How he arrived: Waiver claim from Pittsburgh Pirates, 12/2/22
(Díaz was subsequently designated for assignment, traded to Atlanta, then claimed again by the Orioles on 1/5/23.)
If, while you were busy this offseason keeping tabs on the likes of Jacob deGrom and Carlos Correa, the Orioles acquiring lefty first baseman Lewin Díaz passed you by, have no fear: here is your Idiots’ Guide to the second-newest member of the 40-man roster.
Two weeks ago, Lewin (pronounced lay-win) Díaz was not a member of this team. It was on December 2, two days before the Winter Meetings in San Diego, that the Orioles made a flurry of moves, all having to do with the peripheries of the 40-man, and none too terribly exciting: two outfielders were waived-slash-outrighted and two lefty bats arrived in their place. One was Franchy Cordero, a power-hitting lefty whose struggles with injuries explain why he was signed to a minor-league deal. The other was Díaz.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old by the Minnesota Twins in 2013, Lewin Díaz was traded to the Marlins in 2019 in exchange for veteran reliever Sergio Romo and current Orioles teammate Chris Vallimont. After a few Quad-A-type seasons, Miami cut him in November. Scooped up by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was almost immediately let go after they acquired lefty-hitting sluggers Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi. Two days later, Díaz found his way to Baltimore.
Listed at 6’4, 217 pounds, there is no mystery as to what the 26-year-old can bring to the organization. Díaz’s powerful—if somewhat long and loopy—lefty uppercut swing would definitely play well in Camden Yards’ short dimensions in right field, as you can see from highlight reel:
How much value Díaz brings besides power is a question, however. Over parts of three seasons, his slash line is a woeful .181/.227/.340, and although 10 doubles and 13 home runs in 321 at-bats isn’t bad, 99 strikeouts in that span is.
His career minors numbers are better, however. In parts of eight MiLB seasons, Díaz is a .263/.322/.469 hitter with a .791 OPS. In 2021, as part of Miami’s Triple-A affiliate Jacksonville, Díaz thwacked 20 home runs in 74 games. This past season, he hit 19 doubles, 19 home runs and drove in 64 runs in 82 games with Jacksonville. His average exit velocity, ranking in the 81st percentile, is the sort of data point that this Orioles front office pays particular attention to.
The big man isn’t particularly fast (his foot speed ranks in the 5th percentile) but, as MASN reports, he is a plus defender at first base, with 16 defensive runs saved and nine outs above average in the majors.
What Díaz’s future role with the Orioles, if any, will be likely depends on other things than Díaz himself. One of the Orioles’ shopping needs this winter is a left-handed hitting first baseman/DH, and Díaz certainly fits that bill. But there are more attractive options still out there, and if the Orioles finally start making some aggressive signings, Díaz might not make it to spring training with the team. That’s also because he’s out of minor league options, which partly explains how he’s found himself on three different teams in the last two weeks.
On the other hand, maybe the Orioles give Díaz a chance to hit some balls hard in spring training, and maybe he turns out to be more than a Jake Fox. Right now he is helpful insurance in case Ryan Mountcastle gets into one of his nasty slumps, or as a left-hitting DH to slot into the lineup on days when Adley Rutschman is catching.
Lewin Díaz doesn’t feel like the bombshell free-agent signing Birdland has been clamoring for since the team just came up short of the playoffs, but he’s a guy with significant potential upside. Worst case scenario, Díaz is no longer with this team come spring. Best case: he impresses with his power, and ends up a contributor on a contending 2023 Orioles team.
Up next: Kyle Gibson