First Pitch: The Bridge to Elias Diaz, Who is the Bridge to Reese McGuire

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.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Andrew McCutchen Finishes Third in MVP Voting

**AFL: Joely Rodriguez Finishes on a Sour Note, Elias Diaz Reaches Base Three Times

**Notes: Cervelli Trade History, Future of Ike Davis, d’Arnaud Signs With Phillies

**Pirates One of Four Teams Still in the Mix For Russell Martin

  • OK – the Pirates just today bought the Elias Diaz contract thereby protecting the kid from someone else getting him via Rule 5. That confirms to me what Tim just said in this blog – the Pirates (and apparently others) are real high on the kid. Looking up Diaz’s stats, he did have a monster year in AA but only 10 games at Indy. Now it all comes together – why Neal Huntington let Russell Martin walk. Yeah, Martin got a qualifying offer but Huntington knew damn well Martin was going to reject it. Now the Pirates get a draft pick from Toronto and don’t spend $85M on a 31 y/o catcher who had 1 decent season at the plate out of the last 5 or 6 seasons. And it worked out for Martin too. He got the keys to Fort Knox, got to move back home to Toronto, and is pretty well set. The question will be if either Cervelli and / or Stewart bomb at the plate and also allow runners to steal at-will…will Huntington be forced to bring up Diaz? Or, will Diaz get a shot at making the club this Spring? I doubt he will for two reasons. One is that Huntington doesn’t rush prospects and the other is they have the new guy – Cervelli who will need to see as many Pirates pitchers as possible during Spring training to get ready for April.

  • The Sanchez pick has turned out just like all of the analysts said at the time – it was decision for signability, not take the best prospect available.Just like the decision to draft Moskos instead of Wieters.

    Lets hope 2014 draft doesn’t end up the same way, although there were similar rumblings with picks like Tucker and Joe. I like Tucker – seems like a great kid and could be very good SS. I don’t feel that way about Joe – he wasn’t even that productive in college.

    • Sanchez was chosen so the money could be spent elsewhere in the draft, Moskos was chosen so money wouldn’t be spent at all, and 2014 has absolutely nothing to do with either event.

      So other than that, you might be on to something…

      • Okay, if you say so.

      • Moskos didn’t get a low bonus though. I think it was more that they thought he would be in the majors quickly. Seems like the White Sox are the team that is able to do that successfully.

    • Another factor in the Sanchez draft was the lack of catching in the Pirates system. And it was doubtful he would be around when they picked again.

    • Alas, if only the Bucs had lost a couple more games, we could’ve picked third and had Tate Donovan.

      In hindsight, 2009 was a pretty decent draft, even though the overslots still haven’t done anything of note and the ones that did pan out are doing so outside of Pittsburgh (Black, Holt, DanDekker). It gives me a feeling of confidence Neal & his scouts aren’t all that bad.

  • With catcher being such an important position, what’s the best way to bring a kid up if he’s projected to be the everyday guy? I would think it would be to give him the job in spring training. . If diaz defense is already major league ready then I say we just hand him the keys now, bat him 8th, and let him know that anything we get from his bat is gravy

    • I understand the thought process rickster, but you lose a year of his services if you do that. I’d rather have him at AAA, Cervelli/Stewart/Sanchez (or hopefully they can get someone better before the season starts) are good enough for a few months. If Diaz is who we think he is and he’s doing well, bring him up in June. If he’s struggling at all, leave him there until he figures it out.

      • I’m with you on years of service. . It just seems there’s a lot to gain with catchers if you had all of spring training to work with the pitchers and not just thrown into the wolves.. sorta like throwing a receiver in without knowing the routes and expecting the qb to be on target.. I love cervelli though so I’m good : )

        • In a situation where you have a complete lack of other options and projection in your prospect, I’d tend to agree.

          But what Huntington has done with Cervelli/Stewart is essentially put together a better version of what Diaz is right now. And that has allowed Diaz to continue developing his bat and game calling at a higher level.

  • There’s been lots of good defensive catchers drafted high who never learned to hit (Hank Conger is one of the latest). McGuire is no sure thing. My money is on Diaz right now.

    • I totally agree Lee. We have Diaz as a great defensive catcher who proved he can hit AA pitching and everyone considers him a place holder for a great defensive catcher who proved he can hit high school pitching. I’m looking forward to Diaz in the Burgh and hoping McGuire can put it together enough to not drop completely off the prospect radar in the next 2 years.

    • I’m looking forward to seeing scouting grades show up in the prospect rankings this winter. Won’t surprise me at all if McGuire’s future value is within have a grade of Diaz, meaning they essentially project to be the guy.

      If McGuire doesn’t develop power – and I’ve read many scouts question whether he will – then how much better is he realistically going to be? Diaz just put up an offensive season in AA that was 29% better than average as a 23 yo and gets great grades on defense. That’s not going to be easy for McGuire, with his skill set, to beat.

    • Which is easy, since Diaz is way farther along the road than McGuire. Mcguire is no sure thing, and neither way Diaz 2 years ago. Diaz still has to prove he can hit upper level pitching consistently before he is even a realistic ML option. He is closer, but they are likely to be projected very similar currently.

  • You just never know with prospects. Sooner or later you have to spend money and keep players like Martin. I mean the division could be the Pirates this year. Letting Martin and Lirianio walk will be 2 years in a row the Pirates are likely to be worse than the year prior. The Cubs are going to be good soon and they will spend money to fill holes where they aren’t good. These bridges are for non contenders.

    • Um.. they spent money for players like martin to get martin

      • Every single team lets free agents go.

        And that’s only a problem if the team doesn’t try to replace his wins. Maybe they’ll replace Martin’s wins via the rotation, and maybe they won’t. I happen to believe they will. We’ll see.

        • Problem is last year they did not replace their guys. I don’t necessarily believe they will take that 29 million marked for Martin and Lirano and roll it all into the club. I hope they do, I prey they do but history (though not as much recently) leads me to expect to be disappointed in our off season moves.

          • Replacing Byrd would have been stupid and resulted in a blocking of Polanco, and they actually did a good job of replacing AJ with a low buy guy they saw potential in being mid rotation type. Pirates dont replace guys with splashy options, but they do bring in guys to fill roles. 1B is really the only spot they havent been able to find a fit for.

  • Tim: Excellent, but I disagree with your comment that he needs to show that he can hit at AAA before we can be sure. My opinion is that AAA is an optional stop for some players, and a Catcher who is 24 with MLB-ready defensive skills right now is one of those folks who does not need to stop for “seasoning” at AAA. The Pirates stop all of their prospects at AAA at least until mid-June for contract purposes, not for seasoning. We do not have to worry about that with Reese McGuire coming in 2 or 3 years. The Pirates will have a new, young pitching staff this year and it would be better for them, IMO, to have Diaz right there maturing and learning with them and with the coaching staff that helped get Russell Martin back on track after years of not realizing either his offensive or defensive capabilities to the max.

    Do you see better pitching at AAA or AA? I think AA. Hitting at Hi A, AA, and just ending the AFL season with .260 and a .763 OPS, 10W/7K’s – he is good enough to displace either Stewart or Cervelli. Just my opinion.

    • EMJ

      Thoughtful post and maybe you have some expertise that I don’t have. I would only take issue with the idea that AAA is unnecessary. The Pirates are in a position to bring along players slowly and regularly, making sure that they are MLB ready prior to arriving at PNC.

      Rushing players will create holes in these carefully built bridges that will eventually cause problems for the parent club.

      Stewart / Cervelli / Sanchez is good enough. Possibly very good. To rush Diaz and just waste the catching talent we have in hand is like folding a straight hoping for a full house. Instead, you bet on the decent hand you have.

      I love the fact that we’re in a position to easily pay for upgrades to the pitching and first base right now. This has been done by incremental steps, never a rush job.

      Sanchez is going to get time at first base this year is my bet and I’m thinking he’ll catch as well, DH, and I would not be surprised if he played somewhere else on the diamond as well (just my hunch).
      ————————————–
      “Well, if you was followin’ train tracks… Therefore you must be tryin’ to catch a train!”
      -Wabbit

    • My basic understanding of the difference between AA and AAA pitching is the higher quality of off-speed pitching in the latter. Diaz put up some nice numbers in AA. He’s only had 37 PAs at AAA, and while he’s not putting up big K #s, it seems he’s also not making solid contact, resulting in a terrible .152 BA, .185 BABIP and 0.30 ISO. Those are not numbers that should see MLB play regardless how good his defense is. He needs a couple hundred ABs at AAA at least. It will only benefit him in the long run.

      • The biggest difference between AA and AAA for hitters is pitchability. You have older guys in AAA with enough experience to really know how to work batters, whereas guys in AA are often still focused on specific pitches and mechanics.

    • emjayin he still hasn’t proven he can hit top end pitching. he batted 250 in a league that everybody bats 300 this fall. I think Diaz has a lot of development to do. To rush him to the majors would do a disservice to the team as well as to Diaz. No point bringing him up and then sending him back down with a 150BA. I think the guy can be good but one good season in a hitters league hasn’t convinced me yet.

    • AA is often filled with pitchers working on certain aspects, so not giving hitters a realistic look at their entire pitch selection. Hitters in AA may see a guy throw a ton of offspeed stuff one day as the pitcher is working on developing his secondary stuff. Same pitcher could throw 2 months later and throw 75% fastballs to work on location down in the zone. That, for me, is why AAA at bats are so crucial. You are getting far more realistic looks at a pitcher simply trying to pitch as opposed to some young guys developing certain aspects.

  • A whole article about the next generation of Pirates Catchers and not a word about former 1st round pick Tony Sanchez?!

    If Pirates go into ST with Stewart & Cervelli at C, what happens if one of them goes down w a significant injury? Is Sanchez the guy to step up so Diaz can get those AAA AB’s?

    Based on Cervelli’s past health issues, the Pirates better have a good plan B and plan C, too.

    • I agree. Tony is down in the DR right now trying to get better. I’m rooting for him, and the fact that the Pirates and most of their fans have given up on him makes me root for him more. I love that guy. If the Pirates give up on him, I hope he goes to another team and thrives.

      • I was going to make teh same point. A lot was said about the yips during this past year covering for Martin while he was on the DL. Did he continue to struggle with his throwing in AAA? I never heard about that if he did. I do know that he hit well while he was up, would love for them to give him a chance. He sure hit better than Stewie, and I would think a little confidence would go a long way.

      • How can you not just love this kid?

      • lonleylibertarian
        November 14, 2014 9:40 am

        I too am a Tony fan – thought he had some big at bats early last year. One of my frustrations with the Bucs is that they seem to be willing to stick with guys like Ike Davis and not willing to take a chance with some folks that may or may not be MLB ready. Lambo being another guy who I would like to see get 80 to 100 MLB regular season at bat before we give up on him. Mel Rojas also comes to mind – may not be a ML talent – but he deserves a shot at proving it on the field. Patience, coaching, developing just don’t seem to happen often. I get hammered on Lambo by folks who want to point out he lost the job in Spring Training – but seem willing to ignore the LONGGGGGG stretches were Davis not only got penciled in the lineup – but got slotted at cleanup – and batted below the Mendoza line.

        • I thought the move to get ike closed the door for lambo and full time gabby.. I never understood why we gave up a promising young pitcher to get a guy who hasn’t proven anything, when we had those types in our system. . Now we still don’t have a 1b and still don’t know what we have in lambo..

          • Rickster-

            I don’t think Ike Davis hadn’t proved “anything”. He did have a lot of homers in prior years. Is competent around the bag and – best of all in my opinion – his OBP was good. Guy gets on via a walk as often as Pedro swings and misses. That’s not nothing. That’s something. Maybe not MLB all-star stats, sure, but it’s something.

            -BB

            • I’m not necessarily down on ike, though it did sound like it. I wouldn’t be upset if he got the everyday job in 2015 even.. my point was he has shown potential to be an everyday guy at 1b.. if we’re taking a stab at potential I just would have rather seen what we had in lambo.. and at the time gabby.. and not give up an asset.. and that logic applies specifically at 1b due to lesser value of defense

          • I have been saying that since they made the Ike Davis trade – that was another bone headed move last year. We have few decent LH pitching prospects, and we gave up one of our best in Taylor. He may end up being nothing, but we already knew that Davis was a bust – yet we traded for him anyway.

        • Librarian –
          I’m with you on Tony Sanchez. And he’s surely plan B right now and he’ll surely see time in the bigs this year and probably down the road.

          Thing is that his caught stealing rate is lower and I think the pitchers are going to have to compensate a bit more on controlling the running game when Tony is catching.

          To your point about patience and coaching… Well… coaches learn slowly and sometimes it takes a while before they change their minds on players.

          Wasn’t Neil Walker a catcher when he came up? Then the talk was maybe he was a super-utility guy. Played some third, I think and wound up at second. I think Tony Sanchez could follow suit. He’s a hard worker who could be useful elsewhere on the diamond maybe? In any case, I like his bat too. Further, it is surely a matter of confidence with MLB players and Tony, I believe, will get this right eventually.
          —————————————-
          “That’s the ol’ pepper! That’s the pitchin’, Kid!!!”
          -Wabbit

          • I hope Sanchez pulls a Walker. This front office gave up on Walker (though they will never admit to it). Only after countless injuries and the Japanese mistake (I have blocked that horrible memory from my mind) did we finally get Walker at 2nd base. All he did was hit and play a competent 2B. I would like to see Sanchez get a true chance. I get the feeling Cervelli is about one more concussion away from retirement so we may have no choice next year. Maybe that will be a good thing. As good as Huntington has been with picking up starters and relievers., his track record for recognizing talented hitters hasn’t been to hot. Most of his hits have been accidental hits.

            • It was remarkable that we got the only fat Japanese secondbaseman, who was also a chain smoker. Leyland would have loved him.

        • IMO, some of the giving up comes from the manager, if he won’t play the guy then the GM is forced into a corner. Moss comes to mind as a guy that had obvious power talent that they would not wait on, but they have bent over backward for Alvarez. The Cards put Molina behind the plate when he could not hit and they developed him into the star he is today. IMO, they came close to giving up on Marte this year. If the Pirates are going to take their time developing these kids then they have to let them have the major league development time that they need, most players need major league development time. As far as Sanchez is concerned it looks like Hurdle does not want him and is not going to play him unless he is the 1st or 2nd catcher at the major league level, that leaves him no choice.

          • Went Martin was on the DL Sanchez started 15 games to Stewart’s 11 behind the plate. Not sure signing a $31 million 6 year extension with option years, is close to giving up, and Brandon Moss slugged .373 in his time with the Pirates. Moss overhauled his swing with Jeff Branson in 2010 in AAA, not sure why the Pirates never gave him another chance, but he languished on the Phillies’ AAA team then Oakland’s until the current of GM of the Dodgers extricated him from AAA.

        • I think some forgot Davis’s lack of production batting clean up because Alvarez spend the first two months in that spot and set a very low bar.

        • I thought Lambo had some nice ABs in the game or two I saw him play on TV.

    • I have a feeling that Tony photobombing Cutch while shotgunning two beers didn’t do him any favors with a non-drinking manager… just a feeling.

      • I wonder too if what I find amusing in a ballplayer might not be too fun with the number of hours per day, every day per week that they are all spending. His behavior might get old, real quick. I suspect he’ll get another chance when there is an injury and we’ll see how he does. If nothing else, bring his stock up so we can trade him for someone who drinks his beer one at a time.

      • Bumgarner drinks about 37 beers at a time…can’t imagine the Giants have a problem with it.
        If the guy can play, nobody will care how he celebrates. Sanchez has yet to prove that on a consistent basis.

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