The Reds have claimed first baseman Christian Walker off waivers from the Braves and designated right-hander Jumbo Diaz for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, tweets Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Atlanta had just picked up Walker off waivers a couple of weeks ago, but they clearly weren’t able to succeed in passing him through waivers themselves.
Walker, 26 later this month, was long viewed as a potential first base/DH option in the Orioles organization, but both of those spots are blocked in the long-term by Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Beyond that, Walker had seen himself leapfrogged by fellow first base/DH prospect Trey Mancini within the Orioles’ ranks.
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Walker saw brief cups of coffee with Baltimore in both 2014 and 2015, hitting just .148/.258/.296 in a minuscule sample of 31 plate appearances. And while the former fourth-round pick (2012) has turned in solid overall numbers across parts of three Triple-A campaigns, he’s never exactly exhibited any sort of mastery over upper-level minor league pitching. In 1332 plate appearances with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Walker has a .260/.324/.429 batting line to go along with 42 homers and 72 doubles.
While he’s been primarily a first baseman in his pro career, Walker did spend some time in left field last year (90 games), so he could be an option as a bench bat with Cincinnati. The Reds do have a left-handed-hitting right fielder in Scott Schebler, so Cincinnati could potentially utilize some sort of platoon if the team is comfortable with Walker’s relative lack of corner outfield experience. In that sense, he could be competing with non-roster invitee Ryan Raburn for a roster spot. Additionally, he has a minor league option remaining, so the Reds could simply send him to Louisville to open the season, where he’d serve as a depth option.
As for Diaz, the 33-year-old posted what looked on the surface to be a solid 3.14 ERA in 43 innings with the Reds last year, but his peripheral numbers painted a less optimistic picture. Diaz posted career-worst marks in K/9 (7.7), BB/9 (4.0), swinging-strike rate (10.4 percent) and average fastball velocity (95.9 mph). He also benefited greatly from a .239 average on balls in play and an 80.4 percent strand rate — both of which seem likely to regress in 2017 and beyond.
Of course, those velocity and swinging-strike rate marks are still better than the league average, so perhaps there’s hope yet that Diaz could rebound and again work as a serviceable middle-relief option. In 138 frames at the Major League level, Diaz sports a 3.65 ERA with a 144-to-51 K/BB ratio and a 43.7 percent ground-ball rate. Given his age and the current juncture of Spring Training, Diaz could certainly clear waivers and remain with the Reds in a non-roster capacity.