Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This big Fish slow on run, but slugs a ton

Goldeyes glad monster hitter Diaz will swing for them this season

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Juan Diaz wishes to make one thing clear immediately -- no, he's not going to be stealing any bases.

"I'll leave the stealing bases to other guys," the 6-foot-4, 298-pound Diaz said Tuesday as the Winnipeg Goldeyes announced they signed the monstrous slugger for the 2009 season.

"And the Goldeyes don't want me to steal a base. They want me to hit the ball."

And hit it he will, if Diaz's last two seasons in the Northern League as a member of the Joliet JackHammers is any indication.

Diaz, 35, hit .356 with 40 home runs and 127 RBI in 157 games with Joliet in 2007 and 2008, leading the league last year with a combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.049.

He has spent 13 years in pro ball, putting up a lifetime .289 average and racking up good numbers in his only stop in the majors -- a four-game stint with the Boston Red Sox in 2002 that saw him go two for seven, with a homer and two RBI, before he was banished back to the minors.

The addition of a hitter like Diaz to a Goldeyes' lineup that already includes sluggers like Kevin West and Brent Metheny was a coup for Fish manager Rick Forney and suggests the fireworks at Canwest Park won't just be after the games this summer.

As delighted as Forney is to have Diaz in a Goldeyes uniform, as the club looks to open training camp next week, he's almost as happy that he won't have to look at him any longer in an opponent's togs. Diaz feasted on Fish in each of the past two seasons, hitting .374 in 27 games against the Goldeyes.

"I know what it's like to sit in the other dugout and try to figure out how you're going to deal with Juan in their lineup," Forney said yesterday in a phone interview from his off-season home in Maryland.

"I was looking for a guy like this all winter. He'll be a very imposing player in the middle of the lineup."

The 2007 Northern League all-star designated hitter was aquired by Forney from former Fish manager Hal Lanier, who is now managing Sussex of the CanAm League but was unable to cut a deal with Diaz.

Forney tipped his cap to Lanier for helping the Goldeyes sign Diaz. "Hal knew we were interested in Juan and talked to him about coming up here."

Diaz sounds excited about the move north.

"Winnipeg is a good place to play," he said by phone from his home in Springfield, Missouri. "I'm pretty excited about it. I think it's going to be fun."

Diaz has played each of the last two seasons with Joliet at 290 pounds or more and admits he's no slimmer now. He says he's OK with that.

"I want to lose some weight, but that's not something I worry about," he said, "I've weighed that before and I could hit, and I think I can hit again."

Diaz does have a secret ambition, though. "I'd like to steal one base this year," he laughed. "I hit a triple in Fargo in '07 and every guy out there was laughing at me, saying, 'You don't hit triples.' When I got to third base, I was asking for water."

In exchange for Diaz, the Goldeyes will send Sussex cash and future considerations.

With the signing of Diaz and a simultaneous trade of infielder Brandon Sing to Bridgeport of the Atlantic League, the Goldeyes have a pre-season roster of 24 as they look to the opening of training camp May 1.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2009 C4

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