First Pitch: Is Diaz the Number One Catcher? When Will Glasnow Be Promoted?

Tonight I’ve got some thoughts on two prospects in the system who have been performing very well this year. One of the prospects has been a bit of a breakout (Elias Diaz), while the other is just continuing to impress and move up the top prospect lists (Tyler Glasnow). The two topics are largely inspired by questions I’ve gotten on these two players, but we also wrote about both guys today, so I felt it was a good time to discuss each situation.

**I was doing my regular appearance on David Todd’s show on ESPN 970 on Wednesday, and was asked if Elias Diaz had moved up the depth charts this year at catcher. Today, I wrote about Diaz, and addressed that topic, after he was named the Best Defensive Catcher in the Eastern League (one year after winning the same award in the Florida State League). My answer both times is that Diaz has moved up the depth chart. Tony Sanchez is no longer prospect eligible, but if he was, I’d have Diaz ahead of him right now. I’d still have Reese McGuire number one, but Diaz would probably be right behind him, and would be the top guy in the upper levels.

That’s not to say Sanchez can’t be a backup. It isn’t saying Sanchez is a bad player or has a bad future. I trust the hitting from Sanchez more than I trust the hitting from Diaz. The difference is the defense. I saw a lot of Diaz last year in the FSL, and the defensive ratings are legit. Meanwhile, Sanchez has continued with his throwing issues this year, raising questions about the consistency of his defense. I wrote this about Diaz in 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.

This year Diaz is more than just potential. He has carried his late season success from 2013 up to Altoona. Since he doesn’t have any time in Triple-A, I’d say that Sanchez should get the first shot at being a MLB backup. But Diaz is the better prospect of the two, and will be the better option long-term, with a better shot at being a starter. Diaz is Rule 5 eligible this year, just like he was last year. This time the bat should get him protected on the 40-man roster, with the chance to reach the majors at some point in 2015 if the Pirates need an injury replacement. From there, he could work his way into a more permanent role.

**Tyler Glasnow continued his strong run tonight, throwing six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts. That was his fourth start of the year with double-digit strikeouts, and the third time in his last six starts. He also had a nine strikeout game during that span. Even better is that Glasnow cut down on the walks, with only two tonight. That follows two starts where he combined for eight walks in 11.2 innings.

I get a lot of questions about when Glasnow will move up to Double-A. I’m kind of surprised that he is still in Bradenton at this point. One theory on why he is still around: the playoffs. Bradenton is in position for the post-season, while Altoona has no shot of making the playoffs. Glasnow will spend almost all of the 2015 season at the Double-A level, even if he gets a few starts at the level this year. So he could have a few starts in Altoona, which wouldn’t speed up his timeline at all, or he could stick around in Bradenton, pitch in a playoff race, and get some extra starts at the end of the year if Bradenton does make the post-season. If that’s why Glasnow is still in Bradenton, then it would make sense. The starts this year will be more meaningful, and it won’t impact his future timeline and path to the majors.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Strikes Out 11 Over Six Shutout Innings

**Gregory Polanco, Willy Garcia, and Elias Diaz Get Some Good Recognition

**Update on Michael De La Cruz

**Minor Moves: Pirates Release Robby Rowland

**Brewers Acquire Jay Jackson From the Pirates

**Minor League Schedule: Adrian Sampson is Among the Eastern League Leaders in Multiple Categories

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Scott Kliesen

    Does Diaz’s performance affect the Pirates desire to re-sign Martin?

    I personally hope Pirates pay more than lip service in trying to keep Martin. Hoping for best, expecting the worst.

    • emjayinTN

      SK: My sentiments exactly. With Martin this team is set for the future; without him we are back to trying to find another player/on-field Manager to handle one of our most important assets – a young and excellent pitching staff. It is hard to argue with the numbers being posted by Diaz the past 2 years and I do not see much difference in the quality of baseball being played between AA and AAA. His fielding is much better than that of Tony Sanchez, and the 32% for throwing out runners is much better than the 7% (am I reading this incorrectly) by Sanchez. Sanchez is in his age 26 season and Diaz is in his age 23 season.

      Tyler Glasnow will turn 21 later this month and hopefully he will be at AA Altoona for the remainder of the season. I would love to have him close to the mothership, and he may be ready to end the season and then prepare to get some time in the Arizona Fall League. Why wait until he is 23 or 24? If he is MLB ready in his age 22 season (2015), then that is what we need to do.

      • Scott Kliesen

        Emjay: I think another MLB team will make what Pirates consider an above market contract offer for Martin this off-season. I just can’t see NH doing what it takes to keep him even though he is arguably the most irreplaceable member of the team.

        As for Glasnow, they are going to take their time and keep him a conservative timeline. Building up IP, managing what pitches he throws and the quantity of each very carefully. Us fans are just going to have to be patient.

        • emjayinTN

          SK: What would you consider above market? Molina, McCann, and Posey are in the $15 – $17 mil neighborhood, and then you drop down to Wieters, Ruiz, Saltalamacchia, and Suzuki who are in the $6 – $8.5 mil and the best bargain is Jonathan Lucroy at around $2 to $3 mil. The guys in the top notch are there for primarily their bats, and all of them, barring injury, are usually penciled in for 135+ games; Russell Martin is not at that level with the bat and realistically, is 125 games at best. How about a 2 year contract with a vesting option for a 3rd year based on games played – $12, $11, and another $11 for the Vesting Option?

          • bucsws2014

            And McCann wasn’t even a top 10 catcher in 2013. The Yankees were desperate to upgrade since they had squat, so they overpaid. Some team will be in the same situation this year.

            Martin has 300 PAs as of today. 11 teams do not have a catcher with as many as 300 PAs. Among them are teams with lots of cash (LAD, Cubs, RedSox), not to mention the Tigers with Avila not batting his weight.

            And let’s just look at our own division where 3 of the other top 6 reside – Molina, Lucroy, Meseraco. Losing Martin would make the Bucs considerably weaker up the middle and be a serious competitive disadvantage.

            Russ has been a top 5 catcher in terms of WAR in 2013-14. In that environment, Martin deserves top dollar and there is no more important FA acquisition than keeping him here.

            • Jared

              I hate to try to make this seem too simple. But, Russ makes $8.5M this year, correct? The Pirates still have some money to play with on the current payroll and are paying Edinson Volquez $5M, correct? If the Pirates simply shifted the $5M from Volquez to Martin, wouldn’t that be pretty damn close to what it would take to sign Martin without really sacrificing any additional payroll? Yes, some players will get arbitration raises, but that all aside, the Pirates have maintained that they would act differently with payroll when they were a competitive team and needed to act differently with payroll. This team is NOW a competitive team and, with the exception of Andrew McCutchen, there is no more important player to this franchise right now than Russell Martin. What is the team ERA with him catching vs. without him catching?

              I really hope this offseason is a watershed mark for the Bucs and they really invest in a competitive major league roster (and I do not complain about payroll at all). They need to add a bench piece, another arm to the bullpen (I think Hughes, Watson, Gomez, Wilson, and Melancon are, in general just fine), I really want to see them keep Liriano (when healthy one of the best LH’ers in MLB), and keep Russ…that last one is a MUST.

          • Jared

            In the words of Moneyball: “You should try to buy wins.” As a Pirate Russell Martin is a top 5 catcher in WAR…I would offer him 3-years $13M and see if you can’t entice him. However, before FA starts, if he hadn’t signed, I would offer him 3-years $15M and end the game right there.

          • lonleylibertarian

            I am sure I will get hammered for this – but the math just does not work on Martin on several fronts IMHO
            1. He is at an age where he would not be looking for a 2/3 year deal – this is his big contract opportunity 4/5 years with maybe a sixth based on games started or ABs. If he signs for less than that he goes back in the market as a 35ish catcher who will be lucky to get another 2 year deal.
            2. He is a solid 4.0 WAR player – that is $20M a year. Decline that by 20% a year and he is worth between 13 an 15 WAR over the next 5 years – that will be valued in the $75M for 5 years range. Add in all the intangibles that we love about Martin and it could go up from there.
            3. Cutch will be making $8.5M next year – yes he is a great guy and team player – but signing Martin will make an extension and upgrade to Cutch’s team friendly contract a must. – that will probably cost another $50M if the Bucs try and extend him for another 2 years. Cutch is a great guy – but if the money is there to sign Martin – it had better be there to get Cutch a fair deal.

            As much as I value and like Martin – this is the kind of big boy management that we see in Boston and New York and LA.

            Best hope for the Bucs is to extend Martin the QO and hope he takes it for a year – he will still be in line for a great contract at age 32. Then hope Diaz is the real deal and can be ready to go in 2016.

            • Scott Kliesen

              You make some valid points Lonely, but why would Martin even consider taking a QO if as you say his WAR makes him a $20mm player? He’s going to take advantage of the opportunity to cash in on a long-term contract, as he should I might add.

              The contract Cutch signed several seasons ago should have no bearing on Martin’s proposal. It’s an apples to oranges comparison.

              • Jared

                This seems right to me. It is irrelevant what Martin, a free agent at the end of the season, gets in a year he’s a free agent compared to McCutchen’s long-term extension. Yes, maybe the Pirates should approach McCutchen about an extension of a couple of years but that also has no bearing at all on Martin, the value of his offer, or whether the Pirates have the financial means to sign him.

                I do worry about the length…Martin could get a 5-6 year deal from a rich club just wanting to steal him away from the Bucs. There have been a lot of idiotic-length contracts signed in recent years.

              • lonleylibertarian

                You are probably right – Martin SHOULD take a long term deal and move on – he has certainly earned the big payday. It is wishful thinking on my part – but MAYBE he likes Pittsburgh and the chance to compete with this team one more year enough to play for the QO and go for the big contract a year later.

                As for Cutch’s contract – I agree in theory – but players are proud – and there will be a lot of people whispering in the MVPs ear that he deserves to be the highest paid Buc

            • Y2JGQ2

              Lonely- you do make some good points here, but you don’t follow them through to a logical conclusion and you don’t have any sense of how a business is ran at all.

              Whether or not we have the money to sign Martin over the next 2-3 years has literally nothing to do with an extension of Cutch because the money is budgeted on a yearly basis. Money available or not available for 2015-2016 has nothing to do with money available for Cutch in 2017 or 2018. You have to realize that.

              • lonleylibertarian

                How would YOU feel if you were Cutch and you were faced with making less money [actually a LOT less money] for a couple of years than a catcher who is very good – but is not in the running for team or league MVP. Yes cutch signed a contract – yes contracts should be honored. But the reality is that the Bucs will need to at least consider a renegotiation if they were able to sign Martin for 3 or 4 years for 10 to 12 Million [which is highly unlikely IMHO]

                I really hope I am wrong but as I said, players have ego and pride and a sense of fairness – right and wrong – that is more personal than legal at times.

                • bucsws2014

                  Cutch would probably be the first non-pitcher to sign up for Martin making whatever he needs to stay here. Cutch knows he’ll get more money down the road. But he also knows Martin is a key to winning now.

                  Let’s also remember that once signed, the Bucs could flip Martin in a couple of years once they’ve had an opportunity to see how his successor performs at the MLB level, whether that’s Diaz or McGuire or someone else. There will always be a market for good catching, and I don’t expect Martin to drop off a cliff talentwise by 33 or 34. Even if Bucs have to eat some salary at that point, they’ll get a worthwhile return.

                  • lonleylibertarian

                    Really hope you are right – and i am wrong.
                    Don’t forget thought that sometimes these things get messy – the Players Union has stepped in in the past and tried to get undervalued contracts redone. They are not big fans of players leaving dollars on the table.

            • leowalter

              Pretty much all good points lonely,but like Scott,I wouldn’t think Martin would accept a QO considering his value on the market.

              • lonleylibertarian

                Yep-I would agree – he would be crazy to accept a QO – but I can hope he is so in love with the city and the team that he would do the crazy thing. If he doesn’t, hopefully he signs with a team that gets the Bucs a REALLY nice comp pick – Texas, Houston or Boston would be great.

                • leowalter

                  At my age lonely I am really cynical when it comes down to a player’s ( and his rep’s ) choice between money and feelings toward a team and it’s location. Those guys are few and far between. As for your last point about a good pick,that was my first thought also.

                  • lonleylibertarian

                    Totally agree Leo-but I can hope ;-) I have heard the Martin really likes the city – enjoys a lot of the new restaurants and night life – without overdoing the partying. The Bucs will have to sell him on the “window” – in a position to really compete for the NL Central next year – will need a great catcher to work with the young staff and help get the next catcher ready. Can also suggest that one additional 4+ WAR year would probably add $10-$15M to a long term deal for 2016.

                    • leowalter

                      The optimistic Pirate fan in me hopes you are right lonely. The cynical pessimistic MLB fan in me tells me not to get my hopes up however.

          • Scott Kliesen

            What I think he’s worth is irrelevant. What teams like the Dodgers, Red Sox, et al decide he’s worth is what matters. And quite frankly, I’m not sure those teams base their financial decisions on what their peers make.

            • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

              Martin will not be looking for two years plus an option. Someone out there is likely to offer him 4/60 or better, which will be risky for the Pirates to match. While it would almost certainly be a good deal for the first two years, it’s a big risk for the third and an even bigger risk for the fourth.

              I think their best approach is to extend the QO (depressing his market value because of teams’ unwillingness to give up a draft pick), sign him for 4/60, hope he has two good years and is still at around 2.5+ WAR in 2016, and then trade him at the end of 2016 and have Diaz, Sanchez, or both take over.

              • Jared

                I would have no problem at all offering Martin 4/52-56M and would probably go up to $60M if I had to. There are some factors that do not even factor into WAR that make Martin a very good player. He’s on pace to surpass his 4.1WAR from last year and has averaged 3.1WAR for his career (obviously including his poor years).

                Consider:

                Molina: 2013 RAR: 52.0, WAR 5.6, Value $28.1M
                Posey: 2013 RAR: 44.1, WAR 4.8, Value $23.8M
                Martin 2013 RAR: 38.0, WAR 4.1, Value $20.5M

                Martin had the highest fWAR in major league baseball for catchers in 2013 and should’ve won the Gold Glove. Consider this, since 2002 the below are the highest def fWAR for a season by catchers:
                1. Russell Martin, 2013, 22.5
                2. Yadier Molina, 2010, 21.9
                3. Jason Kendall, 2008, 21.7
                4. Matt Wieters, 2011, 21.2
                5. Brian McCann, 2010, 20.7

                How about another catching statistic never really mentioned? Calculated Passed Pitches (judging a catchers blocking ability):
                -Martin has the 2nd best season (2013) in the last decade for a catcher
                -Martin makes the top 10 highest CPP since 2002 three separate times, the ONLY catcher in MLB in the top 10 list three separate seasons.

                Martin was by far the number one defensive catcher in baseball last year (22.5 def fWAR compared to Molina’s 17.5) and while he is actually having a worse year defensively than he did last year his offense is more than making up for it. He’s on pace to better his 2013 WAR and already has a value over $17.5M including time spent on the disabled list.

                Yeah…the Pirates really, really need to keep Russell Martin.

                • lonleylibertarian

                  Good job summarizing – and finding the numbers…

                  As I understand Oliver it is a data based system that has a hard time dealing with outliers – it tends to incorporate bad years [or very good one time years] instead of discarding or putting a lower weight in them…

                  Matin and his people will be “selling” an average WAR of 3+ for 4 to 5 years – and if he can stay healthy that is probably not far off.

                  Again – I WOULD love to see Martin behind the plate for not just next year – but I would be willing to commit to him as part of the team for the next 3-5 years – and find other positions for or trade prospects if they are blocked.

                  But I am afraid that the Bucs business model just won’t allow for the investment that it will take to make this happen.

          • lonleylibertarian

            Molina and Lucroy are pretty good defensively – prior to this year I would guess Molina would win a managers vote for best defensive catcher – even though I think Martin has been better by a bit for the last two seasons.

            • Jared

              Since 2002 no catcher has had three or more seasons that would rank in the top 10 of def fWAR…except Russell Martin.

              I do not think he gets the love he deserves. He was, by all accounts, the best defensive catcher last year and put up one of the best defensive years for a catcher EVER. Imagine if his defense was as good as last years this year AND he was hitting like this. He’d have a top 5-6 WAR in the NL.

      • bucsws2014

        The Twins re-signing Suzuki basically made the FA catcher market one guy – Martin. While I don’t see Russ as a mercenary, he’d be dumb not to see what kind of offers he’d get, and from which teams. Then he’d have a better idea how much he’d be willing to give up to stay here as I do believe he really likes this team. I doubt the Bucs outbid MLB’s billionaires, but they do need to make a good enough offer to make that an actual difficult decision for Russ.

        As for Glasnow, the FO has long stated that getting some playoff experience is a positive, so I’d agree with what Tim suggested as the current plan. I’d guess they’d like to get Glasnow another 40-45 innings this year to get his total around 30% more IP than last year. Whether at A or AA, there are only 4 possible starts remaining, so playoffs would get him that additional work.

        • Jared

          He can still pitch in the Fall League and winter ball to get his IP up. I would, personally, like to see him against some stiffer competition…because he’s pile-driving A-ball.

  • Ron Loreski

    Sorry, I’m not quite understanding why keeping Glasnow in Bradenton because they can make the playoffs is a good idea. The success of Bradenton is more important than Glasnow’s development? It’s time to move up to AA and start facing tougher hitters.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      It has nothing to do with the success of Bradenton. The Pirates have often done this as part of a player’s development. It gives them experience in a playoff race, and then experience playing in the playoffs. They usually promote guys up a level for this, but they’ll also keep a guy at a level to get that experience.

      This doesn’t hold back Glasnow’s development at all. In fact, it gives him an experience that he’s not going to get in Altoona. The only benefit of moving up to Altoona would be a few starts against Double-A competition. But he’s going to get that all next year, no matter what.

      • Jared

        Tim, are you of the opinion that IF Glasnow puts up similar numbers to the last two years in AA Altoona next year that he will, in fact, spend the whole season there? I am not one to suggest rushing prospects but the numbers Glasnow is putting up consistently now are absolutely disgusting. IF he can put up numbers even close to this good in Altoona then he should spend 1/2 of the year there. The more innings and pitches on a pitchers arm the higher the injury risk and if developmentally he gets nothing competitively from continuing to stay and dominate a level then he shouldn’t be there any longer.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          The Pirates usually have guys spend a full season at the Double-A level. Gerrit Cole is the exception, but he had much better control than Glasnow, and he didn’t even look ready when he was promoted to Triple-A.

  • st1300b

    One thing about the Russ conversation is that it is serious. A seriously important, Landmark type, of decision / negotiation to sign him or to lose him. Either outcome could happen in a variety of ways and opinions and fan patience may hinge on how that turns out.

  • leadoff

    Martin is a fine catcher, but he is not irreplaceable and he will be replaced next year, there is very little chance the Pirates will go the years Martin wants or will get, doubtful that the money will be the hangup. Sanchez will be the next catcher and the griping and moaning will take place for a whole winter. It is highly unlikely that any catcher that takes Martins place will be greeted very well or be very highly regarded. Fans and media have one track minds when it comes to players.

    • Jared

      No. The statistics say another catcher won’t be greeted very well because they will not be a comparable player.

      Not irreplaceable? Well, pretty darn close. Check out the differences in team ERA when Martin catches and when someone else catches. Its not like Martin had one of the best defensive years of any catcher in the last 10 years last year or anything…easily replaceable for sure!

  • R Edwards

    If Martin doesn’t re-sign, I hope the Pirates go in-house at the catcher position next year – and give Sanchez and Diaz a chance to prove themselves.

    However, in retrospect regarding Sanchez – when he was drafted, almost all of the draft experts thought he was a huge reach when the Pirates took him where they did. Many thought he was drafted for signability reasons only – and was not not a first round talent (at least not as high as he was taken). Well, all of that seems to ring true. As its been a LONG road for Sanchez to get through the system – and he’s now what 26 and still not the obvious catcher of the future? I’d like to go back and look at the guys drafted later in the first round, after Sanchez. Not as bad as the Moskos pick, but not a lot better.

    • leowalter

      Sanchez was considered an advanced defensive prospect. His conditioning and weight prior to his Senior season at BC, along with hitting shortcomings were considered his weaknesses as a draft pick.

    • leadoff

      Catchers take a longer time to develop and get through the system, one cannot forget that Sanchez lost nearly a year because of a broken jaw and he may not be the obvious choice to the media and fans, but he is the obvious choice to the Pirates.

      • R Edwards

        I agree with you to a degree about catcher development, but then you see guys like Mesoraco, Lucroy, Perez, Posey, Wieters, Ramos, and others who seemed to move through systems much faster. Maybe they are just exceptions.

        I think Sanchez got a bit of a raw deal this year from the Pirates, and I hope he finally gets his chance next season. but, I am actually more excited about this Diaz kid – sounds like he is better defensively than Sanchez is, and I don’t recall Sanchez hitting .320 at any level – let alone in AA.

  • leadoff

    The main reason I do not see Martin in a Pirate uniform next year is because I don’t see the Pirates being stuck with 2 years left on a 15mil a year contract, IMO, the Pirates don’t believe that Martin will be what he is now after his first two years of a 4 year contract. I also believe some team will give him 4 years, so if you look at it the way the Pirates will look at it, they will be paying 30mil a year for Martin, because of his rate of regression. It probably will take between 13mil and 15mil to sign him, so you are looking at 60mil for 2 years of quality play. IMO, they won’t go the Philly way.