Back in December, the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners made a three-way trade. From the Rays’ perspective, they traded first baseman Jake Bauers to the Indians and sent $5 million to the Mariners to help pay for the salary of first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who went from Cleveland to Seattle in the trade. Coming to Tampa Bay was third baseman Yandy Diaz and right-handed pitching prospect Cole Sulser from Cleveland.
The deal surprised Rays fans, who thought Bauers was going to be a big part of the team’s future. Sure, he struggled mightily over the final two months of last season, ending up finishing his rookie season with an unimpressive line of .201/.316/.384. He was still just 23 years old, though, and had been a highly-regarded prospect for the last few years. His first two months with the Rays were impressive before hitting that slump, and he had a slick glove at first base. Why were the Rays trading Bauers for a 27-year-old who had yet to do much in the big leagues?
Diaz, for obvious reasons, is nicknamed “Biceps.” His size and strength are obvious, which made the absence of power from his offensive profile somewhat puzzling. Diaz had 299 plate appearances over 78 games for Cleveland in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and hit only one home run. He’d never had big power numbers in the minors, either.
Diaz’s problem wasn’t that he wasn’t hitting the ball hard. In fact, he hit the ball as hard as just about anyone. His problem was that he was hitting it on the ground too often. In Diaz, the Rays identified a hitter who had a chance to become a monster if he could make an adjustment to his launch angle.
This is surely something that the Rays spoke to Diaz about and worked with him on, and the early results seem to indicate he’s figured something out. As the Rays have come roaring out of the gates to an 11-3 start and an early lead in the American League East, Diaz has been one of their best hitters.
Through 12 games, Diaz is slashing .283/.389/.543, good for a 153 OPS+. After hitting only one home run in 299 plate appearances with the Indians over the last two seasons, Diaz has already hit three in 54 this year. His ground ball to fly ball ratio, which was at 3.13 in 2017 and 2.29 in 2018, has been cut down to 1.62 this year. His fly ball rate is at 33.3%, up from 18.9% in 2017 and 23.3% in 2018. Diaz has combined this with terrific plate discipline, too. So far he has more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven).
As for Bauers, he’s yet to really get going in Cleveland. Through 12 games he’s slashing .171/.261/.293 with one home run in 46 plate appearances. Of course, it’s just 12 games. Bauers is still young and talented. This isn’t to suggest he won’t still go on to have a good career. Two weeks into the season is far too early to declare the winner of a trade that was centered around two players who are still in the very early stages of their respective careers. However, it’s safe to say that the Rays couldn’t be much happier with what they’ve seen from Diaz so far.
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