Cards must wait to see Diaz play

News-DemocratMarch 10, 2014 

JUPITER, Fla. --Manager Mike Matheny and the St. Louis Cardinals are pretty certain of the quality of Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who signed a four-year deal Sunday.

But Diaz is in the United States on a visitor's visa, and will need a work visa before he can play in Grapefruit League games. Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said he expects that situation to be remedied next week.

Until then, Diaz can participate in minor-league intrasquad games on the back fields at the Roger Dean Stadium complex. Those games begin Thursday.

"We'll get him started today with getting some work in ... until he's ready for games on the back fields," Matheny said of Diaz, who has been working out in Mexico. "I'll try to keep my eye on those as well. I think it's an exciting time for our organization. As soon as we can get him out there, we'll get a look at him. ... He's got some tools and it's nice to have him part of our organization now."

Mozeliak is glad to have the 23-year-old Diaz in the fold.

"This is an exciting day for all of us," Mozeliak said Monday morning. "A lot has gone into this. From the Cardinals' perspective, it was something we wanted to do our due diligence from day one. We made a very conscious effort over the last year to start to understand the Cuban market and to start to understand how we could put our fingerprints on this moving forward.

"All along, we had targeted middle infielders --if that was something we could do to improve our organization. Obviously, getting to (Sunday) was very exciting to us."

Diaz had received interest from at least 10 other teams and reportedly received offers from five teams.

"It was a very difficult process," Diaz said through translator Moises Rodriguez, the Cardinals' director of international scouting. "It was a process that at times was very stressful. But it did allow me to reflect on things that I can to do improve as a ballplayer.

"I feel great. Everybody in the clubhouse has treated me warmly. I'm in a great organization. Being here for the first day is something I was looking forward to, and it's finally here."

Mozeliak said the Cardinals will not rush Diaz, who hasn't played competitively for 18 months. He said it's possible that Diaz could participate in extended spring training, then report to Class AA Springfield or perhaps Class AAA Memphis.

"It's not something where we're looking to have him put his fingerprints on the major-league team tomorrow," Mozeliak said. "We can give him time to develop and let him, from a talent standpoint, take his time to get back to where he was. From our organizational standpoint, that's a great fit for us at this time.

"From a makeup standpoint, he really fits the culture of what we're trying to do. From a baseball standpoint, we like the offensive upside. From a defensive standpoint, we think he can handle (shortstop). ... Where he fits in (with) our top prospects now, it's pretty high up there. Now, we also have one that's a shortstop."

Diaz, a right-handed hitter who identified retiring New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as his idol, defected from Cuba in 2012 while playing in a tournament in the Netherlands. He became a resident in Mexico so he could sign with a major-league team, but was deemed ineligible because of an inaccurate birth date in his paperwork.

The Cardinals signed free agent Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million contract in the offseason. Diaz adds depth at the position and also is capable of playing other positions --as are many of the other Cardinals infielders.

"Most of our middle infielders can play either of the corners," Matheny said. "It definitely gets them action and some practice at third, but right now, (we're) getting (Diaz) accustomed to what's going on here. We'll start him out where he's most comfortable."

Mozeliak said Peralta's ability to play other infield positions than shortstop had nothing to do with signing Diaz.

"Jhonny Peralta's our shortstop," Mozeliak said. "We think he's really good."

Matheny said Diaz could be a quick study.

"He's had some repetitions out there; he knows what he's doing," Matheny said. "Swinging the bat, the ball jumped off. He's a guy that you can tell has been around the game for a while."

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Diaz projects as an above-average hitter with gap power.

"He's a strong young man," Mozeliak said. "We're excited to see him get into our development, get into our strength-training program and see what can become of him. You don't make this kind of deal if you don't have high hopes."

Matheny joked about how he would communicate with Diaz.

"I'll continue to speak my Spanglish to him," he said. "Hopefully, he can put together the context clues like I do when they're speaking to me. He actually speaks some English, but I enjoy speaking Spanish with them to let them know I at least can pick up some of it.

"We all speak the common language of baseball around here. Hopefully, this will be a very comfortable place for him to get things started."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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