Once pegged as a high-floor prospect with elite natural bat-to-ball skills, Jordan Diaz has lost some of his shine after struggling to hit major league pitching for nearly a full season. His defense has showed signs of improvement but he remains largely a poor defender without a definitive spot. This next year will be crucial to his development as he could either break out as the restless, effective hitter he was meant to be or get lapped by several other young infielders like Darell Hernaiz and Brett Harris.
The A’s signed Diaz as an international free agent out of Columbia in 2016 for a light $275,000. He wasn’t ranked among the best international prospects but he’s made himself into one of Oakland’s most underrated prospects. Following a few mediocre years in the lower levels of the minor leagues, Diaz broke out in 2021 with a .288/.337/.483 batting line at High-A, solidifying his status as the system’s best contact bat.
What were the expectations?
Diaz’s 2022 was even better as he became a .300 hitter at Double-A and Triple-A. He maintained his low ~15% strikeout percentage but his walk rate lagged behind at around 5%. With the season lost, he earned a mid-September callup to Oakland to prove the organization his exciting but questionable profile could translate to the majors. Unfortunately, the proof wasn’t in the pudding as he was only able to muster a .265/.294/.327 line in 51 plate appearances, sporting a typical 13.7% strikeout rate and 3.9% walk rate.
On top of that, he struggled to find a defensive home as he’d mostly dabbled in the corners of the infield and outfield without much success. The A’s somewhat randomly stuck him at second base and it was about as troubled as you’d expect for someone who’s barely ever played there before. Despite his natural bat-to-ball abilities and minor league success, the A’s brass knew Diaz would only succeed if he shored up his weaknesses — namely his plate patience and defense.
Heading into the 2023 season, Diaz showed up to Spring Training with a bit more of a leg kick in his batting stance, showing a potential willingness to sacrifice some contact to drive the ball further. Though he opened the season at Triple-A, he was recalled to Oakland quickly in mid-April and once again played mostly second base. Looking a bit lighter and more nimble, Diaz’s defensive numbers actually improved. His bat, however, looked even less ready for the majors as he hit .217/.250/.406 with even less walks and more strikeouts. He was sent back to Triple-A, where he mashed to the tune of a .308/.351/.506 line and returned to Oakland at the end of June.
A few weeks later, Diaz ceded his new defensive position to an even better top second base prospect, Zack Gelof, who quickly became the team’s best hitter. As a result —with first base and the outfield accounted for — the A’s had no choice but to move Diaz back to third base, where he once again struggled both offensively and defensively. He had one good month in July, but that was offset by numerous poor months at the plate. With not many better options, the A’s let him ride out the rest of the season in the majors.
What went right? What went wrong?
The fact that Diaz looked a bit more prepared at second base was a step forward for a prospect that’s long been looked at as a future DH. Unfortunately, he’ll have to make the same kind of improvement at third to have a chance at sticking. At the plate, he’s still not able to make much of an impact in games but his foundation is starting to look a bit more like that of a realistic major leaguer. After his return, he walked at an improved 6.8% rate; his 23.5% strikeout percentage is high for him but passable for most other players. His leg kick also translated to significantly harder contact, improving from an 87 mph exit velocity in 2022 to 90 mph in 2023, which was 5th-highest on the team. That helped buoy his ISO to an decent .143, though there’s definitely still room for growth.
The A’s acquired Abraham Toro to potentially play third base every day, with Aledmys Diaz still on board to take some reps there and at shortstop. That’ll make it even harder for the younger Diaz to get playing time. At this point, there are two pathways for him: improve both his bat and glove to be a serviceable bench bat or hit so well that it’d offset his poor glove. It’s difficult to see either of those happening as soon as Spring Training, where he’ll likely be competing the likes of Jonah Bride, Lawrence Butler, Darell Hernaiz, and a few others for the last position player spot. He has one option remaining so he still has this season to figure it out with the A’s but 2024 is gearing up to be a make-or-break year for Diaz.