In unpacking the reasons why they fell short of a postseason berth for a second straight year, the Cardinals have not only identified what they lacked on the 2017 roster but also who they may have misjudged.The latter may be no better personified than in Aledmys Diaz, whose sensational rookie
In unpacking the reasons why they fell short of a postseason berth for a second straight year, the Cardinals have not only identified what they lacked on the 2017 roster but also who they may have misjudged.
The latter may be no better personified than in Aledmys Diaz, whose sensational rookie season set him up not only to open the season as the team's starting shortstop but also to lead the Cardinals to project him as a fixture in their infield for seasons to come. Yet only a year later, Diaz returned to his home in South Florida surrounded by uncertainty for his future.
The first question, of course, is does he even have one in St. Louis?
"It's been a tough year, but I have to learn from it and go into the offseason preparing to be ready for next year," Diaz said. "I think the right mindset is try to learn from it. Sometimes bad things give you an opportunity to learn and then become a better person, a better player."
Diaz's fall coincided with the rise of Paul DeJong, who now looks like the team's shortstop for the long term. Diaz remains confident in his ability to play the position but also realistic in his expectations of where opportunities may arise. That's what prompted him to ask the Cardinals for opportunities to play other infield spots during his final month at Triple-A Memphis.
Diaz is hopeful that versatility can help him elbow his way back into the Cardinals' 2018 plans.
"I want to be an everyday player in the big leagues," Diaz said. "That's why I wanted to get work at second base and third base. It gives me more options, and hopefully an organization will give me a chance to play every day. That's what I want to do."
Diaz left a favorable impression in his four appearances at third base after returning to the Cardinals in September. The Cardinals encouraged him to continue grooming that versatility this offseason, which Diaz said he'll likely do with a stint in winter ball. He plans to spend time with infield instructor Jose Oquendo at the team's Florida complex, too.
The Cardinals have also not ruled out getting Diaz exposure in the outfield next spring.
"Versatility is going to help him," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably smart to have as many tools in your tool bag as possible to help you make the club, and then once you get those opportunities, don't give it away."
Increasing his defensive flexibility will be a plus, but Diaz will also need to showcase more with the bat than he did in his second big league season. His regressing strike-zone discipline and pull-heavy tendencies were the impetus behind the Cardinals' decision to option Diaz to Triple-A in late June.
Both improved only marginally during his time away. Diaz's slash line in 79 games with the Cardinals (.259/.290/.392) hardly differed from the one he put up in 46 games with Memphis (.253/.305/.388). And his strikeout rate actually increased in Triple-A.
"It was up and down, and most of it is approach, which is maturity in the game," Matheny said. "He would look really good and then kind of just lose his approach to where he was just swinging at the first thing he saw. … Some guys can survive like that, but it's hard. Players who have sustained success at this level are going to have an approach and an idea. I think that's still developing for Aledmys."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.