Elias Diaz Emerging as a Top Catching Prospect in the Pirates System

The 2014 season has been a nice breakout campaign for Elias Diaz, which sees him finishing up at Triple-A and emerging as one of the best catching prospects in the system.

One of the main reason Diaz has reached this level is that he has seen tremendous progress at the plate over the last two seasons. In 326 at bats with Altoona this season, Diaz hit .328 with an .823 OPS. This included 20 doubles and six home runs. As for the approach to achieve these results, it’s simple.

“My approach is middle-away to the other field,” Diaz said. “It is about pitch selection. I look for a pitch out over the plate, that I can put a good swing on and hit it hard, that’s all.”

Pitch selection and being patient are aspects that Diaz struggled with early in his development, as the numbers and success at the dish indicate.

Diaz said that his approach leans more toward doubles at this point. However, Indianapolis hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo likes what he sees from Diaz early in the power department.

“I am really encouraged by his offense,” Pagliarulo said. “He swings the bat well and aggressively. He has a good knowledge of how to hit. He’s a tough out at the plate and his capable of driving the ball. I see him hitting the ball out of the park.”

In addition, the defense is what puts Diaz over the top as a top prospect. He has an arm that everyone who sees him raves about. Diaz has thrown out 32 percent of attempted base stealers this season and has only committed five errors.

“I work every day with my blocking, my receiving and my throwing,” Diaz said. “I try to be accurate all of the time and to be quick.”

It hasn’t taken Pagliarulo long to notice Diaz’s defensive prowess and future as well.

“He’s a talented kid, who has a lot of tools,” Pagliarulo said. “As a catcher, he has one of the better arms in the organization. He is a good, well-rounded athlete too. He’s put together well.”

Diaz said that he is looking to take the same approach and hard work from Altoona to Indianapolis and that he looks to carry over the success because of it.

Diaz got off to a solid start in the Pirates organization in the Venezuelan Summer league as an 18-year-old in 2009, hitting .272 with a .789 OPS. However, the numbers declined each year thereafter up to last season.

In 2010, he hit just .218 in the GCL and just .221 the following year with West Virginia. He went from throwing out 45 percent of attempted base stealers in the GCL to just 22 with West Virginia.

In his second year at West Virginia, his offensive numbers got even worse. He had his worst offensive season in the system as he had career lows in average at .208 and OPS at .549. He also caught just 27 percent of base stealers. Diaz got off to a terrible start, hitting just .138 through the first two months of the campaign. At this point, Diaz still looked like a long shot, but the organization stuck with him and moved him along to the next level.

After being promoted to Bradenton last season, Diaz took significant strides and rewarded the organization for the loyalty. Out of nowhere, he regained the offensive abilities that he saw in the beginning years. Diaz finished the season hitting .279 with a .781 OPS in 183 at bats. Diaz was promoted again to Altoona this season and the progression continued.

While Diaz has seen his share of struggles coming up in the Pirates organization, he seems to have found a groove both at the plate and behind it. In addition, he still has youth on his side, as he only turns 24 in November.

The Pirates have instilled so much confidence in Diaz, that they have promoted him to Indianapolis in August to get a taste of Triple-A before likely starting there in 2015. In addition, the organization has begun to play Tony Sanchez at first base to get Diaz even more at bats and time catching with Indianapolis. This is proof that the Pirates see Diaz as one of the top catching prospects in the system, and maybe the top guy in the upper levels. The way that he starts 2015, as well as the future of Russell Martin, will determine how quickly Diaz is able to see some major league time.

Ryan Palencer

Author: Ryan Palencer

Ryan joined Pirates Prospects as the Indianapolis Triple-A writer in 2014. Prior to joining Pirates Prospects, Ryan covered high school, college and professional sports in the Indianapolis area. For more updates throughout the season, follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpalencer.

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  • rickster

    With all the talk of value in pitch framing, would anyone know how he might grade out on receiving skills in comparison to martin/lucroy

  • deacs

    Martin can really work the ump into getting a call or two. Can we grade Diaz on that? I wonder if umps dread calling a game with Martin behind the plate. I’m sure all catchers do that to some extent.

  • johnj618

    If Martin isn’t re-signed and Diaz does very well in the Arizona Fall League, is it possible that he jumps Sanchez to open the season as the starting catcher despite little AAA playing time?

  • http://batman-news.com Chris M

    About where would Elias be on the Pirates Prospects rankings after this season?

  • bucsws2014

    To me, the question of whether Diaz can handle MLB next year and step in for Martin isn’t one of Diaz’s own talents. It’s how the pitchers and rest of the team would accept him while watching Martin walk due to money.

    If one watches the “Super Russ” episode of Inside Pirates Baseball, it would be hard to think Martin will follow the usual progression of “breaking down with age” over the next 3-4 years. The guy probably works harder than anyone is staying in shape and finding exactly the types of workouts he needs to maintain and improve his talents.

  • moose7195

    The Pirates sudden confidence in Diaz is more about posturing for the inevitable non-tendering of Russell Martin than any incredible improvement on Diaz’s talents.

    • Scott Kliesen

      Inevitable non-tendering of Russell Martin? There’s no down side to tendering him. He won’t sign it and he will sign a long-term deal w a MLB team. And if it’s not the Pirates, we will get their 1st round pick, unless of course it’s protected. MLB has some stupid rules.