Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #10 – Elias Diaz

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF

We continue the countdown with the number 10 prospect, Elias Diaz.

10. Elias Diaz, C

Diaz had a breakout season in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)
Diaz had a breakout season in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Diaz has always been highly regarded for his defensive skills, being named the best defender in his league by Baseball America in each of the last two seasons. He’s got a good frame, a plus arm, and good agility behind the plate. The Pirates love his defense, considering him one of the best defenders in the system. By our ranks, he would finish second behind Reese McGuire.

The big thing that Diaz needed to show in previous years was offense. He always had potential with his bat, displaying a line drive swing and gap power. The skills were good, and he was never overmatched at the plate, but the results never showed up on the field. That changed in 2013, when he finished the season with an .892 OPS in August. He carried that success over to the 2014 season, finally breaking out at the plate.

Diaz put up fantastic numbers, hitting for average, getting on base, and adding some power. His strikeouts were low, and his walk rate was good, which is not a combo that you usually see from hitters out of Latin America. He was moved up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, although the offense didn’t carry over in a small sample size. He went to the AFL in the off-season to get continued work in the upper levels.

Diaz should return to Indianapolis in 2015. Prior to his breakout season, he looked like a future defensive-minded backup catcher. The 2014 season propelled him to be the top catching option in the upper levels, surpassing Tony Sanchez as the catcher of the future. He could arrive in Pittsburgh in 2015, but will first need to work on his hitting and fine tune his defense in Triple-A.

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  • Tony Sanchez number one pick. Pick best talent not for need. That’s rule number one.

  • He was picked up pretty cheap as an international signing

  • Diaz posted a .378 OBP based largely on his unsustainable .365 BABIP. It seems unrealistic to expect him to sustain a BABIP much over .300 due to his lack of speed and power. When his BABIP regresses, he will struggle to maintain a high OBP. Steamer projects him to post a batting “slash line” of .229/.282/.317 with a wRC+ of 71. That would be somewhat less than good.

    Diaz is not young, he has no power or speed, and his offensive production relies on unsustainable BABIPs. His defense appears to be very good, so he has a future in the majors. But I will be surprised if he ever becomes an average hitter.

    He seems like a player who will have a relatively long career as a defense-first catcher, but I doubt he will be a noteworthy starter.

    • League average BABIP in the Eastern League this year was .308. Also in the minors talent is less homogenized, outliers are more likey, top prospects, not that Diaz is one of them, routinely post what could be consider unsustainable BABIPs.

    • 8% BB rate and 14% K rate would easily give him league-average OBP, even with a drop in BABIP.

  • The pirates catching woes were so bad just a few years ago when Sanchez was our only option. Now seems like we have catchers at every level now. I like Sanchez but defensive catchers will save us more runs then any offensive catchers will. And usually the offense catches up to the defense at some point. Would like to see Sanchez traded at some point.

  • Hopefully he is ready this year. There is a big hole behind the dish. Stewart is a fine backup but not a starter and I see very little reason to be optimistic about Cervelli. He has not shown an ability to stay healthy, and the only offense he has shown since the low minors is a small sample size tainted by PEDs. Pitch framing will only carry him so far and that skill he hasn’t demonstrated for a full season at the MLB level yet.

    • I can understand hesitation surrounding his offense, but pitch framing is well-understood to level off quickly. If he’s done it for half a season here and there, he’s a good framer, and you can count on that moving forward. It’s not like line drives which are in massive flux. Since catchers receive a lot of pitches, the N gets big fast, and deviations and flushed out quickly.

  • It doesn’t seem like Sanchez will get many more chances with the Pirates at catching. He came through with some good at bats last year. I would have thought they would want to try him out at 3rd or 1st. He could be the back-up option to Hart.

    • Agree 100%. It’s pretty obvious Sanchez will never be a #1 catching option. But if he can hold his own at 1B, 3B, RF, he could be a very valuable bench option.

  • I do not know if he is better than Valle and I don’t think he is more major league ready than Sanchez and IMO, the first catcher call up would be Sanchez.

    • Probably will be Sanchez, with Diaz getting a full year in AAA. Maybe Diaz replaces Stewart in 2016, with Sanchez traded and Valle the wildcard.

      • However it goes, the Pirates are deep in catchers that can catch in the majors.

        • Which is great! Think of a few years ago when they went through so many and eventually reached Wyatt Toregas. There’s been a big turnaround.

  • I am hoping that between him and Reese, we get our catcher of the future.

  • One thing I noticed the first time I saw him catch was his size.

    He seems to be quite big for a catcher and dwarfed the lead
    off batter and umpire that night. My first impression was that
    he must be 6’4″ or more but I guess he is listed in the
    6′-6’1″ range.

    The other impression you get watching him is “athlete.”

    Very impressive.

    • I got the same impression seeing him live. He looks so much bigger than he is and has great dexterity.

  • I would consider ranking him even a bit higher. Diaz fills a position of extreme need, has above-average MLB ready skills, and should arrive this season.

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