The trade of fan favorite Myles Straw was a tough pill to swallow for many of the Astros faithful, but one piece of the return that seemed to generate a bit of excitement was young catcher Yainer Diaz and his impressive offensive production. He had been poised to make his full season debut in 2020 before the season was cancelled, forcing him to wait until his age 22 season to do so. When he finally got the opportunity, he raked to the tune of a .314/.357/.464 slash prior to the trade, and was starting to work his way back onto prospectors’ radars.
The Astros quickly promoted Diaz to High-A after acquiring him, and he really opened some eyes down the stretch by cranking out 11 home runs in just 25 games at the level while striking out 16 % of the time. His efforts were good for a .396/.438/.781 slash, and with him being Rule 5 eligible after the 2021 season, they might have actually made the Astros’ front office sweat a bit as they opted against adding him to the 40-man roster. This may have been part of the reason that he was expendable in Cleveland, where they tend to be in a perpetual state of roster crunch, but he ultimately wasn’t selected as he wasn’t seen as ready defensively and had no upper minors experience.
Back in the Houston organization for 2022, Diaz was pushed straight to Double-A and handled the jump without issue. In 57 games with the Hooks, he hit .316/.367/.504 with 9 home runs, again maintaining a tidy strikeout rate of 15%, good for a 121 wRC+. An exclusive catcher throughout his Cleveland tenure and for the better part of 2021, he has taken more starts at first base this season, while also getting a little bit of work in the outfield corners. He has still caught 23 games, but continues to draw mediocre reviews for his work behind the plate- he has already allowed 24 steals on the year, albeit with a passable CS rate of 33%.
While the defense continues to be a work in progress, he quickly mastered Double-A pitching and that was enough to earn him a fairly quick promotion. He’s yet to make his debut with Sugar Land, and will likely continue to get the majority of his defensive work at first with Korey Lee and Scott Manea already on the roster there. Scouts have always questioned his ability to stick behind the plate, and the Astros likely hope that at best he can take a start or two there a week if the bat plays to give them a bit of extra roster flexibility. There’s a possibility that he hits his way into the big league first base role, but his power is going to need to tick back up, as he’ll need to outperform fellow prospect Enmanuel Valdez who has shown significantly more pop. Diaz has a definite edge in the hit tool department, but I think for either one to win the job they’ll need to hit the cover off the ball, as Gurriel continues to offer big advantages on defense and the Astros tend towards an aversion to midseason change.
Diaz’ bat is close to big league ready, but at this point his game power isn’t big enough to get him into an every day role in a corner. If he can earn the team’s confidence in him as a backup catcher and/or left fielder, he could fit nicely as an offensive minded bench player with just enough versatility to get by. There’s also the possibility that his power pops again, and that’s not an outcome I’d rule out entirely, but it would require some significant approach development that tends to happen earlier in players’ careers than where Diaz is now. The Astros have to be pleased with how easily he managed the harsh transition to Double-A, but as of now I’d expect his stay in Triple-A to be a longer one.