Diaz out to prove he's a plus with glove

Shortstop working to build on last year's gradual defensive improvement

March 8th, 2017

JUPITER, Fla. -- The work started before camp officially did, with meeting Jose Oquendo on the backfields of the Cardinals' Florida facility for individualized instruction. There, they dissected the defensive issues that plagued Diaz in his rookie season and initiated the tweaks that both player and instructor believed are necessary for Diaz to thrive at short.

Diaz didn't have the benefit of working with Oquendo during his first big league season, as the Cardinals' longtime infield coach had taken a medical leave of absence. But from afar, Oquendo watched Diaz navigate through a season at short and came back to camp this spring full of feedback.

"From what I saw, he did show improvement as the season went," Oquendo said. "Why stop now? Now he has another year under his belt. We're going to point him in the right direction of how he's supposed to position himself based on where his strengths and weaknesses are."

Oquendo had Diaz tweak the positioning of his glove when coming in for ground balls and encouraged him to position himself slightly toward second base, since that was his weaker side. He also urged Diaz to be more aggressive coming in on ground balls rather than waiting for them to reach him.

Diaz adopted the suggestions without hesitation.

"He's made a bunch of strides just from what I've seen in Spring Training alone -- working with Oquendo and becoming more fluid," said , Diaz's middle infield partner. "He has a good grasp of what it takes to field a ground ball the right way."

By any measure, Diaz had a terrific rookie season, turning himself from a player knocked off the 40-man roster to an All-Star in less than a year's time. If there was a weakness, though, it was in the field.

Diaz opened his big league career by making 12 errors in his first 46 games. The low point came on May 13, when he committed three in a loss against the Dodgers.

But Diaz got better as the season got deeper. There were just four errors over his final 65 games, which helped him pull up his Defensive Runs Saved season total to negative-3. It's momentum that Diaz intends to carry over into this season as he returns as the team's everyday shortstop.

"It's about confidence," Diaz said. "I think everyone knows that my first month and a half I was making more errors, putting too much pressure on myself. When I realized that I just had to work hard on defense, I just relaxed and played the game and was way better in the second half.

"It's about knowing that you can handle the job at this level, slow the game down a little bit. Just trust in yourself. Right now, I feel pretty good about my confidence in the field and what kind of player, defensively, I can be."