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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #7: Diaz’ Emergence

Where would the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals have been without rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz? The Cuban native capped off an amazing career turnaround with a strong rookie season that began barely a year and a half after he was outrighted and went unclaimed.

diaz-throw-usa-200The 26-year-old had improved his prospect standing with a strong kick to close the 2015 season, but still needed a series of breaks to even make the big league roster this spring.

In just the third Grapefruit League game, incumbent shortstop Jhonny Peralta tore a thumb ligament, with a prognosis of 2-3 months out. To be the everyday replacement, veteran Ruben Tejada, who had been released by the Mets a few days before, was signed. The bad luck continued when Tejada suffered a left quad strain in the team’s final spring training contest.

That opened the door for Diaz, who had been slated for an assignment with Triple-A Memphis. Instead, placed in the eighth spot in the Cardinals batting order to ease pressure on him, Diaz hit and hit and hit, though his defense was initially shaky.

Diaz batted .423 for the first month, the fourth-best April for a rookie in MLB history. Finally, a quarter of the way into the season, on May 19, he was promoted into the second spot in the lineup. At that point, Diaz was the team leader by a considerable margin in all four slash categories – .376/.403/.648/1.071.

The right-handed hitter went on to appear in 111 games. Despite missing a month due to a thumb fracture and a drop-off after his return, Diaz still batted .300 for the season, with a team-best 26-game on-base streak (from June 19 through July 23). The shortstop’s .510 slugging percentage was first on the entire team, ahead of notable boppers Brandon Moss, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk.

Diaz’ 2.7 fWAR was not only tops among Cardinals first-year position players, it was second among all hitters on the team to The Cardinal Nation’s Player of the Year, Matt Carpenter. The Cuban’s .879 OPS, second-highest on the club, was only .006 behind Carpenter, who also was not 100 percent healthy in the second half.

When Carpenter was unable to play in the MLB All-Star Game due to injury, Diaz was named to the National League squad as his replacement. When Peralta returned, he was kept off shortstop entirely, with the position now clearly Diaz’.

Following the season, Diaz finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote, concluding an excellent debut season that was entirely unanticipated.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 10 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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11 Responses to “TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #7: Diaz’ Emergence”

  1. Nutlaw says:

    I was confused about Gyorko’s slugging percentage not topping Diaz until I checked and noted that Gyorko only had nine doubles to match his 30 home runs. That’s a really odd split!

  2. blingboy says:

    One would expect defense to be mentioned in conjunction with the emergence of a shortstop.

    • Brian Walton says:

      In fact, I did mention that his defense early was shaky. Overall, defense is the least notable part of his game. Glad you liked the article otherwise. 😉

      • blingboy says:

        I am always grateful for your work, Brian. As to Diaz, if he continues to be a difference maker in the lineup, I hope that a defensive position can be found where his contribution with the bat is not offset by his defense.

        • crdswmn says:

          I am shocked you think defense even matters. Most people don’t and you haven’t been gung ho about defense in the past.

          We can just dinger our way to the division and the playoffs, cause, you know, that worked so well last season.

          We may have gained one whole win on defense, BTW. Gonna win 87 games instead of 86. Maybe even 88 if Kolten Wong plays more than half a season.

          • Brian Walton says:

            From the glass half-full department: Only three NL teams won 88 or more games last season.

            • crdswmn says:

              Well, there you go, I’m an optimist. 😉

              Whatever happens, this team does not particularly excite me. We’ll see how it goes, but last season I turned off a lot of games, mostly in the second half. Getting off to a good start and not playing defense like a little league team will go a long way in keeping me from hitting the off button on my TV.

              • Brian Walton says:

                I mentioned the other day that the season-opening three-game series against the Cubs could really set the tone for the season, especially if the Cardinals are not competitive.

              • blingboy says:

                I am not sure sure I can take any more watching a manager perched on the top step watching for a sign from his man on the phone while players, fans and viewers all wait to find out what they just saw happen on the field.

          • blingboy says:

            If, by gung ho about defense, you mean irrational and borderline pathologic tunnel vision, then yes I have not been gung ho. I have been talking about the disfunctional roster of UTs and guys deployed out of position as well as the failure to focus on defense at the 4 up the middle positions and offense at the four corners. An observation easily made by any self respecting cigar chomper but apparently impossible to spot through coke bottle glasses and a blizzard of green bar paper.

        • jj-cf-stl says:

          15.1 (offense) vs -3.6 (defense) is hardly offsetting, even without the aid of coke bottle glasses

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