Many inside and outside the St. Louis Cardinals organization are excited about the addition of infielder Aledmys Diaz. It is understandable. After all, the Cuban native is the biggest international signing in the team’s history. The 23-year-old will receive $8 million over the next four years and the hope is that he can one day succeed Jhonny Peralta at shortstop for the major league club.
Because Diaz was available on the open market and any Cuban free agents draw a lot of attention, he is well-known. Yet, he is not really well-known from a skills perspective in that only a handful of people have ever seen him play.
While scouts are divided on Diaz, media and fan expectations are still being formulated. In his widely-reported initial meeting with the press, Diaz mentioned a future Hall of Famer in Derek Jeter as the player he emulated as a kid growing up. Cardinals officials reinforced the image.
Diaz’ comment in itself is completely normal. After all, who wouldn’t want to be Jeter?
However, if the past is any indication, the report may get twisted by others into a skills- or ceiling-based comp for Diaz. After all, the AP story said this, “Within the organization, some have compared him to a young Derek Jeter.” That would be a totally unfair weight to put on the shoulders of a young man who has a lot of adjustments to make immediately ahead in the minor leagues.
When I read the Jeter comments, the first thought that jumped into my mind was the draft day remarks made by then-Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow in 2007. The club had passed over highly-touted pitcher Rick Porcello and selected a high school shortstop from Oklahoma named Pete Kozma with its first pick.
Perhaps in his excitement and perhaps in part to help soothe skeptical fans and media, Luhnow dropped a heavy comp on Kozma – a former Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger Award winner and six-time All-Star in Nomar Garciaparra.
Carrying around the expectations of having been a first-rounder is enough without that kind of pressure, in my opinion. We will never know if the intersections with Porcello and Garciaparra had any impact on Kozma’s development, but the fact we still remember them in this context seven years later says something.
Here is hoping Diaz is allowed to develop and become himself, whatever that may turn out to be.