Every year there are new players who burst on to the scene from a relatively unknown place, coming to be a vital part of their team, these are this year’s.
Last year’s World Series champs, the Astros had two players who broke out in a large way to help lead the team to the promise land. Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman, both of whom posted an OPS greater than .810. Teams rely on these previously undervalued players to make key contributions in order for them to make the playoff pushes they hope for.
This year, there are plenty of players who demonstrated their skill in a very small sample size last season, and followed through on it this spring, making them prime candidates to break out this year.
Diaz has been on everybody’s radar after the electricity we have seen him put into a ball. Last year, he had the eighth highest average exit velocity in baseball, hitting the ball harder than Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, and J.D. Martinez. So why didn’t he have a home run in 156 at bats and why did he have a .679 OPS?
He only made quality contact, measured in barrels, 2.2% of the time, while those other 3 players made quality contact 8.1%, 7.7%, and 12.3% of the time respectively. This stat takes both exit velocity and launch angle into account. Therefore, people in baseball knew that if he was simply able to improve his contact abilities, he would be able to crush baseballs. He doesn’t hit the ball at a high launch angle, resulting in 3.13 ground balls hit for every fly ball. Hitting the ball on the ground minimizes his ability to capitalize on the power he has.
Hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo explains it as:
"“He catches the ball very deep and he has the ability to accelerate to the ball very deep, which allows for low trajectory, high velocity balls off the bat.”"
Diaz likely worked on this during the offseason with Van Burkleo and saw it manifest. In spring training, he was able to hit a homer in 34 at bats and post a 1.033 OPS this spring. If he can increase his launch angle and continue to hit with his high exit velocity we will see a high power hitter out of Diaz.