Until this season, Maikell Diaz was the prototypal good-field, no-hit young shortstop.
Now, he is flexing his bat.
Moved to the leadoff position by Delmarva manager Butch Davis, the native of Estado Miranda, Venezuela, has been hovering around .300, made the South Atlantic League All-Star team and, at age 20, is flashing considerable promise.
"It's my first time in my life at leadoff, and I like what you can do there -- hit and run, steal bases," said Diaz, whose first name is pronounced Michael. "You must have concentration, and I feel very comfortable. It's my spot. I work hard with the hitting coach every day trying to use a short swing and going to right field."
Diaz was signed on his 17th birthday as a non-drafted free agent after the 1995 season and prepped the next year in the Dominican Summer League, a haven for young Latin players who need seasoning.
Two years ago, he hit .255 with 18 steals at Gulf Coast before batting a combined .246 with three teams -- Bluefield, Delmarva and Frederick -- last summer. Now, he is maturing and thriving.
"He's a hustler, and he's been consistent all year," said Davis, whose fuzzy-cheeked squad labored through the first half. "His speed is pretty good, and moving him to leadoff seems to have contributed to his doing well."
A strong defender with quickness and range, Diaz has played sparingly at third, but is a natural shortstop at 5 feet 10, 150 pounds.
"He can play second, too," said Davis. "Our defense as a team has picked up, and he's a part of the reason. Occasionally, he blows a routine ground ball, but that's typical of a young player. Most of his errors come on overthrows. That's just youth for you."
Diaz is a cousin of Cleveland Indians 1998 minor-league Player of the Year Alex Ramirez. His mother is a college professor and his father is in construction.
Howie Clark had eight consecutive hits for the Red Wings, who finished June with a .294 team batting average but a 7-21 record due to a 6.33 ERA. Clark, who homered for the Red Wings' run in the Oriole exhibition, was strangely sent back to Bowie after having a five-game hit streak earlier this season. He is batting .409 with a .606 slugging percentage and a .453 on-base percentage overall in Triple-A. The team had only two home wins in June and is 11-31-1 at Frontier Field. It was out-homered in the month, 39-19. Calvin Pickering homered for the first time in 29 days last week. He was forced to play left field in one game because the Red Wings were down to nine healthy non-pitchers. Javier De La Hoya has allowed seven home runs in four starts, and opponents are batting .301 against him. The team ERA has risen to 4.73 after standing at an International League-leading 3.50 six weeks into the season.
The Baysox are also trying to cope with injuries, with Wady Almonte nursing a sore elbow and Johnny Isom a quadriceps problem. Catcher Cesar Devarez has been playing some right field. Ryan Kohlmeier has tied Gabe Molina's Bowie career save record of 24 with saves in five straight appearances. He has at least one strikeout in 29 of 32 outings and has fanned 52 in 39 2/3 innings. Carlos Medina, scheduled to play for the Dominican team in the Pan-Am Games, has won three consecutive starts with 17 strikeouts in 16 innings. He has yielded 11 hits, but has walked 10 over that stretch. Jayson Werth and Luis Matos joined the Baysox from Frederick, and each had three hits in his first four games.
The momentum of a strong first-half finish has sort of carried over for the Keys, who have enjoyed a winning record on four straight road trips and a 17-8 June. But the Keys will have to win the North Division's second half without two of their better players (Matos and Werth) and will need to improve on a 4.22 team ERA. They received some pitching help when Alvie Shepherd and Josh McNatt joined them from rehabilitation assignments. Franky Figueroa had an eight-game batting streak broken Thursday night, but has gone nearly a month without a two-hit game. Roberto Rivera homered in the 10th inning last Tuesday to provide Frederick's first game-winning home run of the season. Keys starters have suffered only two defeats since June 8. Craig Daedelow played his seventh position when he pitched an inning in an 11-0 loss to Salem. Eddie Garabito is batting .339 over a 26-game stretch and has struck out only three times in 12 games.
The Shorebirds opened the second half of the South Atlantic League season with a win at Hagerstown, then dropped six in a row to fall into the Northern Division basement again. Juan Guzman, with help from two relievers, stopped the streak Thursday night. Guzman has 27 strikeouts in his last 28 innings and a 2.25 ERA. First-round draftees Larry Bigbie and Keith Reed were added to the roster June 30 and broke in with a splash, going a combined 4-for-9. Bigbie had a homer and a triple and four RBIs in his debut. Outfielder Ashanti Davison was placed on the disabled list and outfielder Darren Hooper released to make room.
Pitcher David Tavarez has been the most effective for a Gulf Coast team that is struggling. He is 2-0 and sixth in the league with an 0.82 ERA. Last year's No. 1 draft pick, Rick Elder, is producing at Bluefield. He hit two home runs in one game and is batting .333. He homered twice in 10 Gulf Coast at-bats.
Pub Date: 7/05/99