Cuban Yandy Diaz breaks from past, embraces future
He defected from Cuba, just like his father.
Yet Diaz can’t bring himself to discuss his father.
Despite all of the recent success for the Akron RubberDucks third baseman, Diaz considers the possibility of a relationship with his father — Jorge Diaz, a former Rangers minor-leaguer — out of the question.
“He doesn’t want to talk about his father,” said Ronny Rodriguez, Diaz’s teammate and translator for this story. “He looks like he is going to cry right now. It is too much.”
Diaz, 23, was 6 when he last saw his dad in person. Neither has seen the other play professionally.
[caption id="attachment_2326" align="alignright" width="150"] Like his father before him, Akron's Yandy Diaz defected from Cuba and is trying to make his way through the minor league system. (Courtesy Akron RubberDucks)[/caption]
After twice trying to escape Cuba, Jorge Diaz played just one season in the minors in the Texas Rangers farm system in 2000 before bouncing around the independent leagues for four seasons.
The estrangement from his father isn’t the only murky area in Diaz’s life. Much of his background is mysterious as well. Stories written about him tend to begin with his defection from Cuba, as if little about him existed beforehand.
“We really didn’t know exactly what we had in Yandy when we signed him,” Akron manager David Wallace said. “There were some question marks. But he looked great physically, and he looked confident. He looked the part of a professional ball player.”
Because Diaz was widely considered less heralded than the majority of his Cuban peers, the Cleveland Indians were afforded the luxury of signing him as a free agent in 2013.
“I left Cuba so I could play every day,” said Diaz, a 6-2, 185-pound native of Sagua la Grande who is capable of playing second base and shortstop as well. “Now I am close to fulfilling his dream of playing at a high level of competition in the major leagues.”
Due to his extensive experience with the Cuban Youth National Team, Diaz began his minor league career at the Advanced Class-A level. Yet the immediate challenge proved little problem for him.
After being sidelined early in the season with a broken wrist, Diaz finished the season with a .286 batting average and was tabbed as the best defensive third baseman in the league by the respected writers at Baseball America.
So far this season at Double-A, Diaz continues to impress. On Wednesday he learned he’s one of five Akron players named to the Eastern League All-Star Game that will be held July 15 in Portland, Maine.
Through 76 games with the RubberDucks, Diaz’s .306 batting average includes four doubles, three triples, 28 RBI and 35 runs scored. He also owns a team-leading 46 walks to 36 strikeouts and his on-base percentage leads the EL.
“For such a big, muscular guy, you’d think he’d be too stiff to play third,” Wallace said. “But he works well there. He comes in on a bunt, he handles the slow roller well and makes going to his left look effortless.”
But the one part of Diaz’s game that is as elusive as the relationship with his father is his glaring lack of power.
“We’re trying to explore why that is,” Wallace said. “He hits the ball very hard, but he tends to hit it on the ground. So the question is: How can we help usher in that power that he has the potential for with his size alone?”
Bat angle and contact point are being tinkered with in an effort to increase Diaz’s power stroke.
“But there’s no panic,” said Wallace, who has settled on Diaz hitting third in the Ducks lineup. “We know it will sort itself out. But we also know there’s more in there.”
Above: Like his father before him, Akron's Yandy Diaz defected from Cuba and is trying to make his way through the minor league system. (Courtesy Akron RubberDucks)