I met Tony Diaz in the office of General Manager Tim Ray. Diaz is the Developmental Supervisor for the Grand Junction Rockies, a position that did not exist last year but one that will surely be vital to the successful growth of the youngest and rawest ballplayers in the Rockies family. He was the manager of the Rookie ball-club last season and that experience combined with his perspective from his new job make Diaz perhaps the most qualified person to answer questions about his young team.
I first had some questions about Tony Diaz.
We talked about his transition being one of challenge but delight. "With any change," he says, "it's going to take some time to get used to. I still get to coach before and after games though," we quipped when I asked if he missed the more hands-on approach of being a coach. "I move around a lot during games. I might not even go in the dugout." So not much coaching during the games but..."before and after I work with the players on what I see," he says with a smile. Diaz clearly enjoys his time with his players and in more than any conversation about baseball we had, he appreciated the most hearing that his players had been incredibly kind and generous to me.
"Now, I see a lot more."
The new job of Developmental Supervisor is specifically designed to accomplish a goal I would speak with Bob Apodaca about; seeing the forest through the trees. It can be a difficult balancing act at the Rookie ball level between trying to teach and maintain competitiveness and a winning attitude and making players work through struggles at the detriment to the team but for the better development of the player. Sometimes winning and the box score come secondary to goals like we want him to take a strike or he needs to pitch mostly changeups.
This is where Tony Diaz comes in. He makes this task easier by both taking the burden off of Manager Anthony Sanders to see all the little things and by being able to view the game from multiple angles and get a more complete understanding of how his players are developing.
I had just spoken with Bob Apodaca (stay tuned) about the pitching staff at all levels of the Rockies organization, so I wanted to get Diaz's impressions on the position players. We started with Ryan McMahon.
"Ryan has a very mature approach. Especially for his age." He said. "Also great composure. He doesn't panic at the plate or at third base. He can turn the page quickly if things don't go well." He also emphatically agreed about his leadership skills when I mentioned my story from part 3 where Ryan McMahon threw his arm around a very frustrated Helmis Rodriguez.
"Ryan has a chance to be an impact player." I asked him if he meant that McMahon simply had a legitimate shot to make the MLB. "No, in MLB I mean," he clarified, "I think he has the chance to be an impact player at that level."
We then turned to a player who had been struggling but still remains an exciting prospect; Dom Nunez. He told me that it has been strange to see him struggle at the plate so much because "He has the foundational swing to be a great hitter. Also, he really hasn't been striking out much. He needs to get more comfortable on defense, right now he looks most comfortable at short stop but we don't think he will be a short stop moving forward." Still, he tells me "He has a tremendous work ethic."
Diaz would go on to tell me that the trick with Dom may be getting him to be more aggressive. I certainly noticed and noted that he likes to take pitches and work the count, but Diaz pointed out that it can be difficult always trying to hit in deeper counts that often include at least one automatically taken strike. Diaz remains optimistic about Nunez saying, "he will start turning those hard outs into gap-to-gap doubles soon."
I briefly explained and ran through Purple Row's PuRPs list with Diaz at that point, essentially asking the question, "what do you think? Who did we miss? Who should be there next time?"
He named off the trio of Ramiel Tapia, Jose Briceno, and Emerson Jimenez. We will get back to Tapia.
I told him about my initial impressions of Jose Briceno, that when I had been here last he was hitting nothing but line drive doubles and home runs, but that he also seemed to be struggling quite a bit behind the plate. He agreed that, "He needs to refine his receiving and blocking" but also noted that there is "No intention of moving him right now. We want him to catch. He also has a great arm." A really pretty spectacular arm, I might add. "He is a more polished catcher at this point than Wilin Rosario was," he tells me.
While on the subject of comparing Briceno to Rosario, I asked if his power made it more likely that he might fall into slumps the way Rosario seems to. "He has a low strike out rate, and makes adjustments fast," Diaz says, "I think he could be a consistent .280 or .290 hitter with 30 plus home runs."
We spoke for only a few moments about Emerson Jimenez's slick glove work, and then later that day Jimenez's slick glove work spoke for itself. He made two "web gem" like plays and also came through with a couple of line drive hits. He is definitely an exciting young player but not wanting to take up too much of Tony Diaz's time, I wanted to make sure we had enough to talk about perhaps the most exciting non-PuRP in the Rockies system; Raimel Tapia.
Stay tuned to Purple Row for some final thoughts from Tony Diaz on, and some translated words from, Raimel Tapia himself in conversations with both yours truly and our own Bryan Kilpatrick.
"Tapia," says the brand new Developmental Supervisor, "is the purest hitter on the team."