- June 16, 2017: Facing Gabriel Ynoa during the Cardinals' 11-2 win over the Orioles, St. Louis shortstop Aledmys Diaz was fooled on a curveball and nubbed one off the end of the bat. The ball rolled foul. Not "rolled toward foul territory" or "looked like it might roll foul" -- the ball left Diaz's bat at a 45 degree angle, and was ticketed for the on-deck circle. And then, well and then had some other ideas, rolling fair before any defenders could get to it.
Speaking to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch after the game, Diaz seemed strangely nonchalant: "That's why you run hard out of the box," he said. "I thought it had a chance [to turn back fair]. You never know." Oddity of physics, or proof that Aledmys Diaz is a wizard capable of bending space and time to his will? You be the judge. (C Landers and J Langosch - MLB.com - June 16, 2017)
|Birth City:||Santa Clara,Cuba|
|Draft:||2014 - Cardinals - Free agent|
- His name is pronounced: A-LED-mees.
In February 2013, Diaz was presenting himself as a 23-year-old born Jan. 8, 1990. However, that date conflicts with previous accounts of when he was born, according to multiple sources.
A December 2007 story on the official website of Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, referred to Diaz being born on Aug. 1, 1990, which would make him 22. When news of Diaz leaving Cuba started appearing in Cuban media outlets last year in July, multiple stories referred to him being 21 at the time, which would match the reported Aug. 1, 1990, date of birth.
Further complicating the situation is that a roster from the 2010 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico says that Diaz was born in 1991, although there is no specific date of birth listed other than the year.
For Diaz and anyone else who has a percentage in his contract, it’s more advantageous for him to be 23 than 21 or 22. While international signings were subject to the $2.9 million bonus pools for the 2012-13 international signing period, Cuban players with at least three years of professional experience in Cuba (which Diaz has) and who are at least 23 are exempt from the bonus pools. MLB, however, has yet to rule on whether Diaz is exempt. (Ben Badler-Baseball America-2/19/13)
Diaz became eligible to sign on February 19, 2014. (He signed with the Cardinals in March. See below.)
Aledmys' agent, Jaime Torres said that MLB is insisting that Diaz present an unblocking license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can enter into agreement with a major league team. He is claiming permanent residency in Mexico.
- Diaz defected in the summer of 2012 during a tournament in the Netherlands and established residency in Mexico.
In 2013, the Cuban government instituted a program that allows its athletes to participate in leagues outside the country. Alfredo Despaigne, a three-time MVP in La Serie Nacional and a national team star (no relation to Odrisamer), played in Mexico and returned after 33 games. The new guidelines do not make it easier for Cubans to play in the U.S. because of the American embargo on that country.
"There is a lot of talent in Cuba, and they are finally realizing that their potential can be realized here in the U.S.," Torres said. "Despite the Cuban government giving them permission to play in a lot of different leagues, these guys know there are restrictions that come with it, and more players are making the tough decision to leave Cuba." (2/14/14)
Members of the Major League staff and front office gathered around a practice field to watch Diaz take batting practice and grounders at short. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he was struck by how "polished" Diaz looked during the tryout. Matheny also saw mannerisms that reminded him of Derek Jeter.
"It's not a bad person to emulate," Matheny said. "The way he walks, the way he approaches the ball, the way he sets up, a lot of similarities. He's had a lot of repetitions at this game and you can tell. He's not just one of those raw talents. Sometimes you just see a kid out there who is just loose and you can tell is athletic and has tools that are off the charts. But this kid looks like he understands the game.
"Tools are tools, and that equals potential. It's a matter of how we refine it, and we have a great development system to help with that. It will be fun to watch him progress."
Though Diaz began playing in Cuba's Serie Nacional professional league when he was 17, he had not played in games since he defected from Cuba. (Langosch - mlb.com - 3/10/14)
In 2012, Aledmys hit .315 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 270 at-bats in Cuba.
Diaz has mannerisms that remind most of Derek Jeter. And Aledmys said that yes, he ha always mimicked the Yankees great—how he ambled in the field, how he swung, and his arm angle.
In 2015, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Diaz as the 11th-best prospect in the Cardinals' organization. He was at #12 a year later, early in 2016.
The Cardinals trace Diaz’s trouble back to his long hiatus without baseball. He left the Cuban national team in July 2012 while at a tournament in the Netherlands, walking away carrying only a backpack and his Cuba jersey.
Aledmys established residency in Mexico, where he served a one-year suspension for misrepresenting his age, then signed with St. Louis in March 2014.
For 15 days, Rigoberto Diaz clutched his phone, anxious for the moment when he could hear his son's voice again. He had been assured by an intermediary that his 21-year-old boy, Aledmys, had been safely routed to Mexico following his defection from the Cuban national baseball team. Aledmys had sneaked away while the team was playing a tournament in the Netherlands and was now hidden away in a home. Details beyond that were scarce.
As Rigoberto awaited that phone call, he replayed conversations that, in hindsight, may have telegraphed the life-changing decision, like the time Aledmys, as a 16-year-old, came to his father questioning the validity of his country's communist rule, or the time he was so upset at being passed over for a roster spot that he told his father he wanted to defect.
Rigoberto, as almost any parent would, chalked the comment up to a fit of frustration. "I took it for granted," Rigoberto said. "Kids say things, and then they often don't follow through." His, however, did.
So Rigoberto found himself passing 15 "horrible" days in a Brazilian jungle, which is where he was stationed as a visiting entomologist working to control mosquitoes and an outbreak of malaria. Finally, his phone rang.
"It was an extremely hard decision, and possibly if I would have thought twice about it or told anybody beforehand, then I wouldn't have done it," Aledmys explained to his father during the emotional conversation.He also detailed a situation in the Netherlands in which he found himself out of the lineup without reason after being promised playing time. That, son told father, was the final straw.
"I said, 'OK, son. Don't worry,'" Rigoberto said. "'I'm going to support you all the time. I'll help you with everything you need.'"
In 2016, it had been almost four years since Aledmys' decision to defect changed the course of his family's life. He celebrated this Father's Day not only as an expectant father himself, but also alongside the one who gave up everything to help him adjust to life away from Cuba.
Rigoberto had gone to St. Louis for a weeklong stay that offers him his first chance to watch his son play at Busch Stadium. "He completed a dream that had been in the family for many generations," Rigoberto said of Aledmys breaking through to the Majors this season. "A dream came true in a person who sacrificed so much. Aledmys never played with a toy. You know what his toy was? A baseball bat and a ball." (Langosch - MLB.com - 6/16/16)
Aledmys' getting to the big leagues was the culmination of a community effort. With his father pulled out of the country for work throughout much of his childhood, Aledmys leaned heavily on his mother and uncles for support. One of those uncles, Nelson Diaz, was particularly influential in nurturing Aledmys' love of the sport of baseball. Nelson's other prized pupil was Jose Fernandez, then a hyperactive kid whose family lived in the same neighborhood. In 2016, Fernandez was the ace of the Marlins' rotation.
But Rigoberto's impact on his son's career is also unmistakable. When Aledmys was 3, Rigoberto talked a local swimming program for kids with asthma into allowing his son to participate. Aledmys did not have asthma, but his father was convinced that the synchronization Aledmys could learn in the pool could help him in future athletic endeavors. "It was at that point," Rigoberto said, "that he started feeling something for sports."
By the age of 4, Aledmys was outlasting his father in the evenings, watching delayed broadcasts of Major League games until the sun rose the next morning. Soon after, his father took him to see the Cuban national team play for the first time. "It was," Aledmys explains now, "a love-at-first-sight type of thing."
Aledmys began playing organized baseball around that time, though that was also the year that Rigoberto accepted a three-year university job in Botswana. While teaching agricultural classes in Africa, Rigoberto would receive reports about Aledmys' baseball achievements.
The stories sometimes had the feel of legend, like the time a 5-year-old Aledmys took a swing in a tryout and hit the ball to the outfield wall on one bounce, or the instance a few years later in which he accompanied an older team to Venezuela for the tournament to serve as the batboy and finished the week as the team's shortstop. For Rigoberto, knowing his little boy was thriving on the baseball field helped ease the pain of being an ocean away.
"The first time he stepped onto the field, he fell in love with baseball," Rigoberto said. "It was like something was in his veins. It was amazing." (Langosch - MLB.com - 6/16/16)
Having spent all that time separated from his family made Aledmys' father's, Rigoberto's decision in the summer of 2012 a simple one. With his son alone in Mexico, Rigoberto saw no option other than to join him. The Cuban government, even after learning of Aledmys' defection, remained invested in Rigoberto, whose work in Brazil was being widely lauded. They urged him to remain there for a fifth and final year. He declined and quit his job that fall.
"It was hard for me because I loved it," Rigoberto said. "But I had to make that step. There was no choice. I had to stand by my son." The two were reunited in Mexico on Feb. 2, 2013, and remained there, together, while a paperwork snafu left Aledmys ineligible to sign with a Major League team for another year. Once Aledmys signed with the Cardinals in March 2014, his father knew where he had to go next.
"I came illegally," Rigoberto admitted. "There was no choice. I suffered a lot in that way, because every time I've moved around in my life, it had been legal. But if it's regarding your children, it doesn't matter what you have to do." It took Rigoberto 48 hours to cross the border between Mexico and the United States.
"I think it was absolutely fundamental to my transition and helped me feel comfortable in a new country," Aledmys, speaking through a translator, said of his father's willingness to accompany him to America. "I was able to reconcile the decision I had just made, and he was so much help.
"Just with the little daily-life things, like going to the bank or getting set up in a new country. We all know that baseball is extremely hard and you have to be focused on 100 percent. So not having to overload my mind to worry about those daily things because he was there really helped."
They lived together in Florida, then Springfield, Mo., then Memphis, Tenn. Once he could do so legally, Rigoberto relocated his wife, and the two now reside in West Palm Beach, Fla. "It was pretty hard for me not to be attached to my son, because we had been away from each other for so long," Rigoberto said.
Rigoberto not only made the day-to-day challenges of living in a foreign country less daunting for his son, but he also helped accelerate Aledmys' understanding of English. Rigoberto had long ago become fluent in the language, and he actually spent some of the years in between his time in Botswana and Brazil teaching evening English classes from his dining room.
Oftentimes, he would look around and find a young Aledmys sitting in the corner. Aledmys never spoke, which is why his father was shocked some years later to watch Aledmys translate "Silence of the Lambs" scenes seamlessly from English to Spanish. Learning to speak the language, however, took much more time.
His father, along with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," helped with that while Aledmys was in the Minors. "When I was growing up as a teenager, he made it a point to speak to me in English," Aledmys said. "The problem was that in the moment, I didn't think English would be necessary. I didn't think I would be here or that it would help my career in the future as much as it does now."
Aledmys' English is so good now that he can converse in the language with little hesitation.
"I told him, 'It doesn't matter what you do from this point forward,'" Rigoberto said. "'You have fulfilled my dreams. Actually, you have overfilled my dreams.'" (Langosch - MLB.com - 6/16/16)
From DFA to All-Star:
It was early in July 2015 that Aledmys Diaz was pulled into his Double-A manager's office and told he was being taken off the field. Diaz spent the next few days bunkered in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hotel room, waiting to find out his future and bracing for news that the organization that signed him in March 2014 would no longer be the one he played for. Injuries had stalled his progress in the Cardinals' Minor League system and, needing a space on their 40-man roster, the Cardinals took a gamble. They removed Diaz from the roster, thereby dangling him in front of 29 other teams by designating him for assignment.
"It was a pretty tough three days," Diaz said. "I was staying in the hotel, waiting for somebody to claim me on waivers."
It was a calculated move. General manager John Mozeliak was willing to wager that no one would want to take on Diaz's contract, which owed him $4 million in 2016-17, but a risky move nonetheless. Two days later, the Cardinals learned that no one had made a claim. The next day, Diaz returned to the park and rededicated himself to the game that led him to flee Cuba for a chance to pursue a Major League dream. He started showing up at the park earlier, and he asked for more work. Dedication led to positive results, which opened an early-season opportunity with the Cardinals that Diaz parlayed into a full-time job.
"He just showed a lot of his toughness," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "To me, he's shown many things here in a short amount of time, but watching how well he handles things for a young player is very different." (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com - July 11, 2016)
Diaz, the first Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols (2001) to be named an All-Star, joined Matt Carpenter in San Diego to represent the Cardinals in the2016 All-Star Game. For Carpenter, whose injury opened a roster spot for his fellow middle infielder, Diaz's ascension has been enjoyable to watch. Carpenter was among those who gathered to watch Diaz showcase himself during a tryout at the Cardinals' Florida facility. He saw firsthand the talent that prompted the Cards' bold offer.
"I knew that he had ability," Carpenter said. "Then I got a chance to see him develop. What he is now compared to where he's come from, to his credit, he's just continually gotten better in every area of his game."
He left during a tournament in the Netherlands and established residency in Mexico, where he waited 18 months before being permitted to try out in front of Major League scouts. Once his professional career began, injuries interrupted it. In 2016, he took a Spring Training demotion in stride and then refused to let his early-season defensive issues affect his offensive production. The latter was so spectacular that the Cardinals had no choice but to work their infield plans around the player who in 2015, they had been willing to let go.
"Confidence, for him, has never shaken," Carpenter said. "The demeanor he carries out on the field, whether he's had good games or bad games, whether he's the hero or the goat, he's got the same kind of demeanor. Also, his whole life has been a challenge. His story is incredible." (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com - July 11, 2016 )
Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez's childhood friendship: Though their lives long ago intersected and their careers, in many ways, will forever be intertwined, Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez, with the exception of those impromptu street ball games many years ago, had never before gone toe to toe.That chance came on July 28, 2016, when Fernandez drew his first season start against a Cardinals club that Diaz joined in April. The elder but less-experienced Diaz went on to shine in this matchup, tagging Fernandez for a two-run homer and RBI double that keyed the Cardinals' 5-4 win over the Marlins at Marlins Park.
"That was a lot of fun, trying to compete against my buddy," Diaz said afterward. "He loves competing, and so do I. I just tried to enjoy that moment."
Their relationship dates back to those years on Eighth Street, where Diaz and Fernandez grew up doors apart in the Cuban neighborhood of Santa Clara. Fernandez credits Diaz's father, Rigoberto, and uncle, Nelson, for introducing him to baseball. Their lives diverged after Fernandez defected to the United States as a teenager. Diaz followed four years later, and the two ended up as teammates on the National League All-Star roster this summer. Never before, however, had they been pitted as opponents.
"I had a feeling they were going to both try to bring everything they had," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was pretty special. I don't think we can really understand what it is they had to go through to get here and the stories that they have back home."
Fernandez got the best of Diaz in the first inning, inducing a groundout to help him through a 1-2-3 inning. He was struck, however, by Diaz's aggressive approach.
"First at-bat, he swung first pitch, and I told him, 'Really? You're going to swing first pitch like that?'" Fernandez said. "That swing had a lot of bad intentions on it. I was like, 'This guy wants to hit it 10,000 feet.'"
Diaz maintained that approach in his next two at-bats—and it worked. He belted a fastball to left-center for a two-run homer in the third and doubled in a run two innings later. Those were two of the five extra-base hits Fernandez allowed over five innings.
"I just try to be aggressive with him because he's a great pitcher," said Diaz, whose parents were in the stands to enjoy his big night. "I know if you get behind in the count, he has a lot of stuff—a fastball up to 98 [mph], a slider at 81. I tried to be aggressive and take advantage of mistakes."
Outcome aside, the two players had a unique appreciation for the moments they shared, moments they never could have imaged as kids playing alongside one another on a sandlot field and on the neighborhood streets. (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com - July 2016)
- March 9, 2014: Diaz signed with the Cardinals, receiving a four-year, $15 to $20 million deal.
Diaz has the potential to be an above-average hitter. He has a lively bat and extra-base power. And his bat is ahead of his fielding, though his glove is actually catching up!
Aledmys has a level righthanded stroke with some inside-out tendencies. He can hit for a nice average, lots of doubles, and a few homers sprinkled in.
An improved approach at the plate in 2015 was notable, allowing him to get to his power more consistently (and often). His energy level also took a step forward.
Diaz definitely has the bat speed.
- As a rookie in 2016, Diaz belted 17 homers in only 400 at-bats.
Aledmys might be able to stick at shortstop, though he has a willingness to play second base or third base. He has an arm good enough for either position and solid hands.
Diaz is a solid defender, but not flashy. He has average range at short, and has the athleticism to do a decent job at second base or third base.
“Talk about what we saw a year ago compared to what we witness this spring, and it’s radically improved,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “I’m just excited for him and the prospect of what he can be if he continues to improve.
“He needs to play to get better at some of the things he needs, and he’s real close. What we saw is a kid who has shown he has the range and has a good arm. There are some things he can clean up.”
April 19, 2015: The Springfield Cardinals placed Diaz on the 7-day disabled list.
- August 1-September 11, 2016: Follow-up X-rays on Aledmys Diaz's right hand revealed a hairline fracture in his right thumb, which has been placed in a splint. Diaz went on the disabled list.