Aledmys Diaz gets first look at new life with the Cardinals

Aledmys Diaz went through practice with the Cardinals before Monday's game against Detroit, but there are still hurdles to clear before he appears in a major league spring training game.

David Goldman/AP

JUPITER, Fla. — From his batting stance to his lean body frame to the way he walks, new Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz indeed resembles Derek Jeter.

It’s no accident, either.

Diaz is a huge fan of the future Hall of Famer, whom Diaz said he had a chance to watch on TV in his Cuban homeland.

"He thinks Derek Jeter is the model player that everybody should look up to," said Cardinals executive Moises Rodriguez, who served as Diaz’s translator during an introductory press conference Monday morning. "He believes Jeter is a world-renowned baseball player that comes across as a leader and somebody that everybody should try to be like."

But before he actually can be compared to Jeter, Diaz at least should taste a little success in the major leagues. And that could take a while.

The difference between the Yankees’ future Hall of Famer and the Cuban youngster is about as great as the distance between Jeter’s No. 2 and the 95 that was assigned to Diaz. You don’t see many players wearing a number that high making the majors out of spring training.

If Diaz begins his career in Missouri, it will be at Springfield and not in St. Louis. While Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak lauded Diaz for his makeup as well as his ability at the presser, the GM also tempered expectations for Diaz. More than anything, Mozeliak said Diaz gives the organization depth at a position where it is lacking.

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"That’s exactly what this deal does," said Mozeliak, noting that Diaz has not played in a competitive game since 2012. "We plan on being patient with him. It’s not something where we’re looking to have him put his finger on the major league team tomorrow. We can give him time to develop and let him, from a talent standpoint, take his time to get back to where he was."

From a financial standpoint, the Cardinals did not invest as much as first reported in a player who could spend all year in the minors. According to FOX Sports 1 insider Ken Rosenthal, Diaz agreed to a four-year deal worth $8 million, far less than the $15-$20 million that was speculated on Sunday.

Even if Diaz were ready for big-league action, he would not be able to play right away. He has work visa issues he must clear in Mexico, where he is expected to return next week. If all goes well, Diaz will be in Mexico City for only a couple of days and then back in camp by the end of next week. How he performs in the coming practices would then determine when he could get into a spring training game.

In the meantime, Diaz will play in the minor-league spring training games that begin Thursday on the backfields at Roger Dean Stadium. On Monday, Diaz worked out inside with the Cardinals’ major leaguers, then watched from the dugout as his new teammates were pummeled 17-5 by the Tigers.

For a 23-year-old on his first day in a new job with a new team in an unfamiliar country, Diaz handled himself with a maturity that Jeter could appreciate. On the field and at his presser, Diaz did and said all the right things.

When is your goal to reach the majors?

"He’s saying that is going to be up to the team, but he realizes this is a process," Rodriguez translated. "It’s going to go step by step. He’s not looking ahead to anything. He knows this is a very competitive organization. He knows that if he works hard, eventually he’s going to be able to reach what he came here to do."

Why did you want to come to the United States?

"It’s always been his dream to try and compete at the highest level in the world," Rodriguez translated. "Obviously, this represents that. Yes, there’s some challenges and difficulties. For him, being able to come here and try to compete with the best in the world in the industry is something that he has always looked forward to doing."

Why did you choose the Cardinals?

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"He felt like we paid a lot of attention to him throughout the evaluation process," translated Rodriguez who, as the Cardinals’ director of international operations, has come to know Diaz well. "He also likes the St. Louis fan base. He knows there is tradition there with the team and he knows they are going to appreciate his hard work when he goes on the field to play."

How often have you been in touch with your family in Cuba?

"He says he’s been in constant communication with his family," Rodriguez translated. "They’ve been supporting him, especially mentally for some of the things he may face. He says he’s very proud to be a Cardinal. He says his family is very happy that he chose to sign with the Cardinals. They’re all very supportive and happy that this day has finally come."

While he might be talking regularly with his family, Diaz was on his own Monday. No agent at his side, no entourage waiting in the background, nobody to talk to but his new teammates and coaches.

"This is like his family now," Rodriguez said. "We hope it will be for a long time."

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