March 10, 2014

#Cardinals win Cuban SS sweepstakes with a likely steal

Aledmys Diaz works out for the Cardinals in spring training,
as Matt Carpenter watches./St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo
At the modest signing price of $8 million, the Cardinals' inking of Aledmys Diaz is good indeed.

Even if he "only" makes it to the utility infielder level at the big club, these numbers:
Diaz last played in 2012 and hit .315 with 12 homers in 270 at-bats for Los Naranjas de Villa Clara in the Cuban professional league. It’s the same league (Yasiel) Puig, Oakland’s Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes and Cincinnati lefty Aroldis Chapman played in before defecting.
Indicate he'll be, at a bare minimum, a better utility infielder than a Daniel Descalso let alone, much better than a Pete Kozma with extra gloves. 

Some people may think he'll be no better than that, if that. The fact that some teams took a pass on him, and his estimated initial price of $15-$20M dropped by half or so, will raise eyebrows.

Well, part of it is this, per the first link:
"We plan on being patient with him," Mozeliak said. "He hasn't played baseball in really over a year and a half competitively. We're not looking for him to put his fingerprints on the major-league team tomorrow. We can give him time to develop and let him from a talent standpoint take his time to get back to where he was and I think from our organizational standpoint that's a great fit for us at this time."

He may just have looked rusty, even a bit overwhelmed, against MLB-level tryout competition. Why the Yankees, who could use three or four shortstop signees to replenish their farm system and replace the retiring Cap'n, should have bid $20M for sure.

And, what if he's better? Speaking of ...

As ESPN notes, the Cards definitely think he'll be more than that.
Within the organization, some have compared him to a young Derek Jeter.
"He walks like him, you can see some of that there," general manager John Mozeliak said.
I wouldn't be that lavish myself until we at least see him at American AAA-level play, but, I'll gladly take something halfway between a super-Descalso and Jeter.

In other words, let's say that in three years, he can be a starter, with a .275 BA, .340 OBP, 10-12 HRs and 22-25 doubles, a .440 SLG and a .780 OPS.

Guess what? Those numbers are better than the current, free-agent occupier of the SS position, Jhonny Peralta. Which means that Peralta could be trade bait. And, with his front-loaded contract, relatively easy trade bait. Or, if he pegs as more of a 2B, if Kolten Wong doesn't relax and stop "pressing," or whatever his problem is, he gets traded.

Or, if not that, he's a super-utility, batting .250 with a .300 OBP, .385 SLG and .685 OPS+. Again, that's still better than the Bobbsey Twins I already mentioned.

And Mark Ellis definitely won't be back next year, further opening possibilities.

My projections? September call-up this year, probably nothing sooner. If Wong is still struggling against lefties in 2015, at the minimum, a chance to be part of a platoon at 2B next year, and we go from there. And, that he's got a 1-in-3 shot at being in that .275/.440/.780 groove by the end of 2015.

If not that, let's split the diff between that and a super-Descalso. .265 BA, .325 OBP, .425 SLG and .750 OPS. I'll take that, even, at either SS or 2B.

Peg him at "neutral" defensively for the sake of argument, and if he's posting numbers like that, let alone even higher ones, in Busch Stadium, he's a steal indeed.

Bernie Miklasz says he'll start at AA Springfield, where the Cards didn't even have a SS penciled in; I'm sure he'll get time at other IF positions, too. Could he displace Greg Garcia at Memphis, or at least challenge him, by midseason? Sure. Anyway, it is a low-risk gamble with lots of upside. Bernie's got lots of links for mo re about him.

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