JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) – Telling a player he has been reassigned to minor league camp can be a difficult conversation. But when a player like Aledmys Diaz shows such dramatic improvement that he was in the conversation for a major league job, the discussion takes a very positive turn.
Diaz, a Cuban defector who was signed to 4-year, $8 million contract in 2014, took considerable time to come up to full playing speed after sitting out 18 months prior to the deal with the Cardinals.
But the last half of 2015, Diaz showed that he was the kind of player the Cards hoped he would become. He hit .264 with 10 homers in 102 games at Springfield (AA) and .380 in 14 games after being promoted to Memphis, a performance that earned him a serious look this spring.
“Diaz did a great job,” said Mike Matheny before Sunday’s Marlins game. “He is radically improved over a year ago. I’m excited for him. We had a good conversation on what he needs to works on and the things he is doing well. He has a good sense of the kind of player he is and the one he hopes to be.”
The move to the Memphis roster will allow Diaz to continue his development as an everyday player, rather than languishing as a back up for the major league club. “We don’t bring guys (onto the major league roster) for development. We’re trying to win. Aledmys will be able to play every day and get better. He’s close now. He has shown range and a good arm. He’s just one phone call away.”
Matheny said he stresses with players who are this close to making the roster that they have to continue to play well and develop so that if an opportunity arises, there is no question who will get the chance. “We want to know who is playing the best. Make it obvious. Make it be you.”
Diaz projects almost strictly as a shortstop, although his versatility is an asset. The Cards have Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia as utility players now on their roster. The signing of Ruben Tejada on Sunday essentially ended Diaz’ bid to join the 25-man roster.
“Aledmys is a smart guy. He always knew someone might come in,” Matheny said. “But a year ago, he wasn’t even in the conversation.”
Shortstops in the organization have to learn pitching sequences so they have an idea what pitch is coming and where it is likely to be hit, Matheny said. They also study hitting charts and how teams try to get out good hitters, all of which may add up to a crucial half of a step in the field, often the difference between an out and a base hit.
Although Diaz started his Cardinal career slowly after the long lay-off, “something clicked last year” Matheny said and his footwork improved and his throw seemed crisper and more fluid. “The pieces are in place.”