I watch a lot of Seattle Mariners games. Some of that is because it gives me something to talk about with my Grandma, some of it is because I rooted for the team (and still do, to a much lesser extent) for the past 25 or so years. I won’t bore you with the existence of being a Mariners fan, because there are far better writers and some amazing team websites that’ll tell you all about it.
One of the real treats of getting to watch a lot of Mariners games, is that for the past three or so months, Seattle fans have gotten to watch Edwin Diaz. All Diaz has done since being promoted to Seattle is post a 1.64 ERA in 33 innings, while striking out 60 hitters in just 33 innings of work. To put that into perspective, that’s the same number of strikeouts as Jordan Zimmermann, in 64 and a third fewer innings.
And so, this got me thinking. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what Edwin Diaz has done in 2016. What about those in the industry? Is what Diaz has done in 2016 a truly impressive feat, or is it evidence that a failed starter with two good pitches can become a dominant reliever without much of a grace period?
Rather than just think to myself, I asked three scouts who have seen Diaz pitch in the minor leagues what they thought of his transition to the big leagues. And, since we all wanna know what the next big thing is, I asked them who they thought could be the next iteration. I had only three rules:
1. The player can’t be a reliever currently, so no Joe Jimenez
2. The player can’t currently be on a MLB Roster, so no Alex Reyes
3. The player can’t have started games in the big leagues, so no Reynaldo Lopez.
Now that we got the rules out of the way, we can get to it. Here’s what the scouts thought of Diaz, and who could be the next starter turned superstar reliever.
AL West scout
How impressed on a scale of 1-10? “I’d say about a seven, maybe an eight. I think most of us who saw him early knew there was big upside in this kid’s right arm; despite being skin and bones he still was getting his fastball up to 93-95 as a teenager, and then he’d show that slider here and there that made you think there’s something to this kid. Still, I don’t think anyone thought he was going to be this good, and certainly not this good this fast. The only reason I can’t go 10 is because he’s not doing it as a starter, but he’s dominating big-league hitters awfully quickly.”
The next Diaz: Tyler Jay, LHP Minnesota Twins. “I think he has a chance to start, but if you put this kid in relief? Good luck. The fastball and slider are both out-pitches right now, and left-handers have absolutely no chance against this dude. That’s not to say he can’t get right-handers out, those pitches and the change are good enough to do that, too. Heck, this might not be the next Edwin Diaz, this might be the next Andrew Miller. “
NL East scout
How impressed on a scale of 1-10? “A ten. An easy ten. I don’t understand how it can’t be a ten. He’s striking out everyone, and now he’s doing it as a closer. This is almost seems like a trick question because the answer is so obvious. He’s the real deal.”
Follow up question: So it isn’t cheapened at all by the fact he’s doing it in relief? “Nope, not at all. Would it be more impressive if he was a starter, yes, so maybe I should change the grade to a nine, but I’m not going to. What Edwin Diaz is doing to the American League right now as a rookie is special.
The next Diaz: Domingo Acevedo, RHP, New York Yankees. “I have no idea if the Yankees have any intention on moving him to the bullpen, it seems like they give guys as long of a chance to start as possible before making the switch. If they do make that switch, he could be a special reliever with his fastball and change combination. I don’t think he’s gonna strike out every [dang] hitter like Diaz seems to, but with an 80 fastball and that hard power-change, he could miss plenty of bats.”
NL Central scout
How impressed on a scale of 1-10? “Can I go decimal? If I can go decimal I’d go 8.5. If you’re making me pick a number I’ll round up and say nine. I may be the high man, because I’ve watched a bunch of his stuff as a big leaguer. He’s insane. The fastball is 80, the slider is 70. I can only count a handful of guys who are bringing that kind of stuff, and a handful might be generous. It would not shock me at all if this was the next great reliever in baseball.
The next Diaz: Touki Toussaint, RHP, Atlanta Braves. “This seems almost too obvious. When I watch him pitch, there’s almost always an inning where I see two plus-plus pitches. I just haven’t ever seen him carry that offer for more than an inning. It sure seems to me like if you put this guy in the bullpen, you get a pretty good chance of seeing those two 70 pitches without the worry of having to get through a lineup two or three times. He’ll also have to improve the control, but if he can, he could be a filthy reliever.”
My next Diaz: Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago Cubs. Now, before all of Chicago yells at me and demands I tender my resignation: Yes, I do believe there’s a chance Cease can start. The change has made some progress in 2016, and he’s done a good enough job of filling the strike zone with all three pitches. All that being said, I cannot help but wonder what this guy could do in the bullpen. He’s touched 100 with his fastball, and his curveball is already an above-average pitch that flashes plus with hard spin; it’s a true swing-and-miss breaking ball. Do I think he’s going to strikeout 16 guys per nine innings? Of course not, and at the end of the day, I don’t think you’re going to see Diaz do that; it’s too hard to miss bats at that kind of level for a long period of time. I do think Cease has some of the best strikeout stuff in baseball, however, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the Cubs gave him a chance in the next couple of years in the bullpen with a transition to starting later. It’d be fun to see him try, anyway.