Exciting acquisition Aledmys Diaz to get in on exhibition action soon

Coming to an agreement with the 23-year-old on a four-year contract shows the baseball world how serious the Cardinals are about ramping up efforts in the international market. But let's temper the excitement: The Cuban infielder is expected to open the season at a "high minor-league level" and considered unlikely to play in the majors this year.

Allen Craig, shown here during a Feb. 28 spring training game, had two of St. Louis' three hits on Sunday.

Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports

VIERA, Fla. -- Signing Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz undoubtedly is a major deal for the Cardinals.

Coming to an agreement with the 23-year-old on a four-year contract shows the baseball world just how serious the Cardinals are about ramping up efforts to be players in the international market. Teams do not take lightly to making a financial commitment that is believed to be between $15 and $20 million, as reported by the Associated Press.

But for the short term, let's temper the excitement.

Although Diaz is scheduled to report to the Cardinals' major-league camp on Monday, to see him start the season in the majors is not going to happen. The Cardinals said in the news release that he is expected to open the season at a "high minor-league level." The club should get a better idea in spring training of how far is Diaz from being big-league ready. Matheny hopes Diaz will not need much time to be ready for exhibition action.

"He's going to get in games pretty soon, depending on what the feedback is (from the training staff)," Matheny said. "We want to see him."

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To start with, Diaz hasn't played in competitive games since he defected in 2012. He has spent little time in the USA so will need time just to adjust to a new country. Besides, the Cardinals are set in the infield after signing Jhonny Peralta, moving Matt Carpenter to third and trading for Mark Ellis to pair with rookie Kolten Wong at second.

While Diaz has the ability to play all three positions and his offense is considered superior to his defense, this is not a Yasiel Puig-type talent. Of course, not many players are.

Manager Mike Matheny is not going to sell short his newest player.

"I don't limit any of guys what they can or can not do and now he's one of our guys," Matheny said after the Cardinals played the Nationals on Sunday afternoon in an exhibition they lost 11-1 on the manager called "one of those that are inevitable in the game of baseball."

Joe Kelly, for example, allowed six straight Nationals to reach in a four-run third inning but the last three did so without getting the ball out of the infield.

As for Diaz, Matheny said, "I never compared him to Puig, but (was referring to) 'the excitement that comes with (signing) a Cuban player.'"

The skipper, however, offered another comparison that, in some ways, was more flattering than likening him to the talented and flamboyant Puig.

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"He looks like (Derek) Jeter," Matheny said. "I think he's watched some video. That's not a bad person to emulate. The way he walks, the way he approaches the ball, the way he sets up. There's a lot of similarities."

At a private workout for the club last month, Matheny said Diaz's fielding was clean and his arm looked strong. Hitting, however, is considered his forte. "The ball jumped off his bat," Matheny said.

The club was well aware of the young Cuban long before the workout. Matheny said Diaz came up at the Winter Meetings when the club's brain trust discussed its expanding approach to the international arena. 

Diaz had been ruled ineligible to sign by MLB until Feb. 19 because he presented a false birthday. Diaz first said that he was born on Jan. 8, 1990, a date that would have allowed him to sign under more lenient rules in place before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to numerous reports. Diaz is believed to have been born on Aug. 1, 1990.

The Yankees were reported to be the leading contenders to land Diaz last month but did not make him a suitable offer. The Cardinals jumped in, and were excited to do so, said general manager John Mozeliak.

Even if he might not reach the majors right away and make a similar impact as Puig. 

CLOSERS

() Peter Bourjos had a chance to show his speed in center field a little when leadoff hitter Anthony Rendon smacked a curveball over the fence in left-center. Asked if he would have made the catch if the fence had not been in the way, Bourjos said, "I had a good bead on it."

Playing his first game in a week after being slowed by a tight right hamstring, Bourjos led off with a walk, advanced to second when Kolten Wong walked and scored easily when Allen Craig grounded an 0-2 pitch from Stephen Strasburg through the hole between third and short.

"I wasn't worried about wanting to prove (anything) to myself," Bourjos said. "It felt great. (On) Thursday, everything loosened up."

() Kelly's ERA in two starts skied to 15.75 after he gave up five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Nationals but the carefree right-hander did not sound concerned.

"I don't think I made any bad pitches," Kelly said. "Was commanding my heater, changeup was good, got some really good swings and misses with that. My breaking ball is coming around."

Carlos Martinez has looked sharper in his first two spring appearances but reading much into that would not be wise. Matheny said before the game that he's in no hurry to name his fifth starter.

"They've been progressing fine," Matheny said. "We're going to watch them keep pitching."

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.