CLEVELAND -- Yandy Diaz put one of his best offensive skills on display on Opening Day. Rangers ace Yu Darvish sent a fastball just below the strike zone, and the Indians rookie shot the pitch into the right-field corner for a double. It was Diaz's first Major League hit and
CLEVELAND -- Yandy Diaz put one of his best offensive skills on display on Opening Day. Rangers ace Yu Darvish sent a fastball just below the strike zone, and the Indians rookie shot the pitch into the right-field corner for a double. It was Diaz's first Major League hit and a look into his potential.
That glimpse of Diaz's ability also served as a bit of foreshadowing for what was to come. During his 15-game stint with Cleveland, Diaz turned in an extremely unique offensive performance. He consistently hit the ball hard, but he frequently pounded pitches into the ground. In this age of exit velocity and launch angle, there was no hitter quite like Diaz out of the gates this season.
Now back at Triple-A Columbus, Diaz's task is learning how to get more out of his swing.
"There is plane to the swing," Tribe hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. "It's just he catches the ball very deep and he has the ability to accelerate to the ball very deep, which allows for low-trajectory, high-velocity balls off the bat. If there's one thing to work on with him, it's just balls in, catching them out front. Same swing."
When the Indians optioned Diaz to Columbus on Friday -- clearing the way for Jason Kipnis to come off the disabled list -- the message to the rookie was simply to build on his Major League experience. Diaz turned in an underwhelming .236/.295/.255 slash line in his 61 plate appearances with Cleveland, but Van Burkleo and manager Terry Francona were nonetheless impressed.
Diaz only swung at 16.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, representing the third-lowest rate among players with at least 50 plate appearances. According to Statcast™, he also ranked 15th in the Majors with an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph (minimum 25 results). The biggest issue was that Diaz put so many balls on the ground. His average launch angle (minus-0.1) ranked last in the Majors.
The Indians did not, however, send Diaz back to the Minors to work on swing changes to improve his angle on batted balls. Instead, Cleveland wants to see improved pitch selection and a better idea of when to attack inside pitches. Once Diaz improves that aspect of his hitting, the launch angle should improve naturally.
"Yandy hit the ball hard, and he hit the ball hard the other way," Francona said. "For guys to do that, you know how often I say it, you've got to be doing a lot of things right to do that. I think with experience and at-bats, I think guys learn what they can get in the air, things like that. I [don't think] you try to change somebody's launch angle."
Michael Brantley -- arguably the Indians' best pure hitter -- echoed Francona's take on the matter, too. The veteran outfielder said Diaz's launch angle should improve as he gains experience.
"I'm all about learning counts, learning situations, learning pitchers' tendencies," Brantley said. "It's having the repetitions, so you're able to attack at certain points or getting mistake pitches, or learning what they're doing and not trying to do too much. I don't believe in lifting the ball in the air.
"Launch angle means nothing to me. I believe in getting the barrel to the ball as consistently as possible anytime that you can."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.