With Pittsburgh Pirates starting catcher Francisco Cervelli away from the team for the time being participating in the World Baseball Classic, the opportunity has once again presented itself for prospect Elias Diaz to open some eyes.
It seems like forever now that Diaz has been considered one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospects. Still ranked as a Top 10 prospect by Baseball America, Diaz is already 26 and there is still no clear path to the majors for him this season.
Diaz likely has the Chris Stewart deal to thank for that.
Blocked from reaching the Show
Cervelli is signed through 2019, but the real reason we won’t see much of Diaz is the two-year contract that Stewart signed that will keep him in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform through this season.
At the best case, Diaz won’t have a chance at a backup role until 2018 and won’t have a chance at a starting gig until at least 2019. That puts him close to 30-years old by the time he has a chance to be an everyday guy.
One can argue that Diaz can give the team what Stewart can and more as a backup this season, but that may not necessarily be the case.
Needs work at Triple-A
Diaz very well could be the Pirates best defensive catcher on the roster right now and it has been apparent that from that aspect he is ready for the show right now, but the bat needs to come along as well.
He has gotten eight hits in 24 spring training at bats and has always looked good in spring training, but his minor league numbers leave a lot to be desired from an offensive perspective.
Diaz did hit .290 in 133 plate appearances last season, split between four different levels, but has only managed a .665 OPS in three different stints in Triple-A, which spans 128 career games. That’s a smaller sample size, but Diaz has to show he can hit at Indianapolis before anyone seriously considers him for a regular spot on the 25-man roster.
He also has only posted a career .258/.323/.362 slash line in the minors.
Another thing that needs a lot of work is making better contact overall.
Throughout his minor league career, Diaz has hit the ball on the ground a whopping 47 percent of the time. That’s not good and likely one of the biggest things holding him back.
Diaz would have had his chance last season, but an elbow injury limited him to just 34 combined games.
Because of injuries, the Pirates went through five different catchers on the MLB roster last season before Diaz got a brief call. Had he been healthy, you would like to think he would have gotten an opportunity to show what he could do instead of having the likes of Erik Kratz and Eric Fryer logging a ton of innings in the summer.
If Cervelli and Stewart are healthy in 2017, that opportunity likely won’t be there for Diaz this season.
Diaz is an excellent pitch framer and has a cannon for arm, throwing out 52 percent of would be base stealers last season.
However it is hard to really envision him as the Pirates catcher of the future.
Some think the Stewart contract is blocking Diaz from getting a permanent call up, but that really isn’t the case. Diaz projects as a singles hitter at best at the MLB level and while that is exactly what Stewart is, Diaz still has a lot of work to do at the minor league level to show he belongs.
Hopefully for the Pittsburgh Pirates sake he is healthy this season and can take the necessary steps.
I would expect to see him get a brief call up a couple of times this season if injuries arise, but Diaz could also use the full year at Triple-A to prep him for what should be a permanent role as the backup catcher in 2018.
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