Here at Eyeball Scout Central, we endeavor to separate the wheat from the chaff. With the A’s trotting out 179 players this year, 183 of whom were rookies or retreads getting one last look, the Eyeball Scout will focus on just a select few today rather than tackling the entire list.
(If the above numbers seem slightly off to you, please remember that statistics are not the Eyeball Scout’s priority, as emphasized by the company’s motto: “Eyeball rule, plus math is harrrrd.”)
To avoid predictability or patterns, we present today’s list in alphabetical order...
When he connects to right-center with a beautiful, even graceful, “stay inside the ball” swing, you see signs of a pure hitter with those famous “bat to ball skills” that conjure up images of Diaz whacking balls alley to alley and line to line like Michael Young in his prime.
Don’t be fooled. Diaz does have legit power, and his off field swing is oft beautiful, and we just described Franklin Barreto too. There is more to hitting than just what happens when you occasionally hit the ball with the right approach.
In between aesthetic strokes come countless balls tapped to SS thanks to committing early to pitches Diaz hasn’t yet recognized but has decided to try to hit. In between those come the strikeouts on chase sliders that don’t exactly scream “bat to ball” but rather more “bat back to the bat rack”.
Diaz lacks some fundamentally crucial skills, such as the patience to wait for his pitch and to consistently identify a pitch before deciding what to do. He swings early at sliders, expands the zone on fastballs, and the result this season was a very poor slash line that did in fact match the eyeball test: .221/.273/.364 (78 wRC+).
Underlying stats are as, or more, damning. A 5.8% BB rate is troubling but it’s not as if Diaz hits the ball so hard all the time so as to overcome. His .258 BABIP shows how often pitchers got him to get himself out with tappers to the left side or jammed fly balls.
The biggest problem is that while Diaz, at age 22, has time to improve some of these habits and skills, he has to hit a ton to overcome his defensive limitations. His main defensive limitation being that he’s really bad at defense.
Sure he looked ok at 2B in a 2022 sample, but over time his lack of range and his inconsistent arm accuracy would have exposed him there too. At 3B Diaz is pretty much an unmitigated disaster, making 3 mistakes or miscues for every surprisingly nice grab.
In just 304 innings this year (the equivalent of 34 full games, Diaz managed to rack up -11 DRS. Over the course of 150 games that would translate to an appalling and rather frightening -48.5 DRS.
Diaz was charged with 6 errors (a pace of 26 for 150 games), which should surprise no one who gasped, and then just giggled, at his minor league totals: 42 errors in 145 games at 3B.
Diaz’ best position, by far, is DH, which means he has to hit a ton. The gap between his stats, and underlying approach and skill set, and a DH worth slotting into the lineup every day, is pretty cavernous.
Time is still on his side but hackers who get themselves out (ok, enough about Tyler Soderstrom) have a hard time morphing into not just good but very good to great hitters worthy of a daily DH gig. The guys who are late bloomers to the role, such as David Ortiz and J.D. Martinez, generally have strong plate discipline and strike zone knowledge going for them.
When Erceg was coming out of nowhere to rack up strikeouts and scoreless innings his first 6 weeks, I was a true believer. When he hit the skids for a good 3 months (27 ER in 35 IP in June, July, and August combined), I was still a believer.
Erceg rebounded and finished strong in September, allowing just 1 ER in 12.2 IP and striking out 15 — though his 8 BB show he still has a lot of work to do.
Through thick and thin, I have maintained that Erceg has “plus reliever” potential. Part of it is how new he is to pitching (he is a converted infielder) and thus how little time he has had to develop the muscle memory that informs repeatability and consistency.
The other part of it is that Erceg has big time stuff. His fastball, at 98-99 MPH is a swing and miss pitch, and so is his power changeup that comes in at around 90-91 MPH. His slider and cutter are works in progress, but at times can be weapons and should only get better.
This is a guy with only 55 big league innings under his belt — and less than 125 minor league innings. It’s no wonder he is rough around the edges and struggling to consistently command the strike zone, but his upside is significant and I think there’s a good chance he will emerge, in 2024, as one of the A’s plus arms.
Think Zach Jackson with fewer walks (albeit it still too many). Erceg walked 5.89 batters per 9 IP this season. If he gets it down to around 4.50 he’s very good and if he gets it under 4.00 he’s great. He’s still pretty new at pitching and I think has room to make another jump forward.
Today’s “Dishonorable Mention,” which goes to a player who is one “wheat or chaff” but so far looks like another and will be further analyzed down the road: Lawrence Butler.
It’s well known I am a big fan of Butler and expect him to be a rising star. I will also acknowledge that as wheaty as he may ultimately be, Butler looked downright chaffy in his first cup of coffee.
Butler’s at bats were an amalgamation of tapping balls the other way, chasing bad balls and then taking strikes, and late swing lazy fly balls. In the field, mostly what I concluded from his defense is that he is best suited to the corners.
You would like your young outfielders to debut like Evan Carter, but it just doesn’t always work out that way. I still believe strongly in Butler, but yeah — there’s work to do.
Your thoughts on these guys? More Wheat/Chaff analyses to follow as the off-season weekends progress...