CLEVELAND—Yandy Diaz, who hit .371 as an outfielder in the Venezuelan League, made the Opening Day roster as the Indians’ starting third baseman.
Diaz split time between the outfield and third base while playing at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron in 2016, but in spring training fate stepped in, and Diaz was playing third base in the big leagues.
A shoulder injury that caused second baseman Jason Kipnis to start the year on the disabled list led to some juggling of infield personnel by manager Terry Francona. Jose Ramirez moved from third base to second.
The new third baseman, while Kipnis was on the DL, was Diaz, who won the job with an impressive spring training as a third baseman/outfielder. In 48 at-bats over 20 spring training games Diaz produced a .458/.544/.708 slash line.
“I focused on working hard and playing my best, and it turned out to be better than I could have hoped,” he said.
In his first nine major league games, Diaz did not make an error and made a handful of outstanding defensive plays.
Offensively he hit .242 in 36 at-bats, although seven of his eight hits were singles. In his minor league career, he has hit just 18 home runs in 1,222 at bats, so he’s never hit for much power. But Francona was encouraged by what he saw.
“He doesn’t look nervous,” Francona said as Diaz got his feet wet at the major league level for the first time. “He likes playing baseball and is enjoying the opportunity to play here. His at-bats have been really good.”
The hits will likely come. In his three minor league seasons Diaz has hit .307 with more walks than strikeouts. He returned to the minors in late April when Kipnis returned from the DL. But Diaz left a good first impression.
• Tyler Naquin, who hit .296/.372/.514 with 14 home runs in finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, was optioned to Triple-A Columbus in mid-April. Naquin struggled in the postseason last year, and his bat remained quiet in the early weeks of this season.
— Jim Ingraham is a columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram/Medina Gazette