Will Díaz go from rookie sensation to Reds star?

February 15th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- emerged from Spring Training surprise to Reds closer as a rookie in 2022. This year, there is no mystery to Díaz's role. He will be Cincinnati's closer once again, expected to lock down games from the beginning of 2023.

While it's far down on the list of priorities, Díaz needs to figure out what his entrance music will be. The 26-year-old right-hander appears prepared to crowdsource for suggestions.

"I’m still on that homework assignment right now," Díaz said Wednesday via translator Jorge Merlos. "I may need some help from a couple of fans or people who are good at choosing music to help me figure out what song I should pick. I want the fans to be in a good mood and have fun when I go out there.”

Díaz's brother, Mets closer , turned his bullpen walk-out song -- "Narco," by Timmy Trumpet and Blasterjaxx -- into a Citi Field sensation last season.

“Yeah, I have to find a song that’s just as good or better than what my brother has," Díaz said before pitchers and catchers held their first workout.

In 59 appearances last season, Díaz led the Reds with seven wins and 10 saves out of 14 attempts, while posting a 1.84 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. Over 63 2/3 innings, he struck out 83 batters with 33 walks and five home runs allowed.

Díaz was not initially expected to make the team out of camp last year after he spent the 2021 season at Double-A Chattanooga.

"He was handling everything in camp. During the season, he just had composure," Reds manager David Bell said. "He had a confidence about him. There were a couple of points in camp where we were talking about who was going to make the team and who we were going to send out. I remember a few of us speaking up and saying, ‘We can talk about anybody, but not Díaz. Díaz needs to stay.’

"[It was] his personality but also the swing-and-miss he was getting from his fastball. It was different. It really just stood out. It ended up turning out to really make him successful."

Using primarily that four-seam fastball and his slider, Díaz's K percentage of 32.5 percent was ranked in the top-7th percentile according to Statcast. The fastball had a whiff percentage of 31.1 percent.

"He’s got a good slider, too, but it’s a special fastball," Bell said. "The swings guys were taking, it caught our attention.”

Throughout last spring and during the season, Díaz never felt overwhelmed facing big league hitters.

“I’m going to compete," he said. "It doesn’t matter who is out there, whether it’s a great player or not. I’m going to compete as much as I can. I know I am going to be better than them.”

This spring, Díaz will be taking part in the World Baseball Classic, representing Puerto Rico. Also on the squad is Edwin, who will be one of his teammates for the first time.

“I’ve always wanted to compete with my brother on the same team," Díaz said. "Fortunately, we’ll be able to do that this time around. We’ve been hoping and dreaming for this day forever. We’re just anxious for it to come around. It’s an honor to represent Puerto Rico. I am really excited to get going.”

Since becoming Reds manager in 2019, Bell had been hesitant to designate a specific closer, preferring to use his best relievers in the toughest portion of opposing lineups. He certainly pushed Díaz into those high-leverage situations last season.

"He's going into the season as our closer, [but] there are times where if it's an important game and he's fully available, we might use him earlier than that," Bell said. "He's been that good. [We're] just keeping in mind that he's still learning, he's still improving. … We just know there's ways that he can get even better."

Now that Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson have Díaz at the back-end of the bullpen, they can work backwards and have an easier task setting up roles for their other relievers. could be the primary set-up man, with , and among those who get used in the later innings.

“I will be available whenever the team needs me," Díaz said. "I feel like I’ve prepared myself this offseason for those situations. I have full trust in myself that I can do the job that needs to be done.”