At the end of the first week of the 2011 season, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson announced that Juan Miranda would "get the majority of playing time at first." That was a significant announcement for the Cuban born Miranda. Why? Because the Diamondbacks also had prospect Brandon Allen, and veterans Russell Branyan, and Xavier Nady on the spring training roster. Allen had an option remaining and was sent to Triple-A Reno before the season began. Branyan had an awesome and very powerful spring in Scottsdale and he loomed as the probable first baseman by many who watched the club on a daily basis all spring. Nady was the wild card. He was signed for his veteran presence, a quality the Diamondbacks were sorely missing in 2010. Nady is still recovering from arm surgery and he's had difficulty throwing. Especially from the outfield. As a result, many felt that Nady could find a home for his bat at first. Instead, Miranda has become "the man" at the position for Arizona. But who is Juan Miranda, and why did he win the job?
Miranda defected from his home in Consolacion del Sur, Cuba in 2004. On his second, third or seventh attempt depending on who one believes. Miranda ultimately arrived in the Dominican Republic but didn't gain his citizenship until 2006.
It has been reported that on Miranda's first attempt to leave Cuba he was arrested at the shore. Police were apparently waiting for him. He served jail time, but it didn't deter him. After his arrest he was banned from playing organized baseball in Cuba. Regardless of his arrest and baseball ban, Miranda is said to have tried again and again to escape, finally making it on the seventh try. He spent five days in the water aboard a very small boat that made him constantly seasick. After arriving in the Dominican Republic he gained citizenship after a two-year wait.
That's when the Yankees signed Miranda to a $2-plus million dollar contract to play first. Miranda had played in the outfield as well for the Cuban National Team.
Miranda's world changed when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, and then Nick Swisher. Enter the big proven sluggers and adios Miranda. He was relegated to a life as a minor league player. Miranda got a few late -eason looks from the major league club, but not enough to show his ability. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League and had a modicum of success. All in all, with Tex and Swisher hanging around on multi-year deals, Miranda had to bide his time. Until he ran out of minor league options in 2011. Enter Kevin Towers, the new general manager of the Diamondbacks.
Towers was a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman for the 2010 season. Part of Towers' responsibilities included reviewing the minor league system. As a result, he saw a great deal of Miranda. One of Towers' first moves was to trade for Miranda, as he gave up 19-year-old right-handed pitcher Scottie Allen, a minor league pitcher in the D-Backs' system.
Miranda entered the 2011 season as either a 28 or 30-year-old player. There are some who feel Miranda was actually born in April of 1981 as opposed to the commonly discussed 1983. If he hits, the two years really won't matter much. Regardless of his age, the six-foot, 225-pound hitter now has his first real chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. His solid body and excellent concentration make him a good prospect for success.
I've watched Miranda at the plate for several at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, this past spring training and the beginning of this season. I've seen a player with the ability to spray the ball to all parts of the field with a potential for power. He is a selective hitter, not giving in to pitchers, and he makes every at-bat count. While I don't see the 30 home-run power some have suggested, I do see the possibility of 20 homers with Chase Field being Miranda's home park. He has raw power that has not yet translated to a playable tool. Home runs would be helpful to a club that has difficulty scoring runs. However, because of his plate discipline, Miranda could hit for a fairly good batting average that could hover around .275-.280.
I also saw that Miranda has the ability to let the pitch travel before he commits his swing. That's the feature that allows him to use the entire field as a hitter. He has a strong swing that is short and compact. However, if he should lose concentration and extend the length of his swing he will lose all the control the patience and good pitch recognition provide. In addition to his solid plate discipline, Miranda has the ability to make "in game" adjustment to pitchers and pitches.
Unfortunately, Miranda has no foot speed. He will not leg out extra hits and he won't be able to stretch some of his deep hits into doubles. He may not be able to score from second base on the type of hits that normally score runners. His lack of speed is not unique as many strong corner infielders suffer from the same limitation.
Defensively, Miranda is adequate at first base. Granted, he hasn't played too many games at the major league level, but he should come up with the normal play. It will be the difficult groundball that requires first step quickness and range that may spell trouble for the strong-bodied Miranda.
When all is said and done, I find it hard to believe that Miranda can hold the full-time job for long with Arizona. I'm not sure he will show the type of power, defense and overall skill-set that the Diamondbacks will require from that important corner position. However, for now he's the man at the corner. That means consistent at-bats in fantasy leagues. He is especially attractive in National League-only formats.
The irony of the situation is that Miranda is now blocking the path of prospect Brandon Allen.
Allen has the ability to play an adequate to better than adequate first base. Like Miranda, Allen has good plate discipline and he's taken his share of walks as opposed to going up to the plate hacking. Last season when the D-Backs needed a left fielder in the worst way, Allen provided better than expected help at that position; and he has power. He doesn't have experience, however, so he's not unlike when Miranda in that regard as a good bat with nowhere to play at the big league level.
Miranda will be given every opportunity for Kevin Towers and his staff to determine if he belongs in the major leagues with the Diamondbacks. He's now an inexpensive, bottom of the salary scale, minimum wage player. He also has a general manager who believes in him, a manager who is playing him and a club that needs his offense.
The majority of the first-base playing time in Arizona belongs to Miranda. His defection from Cuba was the most difficult part of his life. The challenges he now faces as a major league player are minimal in comparison. Now he has to relax and do his best. This is his time.
Follow me now on Twitter @BerniePleskoff