How Elias Diaz Quickly Became the Catcher of the Future

Elias Diaz has always been well-regarded for his defense. Baseball America named him the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League in 2013, and the best defensive catcher in the Eastern League in 2014. Even before that, he was getting regular playing time in the GCL and the South Atlantic League from the Pirates due to his defense. The problem was that his bat didn’t match his defense — at least not until last year.

Diaz posted some poor numbers in the lower levels from 2010-2012. Despite that, he was promoted to Bradenton in 2013, and was given a good amount of starting time. He had always shown potential with the bat during batting practice, and his size, ability to drive to the gaps, and good plate patience suggested he would eventually be a good hitter. It started to come together during the 2013 season. He was inconsistent the first four months of the year, but showed some good signs. He caught fire at the end of the year, hitting for an .892 OPS in 48 plate appearances.

In 2014, Diaz was promoted to Altoona, where his big breakout campaign took place. He carried the late-season hitting over from Bradenton, and hit for an .823 OPS in 367 plate appearances. By the end of the year, he was promoted to Indianapolis, and was starting behind the plate over Tony Sanchez, which was a sign that he had moved to being the top catching prospect in the upper levels.

Diaz enters the 2015 season as the “catcher of the future,” with the only person who could eventually unseat him being Reese McGuire. But McGuire won’t be ready until at least mid-2017, and most likely it is going to be later, since the 2017 timeline would require him to have a huge breakout season at the plate this year. That gives Diaz a window of a few years to be a starter, and possibly longer if his bat turns out to be legit.

He will start the 2015 season back in Indianapolis, and could be an option for the Pirates in the second half, depending on their need for catching in the majors, and depending on how Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart perform.

I talked to Diaz for today’s video feature, discussing his strong defense, what went well for him offensively last year, and what he is doing to prepare for the majors. I also talked to Tyler Glasnow about Diaz, since Glasnow got a chance to work with him for the first time during the Arizona Fall League. Finally, Clint Hurdle discusses what the Pirates like about Diaz, and whether he could be an option for the 2015 season.

  • And don’t sleep on Sebastian Valle. He’s 4 months older than Diaz, with more pop and plus defense. Two great guys to have in the organization as cost-controlled players for the next 5-7 years. And eventually one of them is going to be traded for a heck of a lot more than it cost to acquire both of them.

    The FO is doing a pretty good job of “buy low, sell high.” They traded a good 4 months of Brad Lincoln for 2 1/3 years of Snider, then traded Snider for a couple of pitching prospects. They got two seasons of Russell Martin for a total that is less than the AAV of his new 5-year deal. They got a couple of cheap years from A.J. Burnett, let him walk for a big one-year payday, then brought him back at an affordable number.

    And don’t even get me started about Kang. The more I see of him on your tapes, the more convinced I am that he will get 250-300 productive PA’s this season, and eventually claim a starting IF job.

    It looks to me like the whole key to making and keeping a small-market team competitive is to NOT get attached to your players. There is always fairly productive talent available for a ML squad as long as they remember not to put all their eggs into 25 baskets. This will be the first time in the history of the franchise that they have two players each earning over $10 million for the season. I doubt it will be the last.

    • Valle could be a sleeper. He once was considered the Phillies catcher of the future and had a big winter. In Altoona he will have an opportunity to get his prospect status back or more. His was a good no risk high reward signing.

  • This guy came out of nowhere for a lot of people. I’m sure people like Tim have seen the potential for a while now but I really just started following him in 2013. If this guy becomes our starting catcher it will be a huge win for the organization . Even if he just plays great defense ,calls great games and hits .240 . That is plenty from your catcher especially with the offense that he will have around him. Not enough people see the amount of Value in a plus defender/pitch framer. He can hit 8th

  • The thing I like about Diaz besides defense is his obp has always been 50-70 pts over his average so even if he is a .260 hitter someday he should provide above average obp for a catcher every year. His quickness stands out and he is not a small guy so hopefully he will be a consistent 10+ HR guy someday. I love that he is only 24 and at AAA already too. If his bat keeps moving along the way it is he will be great depth in Sept…something tells me we will see him much sooner than that though with catcher being physically demanding and the two guys in front of him not being the most durable catchers.

    • Good points, and if Diaz has a year at AAA similar to how he did at AA last year, I am fairly sure the Pirates will want to get him to Pittsburgh earlier than September. Stewie had a career year in 2014, but he is 33 and a career backup. Cervelli could be a breakout guy in 2015 and he has all the tools to make that happen, but he is turning 29 and in his 5th year of club control. NH has a lot of things to consider, and I think he will want Diaz in Pittsburgh as early as he shows he is ready. His ace in the hole is McGuire who is quietly turning 20 and will be at Hi A in 2015.

  • Steel City Scotty
    February 23, 2015 2:13 pm

    It doesn’t bode well for Tony Sanchez if Diaz is now the “catcher of the future.” That said, I’m glad somebody has stepped up and taken on that responsibility.

    What are the odds that Jin-De Jhang ever assumes that role? I guess he would be a quick bridge between Diaz and McGuire if everything goes according to plan?

    • I was thinking the same thing. This doesn’t bode well for Tony Sanchez.

      • I hope Sanchez can throw better than he did last year but his 22% for his minor league career and 15% in the majors is bad. If he could just get near 20% and continue to hit he is an ok #3 at AAA but he had issues with errors too because of his throwing. He is a flawed player and looks like he might be joining the journeyman circuit soon unless he just suddenly starts hitting the cover off of the ball.

        • Seems rather uncanny to have two players develop the yips at the same time. I asked the question before, but I wonder how much input the Pirates sports psych guys have in coaching strategy?

          • My opinion on psych guys in sports is don’t even look at one until there’s a major issue. Especially in baseball where you can easily think your way into funks.

            • Ha, that’s fair…however, I think I’d say whatever the hell has happened to Tony and Pedro’s arm fits the criteria…

              • Definitely…and this is the franchise that had Mackey Sasser and Steve Blass…so they are more familiar than most. It’s crazy when it happens. It happened to me. I went from playing from age 7-18 usually at SS,3B, or 2B to not being able to play catch. Something you always could do well is just gone. I still will pick up a ball not thinking and throw it wild. It’s the most perplexing thing ever. I can throw a football or a Frisbee fine but a baseball is a totally different story. I feel bad for the guys it happens to on a high level because it’s embarrassing enough for a weekend warrior.

  • Well done, Tim.

    Any additional video as Spring progresses would be greatly appreciated. Haven’t had much chance to see Diaz in action.

  • Wow, I hadn’t really looked at his numbers from the last few years until now. 8.2% walk rate and 13.9% strikeout rate in double A last season is pretty good. The walk and strikeout rates are good signs (Tony Sanchez was generally around 9% walk rate but had a 20% strikeout rate). Diaz’s BABIP was a little high at .368 in AA so the batting avg will probably come down a little if the BABIP returns to a more reasonable .325. Even at Bradenton he put up pretty good numbers. Count me as a believer. If Diaz can continue to hit at triple A, we will definitely be seeing him in Pittsburgh this year and everyone will be saying “Tony who?”.
    .
    Heh, sorry to Tony, he seems like a nice guy, but …. Elias can bring it.

  • Good job Tim. I was very impressed with Diaz last season, possibly even more than I was with Polanco the year before, and that was due to his defensive/receiving ability.

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