the prospect lists. Without Diaz's 2011-12 translation this is necessarily incomplete, but here are some Davenport Translations to work with:
(Diaz's 2009-10 season is conspicuously bad—the year before translates to .280/.323/.398—but that kind of variance is to be expected in a league with huge variance in talent levels and 300-at-bat seasons.)
In any case: It looks like Aledmys Diaz can hit, for a middle infield prospect, and he might be able to really hit. Because his best season isn't in the data set most of us have and he didn't make an incredible 20-minute workout video, he might even be a little underrated (among bloggers and blog-readers) as international free agents go.
It's a little harder to place him in the Cardinals' system, but if he impresses the scouts I think you could put him on a tier with Kolten Wong—which at shortstop could well put him in the major leagues in 2013.
Past that—well, until his workout later this month we've got little idea of how MLB teams will evaluate his defense and where his price will settle. And since he won't count under the international bonus limit, we'll get another chance to see just what top prospects would be worth in a truly open market. Should the Cardinals sign Aledmys Diaz? Well, how many years and how much money would you commit to Kolten Wong, if you had to?