The other week in the SlabStox Analytics Facebook Group (be sure to join if you haven’t already), I posed a question with a poll: which top 100 prospect will have the best bounce back year?
The options I included were Luis Robert, Heliot Ramos, Jesus Sanchez, and none. After some time, one of our writers, Lukas Roman, added Yusniel Diaz as an option. While Luis Robert won the poll, the addition of Yusniel Diaz prompted me to start doing some research.
While there are higher upside picks like Robert, Ramos, and Sanchez, I think Diaz has the best probability (better known as safest pick) to achieve a bounce back year. Here’s why.
When looking at Yusniel Diaz’s tools, he is quite balanced across the board. There is nothing there that screams top-of-the-line, but he has a complete game going for him. Fangraphs gave him future grades of 55 hit, 50 power, 50 speed, 55 field, 55 throw (MLB Pipeline gives him the exact same grades). Not having a plus tool doesn’t help his perception to investors, but having an above-average hit tool mixed with average grades across the board on offense produces a high floor prospect.
When looking at his stats from the past two years, the grades correlate extremely well. His hit tool plays out the best producing above a .300 average with the Dodgers AA affiliate in 2017 and 2018 in 382 plate appearances.
Last July, Diaz was part of the trade sending Machado to the Dodgers. Before the trade, Diaz was electric posting a lower K-rate (14.8%) than BB-rate (15.5%). In 264 PAs, he posted a .314/.428 (!!)/.477 slash line that definitely put him on watch. For his power numbers, he hit 6 home runs with a .164 ISO (SLG – AVG).
After the trade is when it started to fall apart, making him a bounce back candidate for this year. In 152 PAs with the Orioles AA affiliate, Diaz slashed .239/.329/.403, a huge step backwards. While a decrease in AVG and OBP is not something investors want to see, he maintained an 11.8% BB-rate and a 18.4% K-Rate. He hit five homers while maintaining his .164 ISO.
I am attributing his slump to two things: change of scenery and low BABIP. With the midseason trade, Diaz could’ve been pressing to prove he is the top prospect in the O’s system after MLB Pipeline tagged him as such.
Secondly, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) dropped to a .267 from .360. While sometimes a low BABIP shows a hitter doesn’t have an above average hit tool, for Diaz that is not the case. While his BABIP dropped after joining the O’s, his spray chart actually got better, shifting to 43% pull/29.9% center/27.1% oppo. He was getting the balls in the right spots, but he was hitting into more grounders than he was in the past. If he can maintain that spray chart while shifting back to more line drives, it will be a deadly combination.
When looking at players who I think can bounce back, I love a good high floor prospect, and that is exactly what Diaz is. He doesn’t only provide an advanced hit tool, but he offers a great approach at the plate with minimizing his strike-outs, giving him more to increase his slash line because of the lack of home run power. He also adds an element on the base paths, swiping 12 bases last year. The bigger sample size we get against advanced pitching increases our ability to see where his power will play out.
If he’s able to hit a bounce back to his Dodger form like I am expecting, he’s an above average MLB player that can offer a .285-.300/.375-.390/.400-.425 slash line. While that sounds similar to the Ke’Bryan Hayes projection, Hayes has the added defensive value by being an elite third baseman. Fangraphs grades Diaz out to a 50 Future Value, which can be seen as around a 2 to 2.5 WAR player.
I could see Diaz pushing over a 2.5 WAR player and getting into that 55 Future Value area with a strong bounce back this year. The other added benefit for Diaz (as a prospect) is he’s in the Orioles system. They are desperate to find answers, so anyone that can provide production will fit on their team; there is no true roadblock. With that, he will be making his MLB debut at some point in 2019.
Of course, the trade to the Orioles hurts his potential value. The last couple Diaz base autos sold around $25. During January and February, they were around $15 to $20. Diaz is having a nice Spring Training (further pushing the bounce back memo), so they got a nice bump from that.
Clearly, I see Diaz as a great candidate to produce a bounce back season. The one thing that worries me is the Orioles don’t develop their prospects at the rate some would expect. While I think there is still a high probability Diaz already has the tools to make an adjustment, there is a chance the Orioles do nothing to help him and he fails.
Because of that, if I were to be investing in Diaz, I would set my buy limit at $30 a base, and color and graded accordingly from there. If he falters out of the gate in full-season ball, these will fall back into the $20 range.
*SlabStox, LLC has zero stake in Yusniel Diaz cards