GOODYEAR, ARIZ.: Yandy Diaz essentially forced the Indians’ hand.
With Jason Kipnis set to start the regular season on the disabled list and Jose Ramirez sliding over to play second base, the Indians had a decision to make as to who would start at third base to open 2017. It was announced on Thursday that Diaz was making the Opening Day roster.
Giovanny Urshela seemingly had the inside track.
He has major-league experience, his service clock has already started, he was on the 40-man roster and Indians manager Terry Francona had said the club didn’t want to allow his development to plateau.
But Diaz just kept hitting. And hitting. And hitting. Entering Friday’s Cactus League finale, Diaz carried a .444 batting average and a borderline absurd 1.204 OPS. It was enough that the Indians couldn’t deny Diaz the spot, even though it meant a tough conversation with Urshela and the need for a move on the 40-man roster.
“We talk about it all the time,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “A few things need to happen for players to make it to the major leagues. There needs to be first an opportunity and, second, they need to prepare for that opportunity. This is one of those cases where, with Kip’s injury, we had an opportunity on the infield. Yandy did an extraordinary job of taking advantage of that opportunity.”
His torrid spring led to Diaz having a mini-fan club on social media. The hashtag #FreeYandy began popping up. Diaz wasn’t aware he already had fans in Cleveland but said he appreciates the support. They’ll get to see him soon.
When asked how excited he’d be on Opening Day, Diaz said, “Two thousand percent excited.”
The question is how Diaz will handle third base defensively. He’s graded out fine in the minor leagues but has had some trouble adjusting back to the position after he moved to the outfield last year. Francona termed it as a “work in progress,” which wasn’t an indictment as much as it was simply an acknowledgment of the needed time to adjust back to third base.
Specifically, Diaz said he’s needed time to get used to throwing to first base after being in the outfield for an extended period of time. It was one of the reasons the Indians waited to make the decision until so late in the spring.
But he just kept hitting and passed the defensive tests that were thrown his way. It was too much to ignore.
Diamondbacks 6, Indians 3
The Indians used their virtual tuneup for the second series of the season to give Carlos Santana some time in right field in a 6-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Cactus League play on Thursday night.
Following their season-opening series against the Texas Rangers, the Indians will head back to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks when the games count. Those games will of course be under National League rules. The Indians would like to have Santana starting in right field as an option to keep his bat in the lineup.
Francona had Santana in left field for a couple of the World Series games with mostly positive reviews. Santana could again be in the outfield for a few games in a couple of weeks after fielding all four fly balls to his side of the field. On one, he had to fight the high winds and was turned around but recovered to make the catch.
“I thought he did great,” Francona said. “The wind was howling. That was probably the toughest place to be. The one ball was over his head, he turned and he [corrected it]. [Bench coach Brad Mills] must be one heck of a coach. He did a really good job. I was really pleased and I think he was, too. You know what? It’s nice to know that, if we do that, which we might, we’ll see. All the things we said before. I’m proud of him for wanting to and putting the effort into it. He looked good.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ.