St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Keys: Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz
The dawn of Spring Training is just around the corner. Coverage for the last few months has focused on changes. Now, the focus becomes projections. What are the keys to success? Who can a team rely on.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the biggest keys is Aledmys Diaz.

You’ve no doubt heard of Diaz by now. The casual fan probably couldn’t say the same thing this time last year. His unexpected arrival in 2016 changed that.

This time last year, Diaz was still just a minor league player, brought in on a free agent contract after defecting from Cuba. The Cardinals signed him in hopes that he was the future as their shortstop. An injury to Jhonny Peralta seemed to open the door. The signing of Miguel Tejada seemed to close it just as fast.

But Diaz had a strong spring. Tejada sustained an injury of his own. It seemed the team was forced to bring Diaz with them to the big leagues on Opening Day. A move that many felt was rushing his progress.

The book on Diaz going into last season was a simple one. He can hit. He can run. He can’t field. He was seen as a liability on defense. That was the area of his game the team wanted him to focus on at Triple A Memphis. Now, he would have to focus on it on the big stage.

His critics were proven correct early on. For every good at bat, there was a defensive miscue. But it seemed he was getting better. As the season moved on, so did his metrics. Of his 16 errors, he only committed four of them after June 1. Meanwhile, his bat continued to play well.

His offensive production was so outstanding, in fact, that he found himself with an All Star selection. He would finish the year fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. He would end the season with just 60 strikeouts over 460 plate appearances. His .510 slugging percentage was capitalized by his 17 home runs and 28 doubles. He was an offensive force.

All of that combines to make him a key cog in the lineup this season. He projects by many to hit second in the lineup, behind new leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and in front of consistent producer Matt Carpenter. He will see a lot of pitches to hit, be asked to hit and run frequently and be rewarded with numerous RBI opportunities.

His arrival has pushed the team to make changes. Peralta, entering the last year of his contract with the team, has been reported to be in competition for the third base job with Jedd Gyorko. His offensive prowess has him near the top of the lineup while fellow middle infielder Kolten Wong projects for the eighth spot. The team seems confident in his abilities coming into the spring.

Diaz will be expected to produce. He will be expected to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”. He will be a big reason behind the success or failure of the 2017 Cardinals.

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