First Pitch: When an Organizational Guy Gets a Rare Chance to Start

We spend a lot of time on this site talking about the top prospects in the system. We talk about the breakout players, and even the fringe prospects. This is not an article about them.

This is an article about the guys who make up the rest of the roster. They are called “organizational players”, and generally they aren’t regarded as actual prospects. They play off the bench, pitch out of the bullpen, and rarely get playing time, to the point where it can be hard for them to develop their game. The upsides are low, so the playing time priority goes to the guys with the better upsides. But occasionally, these guys will get a chance for some significant playing time, and sometimes that is enough to open some eyes.

The Bradenton Marauders promoted a lot of guys in the last month, sending JaCoby Jones, Erich Weiss, and Barrett Barnes up to Altoona. This created a few openings in the lineup, and with no one ready to make the jump from West Virginia, those lineup spots were filled by guys who had been riding the bench all year. Chris Diaz, Michael Fransoso, Justin Maffei, and Jeff Roy have been among the players who have seen an increase in playing time lately. A few of those players are capitalizing on that time.

One guy who has really stood out recently has been Chris Diaz. He got a chance to take over at shortstop full time after JaCoby Jones was promoted to Altoona. Jones was a project at shortstop, showing some potential at the position, and giving hope that he could stick in the long-term. But in terms of being ready right now, Jones wasn’t a strong defender. Diaz is a strong defender, and if nothing else, he’s played a big role for Bradenton’s defense lately.

“For a guy like Chris Diaz, the way he’s been playing shortstop has turned us around,” Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s taking some pressure off of our pitching. I’ve counted so far, since he’s been playing everyday, that he’s saved us 48 runs since he’s been playing shortstop. That’s a huge difference.”

I don’t know if he has actually saved 48 runs, especially in terms of what you normally think about with defensive runs saved. But Diaz looks smooth, with good routes, a strong arm, a quick release when throwing, and good range. He’s not Gift Ngoepe, but he is a strong defender.

“Nothing against JaCoby Jones, by any means,” Ryan said. “Chris Diaz is just a little more advanced in his feel at shortstop. Defensively, we were getting an upgrade in my opinion.”

It makes sense that the Pirates went with Jones to start the year. He’s got a ton of offensive upside, and the organization believes that it’s easier to teach defense to an athletic player who can hit, rather than teaching hitting to a strong defender. Diaz represents the opposite of Jones. The Pirates obviously liked him when he was drafted, as they picked him in the 11th round and gave him $100,000 — the maximum you can give a guy after the tenth round before he counts against your bonus pool. But Diaz has always been all defense and no bat.

We spend so much time focusing on progress and eventual promotions for the top prospects, that it’s easy to overlook the other guys, especially when they finally get an opportunity. In this case, Diaz might not get another opportunity like this. Ahead of him are guys like Adam Frazier and Gift Ngoepe. Behind him are top prospects like Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, and Kevin Kramer. In order to keep moving up and keep getting playing time, he needs a good showing during this limited opportunity with Jones gone.

“It’s always great to have an opportunity,” Diaz said after tonight’s game. “You’ve just got to be ready whenever you’ve got the chance, and it’s been working out well for me.”

One encouraging sign lately has been that Diaz has had a few big games offensively. In his last five games he has two, three-hit games, plus a hit and two walks tonight. The offense hasn’t been consistent, but when he’s on, he’s on.

“I feel like I’ve been putting up good at-bats all year, and some balls are starting to fall right now,” Diaz said, while also noting that getting regular time allows him to make adjustments to his mistakes a lot quicker.

Michael Ryan said that Diaz is getting a lot of attention in the organization for his play lately.

“He’s on the map now, and probably wouldn’t have had that opportunity if guys were still here,” Ryan said. “But he accepted it, and he’s taking full responsibility of his career. Those are great stories. I love to see that.”

Odds are that Diaz isn’t going to be much more than an organizational guy. He’s still not hitting much, and even with the good defense at the most premium position, you can’t make the majors if you can’t hit in A-ball. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets moved up to Double-A next year, with a chance at a good amount of playing time. If Frazier gets moved to Indianapolis, then Diaz would be the best option at shortstop in Altoona, at least until Kevin Newman moves up (which, in a best case scenario, could be as early as mid-season 2016).

A few weeks ago I was talking with a scout about another organizational guy and his potential to reach Double-A. The scout noted that all those guys need to do is get to Double-A and hope something clicks. That is usually enough to get them a future shot at the majors, even if it’s only a brief appearance. The best example I can think of here would be Alex Presley, who struggled in the minors his first four seasons before having a breakout year in Altoona in 2010. That propelled him to the majors, and while he probably won’t be a guy that ever sticks, the fact that he has over 1100 plate appearances in the majors is something that I never would have guessed would be possible when watching him in High-A in 2009.

Guys like Diaz probably don’t have a strong chance for a MLB career. Even if things do work out, his upside is likely to be an up and down player, serving as bench depth. But if that’s ever going to happen, then these are the situations for Diaz, and guys like him, to make the most of a rare opportunity for playing time and show what they can do.

**Gerrit Cole’s August Struggles Continue in Loss to Arizona. Pete Ellis takes a look at Cole’s struggles lately, which continued tonight at PNC.

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Eppler’s Changeup Leads to Best Start of the Year. My live report on Tyler Eppler tonight, along with a live report from Ryan Palencer in Indianapolis.

**Corey Hart to Begin Rehab Assignment; Harrison and Mercer Progress. It sounds like Hart will return in September, while Harrison and Mercer could return before then.

**MLB Announces Postseason Schedule. Find out when the Pirates will host their first World Series game since 1979.

**Stephen Tarpley Named SAL Pitcher of the Week. I wrote about him on Sunday, following his eight shutout inning appearance.

**Tyler Glasnow Still Needs to Improve His Control in Triple-A. Ryan Palencer with an expanded live report on Glasnow. I’ve noticed that the only people who think Glasnow is ready are the people who haven’t seen him pitch. The people who think he needs more time: those who have seen him pitch, and Glasnow himself.

  • piraterican21
    August 18, 2015 9:55 am

    This article coincides with a thought I had a,few days ago watching Stewart swing the bat, he has an all hands no power (but awesome bat flip) just make contact and hope it falls in approach, so I imagine glove guys like Florimon, ngoepe, etc adopting this approach and how much it might help

  • With defensive guys like Ngoepe ahead of him and Tucker, Valerio, and Newman behind him, I think he may have already experienced his highest level of play in the Pirate organization.

  • sounds like Clint Barmes, not bad upside.

    • Not every defensive only shortstop is Clint Barmes. Some end up like Pedro Florimon. Some end up like Argenis Diaz. Some end up like Gustavo Nunez. And then there are all the ones you’ve never heard of.

    • Well, it depends- does Diaz like Journey?

  • It also can create trading chips such as Presley was for the pirates.

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