As early as last autumn, the name of Yasmany Tomas intrigued the movers and shakers of major league baseball. Here was a player which defected from Cuba, but turned heads with his ability to hit a baseball.
Several teams had Tomas on their radar screen and the inside track was given to the Philadelphia Phillies. General manager Ruben Amaro appeared genuinely interested in obtaining Tomas’ service and the Royals, Giants, Tigers, Rangers, Red Sox, A’s, Mariners and Padres also expressed interest. The Diamondbacks were nowhere to be found on this list, but ended up signing the native of Havana to a six-year deal worth an estimated $68 million.
With that kind of investment, the organization was hard-pressed not to endorse Tomas’ abilities as well as find a roster spot. Plus, the Arizona decision-makers were not sure of his transition to life in North America. Tomas spoke no English and could not be expected to make a seamless transition to a new and changed environment.
Then, Chip Hale, as the new Diamondbacks manager, brought in Ariel Prieto as interpreter for Tomas and to assist in the transition process. Hale did the same for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes when he introduced Prieto to Cespedes, also a native of Cuba. That’s when when Hale was the bench coach in Oakland. There was a significant difference, however, because Cespedes is five years older than Tomas and more experienced.
Still, the Diamondbacks organization knew Tomas would not be an easy evolution both on the baseball diamond and in the streets of Phoenix. What surprised Hale and others was Tomas’ ebullient personality in the clubhouse and the ease in which he fit in with teammates. What remains a mystery is how Tomas fits into his baseball team where there is seemingly no place for this $68 million price tag.
Playing for Industriales in Cuba, Tomas was essentially an outfielder, but the Diamondbacks had a vision of Tomas playing third base. Showing great difficulty in making that adjustment during spring training and his penchant, as a right-handed hitter, to hit the ball to right field, this reality left the Diamondbacks with a dilemma. When Jake Lamb beat out Tomas for the third base job and outfielders Ender Inciarte and David Peralta impressed with strong springs, the Diamondbacks bit the bullet and opened the season with Tomas at Triple-A Reno.
“We pressured Tomas hard in spring training and he was frustrated, you could see that,” Hale said before Saturday’s game with Oakland in Chase Field. “We brought him essentially as a pinch hitter, and then Lamb got injured. We moved him to third and eventually to the outfield.”
After Lamb returned from the disabled list June 6 with a left foot stress reaction, Tomas was moved to the outfield. That did not last long for A. J. Pollock in center and Inciarte and Peralta as corner outfielders became catalysts for a strong and dynamic offense.
Though Tomas remains one of the top rookie hitters in the National League, there is no place for him in the current Diamondbacks line-up. Inciarte has developed into an excellent lead-off hitter and Peralta has emerged as the kind of hitter behind Paul Goldschmidt which the organization sought. As the season winds down, Tomas is confined the bench, essentially as a pinch hitter. Plus, he faces an additional dilemma. Major league rosters expand on September 1 and the Diamondbacks will likely bring in an additional player or two.
“Finding playing time for (Tomas) will be more difficult,” Hale added. “Overall, (Tomas) has had a good year. No question he’s fit right in the clubhouse and is great with his teammates. That part has been easy.”
Coming into Saturday’s game with Oakland, Tomas was hitting .290 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. Among National League rookies, he is fifth in batting average, fifth in hits, eighth in RBIs, chipped in two outfield assists and leads in multi-hit games,
Going forward, the organization will have to make some hard decisions. At Reno, Peter O’Brien made the adjustment from catcher to the outfield and turned in a strong, power season. Coming into Saturday’s game with Memphis, O’Brien was hitting .288 with 30 doubles, 24 home runs and 95 RBIs. He will certainly make a push for a roster spot next spring and that should further exacerbate Tomas’ value within the organization.
CHANGE IN THE ROTATION
After starter Robbie Ray turned in his worst performance of the season against the Cardinals in his last start, Hale decided to give the left-hander an extra day of rest. Ray was slated to start Sunday at home against Oakland, but has been pushed ahead to Monday against the Rockies.
The starter for Sunday’s game, Hale said on Saturday, will be made possibly among minor league pitchers. If that’s the case, the Diamondbacks must make a corresponding roster move and that player, likely sent to Reno, must remain there for at least 10 days. That maybe shorten because the Aces finish their season on Sept. 7 and at that time, the designated player may be returned to the major league team.