RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif.—Yusniel Diaz has long been a player with an immense package of raw tools.
Now the 20-year-old Dodgers outfield prospect is starting to put it all together, and California League pitchers are paying a heavy price.
Diaz went 3-for-5 with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored in high Class A Rancho Cucamonga’s 7-2 loss to Lancaster (Rockies) on Friday night.
Diaz, the Dodgers No. 6 prospect, is hitting .313/.362/.513 since May 16 to shake off a slow start.
“Making the jump from Latin America over here to this level, it’s a very daunting challenge,” Rancho Cucamonga manager Drew Saylor said. “It’s a wakeup call for a lot of the guys. I think he’s met it and he’s really starting to kind of find his own a little bit.”
The Dodgers signed Diaz for $15.5 million out of Cuba after the 2015 season and received modest early returns. He posted solid but unspectacular numbers in his first season in the U.S. last year with Rancho Cucamonga and played only 85 games due to persistent shoulder fatigue. Sent back to high Class A this season, Diaz hit just .231 through May 15.
Since then he has been on a tear. Most notably Diaz has quieted his stance and pre-pitch movement—which previously featured gratuitous bat waving, hip swaying and a big leg kick—and gone full-time into what used to be his two-strike stance, with significantly less moving parts.
“I’ve been working a lot in the cages trying to get my mechanics better,” Diaz said through a translator. “I feel really good now. I was making a lot of movement before. Now I feel more relaxed and more concentrated at the plate.”
Added Saylor: “Sometimes when guys have those real noisy hands they don’t go down into a good launch position and then all the sudden they’re trying to make up distance. Where he has it now it’s quieter and easier for him to get on plane early and stay through and get a bigger area of success on the pitch plane.”
Diaz is showing more than just offensive ability. He covered significant ground in right field to rob Brendan Rodgers of a double into the gap in eighth inning, and also uncorked a throw to the plate that evaluators in attendance unanimously graded plus.
The tools that made Diaz such a highly regarded amateur are starting to become baseball skills. With that evolution, he is becoming the dangerous prospect the Dodgers hoped he could be.
“I feel really good because it’s my second year,” Diaz said. “I kind of know the league, how the pitchers attack me and I’m able to get better results because I have more of an idea of how they’re going to attack me. My confidence has gone up a lot.”
NEWS AND NOTES
• Dodgers No. 2 prospect Yadier Alvarez relieved a rehabbing Sergio Romo and allowed five hits and four runs in five innings. He walked one and struck out five. Alvarez sat 97-99 mph with his fastball in his first two innings before dropping to 94-95 mph his final three. He frequently used an 84-87 mph slider that drew swings and misses when he buried it, but did not land a single one for a called strike. He rarely used an 87-90 mph changeup that was out of the zone and did not draw swings.
• Rodgers, the Rockies No. 1 prospect, went 0-for-4 to see his 23-game hitting streak end. He still drove in two runs with an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly. Rodgers made multiple highlight-reel plays at shortstop, including a spectacular dive to his left behind the bag, a quick rise off the ground and bullet fired on a line to first base.
• Rancho Cucamonga catcher Will Smith, the Dodgers No. 16 prospect, threw out three baserunners with pop times as low as 1.93 seconds. He has thrown out 53 percent (28-of-53) of basestealers this season.
• Lancaster righthander Peter Lambert, the Rockies No. 11 prospect, battled shaky fastball command to get through five innings with two runs allowed to earn the win. He sat 91-94 mph with his fastball and his 78-81 mph curveball showed impressive depth while getting swings and misses throughout the night. Lambert did not use his 85-86 mph changeup much got swings and misses on it when he did.