In July of 2021, the Astros made what some thought of as a controversial trade at the time. They traded their starting center fielder, Myles Straw, to Cleveland and received a reliever, Phil Maton, and a catching prospect in Low-A, Yainer Diaz. Prior to the trade, Myles straw played in 98 games for the Astros hitting .262 with an 85 OPS+ and accumulating 1.8 WAR.
Phil Maton was a 28-year-old reliever that posted a 4.57 ERA in 31 games that season fro Cleveland. Given the Astros bullpen woes in 2021, this was a move to add another reliever to help later in games. Maton 4.97 ERA in 27 games for the Astros but came up big in the playoffs posting a 0.72 ERA in 12 appearances including 5 scoreless appearances in the World Series.
Yainer Diaz, the 22-year-old catching prospect in Low-A at the time, seemed like a solid get but had played just 61 games in full season baseball slashing .314/.357/.464 for the Lynchburg Hillcats. Fast forward about a year, and now that catching prospect is in Triple-A, one of the best hitting prospects in the system and representing the Astros at the Futures Game.
Following the trade in 2021, Diaz was assigned to Fayetteville where he had a .558 OPS in 12 games before being promoted to High-A Asheville. He destroyed the ball there to the tune of a .396/.438/.781 slash line with 11 HR, 33 RBI in 25 games. Diaz started the 2021 season with Double-A Corpus Christi and quickly showed off his hitting skills hitting .299 with a .775 OPS in April. He followed that up with an even better May .333 with a .883 OPS.
In the middle of June Diaz was promoted to Triple-A where he finished the month with 7 HR, 20 RBI showing off some pop. Now 16 games into his Triple-A stint, the right-hander has a .716 OPS with 4 HR in 16 games. Overall this season he is slashing .294 BA/.346 OBP/.494 SLG with 13 HR, 61 RBI in 73 games. He also leads the Astros’ system in hits and is second in runs batted in.
Throughout his time in the Astros’ system, Diaz has proven to be an above average hitter. He has shown improvement in his in-game power and has shown that power to all fields, especially the opposite way. He makes a lot of contact, striking out just 15.0% of the time between Double-A and Triple-A. He has all the tools to be an above-average offensive catcher in the majors.
Defensively, Diaz has a plus arm behind the plate to control the running games. Diaz is athletic behind the plate and a good receiver. He has split time between catcher and first base and made a few spot appearances in left field and right field this season. While he hasn’t caught for a full season, he has the defensive potential to be a full-time catcher.
From what looked to be essentially a throw-in on the Phil Maton trade, we may have to start referring to this deal as the Yainer Diaz trade. This was an under the radar move but looks like a steal for GM James Click. In the near future the Astros will have an opening at catcher on the big league club, and now they have multiple options in the minors between Diaz, Korey Lee and Luke Berryhill.