Diaz looks to become Astros super-utility man
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Houston Astros don’t expect to replicate Marwin Gonzalez’s versatility; they are well aware that their former super-utility man’s ability to play all over the field makes him a rare commodity.
But in their quest to win a second World Series in three years, the Astros do hope that the presence of Aledmys Diaz, whom they acquired in a November trade with the Blue Jays, will help make up for the loss of Gonzalez, who recently signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Twins.
In 2018, Gonzalez saw playing time in all four infield positions and all three outfield spots, getting the bulk of those reps in left field. Diaz, on the other hand, has not played first base in the Majors and has only started three games in the outfield and two as a second baseman. His experience has come mostly on the left side of the infield.
This spring, the Astros intend to find out just how much more versatile Diaz can become.
“It would be unfair to say that Diaz has to do everything that Marwin did,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “But yet, that role on the team screams for that type of versatility and that type of impact.”
This spring, Diaz is training with the expectation that he’ll be moving around the field quite a bit and says he is ready for the challenge.
“I get here early and put in the work in the mornings,” Diaz said. “Until know, I’m -- really happy with what we’re accomplishing.”
Veteran first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s ability to play several infield positions would also help soften the loss of Gonzalez. In 2018, Gurriel played 15 games at second base, 21 games at third and a few innings at short. Gurriel was primarily a third baseman during his career in his native Cuba.
“I prepared a bit so it wouldn’t catch me by surprise,” said Gurriel, 34, regarding his offseason training.
Hinch plans to play Gurriel all over the infield during Spring Training but said he won’t experiment in that sense with shortstop Carlos Correa or second baseman Jose Altuve.
“I love having the answer for everything being one person,” Hinch said. “If this season it has to be multiple people because the personnel has changed, then my job is to find the answer.”
Hinch believes the presence of Gurriel, who is also Cuban, has made the transition to Houston smoother for Diaz, who he describes as “quiet” and “mild-mannered.” Diaz and Gurriel were once teammates on Cuba's national team.
“Reuniting him with Yuli, I watched those guys kind of pair up quite a bit,” said Hinch. “He's become comfortable. There's such a Latin influence in our infield. I think that's helped him acclimate to our club.”
“Being close to someone is important at this level,” said Diaz. “Yuli has helped me a lot so far. Having a fellow Cuban in the clubhouse, that helps us a lot. We support each other.”