Outside of One At-Bat, What is Elias Diaz Doing in the Majors?

The Pirates called up Elias Diaz on September 1st to be their third catcher in the majors. The decision to call up the top catching prospect signaled that he had moved ahead of Tony Sanchez on the depth charts, and the fact that Sanchez hasn’t even been called up, despite the Indianapolis season coming to an end, further cements that idea.

Despite getting the call at the start of the month, Diaz has seen his time in the majors limited to just one at-bat. He hasn’t spent any time in the field, which raises the question about why the Pirates aren’t playing him.

The basic answer to that question is obvious — third catchers don’t get much playing time, and are usually on the roster to give more playing time to the backup. This has been shown by the usage for Chris Stewart. The Pirates’ backup catcher has only started five games this month, which is his second lowest monthly total this year. However, he has played in 12 games, which is his highest monthly total of the season. He has been used often as a late replacement, helping to reduce the workload of Francisco Cervelli. And the Pirates can do that because they’ve got Diaz on the bench as the extra catcher if Stewart goes down in these situations.

But the question gets more complicated when you think about Diaz as one of the top prospects in the system, and a guy who could be a future starter in Pittsburgh. Why would the Pirates bring him up and burn service time if they have no plans to use him outside of one at-bat?

To the service time aspect, that’s something that shouldn’t matter to the Pirates in this case. Diaz isn’t a guy who projects to be a star in the future, which means Super Two isn’t a big factor. The Pirates have Cervelli and Stewart under control next season, which means Diaz will start back in the minors, and will still likely have 6+ years of control remaining when he is called up. Those years of control probably aren’t even going to matter to the Pirates, since Reese McGuire projects to be the starter in Pittsburgh long before Diaz is eligible for free agency.

That still raises the question as to what he has been doing outside of that one at-bat. A lot of the work he has put in so far has been done behind the scenes, working in the bullpen and in the batting cage, but mostly spending time learning the pitchers in the majors.

“You watch him in batting practice. He’s been out early for early work. He’s thrown to the bases,” Clint Hurdle said recently of the work Diaz is doing. “I get the reports back – he’s doing a lot of work in the bullpen catching our starters. He’s actually matching up and catching some of our starters now along with Stewart.”

Diaz has been getting a lot of advice from Francisco Cervelli, with the current starter seemingly taking the future starter under his wing.

“I’ve been catching bullpens, and watching the bullpens of the starters,” Diaz said. “I talk with Cervelli about how they like to pitch.”

Learning the pitchers in Pittsburgh is an important step for Diaz, especially since he projects to be catching a lot of these guys on a regular basis in the future. Diaz is a defensive catcher first, and so it makes a lot of sense that he’d spend a few weeks learning the pitching staff and focusing on the defensive side of things. Offensively, he can contribute, much like the last two defensive-minded catchers in Pittsburgh (Russell Martin, and now Cervelli). And the Pirates feel that he still has what it takes to produce when called upon, even with a longer layoff than normal.

“I’ve received a multitude of reports during the season, and it’s only been a couple weeks removed from when he stopped playing,” Hurdle said. “I think we have a great feel for the overall toolset. This will be another opportunity that, when the opportunities present themselves, just to play and garnish the experience up here. Not get really over-reactive with it or under-reactive with it – just let him go out and play.”

It would be great to see Diaz in the majors getting playing time, just for the sole purpose of getting a glimpse of the future. But the reality of the present is that Diaz is currently the number three catcher behind Cervelli and Stewart. That’s going to limit his playing time to emergency roles, and the very rare pinch hit situations. For now, the most important thing Diaz has been doing is his work with the pitchers and his work with Cervelli, which will hopefully pay off in ways we can see in the long run.

  • I can see Diaz getting a start in the final series if the Pirates have nothing to play for

  • I didn’t think Sept call up counted against service time.

  • Tim – please fix your website. tired of scrolling through the same story multiple times. Your home page shows the same story twice.

  • When can Tony Sanchez elect minor league free agency?

    • Right now he’s on the 40-man roster. He’s out of options next year, which means he will most likely be designated for assignment before the start of next season. If he clears waivers, he could elect then, depending on the timing of the move.

      • Is Diaz a better defensive catcher right now than our backup? I am not suggesting by any means he could start, but is he a viable or potentially better defensive late inning replacement. Is there too much rust at this point? We kept hearing he has a cannon for an arm…..sure would like to see it in a game. I wonder if Hurdle is hinting he will play him before year end.

        • They’re both good defensive catchers. I don’t know if Diaz is better to the point where you’d get rid of Stewart and only keep one. I think Diaz is better off in his current role, learning in Triple-A, and ready to take over if either guy goes down.

      • Sanchez will almost surely be traded in the off season. There will almost surely be teams looking for a cheap backup catcher who can hit a little after all the free agents get taken off rosters. And he’ll be cheap to acquire, too.

        • I thought he fell apart again defensively……he may not be viable backup.

        • I can see any way he has any trade value on his own. His defense isnt good, and his bat is coming off pretty poor AAA numbers. No reason anyone is giving up a prospect for a guy unlikely to hit all that great and almost assuredly not gonna be a good defensive option.

          Non tender him and try to keep him as AAA depth. Sadly he’s just not valuable beyond that right now.

        • We seem to forget the 2 first round picks that have been a bust, with Danny Moskos and Tony Sanchez. When you are a small market team, you CANNOT MISS ON THE FIRST ROUND PICK(S), especially when you are picking in the top 10. The odds are in your favor to find an excellent ball player. When you pick around the mid 20th pick to 30 something, you take a gamble. We all know the FO was thinking of saving money when Machado and others was available.

          • Warning, this will be rude to you.

            1) We took Taillon the year Machado was picked. So its hilariously dumb to say we were thinking of saving money when he was available. No, we were thinking the high upside arm is just as enticing as Machado. Machado got 5.25 million as a signing bonus, Taillon got 6 million. If they were being cheap, they suck at it.

            2) Moskos was a different FO. So you might as well bring up the long list of other dumb 1st round picks under DL as if that proves a point. NH whiffed on Sanchez in a weak draft, it happens.

            3) While upper 1st round picks are generally a bit “safer” than lower picks, in no way are the odds in your favor to find an excellent player. The odds are you are happy if they make the majors, really happy if they become average starting guys for many years, and lucky if they are excellent all star level guys.

    • Who?

  • Any guesses on what we will be paying for cervelli next year?

    • That’s a good question. He’s arbitration eligible, only has one year as a starter, and is due a raise over his $987,500 salary. He also doesn’t have much playing time to go on in his career, and arbitration looks at career totals. I’d be surprised if it’s anything over $5 M, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s lower than $4 M.

      • Cervelli has had more games, AB’s, etc in 2015 than in the previous 4 years combined. As they have with many other players/pitchers, the Pirates have saved his career.

        Injuries have not been a concern, and he seems to be staying sharp and hitting right around .300. He is presently listed with a 3.5 WAR, and I think you are right in that he may get a raise to $3.75 mil for 2016. Stewie will be going into his age 34 season – see him playing out his year in 2016 and becoming a part of the Pirate org in another capacity?

    • Thank you for reminding me that PGH is paying Cervelli just under 1 million this year for nearly 4 WAR. We avoided paying Russell Martin and received more WAR at his position.

      Clearly Martin on defense would be a boost, but lord this offseason was good for the FO.