Russell Martin hasn’t signed anywhere yet, but it’s only a matter of time until he ends up picking his team. I don’t think that team will be the Pittsburgh Pirates, as I think his rumored asking price, plus the big market teams involved, will price the Pirates out of the mix. They are currently set up to go with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart in 2015, if that happens. That combo would cost less than $2.5 M, giving the Pirates outstanding defense behind the plate, and a lot of money to upgrade other positions, like the rotation and first base.
But what about the catching position beyond 2015? Ultimately, everything in the Pirates’ system is a bridge until Reese McGuire is ready. McGuire is only a year removed from high school, and while his defensive skills are legit, he struggled offensively in his first full season in West Virginia. In short, you shouldn’t expect him in the majors anytime soon. So who bridges the gap until McGuire arrives?
That would be Elias Diaz. You may have heard his name a lot this year. The conspiracy theorists would say that he is being talked about as spin to shift attention away from Russell Martin leaving. But Diaz is the real deal. He’s being talked about because he put everything together this year, and that just so happened to take place right before Martin had a breakout year and hit the open market as the only good catcher available. In fact, here is a look back at the write-up on Diaz from the 2014 Prospect Guide.
The Pirates have a lot of good catching prospects, and Diaz is one of the sleeper prospects who could emerge as a major league backup. He’s got a great frame and is strong defensively. His defense is highlighted by a plus arm and good agility behind the plate. Offensively his bat has shown potential with a line drive swing and gap power. He finished the season on a strong note, with an .892 OPS in 44 at-bats in August. Diaz could move to Altoona in 2014, splitting time with Jacob Stallings.
He showed potential with the bat, but the stats (which I didn’t copy over from the book), weren’t good. That said, he did finish the 2013 season strong, and as we saw in 2014, he carried that over to the upper levels. Previous reports were exactly like this, noting the strong defense and waiting on the bat. Here was the report from the 2013 Prospect Guide.
The Pirates are high on Diaz, and it is easy to see why. He is very athletic, has a good build, and is strong defensively, with a plus arm and good agility behind the plate. He hasn’t had the best numbers at the plate the last two years in West Virginia, but the defense keeps giving him shots. He has a line drive swing and can hit to the gaps, with a bit of pop in his bat. There are not a lot of strong options at catcher in Bradenton and West Virginia, so Diaz should see plenty of time at one of those levels next year, with the hope that he finally puts his hitting skills together at the plate.
He did see a lot of time in Bradenton in 2013, and the Pirates sticking with him through poor offense might have helped him to work through his issues and break out at the plate. Here’s another report from the 2012 Prospect Guide.
The Pirates really like Diaz, enough to give him an aggressive push to West Virginia in 2011. He didn’t have the best results offensively, but he wasn’t exactly over-matched, putting up similar strikeout and walk rates to what we saw in the GCL in 2010. Diaz is very athletic, has a good build, and is strong defensively, with his defense being his biggest strength. Because of his defensive skills, he might have a shot at being a major league backup one day. He has a line drive swing and can hit to the gaps, with a bit of pop in his bat. He is a dark horse candidate as a starter, although that would require him piecing together his raw hitting skills. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to West Virginia in 2012.
The “aggressive push” was when Diaz jumped from the GCL to full-season ball. Other prospects who made that jump? Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, and Jose Osuna. Not all of those guys worked out, but there was a ton of talent there, and Diaz was part of the group.
The defense has always been there for Diaz. The offense finally arrived in 2014, after years of seeing potential and waiting, even before Russell Martin came into the picture. Now, with Martin seemingly out of the picture, it looks like the Pirates will have Cervelli and Stewart serving as the bridge until Diaz arrives in the majors, with Diaz being the bridge until McGuire arrives.
Diaz just made the jump to Indianapolis at the end of the 2014 season. He is going to need some time at the level to show that his hitting last year was legit. The defense is Major League ready now, but the Pirates have no need for a defense-only guy in the majors, since they’ve got two of those right now. They need to continue developing the offense for Diaz, and hope that he exceeds the expectations of a Major League backup. I could see him arriving as soon as mid-2015. However, the Pirates have plenty of money this off-season to improve their team to the point where they don’t need Diaz immediately, giving him more time to develop into a starting catcher.
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