The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.
Where Did He Come From? The Marlins acquired first baseman Lewin Díaz in the July 2019 trade that sent Sergio Romo and Chris Vallimont to the Twins.
.270 BA | .321 OBP | .530 SLG | 27 HR | 143 wRC+ | 501 PA (Double-A/High-A levels combined)
We recently previewed jumbo-sized right-hander Johan Quezada, a Marlins minor league signee who has the potential to develop into a middle reliever. He’s fascinating, but it is mind-boggling in hindsight to see that early in the 2019 Minor League Baseball season, FanGraphs ranked Quezada as a superior prospect to Díaz while both were in the Twins farm system. What a rapid ascension it’s been.
Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to Díaz’s breakout coming off a terrible, injury-shortened 2018 campaign was his improved fitness. Matt Eddy of Baseball America attributes the weight loss to quicker bat speed, while Double-A Jacksonville manager Kevin Randle describes the new Lewin as “a gifted defender—graceful, fluid” (h/t Walter Villa, BA).
During 2019, Díaz hit the ball hard, as in, “this could play in the big leagues right now” kind of contact. He registered an average exit velocity of 91 miles per hour, maxing out at 107 mph, per FanGraphs; some close MLB comps based on Statcast data are Alex Avila (91/108), Jay Bruce (90/108), Justin Turner (90/109) and Mookie frickin’ Betts (91/109).
Another reason why Díaz was so successful at the plate: he consistently elevates. His 34.0% groundball rate was in the eighth percentile among all qualified minor league batters. He’s even further away from his peers when narrowing the focus to players at full-season levels.
We interrupt the World Series to bring you inside the world of Lewin Díaz! Marlins top 1B prospect continues wrecking the Dominican Winter League pic.twitter.com/S8yUBAXoNs— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) October 23, 2019
Díaz took some time off after the MiLB season, but played 29 more games in October/November in the Dominican Winter League with Estrellas Orientales. He slashed .276/.331/.422 with three home runs while batting in the heart of their lineup. Not impressed? Well consider that LIDOM is an extremely pitcher-friendly environment—league-wide .242/.319/.328 slash line—and this was Díaz’s first time competing there professionally and he did that as a 22-year-old.
Despite spending only a portion of the 2019-20 season on the roster with a weak supporting cast, Díaz received Rookie of the Year honors.
Off The Field
After shedding some blubber a year ago, Díaz told BA he is determined to bulk up for the next phase of his career (subscription required). He hasn’t been shy about posting his grueling workouts to Instagram (@lewin_dh19), so Marlins fans should consider following him over there.
Leading talent evaluators are jumping on the Lewin Díaz bandwagon. MLB Pipeline ranks him at No. 6 on their list of top first base prospects for 2020, describing him as the “highest riser” at the position from year-to-year.
Díaz just barely missed the cut when Baseball America updated their overall Top 100 list, but the staff considers him a strong candidate to progress into that realm next time (assuming he still has prospect eligibility by then). He is the only Marlins prospect who FanGraphs believes has above-average potential—55 grade or higher—with his hit, power and fielding tools (h/t Danny Martinez).
Historically, left-handed pitchers don’t give the lefty-swinging Díaz any trouble. His platoon splits were unusually pronounced in 2019 (.686 OPS, 22.7 K% vs. LHP; 915 OPS, 16.4 K% vs. RHP). But he did close the gap somewhat after his midsummer promotion to Double-A. The Marlins will obviously give him the opportunity to face southpaws regularly unless those splits take a dramatic turn for the worse.
Thanks to the winter ball reps, Díaz’s body knows what to expect from the major league grind; he accumulated 150 total games and 628 plate appearances last year, with only a handful of designated hitter starts to lighten the workload. So if, say, by August, Jesús Aguilar has been traded and/or Garrett Cooper has unfortunately suffered another injury, he should be a legitimate call-up candidate to man first base for the Fish.