SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A casual chat with Yasmany Tomas, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Cuban slugger-in-training, reveals that he falls more toward the Jose Abreu "humble" end of the spectrum than the Yasiel Puig "diva" end. He is a man of strong handshakes, broad smiles, relatively few words and low social expectations.
While Tomas isn't at the ballpark, he enjoys listening to music and spending quiet dinners with his wife, Melissa, and 3-year-old daughter, Analia. He reveals that he is not a fan of spicy food or late-night partying. And he enjoys the Phoenix suburbs because the mood is so tranquilo. Calm.
Even his batting practices are understated -- until he works up a lather. For the first round or two, Tomas focuses on hitting line drives to right field and dead center before unlimbering and piercing the dry desert air with big flies. That methodical approach was a revelation to his new teammates, who figured he would arrive at camp and try to put on a show in an effort to justify the expectations.
"When I first heard we signed him, I had never seen any video," said Arizona outfielder Cody Ross. "I just heard he had a ton of power, so my initial thought process was, 'He'll be this pull-happy guy who drops his back shoulder and is out there hitting [bombs].'
"Normally in situations like this, a guy would come over and try to show people right away, 'I'm powerful.' Not him. He hits the ball the other way a lot and he stays with that approach. There's a reason why they gave him $70 million. They did their homework. He's gonna be a force to be reckoned with."
The Diamondbacks gave Tomas a $68.5 million contract in November in large part because of his thump. "Big-ass power," one American League scout calls it. He has strong legs and an ample lower half, and comparisons have ranged from Kevin Mitchell to Justin Upton to Marlon Byrd.
The Diamondbacks targeted Tomas as a high priority not long after he left his native Cuba, established residency in Haiti and was declared a free agent by MLB in early October. General manager Dave Stewart and senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson traveled to the Dominican Republic on a scouting mission before the team's chief baseball officer, Tony La Russa came in for a look, and they emerged with the same take on Tomas: He has power to spare, but he should also hit for a high enough average to be productive even when balls aren't clearing the fence. Tomas hit .289 with a .538 slugging percentage during the 2012-2013 Serie Nacional season before raising his profile with Team Cuba at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The Diamondbacks are pitching-impaired and overmatched by the Giants, Dodgers and new-look Padres in the NL West. But they'll be fun to watch in batting practice this season, and they're stacked with a commodity -- right-handed power -- that's hard to find throughout the game. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, outfielder Mark Trumbo and Tomas have the potential to light up the sky.
"Trumbo has as much power as anybody in baseball," La Russa said. "He's right up there with [Giancarlo Stanton]. You need to get that under-spin, and Trumbo and Stanton can both do that consistently. Yasmany will hit with over-spin, not under-spin, but he's just as strong."
The most pressing question left to resolve is where will Tomas play in the field? The Diamondbacks are treading gingerly on that topic at the moment.
Tomas played outfield and third base in Cuba, and the D-backs are trying him in both spots in the Cactus League. Some days are an adventure. In an early Cactus League game against Colorado, Tomas failed to snag a ground ball on a play that was charitably ruled a base hit. He showed some nimbleness coming in and to the side on three other balls. Each time, Tomas bounced his throw to first base only to record the out.
"I don't think you're going to get Gold Glove-caliber third-base play from him regardless of how much time you give him," said an MLB scout. "He looked slow on his feet and the arm didn't exactly show spot-on accuracy in that game. But it's so early in camp, you have to give him some time before drawing any firm conclusions about him in any regard."
Said another scout: "He's not agile or fluid at third base, but he can throw. If he were playing for a contender, you may not want to risk him at third base. But I would give him a chance with this team. In any event, it's going to be a learning curve for him on both offense and defense."
Tomas is quickly developing a rapport with his new teammates in camp. Trumbo has emerged as the leader of his welcoming committee in Scottsdale and loves to give him good-natured needles. When the Diamondbacks played Arizona State in an exhibition game and the players were sprinting onto the field, Trumbo quietly held everybody back so that Tomas would emerge from the dugout in solitude. Tomas took the prank in stride and was able to laugh at himself -- the type of reaction that disarms teammates and breaks down barriers.
Before one recent game, he mimicked center fielder A.J. Pollock's swing in the clubhouse, and Pollock returned the favor. Like other teammates from different worlds, they've found that imitating batting stances is a universal language.
"He seems like a good dude," Pollock said. "I can't imagine what it's like for him, being in a different country. That seems incredibly hard. But he just rolls with it. He's just another guy in the clubhouse, and it's been fun to see that."
In January, the Diamondbacks added former big league pitcher Ariel Prieto to their staff as a coach, translator and all-around companion for Tomas. Prieto, a Cuba native, helped ease Yoenis Cespedes' transition to America in his previous role as a coach in Oakland. Prieto does his best to help Tomas assimilate to his new culture, arrive at the ballpark on time each day and make sure small adjustments don't mushroom into something bigger.
"That's kind of Ariel's role here, and he knows that," said Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale. "I don't worry about Yasmany until Ariel does, and he'll come to me."
The Tomas acquisition reflects an increased effort by the Diamondbacks to appeal to their Latin fan base. About 40 percent of the Phoenix population is Latino, and the team's outreach is manifested in a variety of ways. The Diamondbacks will play an exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies in Hermosillo, Mexico, on March 29. The schedule includes two Los D-backs Fiesta de la Familia events in April and Hispanic Heritage Day in October. And in a very subtle touch, accents will appear on the back of Hispanic players' uniforms for the first time this season.
It remains to be seen whether Tomas will attain the popularity of the team's new 1,117-calorie churro dog, but the potential is there. Abreu made a humble demeanor and a powerful swing fashionable on the South Side of Chicago, and Arizona fans will warm to Tomas quickly if his bat comes as advertised.
If Tomas struggles at the outset or even requires a trip to the minors (heaven forbid), so be it. He experienced the first big thrill of his new adventure when he entered the home clubhouse at Salt River Fields in February and saw his uniform hanging from a locker. Now his focus is on Opening Day against San Francisco at Chase Field on April 6.
"It's part of my dream," Tomas said. "For now, I'm on my way in spring training with these guys, just waiting for the moment."