The Rays surprised Thursday afternoon by signing international free agent outfielder Jhon Diaz, who had previously been connected with the New York Yankees.
Most of the top international prospects have deals lined up years in advance, and teams tend to secure their signatures formally as soon as the player is eligible at the start of the annual July 2 window. The Yankees overstepped their means, however, signing this year’s top prospect — Jasson Domingez — for $5.1 million. It is likely a failure to acquire the international cap space required to land the 16-year old’s signature that led him to sign with the Rays.
The Rays had previously been relatively quiet on the international market before landing Diaz, with their largest prior commitment coming in at $670,000 for shortstop Wilmer de la Cruz.
Here’s what Baseball America had to say about Diaz prior to the signing period:
Diaz is smaller than the other top players in the class, but he’s one of the most skilled game players for 2019. He’s a lefty who consistently performs well in games with a quick, simple swing and a knack for barreling the ball against live pitching. He’s a center fielder with good defensive instincts and one of the smartest baseball IQ players in the country.
Baseball America refrained from ranking top international prospects this season, but it should be noted that Diaz ranked seventh this signing period at FanGraphs and No. 18 at MLB.com.
Here’s what FanGraphs had to say about Diaz in its 40 FV appraisal:
Diaz has more present skill than he does physical projection, atypical for this market. There are teams who consider him a tweener bench outfield type, but we think he’s just short, not small, and has a bunch of above-average tools and good baseball instincts.
And finally, here’s the report from MLB Pipeline:
Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50
Strong, durable and on the smaller size, Jhon Diaz has a lot in common with players like Ozzie Albies and Rougned Odor when the big leaguers were teens.
Don’t be fooled by Diaz’s stature, this teen can play, and he has power now with the potential for more in the future. Among his biggest assets are his approach at the plate and his good bat speed through the strike zone. He consistently makes hard contact and he drives the ball to all fields. Scouts praise his smooth swing and hitting mechanics.
The teen is plus runner who has the type of speed that can make defense rush their throws. He has the type of baseball instincts that can turn an errant throw into extra bases. On defense, he has the potential to be an above-average center fielder with an above-average arm. He already plays with confidence and performs well in games.
It also has a brief video here. These appraisals likely land Diaz on the tail end of a top-30 prospect list for baseball’s top-ranked farm system, and if those Pipeline grades are to be believed, likely between fellow teenage international free agents from previous signing periods Jelfry Marte and Alejandro Pie.