Jeter: “When you compete, you’re competing to win”
A six-pack of Marlins notes on a Thursday:
▪ As tempting and understandable as it would be for Marlins fans to be disillusioned/exasperated/frustrated by the Christian Yelich trade, we really do need to see Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Lewis Brinson (again) for extended at-bats at the major league level - and the ceiling for pitcher Jordan Yamamoto – before the full analysis of that deal can be written.
And the intrigue surrounding the 23-year-old Diaz grew significantly in the past week with his streak of home runs on five consecutive days.
Diaz, a left-handed hitter, is the heavy favorite to be the Marlins second baseman next season, with Starlin Castro’s contract expiring at the end of the season.
It’s also possible Diaz could get the job late summer, if the Marlins can move Castro in exchange for a marginal prospect.
So what do the Marlins have in Diaz? I asked Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill and infielder Miguel Rojas, who was around Diaz several weeks in spring training.
Hill: “He’s tremendously talented. Bat speed, hand speed, pitch recognition, knowledge of the strike zone. Does a very good job on all of those fronts. The biggest thing our people have said who have looked at his at-bats is he’s had some bad luck. First month of the season, hit a bunch of balls hard but hit them right at people.”
Rojas: “The way he handled himself this spring, he looks like he’s been there for years. He’s smooth at second base. Soft hands. I like how he fields the ball. Hopefully he shows power [at the major league level] as he did in the past [in the minors].”
The question is whether he will hit enough for average. The signs this year are encouraging.
After batting .232 between Double A and Triple A this season, he entered Thursday hitting .272 at Triple A New Orleans (in a hitter-friendly league), with 10 homers and 30 RBI in 51 games, with 24 walks and 44 strikeouts. He has raised his average significantly since May 17, when he was at .243.
The home runs in five consecutive games, a streak that ended Monday, boosted his career home run total to 72 in 532 games (which would be 22 home runs per 162 games). He has 53 steals in 81 career stolen base attempts.
MLB.com rated him Miami’s sixth-best prospect entering the season, with this scouting report:
“Diaz’s best attribute is his plus raw power, with his bat speed and the strength in his compact frame translating into hard-hit balls to all fields. He can get aggressive at times but his hand-eye coordination and patience should have translated into better than a .254 career average in his first five pro seasons. He did make some adjustments last year to reduce the uppercut in his left-handed stroke but they didn’t produce noticeably better results.
“Diaz needs to reach his offensive potential to make it as a big league regular because he doesn’t stand out in other aspects of the game. Signed as a shortstop, he gets the job done at second base, but his average arm limits his usefulness on the left side of the infield.”
▪ Hill made clear the team has no intention of rushing Diaz or outfielder Monte Harrison (.288, seven homers, 18 RBI, 19 for 20 in steals).
“I don’t think you can say two months of performance [is enough], if we’re doing right by the player, and trying to put them in the best position to be successful big leaguers,” Hill said. “We want to see consistency over the long haul with Monte, with Isan. It’s Monte’s first year in Triple A. Isan got a little taste of it last year. Extremely happy to see them all doing well. They’re getting more consistent which we’re also very happy about it.”
Hill declined to answer specifically when asked if it would be ideal for both of them to remain in New Orleans through the end of August.
“We want to give them consistent at bats,” Hill said. “There’s no timeline on any of them. We want to do right by the player.”
▪ The Marlins have been getting calls on Jose Urena, as noted by South Florida-based reporter Craig Mish, who on Monday starts a noon-2 p.m. weekday show on FNTSYRadio. The Marlins would consider moving him for the right return.
Urena is earning $3.2 million this season and is arbitration eligible the next two winters. If Miami trades him, Zach Gallen (7-1, 1.70 at Triple A New Orleans) likely would be promoted, or the Marlins could insert Elieser Hernandez into the rotation.
Hernandez was promoted to the big league club on Monday after going 3-1 with a 1.07 ERA in eight starts in Triple A New Orleans, with 29 hits and 14 walks allowed in 42 innings and 61 strikeouts. But Hernandez was optioned back to Triple A on Thursday, with reliever Jeff Brigham recalled.
“We see him as a starter,” Hill said of Hernandez. “You only have five spots in your rotation. At some point if all these guys get to the big leagues, you may see them work in different roles to help our club.”
Gallen has been exceptional all season in New Orleans.
▪ The Marlins are experimenting with shortstop J.T. Riddle by having him play center field at Triple A. He played the position at the University of Kentucky and the Marlins believe that versatility will make him more valuable if he gets his offensive game in order.
Riddle was demoted to Triple A after opening the season 5 for 32. He’s hitting .243 with four homers and 19 RBI in New Orleans.
▪ Right-hander Nick Neidert, the top prospect acquired in the Dee Gordon trade with Seattle, remains out with a knee (meniscus) injury that won’t require surgery, Hill said, adding the Marlins expect him to pitch again this season.
He was 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA at Double A Jacksonville last season but was 1-2 with a 8.71 ERA at New Orleans this season before being sidelined with the knee injury.
As for the other two prospects acquired by the Marlins in that trade, pitcher Robert Dugger is 5-5 with a 3.52 ERA at Double A Jacksonville, and infielder Christopher Torres is hitting .175 in low-level Class A Clinton.
▪ The player who might have been the Marlins’ top “closer” prospect, per se - Tommy Eveld - is 1-4 with a 6.33 ERA and one save in Triple A New Orleans.
“We’ve gotten him to Triple A so that’s an adjustment to him,” Hill said. “He has the weapons to be successful. It’s a matter of consistency on his part as well.”
Eveld, acquired from Arizona in the Brad Ziegler trade at last year’s trade deadline, had a 1.07 ERA and 16 saves at three different levels last season.