Roughly one year ago, articles touting a possible "shortstop of the future" for the St. Louis Cardinals were popping up all over the internet. These articles were filled with excitement and promise, and each one of them possessed an inherent mystical quality as there was an inordinate amount of unknowns attached to the player in question. This was due in large part to the facts that the only way you could find any credible highlight videos was by searching "Aledmis Diaz" instead of "Aledmys Diaz" on YouTube and that he had not participated in (documented) live games in over a calendar year.
Hoping to uncover answers to some of these unknowns, I reached out to Joe Kehoskie, a baseball consultant, who graciously provided firsthand analysis of Diaz's time in Cuba. As the process dragged along and Diaz remained unsigned, I consulted with Peter Bjarkman, a distinguished author and scout on Cuban baseball. The conclusion gathered from these two reports was that Diaz really was not much of a major league prospect and that he projected as a starting second baseman (meaning his defense wasn't deemed good enough to stick at shortstop) on a bad team and a utility player on a good team (i.e. the Cardinals).
Well, after a private workout on one of the Roger Dean back fields and a few weeks of careful deliberation by the front office (as Diaz's asking price dropped), the Cardinals agreed to a four-year, $8 million deal with the Cuban middle infielder. Diaz got off to hot (but extremely impatient) start at the plate with Double-A Springfield. Unfortunately, he then dealt with a handful of injuries (the most notable being an upper back strain) that forced him to miss a good chunk of the 2014 season and played a role in his "demotion" to High-A Palm Beach. Eventually, after another injury in Palm Beach, the Cardinals shut his first minor league season down for good. To be honest, this was predictable given the fact that it had been over a calendar year since he had last played live baseball on a nearly everyday basis.
2014 minor league statistics
First and foremost, the slugging percentage and ISO are quite desirable, especially for a middle infielder. However, it would be ideal if he could increase his on-base percentage and cut down on his strikeouts in 2015 and beyond. Honestly, I cannot really blame him for wanting to impress the front office and coaching staff by swinging away in his first season with the club, though.
In terms of defense, Diaz played a grand total of 143.0 innings (17 games) at shortstop, committed four errors, and had a range factor of 3.53. The sample size is small, but curious as I was to see Diaz play, I watched at least ten of his games on MiLB.TV (unfortunately in non-HD), and in my opinion, his shortstop defense looked shaky at best. With MiLB.TV, there's usually only one camera angle available, so I didn't get the best grasp of his overall range, but his hands looked the opposite of soft as he bobbled a whole lot of balls hit his way. He will get another shot at short in 2015, but as both scouts said prior to his signing, it remains unlikely that he stays there long-term.
2014 video highlights
April 8, 2014: It bugged me that Mike Matheny made a reference to Derek Jeter when talking about how Diaz carried himself, but I'm not going to lie, the way the ball came off the bat to the opposite field on this triple reminded me of a vintage Captain.
April 18, 2014: I have a good friend who works for the Springfield Cardinals, and he has confirmed that this ball blasted off Diaz's bat has not yet landed (just kidding). For a player with a smaller body frame, home runs of this variety are particularly impressive.
April 23, 2014: This round-tripper off Noel Arguelles shows that hanging a breaking ball over the plate is probably not the best idea with an eager-to-swing Diaz in the box.
Diaz will likely start 2015 with a return to Double-A Springfield. His first goal will be staying healthy so that the Cardinals can evaluate him more thoroughly. Even if his defense proves inadequate at shortstop, the potential power in his bat keeps him as an interesting prospect. Of note, I asked Kurt Heyer, one of Diaz's teammates in Springfield, what he thought of the 24-year-old middle infielder, and he mentioned that he was "a good teammate" who was "easy to approach" with "probably one of the quickest bats" he's ever seen. I suspect we will hear more on Diaz from Eric and Future Redbirds in the coming weeks.