If I told you I found a six foot four, 345lb ballplayer, where do you think he would line up on the field?

  1. right tackle
  2. relief pitcher

The Reds newest (although not youngest) addition to the bullpen is one Jose Rafael “Jumbo” Diaz. That nickname is no accident. If you have not seen him pitch before in the minors, here is a video of him in 2012:

Thirteen years ago the Dodgers signed Diaz out of the Dominican Republic because of his electric fastball and ability to miss bats. Back then, during his svelte years, Jumbo only clocked in at 260lbs. He was able to hit 99 on the radar gun, and could consistently bring the heat in the mid-90s. Jumbo quickly moved from rom rookie ball to high A ball without a hitch, and some outsiders speculated he would be soon be on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster. Yet a longtime elbow issue flared up, and at the end of the ’04 season, Jumbo went under the knife.

The Dodgers tried to help Diaz to lose weight, but in doing so, Diaz felt it hurt his velocity. In 2007, Diaz’s arm issues continued as he underwent Tommy John surgery. After six years with the Dodgers organization, Diaz’s was granted free agency and was signed by the Texas Rangers. His stint with the Rangers AA affiliate was brief, lasting less than two years. This began his tour of the MLB minor league organizations: one year with Baltimore, free agency; one more year with Baltimore, free agency; one year with Pittsburgh, free agency; finally signing with the Reds in 2012.

[Amazing moment in Diaz’s career: Despite his “Jumbo” designation, while Diaz was with Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliate, he did manage to swipe third base. I think we should see if Broxton can manage the same feat.]

The quick story on Diaz is that he has always performed well in A and AA, but didn’t seem to have what it took to break though the AAA barrier. His weapons grade fastball could blow away young hitters, but he could not control the strike zone well enough to get AAA hitters out.

When Diaz was in high A ball for the Dodgers, he recorded Aroldis Chapman numbers: 57 K% in 2004, but as his arm issues slowed him down, these numbers came back to earth. After Tommy John surgery, his 19.2 BB% was too high for the Rangers, so they granted him free agency.

For Baltimore, Diaz once again flashed great potential in high A ball (41.4 K%, 26.2IP), but this potential faded as he worked his way up the organization. When he finally made it to AAA, his K% (26%) had dropped by almost half, while is BB% stayed almost the same (21%).

For Pittsburgh’s AAA team, he finally seemed to have solved AAA ball: 3.60 ERA, 27.4 K%, 14.0 BB%. Yet after one season he was released and was picked up by Cincinnati. For Louisville, Diaz was finally able to control the number of walks issued (10% BB) while keeping his K% high (36.6). Yet Diaz said he felt exhausted by the long season and wanted to shed some weight so he could endure a whole season.

Diaz contacted a dietician and overhauled his entire workout regime. His dietician originally thought he would be able to lose around 20lbs, but Jumbo had other ideas in mind. Over the course of a few months, Diaz was able to shed 69lbs, and now calls himself the “New Jumbo”.

Yet maybe we have been focusing on his size too much over the years. In an interview with C Trent Rosecrans, Corky Miller suggest the Reds were focusing a bit too much on the “Jumbo” and not enough on the pitching line:

“I talked to some guys about him, I told them this conversation wouldn’t be happening if he wasn’t 300 pounds,” Miller said. “The way he throws — a lot of people put a lot of (importance) on appearance.”

There might be something to this. Last year in AAA Louisville, Diaz had a higher K% (36.6%) than he did prior to his promotion (31.3%). When I reached out to Doug Gray for a comment on this, he said that Diaz had less control when he first joined the Reds organization and that his consistency has improved over the last two years.

The “New Jumbo” has been 13 years in the making, but with an electric fastball and newfound command of the strike zone, it looks like he has finally found a home in major league baseball.