Yainer Diaz needs to be in the Astros lineup more often

Apr 1, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros catcher Yainer Diaz (21) celebrates his run with teammates against the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Yainer Diaz needs to be in the Astros lineup more often

He was put on the roster for his bat, but it’s hard to produce while riding the pine.

Imagine a major league team promoting their second-ranked prospect (and best hitting prospect) to the bigs just to have him sit. Doesn’t sound prudent, does it? That’s because it isn’t.

Yet 40 games into the season, that is essentially where we have arrived with Yainer Díaz and the Houston Astros. Díaz has been given just 46 at-bats through Houston’s first 40 games and has unsurprisingly struggled with such sporadic playing time. With Martín Maldonado having started 29 of the Astros’ 40 games behind the plate, Díaz has made just nine starts behind the plate this season. All but two have come with Hunter Brown on the mound.

Making his third start of the season at designated hitter, Díaz cranked his first career home run Sunday, a 424-foot rocket to left field to give the Astros a 4-0 lead in a game they won 4-3. Four of his 10 hits this season have been for extra bases.

It is a glimpse of the kind of offense Yainer Díaz can provide. He was the Astros’ top offensive prospect entering the season for a reason.

In 2022, after crushing Double-A pitching to the tune of a .316 average and a .871 OPS with nine home runs and 13 doubles in just 244 at-bats for the Corpus Christi Hooks, Díaz was promoted to Triple-A Sugar Land and continued to rake. After joining the Space Cowboys, Díaz hit .294 with a .930 OPS while blasting 16 home runs in 201 at-bats.

He did that one season after progressing through all three levels of A ball (Low-A, A-Ball, and High-A) in 2021, where he hit .324 with an .889 OPS and 17 home runs across 383 at-bats. Yainer Díaz can flat out hit.

He has always been considered a work in progress behind the plate, but Díaz has put in a lot of extra work to silence his critics and has already demonstrated that he possesses one of the biggest cannons in MLB. Díaz’s arm currently rates as the second-strongest in all of baseball, averaging over 85 MPH on his throws to cut down would-be base stealers. Díaz has thrown out six of 11 runners attempting to steal this season, despite new rules that make it easier than ever for players to steal bases.

Throwing out 55% of would-be base stealers is incredible. While it’s not realistic to think he will continue to gun down runners at that clip, Díaz has shown the arm strength and the accuracy to be a high-percentage thief-catcher. Despite limited playing time, word is already making its way through the league that Díaz has an elite arm.

The Astros know Díaz can hit. They just need to give him consistent opportunities. They now know he can throw out baserunners as well as anyone in baseball, too. Yet Díaz finds himself mired behind Martín Maldonado, who continues to start nearly four out of every five games.

Maldonado brings very little to the plate. He is currently hitting a robust .191 for the season. He hit .186 in 2022 and .172 in 2021. Everyone knows what Maldonado is at the plate. His role should realistically be to mentor Díaz defensively and be Framber Valdez’s personal catcher as Díaz gets regular playing time and continues to develop. Offensively, this Astros team needs all the help it can get right now.

Maybe the setback for Michael Brantley will be an opportunity for Díaz, because had Brantley been activated, there would not be designated hitter reps available. Brantley has been shut down “indefinitely” by the Astros following his latest setback, so there is no current timetable for his return.

Like any young, up-and-coming player, Díaz needs at-bats. His defense can no longer be used as an excuse to keep him from opportunities. Whether at catcher, designated hitter, or even occasionally at first base, Díaz needs to play more. Right now.

No more excuses.

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