St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Aledmys Diaz has a good chance to be the team’s 2016 Cinderalla story.
The Cuban defector, who raised eyebrows Tuesday with four hits in a spring training game, could make the transition from the rags of being placed on waivers last summer when the Redbirds took him off the 40-man roster to the riches of being the starting shortstop on the major league club just six months later.
Diaz, by all accounts, struggled to get his feet beneath him after signing with St. Louis two years ago as free agent. Part of the problem may have also been that he spent his first year in American baseball fighting a shoulder problem. Still, he hit a disappointing .227 in Class A Palm Beach in 2014 and put together a .291 batting average in a halting stay at Class AA Springfield.
Optimism faded in 2015 when Diaz struggled at plate over the first half of the season in Springfield. The Cardinals were willing to take the chance of losing him to add a journeyman backup first baseman, Dan Johnson, to the roster.
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After the embarrassment of being run through waivers -- and finding no takers -- Diaz seemed to be a changed man. He came to life at the plate and hit the ball with authority.
Maybe the idea that he had little left to lose freed Diaz up to be himself. Maybe the thought that the major league gravy train could leave him behind at the station woke him up from apathy. It’s difficult to say.
While it’s perplexing why he’s struggled so much, it’s obvious that the 25-year-old has tons of raw talent.
I saw him make his American professional debut in 2014 after he inked with the Cardinals. He was thrown into a game at Roger Dean Stadium and hit the ball hard several times, collecting a hit in his first at bat, if memory serves, and another later. He didn’t seem at all overwhelmed. Although it may be the most unscientific of all assessments, it was impossible to fail to notice Diaz had that special crack players with high octane swings and the ability to make solid contract generate when bat and ball meet.
He’s a line drive machine and Diaz has has the ability to rack up doubles in bunches.
The biggest problem with Diaz is his defense. He’s not known as a great glove man and, as previously mentioned, he has trouble with his shoulder that could compromise his throws.
But if he can play decent defense and hit he can really bail the Redbirds out as they wait for the return of All-Star slugging shortstop Jhonny Peralta who could be out until mid-season with a torn ligament in his thumb. (Let’s remember that Peralta, while sure-handed, doesn’t exactly make anyone forget Ozzie Smith with his range. So playing solid if not great shortstop won’t be much of a drop off.)
I’m not happy that Peralta will be out because he is an important part of the St. Louis offense. But I’m glad to see Diaz have a real chance to crack the major league roster this year -- even if he isn’t the starter at short -- so we can see what he can do.
This is the third year of Diaz’s four-year contract. Now is the time he has to emerge if the Cardinals are going to get any value for the $8 million they spent to land the promising middle infielder.