GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Yandy Diaz stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 185 pounds, his chiseled frame and arms resembling those of a bodybuilder — not a baseball player.
But when the third baseman steps into the batter’s box, he’s an intimidating presence, one who appears capable of launching the ball out of the park and into the stratosphere at any time.
In 156 at-bats at the major league level last year, Diaz hit zero home runs.
“Driving the ball the other way to me is way better than being out front and hitting the occasional home run,” manager Terry Francona said of Diaz, who made his major league debut in 2017, batting .263 with eight doubles, a triple and 13 RBIs in 49 games for the Indians. “Guys that hit the ball the other way should be, I don’t want to say slump-proof, but because they do let the ball travel and he hits the ball hard, there’s going to be hits there.
“I just think the natural progression, you’ll see him pull balls more without being told. It’ll happen organically. Good hitters kind of figure it out as they go. They just need at-bats. The best way to mess him up is to try to get him to try to pull the ball in the air, because he won’t be the hitter he is, and we know that.”
Diaz, 26, has shown enough offensive ability at the Triple-A level that the Indians are willing to wait on the power. He hit .350 with 17 doubles and 33 RBIs in 85 games for Columbus last year, but still failed to reach a double-digit homer total at any level in the minors since he began his professional career in 2014.
“I bet you what you’ll see with Yandy is as he gets his at-bats, the field’s gonna kind of swing around,” Francona said. “Right now he’s kind of driving the ball to right field. Give him another 500, 600 at-bats and you’re going to see ... he doesn’t need to try to do that now because that’ll mess him up. He needs to just, naturally or organically, he’s gonna, with at-bats, you’ll see him pull the ball, especially in the air.
“Nomar (Garciaparra) was like that in the Fall League, he’d never pull the ball. He’d rifle the ball to right-center and I remember guys would kind of tease him about it, and I was like, ‘Nomy, don’t change. You’re going to be OK.’”
A new man
This spring, Indians fans can expect to see a lot of prospect Bobby Bradley, who earned his first invitation to big league training camp with an impressive year for Double-A Akron, and results from an offseason program that caught Francona’s eye.
“Because he had such a good winter and we don’t have a ton of first basemen, he’s going to get to play a little bit,” Francona said of the third-round draft pick in 2014. “I think he deserves the reward because he had such a good offseason. I just told him to be a sponge and soak up as much as you can and then when you get in a game, go compete.
“He’s getting to a point in his career now, not only is he knocking on the door because of where he’s going to play, but we want to see him knock the door down. And by the way he’s approaching things, I have no doubt that will happen.”
Bradley, 21, followed up a big season at advanced Single-A Lynchburg in 2016 — 29 homers, 102 RBIs — with another one at Akron, where he hit 23 homers and drove in 89 runs in 131 games.
Bradley followed that up by arriving at camp in top-shelf shape, telling reporters he had shed 25-30 pounds in the offseason.
“He had an unbelievable winter,” Francona said. “He changed his diet. He went to both (organizational) strength camps. He looks phenomenal. He should be really proud of himself. Of all the one-on-one meetings, he was the highlight, just because of how he came into camp. I think I set a record for F-bombs. I was so excited. It was so cool that he came in looking like that.
“Offensively, it’s really exciting what he could grow into. But now to see his body take shape, so you don’t have to worry about the defensive part of the game or on the bases, being a base-clogger. But even just bat quickness, staying healthy, being durable. I mean, he completely changed his body in one offseason. And I have no doubt that he’ll stick with it now, just from talking to him. His transformation has been really cool.”
During his rookie season last year, the Indians tried to protect left-handed-hitting center fielder Bradley Zimmer from left-handed pitching. The gloves will most likely come off against southpaws this year.
“I think you’ll see Zim grow into playing every day,” Francona said. “Whether that’s Opening Day, I don’t know. But you’ll probably see us try to play him when we think it makes sense, see how he does, see how he handles it, with the hope that he grows into that, because I think that’s what we certainly want.”
Zimmer, 25, hit .241 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 101 games last year before sustaining a season-ending left hand injury Sept. 10.
He actually had a better batting average against lefties last year — .243 (18-for-74) — than righties (.240, 54-for-225), but hit all of his homers and produced 30 of his RBIs against righties. Of Zimmer’s 73 starts, only 10 came against left-handers —.234 (15-for-64).
Got it covered
Shortstop Francisco Lindor is looking forward to playing alongside infielders Jose Ramirez (third base), Jason Kipnis (second) and Yonder Alonso (first).
“It’s great. All-Stars all around,” Lindor said. “The games will play out. We’ll see.”
Lindor has made the All-Star team in each of his first two full seasons, while Ramirez and Alonso were first-time All-Stars last year. Kipnis was chosen in 2013 and ’15.
The Indians entered the exhibition season 139-136-23 all-time in Cactus League play since moving their spring training site from Winter Haven, Fla. (1993-2008) in 2009.