CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The amount of progress made by Yandy Diaz over the course of the 2017 season alone is staggering. Since the start of the 2016, when the 26-year old Cuban ranked towards the bottom of the team’s top-30 prospects list, Diaz has launched up to 6th midway through 2017.
The word “launch” is one chosen specifically, because of the one thing holding back the third baseman from endless possibilities as a hitter.
Diaz entered play on Thursday 6th in all of baseball averaging an exit velocity of 92.4 mph on batted balls, putting him in between the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge and Nelson Cruz on that list.
The problem has been his launch angle, generally negative off the bat, resulting in an astonishing 62.7% groundball rate that has been analyzed endlessly. Diaz acknowledged that he was trying to hit fewer groundballs at Triple-A Columbus this season, but actually ended up hitting a higher rate of grounders at 63.5%.
But during his 85 games with the Clippers, Diaz has posted a noteworthy .350/.454/.460 slash line despite all of the balls on the ground. On Thursday in a 13-6 slugfest, the potential of a heavy-handed line-drive approach shined brighter than anyone on the diamond, resulting in a 4-for-4 night including two doubles, a triple and two RBI.
In those four hits, Diaz posted exit velocities of 90.5, 95.6, 101.1 and 105.8 mph.
The speed of the ball off the bat has never gone unnoticed by teammates like shortstop Francisco Lindor, but the change in trajectory did.
“You guys probably see it, but he did the exact same thing he did in the first month,” Lindor said. “He did it today. He just put the ball a little bit higher. In the first month, he was doing the exact same thing, hitting it the other way or pulling the ball, but on the ground or a line drive right at guys. Today, he was hitting it off the wall. And it’s tough to catch it when it’s going 110 off the wall.
All four of Diaz’s hits were to the opposite field, another aspect of his game that he was looking to refine in Columbus. He did just that, to the tune of 47.9% of his batted balls to right field at Triple-A, and 35.3% at the major league level.
“I feel really happy because the last time I was here I didn’t have the opportunity to connect, to have so many hits,” Diaz said postgame Thursday. “I think my zone of where I’m able to hit it is going really well and I’ve been able to connect to put up good at-bats and things are turning out well, thank God.”
Unsurprisingly, Diaz has not gotten a whole lot of pitches high and away, but when he does they don’t just get hit hard, they land for hits.
Even less surprisingly, three of Diaz’s four hits – the four hardest – were fastballs high and away.
Obviously Diaz cannot be a one-zone hitter who hits to one side of the field and be successful, but the ability to provide so much power, so often, shows just how much potential as a hitter he possesses.