Analyzing the Position Battle Between Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee
Breaking down the case for Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee
Martín Maldonado has been the staple backstop for the Astros during their recent run of domination. Machete's defense and game calling has made him one of the most invaluable catchers in the game. While his offensive contributions are subpar, he brings more than enough behind the plate to command the majority of starts.
2022 deadline rental Christian Vázquez moved on this offseason, leaving the backup spot open. Houston opted not to address the void in free agency, meaning one of their top prospects will step into the role. Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz are both candidates to make the Opening Day roster.
The Astros drafted Lee with their first round pick in 2019. The catcher made his big league debut in 2022, hitting only .160 in 25 at-bats. MLB.com ranks Lee the Astros seventh-best prospect.
Yainer Diaz arrived in Houston at the 2021 trade deadline as part of the Phil Maton/Myles Straw swap. All Diaz has done since arriving is rake. He hit .306 with an .898 OPS in the minors in 2022. He was dominant in AAA, hitting 16 home runs and posting a .930 OPS in 48 games.
Diaz debuted as a September call-up, though he only received eight at-bats.
His success led to Diaz vaulting up the prospect rankings. He currently sits at 82nd on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects for 2023. They gave him a 50-grade hit tool and a 60-grade in power and arm.
There is some anticipation around Korey Lee and the offseason work he put in, gaining twelve pounds.
That said, Diaz should open as the backup catcher. What he brings at the plate cannot be emphasized enough. Houston has a dominant 1-7 in the lineup, an average-above average bat in Chas McCormick batting eighth, and a black hole batting ninth in Maldy. If Diaz can learn under Maldy how to call a game and handle a staff, he transforms the lineup even more with his bat.
Additionally, Diaz brings versatility. He has taken some reps at first base this offseason and has made 50 starts there in the minors. He also can play a corner outfield spot in a pinch.
There are no questions Diaz can hit. If he can become an even average defender, Houston becomes an even tougher lineup to navigate. Korey Lee can benefit from everyday reps in AAA to improve his blocking. Yainer Diaz should open 2023 on the big league roster, learning under Maldonado's tutelage and continuing to develop against big league pitching.