What will time away from the baseball diamond do to the progress Isan Diaz makes this coming season for the Miami Marlins?
I admit it. One of the first things I thought of when it was announced the Miami Marlins had to Spring Training baseball because of the threat if the coronavirus was how it would affect players on the roster.
I immediately thought of Isan Diaz. Not because I was worried about him not making the 26-man roster, but because this is the most important year in his young career. How would Diaz, who looked like the next big-league slugger in the team’s lineup while in the minors, improve on a less than solid Big League debut?
If there was anyone who needed the day-to-day repetition of batting practice and taking infield groundballs, it was the Diaz, who tore the cover off pitching in the Pacific Coast League last year. He came to Miami and hit homers off both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in his first two months in a professional uniform. That’s prolific, but other than that, his lasting image on the 2019 season was less than impressive as a whole.
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In 49 games last season and 179 at-bats, he hit five home runs and 23 RBI while batting just .173. Defensively, he needs to be more consistent and grow into the role of playing second base and taking over for Starlin Castro, who moved to the hot corner once the rookie made his Miami Marlins debut.
Working with the team’s coaching staff this offseason and understanding he had to earn the starting job showed great maturity for the youngster. If he can come back to camp once the team is allowed to practice and pick up where he left off, then Miami should have a player who will develop even more as the season moves along.
Having Miguel Rojas positioned at shortstop once again to act as a mentor and double-play combination should also help Diaz grow in his first full season with manager Don Mattingly.
The Marlins added veteran infielder Jonathan Villar to add depth around the diamond. He has taken over in centerfield but can move back to second base if Diaz falters. Villar fits the profile manager Don Mattingly wants with players who are versatile enough to play multiple positions. Villar, along with Rojas, could help mentor Diaz and help his production this coming season.
There is no word yet when baseball will resume spring activities. Diaz and the rest of the infield will still need time to adjust to playing with each other and timing on defense. If the Miami Marlins can get the same kind of power out of their second baseman as he displayed in Triple-A last season (26 homers, 70 RBI), Diaz should be a fixture at the top of the lineup for years to come.