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Dodgers 2017 top prospects: No. 19, Yusniel Diaz

Cuban outfielder made his U.S. pro debut in 2016.

yusniel-diaz-2016-rancho-tomo-san Photo credit: Tomo San | LA Dodgers

Part of the 2015 International spending frenzy by the Dodgers, outfielder Yusniel Diaz came from the Cuban professional league with the reputation for strong outfield defense and bat-to-ball skills. Despite battling injuries in his first season stateside, Diaz found his footing in the second half of the California League. While he likely ranks lower here than in other lists, Diaz’s frame and swing may limit his overall ceiling at the next level. At just 20 and likely heading to Double-A Tulsa, you can still make the case that talk of ceiling is premature.

In many ways, Diaz is a similar prospect to Alex Verdugo, in that his hit tool outranks his power, and his defensive prowess is not born from blinding speed or physicality. From an offensive standpoint, Diaz has not made contact at the impressive rate that Verdugo has, but his hit tool is above average. Diaz has tremendous bat speed and and a smooth level swing that keeps the barrel in the hitting zone for a long time. Diaz will chase on occasion and his swing can get long, but his approach is promising for a teenager in the California League.

While Diaz’s swing is built for spraying line drives gap to gap, it falls short on offering power potential. Diaz does not produce much loft on the ball, nor does he have the frame to suggest physical development to overcompensate. Diaz had eight home runs in 82 games in the California League, and produced just a .146 ISO in the offensive friendly environs. He’s not an empty singles hitter and should have gap power, but despite his youthfulness, I don’t see a tremendous gain to be had in this tool.

It’s hard for me to evaluate Diaz’s defense, but he comes with a solid reputation for center field defense. Diaz has an athletic body, listed at 6’1 and 195 lbs., but his limbs are loose and he exhibits a wide range of movement and agility. His speed appears to be a tick or two above average, and stolen bases were not a big part of his professional debut. Diaz looks smooth and fluid in his outfield work and I look forward to evaluating his range and instincts more when he moves up to Tulsa.

In ranking Diaz 20th, I’m admittedly grading him low in terms of upside. My chief concern is in the profile of the player given steady gains at each level. Diaz is a good athlete, solid defender, and has feel for hit, but also lacks plus speed and puts the ball on the ground a fair amount. Should he not be able to stay in center, he doesn’t profile as a starter in a corner, and could eventually see fourth-outfielder upside.

However, I’m also willing to consider that Diaz is more of an acquired taste, whose skills may not be as evident in a handful of video clips and his acumen is better understood taking in several games. I’ll get the chance to do this, but even in this regard, that’s only a marginal improvement on his grade. For Diaz to move up these rankings, he will need to show the ability to make adjustments in both his swing and approach to add power to his offense.

Luckily, Diaz has plenty of time to accomplish this. He’ll be just 20 years old for the entire 2017 season, which he will likely spend in Double-A. Tulsa’s deep left center gap is well suited for his gap to gap offensive approach, but should test his limits defensively. Further refining his plate approach while upholding his contact oriented offense should see his floor as a prospect rise.

Diaz might have the most value to the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers as a trade chip. He comes with the lofty reputation as an expensive international signee and was solid in his debut. Diaz’s position is one of the deepest in the system, with five players on my list ranked higher than him that spent some time manning center field for a Dodgers affiliate in 2016. Most of these names likely don’t have the defensive ability of Diaz, but, in my opinion, they each offer more offensive upside, especially in the power department.

As I mentioned earlier, this is likely to be one of the lower rankings of Diaz you will see this off-season, and I admit I’m skeptical of his overall offensive ceiling. I’ll have a more refined opinion after I see him in Tulsa, and he could climb the rankings with a solid showing as a 20-year-old in Double-A. As it stands right now though, Diaz looks like a solid contact oriented fourth outfielder that could carve out a full time role in centerfield if his defensive ability matches his reputation, but could fall short in power and speed production to warrant first division consideration.

Prospect list

With Lisalverto Bonilla signing with the Pirates, he exits the top prospect list. Joining, however, to bring the list back up to 68 players is Madison Younginer at number forty-two. Younginer brings a heavy mid-90s fastball that keeps the ball on the ground, but has had lapses in his control preventing him from maintaining consistency in the bullpen. His fastball is enough of a tool to make him a bullpen option for Los Angeles at some point in 2017, with an upside of middle relief with better control.