Big leagues on horizon for Tribe prospect Diaz

Big leagues on horizon for Tribe prospect Diaz

CLEVELAND -- There was a point last year when Yandy Diaz nearly got the call to Cleveland. With one vacancy on the roster and a month to play in the regular season, the Indians were discussing whether to add the prospect for the push to the playoffs.

When the Aug. 31 deadline to add players for postseason eligibility arrived, the Tribe opted instead to trade for veteran A's outfielder Coco Crisp. Diaz's time had not come, but the fact that he was being considered was a testament to the progress he made this past season. It was also an early indication that Cleveland will be taking a long, hard look at the versatile Diaz as it constructs its Opening Day roster.

"He was in the mix," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said last week. "Yandy was one of the considerations when we were looking at ways to potentially add to our team. When you do that, you look at internal and external alternatives. Yandy, based upon the year that he had and the way he went about things, he was a strong consideration for us in the second half."

This coming spring, the 25-year-old Diaz -- rated as the Tribe's No. 10 prospect by -- will have a chance to compete for a spot on Cleveland's bench. Diaz was a second baseman in Cuba before defecting and signing with the Indians for $300,000 in 2013, but he has since been developed as a third baseman and corner outfielder. This offseason, Diaz has even been tested in center field.

With an assortment of unknowns in the Indians' outfield, Diaz may have an opportunity to compete for a big league job.

Cleveland will be closely monitoring the progress of left fielder Michael Brantley, who is coming off August surgery on his right biceps. As of now, Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte figure to split time in center. In right, Cleveland has a solid platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer. If Brantley's return hits any snags, Diaz could provide an insurance plan. Third baseman Jose Ramirez can also handle left field, if needed.

Antonetti was non-committal when asked if Diaz was in the mix for a bench job.

"To be determined," Antonetti said. "We think he has a chance to be a good everyday player. We have to balance what opportunity and role he'll have on the team, what our other alternatives are there and what's best for Yandy."

Last season, Diaz posted a .318/.408/.446 slash line in 121 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, and he was a member of the World roster for the All-Star Futures Game. He bounced between third base (52 games), left field (24) and right (28) with one appearance at second base. Along the way, Diaz had nine homers, 22 doubles, four triples, 58 RBIs, 11 steals, 66 runs, 71 walks and 86 strikeouts.

In 95 games at Triple-A this past year, Diaz hit .325 with an .860 OPS, better than his career showing of .307 (.813 OPS) in the Minors. The right-handed hitter also turned in a .387 average (.1.080 OPS) against lefties, compared to a .292 (.772 OPS) against righties, in 2016. As a Minor Leaguer, Diaz's trademark has been strike-zone discipline, as evidenced by having more walks (198) than strikeouts (191) in his career.

While playing for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, Diaz had a .371/.451/.510 slash line in 151 at-bats. His showing included two homers, nine doubles, three triples, 18 RBIs, 24 runs, 20 walks and 26 strikeouts. The Indians were encouraged by the consistency Diaz maintained after transitioning from Triple-A to winter ball.

"Really good reports," Antonetti said. "Yandy continues to do what he's done throughout his entire career, which is manage the strike zone really well and be a really productive offensive player. He played a lot of positions in winter ball, including center field. The reports were good about his work and how he went about things. He had a really good winter."

Next, Diaz will try to impress Cleveland during the spring.

"We know that depth is really important to have," Antonetti said. "There are going to be a lot of guys, including some unexpected guys that are going to contribute to our team next year. I think we saw it this past year: You need to have contributions from those guys to have a successful season."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.