Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz is the #7 shortstop in the MLB “Right Now.” Let’s take a look at how the Cuban infielder earned that position in just one year in the league.
Although, as a baseball fan, I disagree with MLB Network’s objective method of ranking players through pure statistics and sabermetrics, using a machine known as “The Shredder,” Diaz earned this high ranking, shining in his rookie campaign. Let’s take a look at Diaz’s first MLB season, and how it lead to his place as one of the top ten shortstops in the league right now.
From the moment Diaz made his major league debut April 5th of last season, he made it known that he could hit. All he did in his first month with the Cardinals was hit .423 with four homers and 13 RBI, slugging over .700 in that span. For the remainder of the season, his average would only dip below .300 twice, only to rise back up over the mark the next day on both occasions. On October 3rd, the morning after St. Louis’s last game against the Pirates, the Cuban rookie awoke with his average sitting exactly at .300, having amassed over 120 hits in 404 at-bats.
Diaz is not just the prototypical slap-hitting, get on base shortstop, either. After his rapid start, he ended 2016 with a slugging percentage over .500, and an OBP just under .900. In his just 111 games, the All-Star amassed 48 extra-base hits, with 17 home runs, as well as 65 RBI. In every full month in which he played, Diaz hit at least three homers, and had at least 13 RBI.
Diaz also ended the season with only 60 strikeouts, making up less than 15% of his at bats for the Cardinals in 2016; an impressive clip, especially for a rookie. He also amassed a fair amount of walks in his rookie campaign, 41, showing his good eye at the plate, a great sign of maturity for any club when looking at a rookie hitter.
Overall, only good things came from Aledmys Diaz from the offensive side in his rookie season. His only really weak span came in September, but this was following a hairline fracture in his right thumb, understandable affecting his performance. All we can hope is that the Cardinals short-stop will be able to adjust to any changes opposing pitchers make toward him, but all signs point to him being able to do so.
All Cardinals fans remember the tense feel of nervousness they would get when a ground ball would be hit to the left of second base in the first two months of the season with Diaz manning the helm at short. There was no doubt about it for the first two months of the season; Diaz was in for the offense. He committed 12 errors in just those two months, an extremely high number, and one that baseball fans hope to never see from any position, let alone the one which is supposed to harbor the “rock” of the defense.
But as the season progressed, the young man settled down his nerves, and actually turned into an above average defensive shortstop. After those first two months of near agony, Diaz committed just four more errors the entire season. Despite ending with the 4th highest tally in this category among NL shortstops, there’s no doubt that Diaz’s 16 errors impressed Cardinal management and fans, as he was on pace for a historic amount in the early goings of the 2016 season.
So, if we cut out the first two months of jitters accompanying Diaz’s entrance to the big leagues, #36 for the Cardinals showed that he in fact has the potential to be one of the best defenders at short in the league in terms of fielding percentage and consistency.
Overall Shortstop Potential
Of course, there are other factors which accompany defensive prowess. Most experts agree Diaz has the arm to play shortstop at an solid level going forward, noting his strength and ability to throw from different angles. Further, no one says Diaz possesses elite, Andrelton Simmons like, range, but he definitely can get the job done in terms of getting to balls in the 5-6 hole and up the middle.
Going forward, look for Diaz to be a solid, possibly slightly above average defensive shortstop for the Cardinals. Don’t necessarily expect him to make highlight reel night after night. Because that’s not who he is. But look for him to make the plays he is expected to make-it is highly unlikely that he will have another streak of 12 errors in two months, and in the last 2/3 of 2016, Diaz showed that he can be as consistent as anyone.
MLB Network’s “Shredder,” a machine of sorts designed to rank players based on objective sabermetrics, placed our own Aledmys Diaz in the 7th spot among active shortstops regarding his ability to perform “Right Now.”
Following his rookie season, Diaz has established that he will be an “offense-first” type of guy at shortstop. Hitting .300 in 2016, the right-handed bat proved not only that he could hit for average, but also for production, mashing 17 bombs and knocking in 65 runs in just 111 games. As we go into to 2017, we expect pitchers to adjust to him, and look forward to how he will respond.
Despite having a rough first couple of months defensively up the middle, he settled in the last 2/3 of the season, and Cardinals’ fans should expect him to continue to gain confidence and comfort in his position.
Aledmys Diaz enters his age 26 season in 2017, a time of most players’ careers that is considered near their “prime”. However, Diaz came to the big leagues late, so it would probably be wrong to assume that he will be hitting the stride of his career in 2017, just his second big league season.
Yet, it is certainly looking like Aledmys Diaz will have a bright future in the majors, and with the Cardinals. Cardinal fans got the pleasure of watching the Cuban shortstop mature over the course of the 2016 season, and there should be little doubt that he will continue this process in 2017, as one of the best shortstops in the majors. MLB Network, you got this one right.
Photo captured by Jeff Curry – USA Today Sports