Diaz logging extra hours in pursuit of 3B role

March 23rd, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- has spent a lot of time on the backfields at the Indians' complex over the past couple of weeks. An opportunity exists for him at third base, so Diaz has been working hard with third-base coach and infield instructor Mike Sarbaugh, like a student cramming for an exam.

Opening Day looms on April 3 for the Tribe and there is little question that Diaz could probably hold his own on the Major League roster as a hitter. With roster decisions nearing, what the Indians are trying to determine is whether he can provide the kind of defense required at the hot corner.

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"You feel good when he's at the plate. I think that's a given," Sarbaugh said on Thursday. "It is Spring Training, but if a guy can hit, a guy can hit. I think he's hit at every level he's been. So now, the position part of that, to be fair to him, it's hard in 10 days to say, 'Hey, be a big league third baseman.'

"But, we're working toward that. He has the athleticism. He has all the intangibles. It's just getting that consistent work."

Second baseman (right shoulder) is expected to open the season on the 10-day disabled list, and could be sidelined until mid-April. Under the circumstances, Cleveland is leaning toward shifting third baseman to second until Kipnis returns. That created an opening at third, where , , Richie Shaffer and Diaz are options.

Defensively, Urshela and Gonzalez would present trustworthy options for Cleveland. Both are aleady on the Tribe's 40-man roster, which is at capacity. Shaffer and Diaz are in camp as non-roster invitees.

Those elements, along with Kipnis' timetable, will factor into Cleveland's decisions.

"If you're going to bring a guy up for three days, I'm not sure you're going to burn a roster spot," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I mean, there's different considerations all the time. My guess is, if we feel like he's ready to help us, I don't think that roster spot's going to stand in the way."

Throughout this spring, Francona has referred to Diaz as a work-in-progress defensively, though some of that is due to circumstance.

Last year, when Cleveland was in need of outfield help, Diaz began work on transitioning to the outfield in the Minors. He wound up playing nearly as much outfield (450 2/3 innings) as third base (454) in the '16 regular season. Diaz was in the running for a September promotion, but the Indians opted to acquire the more experienced Coco Crisp.

After the season, Diaz worked almost exclusively in the outfield in winter ball. He continued to focus on outfield at the start of camp this spring, and then missed Cactus League games from March 5-13 due to a groin issue. He is the organization's No. 10 overall prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com

"He's been bouncing around a lot, especially last year," Sarbaugh said. "We've been working a lot more [at third] here the last week, five days, just trying the best we can to get him up to speed and just getting reps. Footwork, getting the release point, everything is so different from outfield to infield. So, it's just getting the consistency and getting the reps, that's the most important thing for him."

At the plate, Diaz has hit .444 (12-for-27) with three extra-base hits, eight RBIs, more walks (six) than strikeouts (three) and a 1.188 OPS through his 13 Cactus League games. Francona called Diaz an "advanced hitter" who is knocking on the big leagues' door.

"His ability to swing the bat doesn't go unnoticed," Francona said recently. "But, the other stuff doesn't go unnoticed, either. So, Sarby's got him out there every morning. We're just going to keep working."