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Cardinals plan to start SS Diaz in minors

The SportsXchange

JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals made their first foray into the Cuban market by signing 23-year-old shortstop Aledmys Diaz to a four-year, $8 million contract on March 8.

However, Diaz, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, will not jump straight to the major leagues. He ticketed for Double-A Springfield.

"Jhonny Peralta is our shortstop," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We think he's really good."

Both are signed for four years, but Peralta contract is worth $45 million more. In a couple of years, though, perhaps the Cardinals will consider a position switch for Peralta if Diaz is ready.

"A lot went into this," Mozeliak said. "We made a very conscious effort over the past year to start to understand the Cuba market, to start to understand how we could put our fingerprints on this. All along we targeted middle infielders if that was something we could do to improve our organization.

"We feel pretty confident this is a good fit for the organization. One of the things we're always trying to do is add depth and talent to our minor league system, and that's exactly what this deal does. We plan on being patient with him. He hasn't played baseball in over a year and a half competitively. It's not something where we're looking to have him put his fingerprints on the major league team tomorrow."

Diaz is scheduled return to Mexico, where he has established residency, this week to receive a work visa, which is required for him to participate in major league games. He defected from Cuba in 2012 but was unable to sign because Major League Baseball ruled that he falsified his age to become a free agent. Diaz was forced to sit out a full year and was only eligible to receive offers in late February.

"It was a very difficult process," Diaz said through an interpreter. "It was a process that at times was very stressful on me. It did allow me to reflect on the things I can do to improve as a ballplayer."

The Cardinals attended a workout Diaz held last month in Arizona, and they brought him to Jupiter, Fla., for a private workout a few days later.

NOTES, QUOTES

--OF Oscar Taveras, who had right ankle surgery last season, was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on March 13. He missed a week with a tight hamstring in the same leg after playing in only two spring games. RHP Eric Fornataro and C Audry Perez also were optioned to Memphis on March 13.

--2B Kolten Wong, after starting the spring 0-for-10, exploded for seven hits in his next 13 at-bats, including home runs on back-to-back days as he eased some doubts about whether he could become the regular second baseman. "He's finding his rhythm," manager Mike Matheny said of Wong, who was the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2011.

--RHP Jason Motte should be ready for game duty, probably on minor league fields, sometime in mid-March. Motte, ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, likely would start the season on the disabled list and thus couldn't appear in major league games in Florida if the Cardinals want to backdate his disablement 10 days before the season opener.

--OF Stephen Piscotty was one of the surprises in camp. Piscotty, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, had four extra-base hits in a span of five at-bats in the third week of games and was playing right field well. However, Piscotty, who has only 1 1/2 years of minor league experience, probably will start the season at Triple-A Memphis where he can continue to play every day instead of sitting on the bench in the majors.

--RHP Carlos Martinez allowed just two runs in his first 10 spring innings as a starter, complicating the makeup of the Cardinals' rotation for the start of the season. Martinez, the lockdown, eighth-inning reliever last October, is dueling with holdover starter Joe Kelly for the final spot. Manager Mike Matheny said it was too early to make any sort of decision but conceded Martinez, 22, was making it interesting.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everything was in the strike zone, so that's good." -- RHP Lance Lynn, on fanning 10, including the final eight men he faced, in four innings against the Atlanta Braves on March 13.
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