Challenging journey leads Diaz to ASG

'Confidence, for him, has never shaken,' Carpenter said of fellow All-Star

Challenging journey leads Diaz to ASG

SAN DIEGO -- It was a year ago last week that Aledmys Diaz was pulled into his Double-A manager's office and told he was being taken off the field. Diaz spent the next few days bunkered in a Tulsa, Okla., hotel room, waiting to find out his future and bracing for news that the organization that signed him in March 2014 would no longer be the one he played for.

Injuries had stalled his progress in the Cardinals' Minor League system, and, needing a space on their 40-man roster, the Cardinals took a gamble. They removed the Cuban shortstop and dangled him in front of 29 other teams by designating him for assignment.

"It was a pretty tough three days," Diaz recalled on Monday. "I was staying in the hotel, waiting for somebody to claim me on waivers."

It was a calculated move -- general manager John Mozeliak was willing to wager that no one would want to take on Diaz's contract, which owed him $4 million in 2016-17 -- but a risky one nonetheless. Two days later, the Cardinals learned that no one had made a claim.

The next day, Diaz returned to the park and rededicated himself to the game that led him to flee Cuba for a chance to pursue a Major League dream. He started showing up at the park earlier, and he asked for more work. Dedication led to positive results, which opened an early-season opportunity with the Cardinals that Diaz parlayed into a full-time job.

Now, he answers to All-Star.

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"He just showed a lot of his toughness," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "To me, he's shown many things here in a short amount of time, but watching how well he handles things for a young player is very different."

Diaz, the first Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols (2001) to be named an All-Star, joined Matt Carpenter in San Diego on Monday to represent the Cardinals in the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard (coverage begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on FOX). For Carpenter, whose injury opened a roster spot for his fellow middle infielder, Diaz's ascension has been enjoyable to watch.

Carpenter was among those who gathered to watch Diaz showcase himself during a tryout at the Cardinals' Florida facility. He saw firsthand the talent that prompted the Cards' bold offer.

"I knew that he had ability," Carpenter said. "Then I got a chance to see him develop. What he is now compared to where he's come from, to his credit, he's just continually gotten better in every area of his game."

However, the climb for Diaz, who entered the All-Star break hitting .315/.380/.536 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs, hasn't been without its obstacles. In fact, his career has been laced with adversity, beginning with his defection from Cuba in 2012.

He left during a tournament in the Netherlands and established residency in Mexico, where he waited 18 months before being permitted to try out in front of Major League scouts. Once his professional career began, injuries interrupted it.

This year, he took a Spring Training demotion in stride and then refused to let his early-season defensive issues affect his offensive production. The latter was so spectacular that the Cardinals had no choice but to work their infield plans around the player who, just last year, they had been willing to let go.

"Confidence, for him, has never shaken," Carpenter said. "The demeanor he carries out on the field, whether he's had good games or bad games, whether he's the hero or the goat, he's got the same kind of demeanor. Also, his whole life has been a challenge. His story is incredible."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.