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 received 2B Isan Díaz, along with OF Monte Harrison, OF Lewis Brinson and RHP Jordan Yamamoto from the Brewers in a trade for OF Christian Yelich in January 2018.
.173/.259/.307 | 12 XBH | 53 wRC+ | 51+ OPS | .248 wOBA | 49 games
Díaz starred in 102 games at Triple-A, where he was a true slugger that sent 26 balls out of the park in 377 at-bats. He totaled 21 doubles, 70 RBIs, and 89 runs to go along with a great .305/.395/.578 slash line. That sort of production was what the Marlins envisioned when they received him in the Yelich trade. It earned him a selection to the MLB Futures Game as well as the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year award.
Miami called Díaz up and he debuted on August 5 with a flourish. The Puerto Rico native connected against eventual NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom for one of his five rookie homers.
But by the end of August, he was batting for a .157 average and was striking out at a high rate (28 SO in 24 G).
It’s not that Isan was great against righties (.194/.280/.331)—it’s just he was totally non-competitive in left-on-left matchups (.100/.182/.225). At the end of the day, the promising infielder only registered 201 plate appearances and was a victim of a low .224 BABIP, a dramatic drop-off from the .349 he put while playing for the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
Díaz ended up recording 59 strikeouts across 49 games. He showed everybody that if he improves his pitch selection, he could be a power threat (five doubles, two triples, five dingers for the Marlins in 2019). But to do so, he needs to get better against changeups and sliders. When pitchers threw these two to Díaz, he hit for a .109 batting average (7-for-64) and struck out 32 times.
He needs to be more protective of the lowest part of the strike zone and try not to chase bad breaking pitches that end up in the sand. Take a glimpse of every strikeout Díaz recorded in 2019 in MLB:
According to Statcast, Díaz converted only 84% of his fielding opportunities in the majors; based on the batted ball locations and his positioning, the estimated success rate was 87%. Making plays up the middle—generally versus right-handed batters—was his main weakness defensively.
Off The Field
Although the 23-year-old is not the kind of player that posts something every single day, you can get an idea of who he is by checking out his profiles on Instagram and Twitter.
Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Massachusetts, Díaz spent some of his offseason in South Florida. He was on hand for a Thanksgiving meal distribution event at Marlins Park and participated in hitting drills at the team’s Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter in December.
Díaz’s family is emotionally invested in his baseball career, particularly his father and his brother, Raul.
At least in Spring Training, Díaz will be given the chance to become the Marlins’ starting second baseman. That’s his job to lose. Starlin Castro is no longer a member of the Fish and Jonathan Villar will be moved around the diamond if necessary.
What Díaz has to do is to translate his Triple-A offense to the bigs. He not only needs to stop the Ks, but he also has to make adjustments to his swing path. His 13.4% line drive rate following the 2019 call-up was (by far) worst among all Marlins with 100-plus plate appearances, while his 45.4% fly ball rate was tied with Curtis Granderson for the highest on the roster. Hitting coach Eric Duncan and new bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson will work with him to hopefully bring those numbers much closer together.
With Isan Díaz, there are some questions to solve. It’s a low-stakes year for him regardless—he enters 2020 with two more minor league options remaining and the team doesn’t yet have a realistic chance at playoff contention. But, again, if he works and develops as the Marlins expect, Díaz should be able to handle everyday duties and be the regular second baseman in the long term.
2020 Steamer projection: .233/.312/.398 | 44 XBH | 89 wRC+ | .303 wOBA | 134 games