When the St. Louis Cardinals—owner of one of baseball's best and most productive farm systems—go outside the organization to acquire talent, the sport takes notice. Thus, the arrival of Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz has piqued the interest of baseball fans and insiders.
Diaz, a 23-year-old right-handed hitting shortstop, has agreed to a four-year, $8 million contract with the Cardinals, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On the surface, Diaz's path to major league stardom in St. Louis seems blocked by a recent expenditure and homegrown talents in the Cardinals infield. Yet, as baseball fans have come to know, the Cardinals strength lies not just in talent, but also with depth.
If Diaz emerges as a star-level player, at-bats will become available in St. Louis.
For now, he'll join an infield that sports Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta—both recipients of long-term deals in excess of $50 million this winter—and top prospect Kolten Wong. As a natural shortstop, Diaz could work his way closer to playing time in St. Louis by learning and excelling at other infield positions and becoming a contributor off the bench.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny seemed eager to work with a new, talented infielder, per Goold's column.
“He’s had a lot of repetitions in this game,” Matheny said. “You could tell. He’s not just one of the raw talents. He’s a guy who has been well-taught. This kid looks like he understands the game.”
According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, St. Louis' manager went on to compare Diaz to one of the best shortstops the game has ever seen: Derek Jeter:
It's not a bad person to emulate. The way he walks, the way he approaches the ball, the way he sets up, a lot of similarities. He's had a lot of repetitions at this game and you can tell. He's not just one of those raw talents. Sometimes you just see a kid out there who is just loose and you can tell is athletic and has tools that are off the charts. But this kid looks like he understands the game.
Over-the-top accolades aside, it will take time for the Cardinals and baseball to cultivate the talent within Diaz's game. Since defecting from Cuba in 2012, Diaz established residency in Mexico in order to expedite contract talks with major league clubs, per Langosch's reporting.
After traveling to showcase his skills for teams last month, Diaz and the Cardinals came to an agreement.
GM John Mozeliak introduces as Aledmys Diaz looks on about to address the media for the first time. pic.twitter.com/Y37DGtXvpJ— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) March 10, 2014
Now, the next step in Diaz's career will commence: developing into a useful major leaguer. According to Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel, Diaz has the ability to be above average in the field and displays a versatile offensive game:
His power is below average, but his high contact rate and bat speed could still produce 10 homers. Diaz can play shortstop in a pinch, which gives him value to clubs that think his bat isn't enough to start, but his arm strength is just average (a little short for that throw from the hole) and his range isn't good enough to make up for it. Diaz should be average to above defensively at second base and has above average speed and good instincts that should help him steal 15-20 bases.
If that report paints Diaz as more of a utility infielder than a future National League All-Star, don't be alarmed. St. Louis' total cash outlay of only $8 million suggests that a future star isn't heading to Busch Stadium, but rather a contributor that could eventually become a starter.
@BenBadler Top 100 prospects worth a lot more than $8 million though.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) March 10, 2014
Despite the reputation that precedes the Cardinals' player development program, the organization desperately needed a player like Diaz to emerge from the system soon. According to Baseball America, the Cardinals don't have a heralded prospect ready to play if Peralta, Carpenter or Wong suffer through injury or regression.
As that chart displays, Wong is the only up-the-middle infielder St. Louis can count on to become an excellent player. Unsurprisingly, the team will slot him in as the everyday second baseman during the 2014 season.
Until Diaz begins to perform in game action, it's impossible to know how good he can be or what the ceiling of performance profiles as for the Cuban defector.
On one hand, it's easy to bring up names like Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Iglesias as comparable stories and talents. If Diaz develops and proves Matheny's comments to be prescient, the Cardinals could have their own young Cuban star emerge as a future NL Rookie of the Year candidate.
Will Diaz develop into a major contributor in St. Louis?
Until that story develops, the acquisition should be taken at face value.
For $8 million, the Cardinals found a player who could soon supplant Daniel Descalso as a utility infielder, serve as insurance for an aging Peralta and possibly develop into an excellent contributor in one of baseball's most productive lineups.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.