The Pack in the pros baseball edition tends to focus on players' progress in the minor leagues, what with the dearth of Pack alum in the Bigs and all, but Jonathan Diaz made a long, long minor league career pay off with a cup of coffee for the World Series champion Red Sox last year, and, this year, back with Toronto, the organization that originally drafted him in 2006, Diaz was THE ALMOST OPENING DAY SHORTSTOP.
Well yeah, he was just there to spell the oft-injured Jose Reyes. And he might be toiling away in AAA again had Macier Izturis not blown a knee. Nonetheless, no one can ever take the title of Toronto Blue Jays ALMOST OPENING DAY SHORTSTOP from him (he started the second game of the season at SS and then six of the next nine). Now, even with the return of Reyes, Diaz still has a job. He's played some second base and even the outfield, appearing in 22 of the Jays' first 27 games.
Diaz is not exactly lighting it up at the plate (.488 OPS), but with the Jays' injury woes and second baseman Ryan Goins scuffling even more severely (.420 OPS), not to mention Diaz's versatility, he could stick for a while. Here's a slightly dated but epic feature on the legend that is Jonathan Diaz.
And now for the AA/AAA MLB hopefuls (we'll take a look at the lower minors in a future piece):
Eric Surkamp (6th round, 2008) has always dominated the minor leagues, a feat that culminated with two separate, short stints with the Giants, but he was let go despite going 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA at Fresno last year in the hitter-friendly PCL. Surkamp latched on with the White Sox and has had an uneven start with his new franchise (I blame Akula for bringing suffering to the Sox much in the same way I bring it to the Cubs). The lefty is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA and is giving up a batting-practice-like 15.8 hits per nine innings. His K/BB ratio (23/7) remains solid, so hopefully this is just some ridiculously bad BABIP luck that will sort itself out. (Indeed, a quick perusal of his Fangraphs page shows his opponents' BABIP to be .470).
James Gillheeney (8th round, 2009), another lefty, has reached AAA only to receive a demotion after struggling at that level. Gilheeney made three starts for Tacoma to start the year and only managed a total of 10.2 innings over those appearances, posting an ugly 7.59 ERA in the process. He's been better back at AA Jackson, where he's 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA after two starts. After starting 117 of the 120 games he's appeared in and seeming to level out at AA, I wonder if Gillheeney might benefit from a move to the pen. Unfortunately he wouldn't seem to have a future as a LOOGY, as he's been pretty much equally effective (or ineffective) against lefties and righties in his career.
Jake Buchanan (8th round, 2010) put together a nice season (12-7, 2.96 ERA) last year between AA and AAA, but he is merely listed among "others" in John Sickels' top 20 prospects list for the Astros. Buchanan's ceiling is probably as a swing man or inning-eating fifth starter, but he should make it to a major league mound at some point. Unfortunately, he's off to a bad start (1-3, 4.88 ERA) this year. His home run rate is about double what it normally is and he has an unusually low strand rate (60.6%), so I imagine his ERA is set to come down with some regression and better luck. He still has age on his side; at 24, Buchanan is nearly three years younger than the average AAA player.
Alex Sogard (26th round, 2010) pitched well over 16 AA games last year (2.88 ERA) but got battered in AAA to the tune of a 9.39 ERA. He gave up 30 hits, walked 19, and hit two more in 23 innings for a 2.13 WHIP. I kind of expected that to be the end of the line for the lefty without overpowering stuff, but I was more wrong than usual. The Astros actually sent him to the Arizona Fall League, a place usually reserved for clubs' top prospects, and now he's back with the Astros AA affiliate, Corpus Christi, and pitching well (2.08 ERA) through eight relief appearances. He's 1-1 with a save but has a troubling 2.8 K/9 ratio and is nearly two years older than the average AA player.
Cory Mazzoni (2nd round, 2011) was ticketed for AAA before suffering an injury in his last Grapefruit League appearance. Initial indications were that the injury (one report said triceps, another said lat) wasn't serious and he wouldn't miss much time, but Mazzoni has yet to make his minor league debut in 2014. The hard-throwing righty pitched well at AA last year, posting a 2.82 FIP and a 10.1 K/9 against just 2.6 BB/9.
Harold Riggins (7th round, 2011) has prodigious power, but there is no way he makes it to The Show with his prodigious strikeout percentage. Riggins struck out in two of five of his plate appearances last year in high A. When he did make some contact, it was hard contact. He posted an .825 OPS along with 22 home runs and 65 RBI. So far for AA Tulsa the production (.827 OPS) has been similar, but it doesn't look like the contact rate is going to make a dramatic improvement. Riggins is fanning in 36.6% of his plate appearances. I think the contact problems will prevent him from getting a major league trial, but maybe, just maybe, Riggins could see some time on the short side of a platoon. His OPS against lefties was .953 last year and is over a thousand (1.029) in the early going of 2014.