Winter Leagues: Elias Diaz Shines on Defense While Struggling at the Plate

Only two Pirates’ players saw action on Monday, so we combine the last two days into one article. The schedule is very light for the next few days, so there might not be another Winter Leagues article until the weekend, possibly on Monday morning.

As for Monday’s action, both were players in the Dominican. Mel Rojas Jr. went 1-for-4 with a run scored and his sixth stolen base. He is hitting .236 this winter, with six homers and seven doubles.

Andy Vasquez got his second start and went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts. He has played just four games, last appearing in mid-November before Monday. Vasquez has played nine seasons in the Pirates’ system, twice re-signing after he reached minor league free agency. He is currently a free agent, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pirates bring him back.

Tuesday’s Action

On Tuesday in Venezuela, Elias Diaz continued two trends. His offense has been sputtering, while his defense has been highly praised all winter. The question with Diaz is, will he hit enough to be a starter in the majors, or is he a glove-first back-up, albeit with Gold Glove caliber defense? He hasn’t helped answer that question this winter, at least not in a positive way. Diaz went 0-for-3 on Tuesday with three strikeouts. He also threw out the only runner who attempted to steal, while also picking off another runner. He is hitting .242/.318/.379 in 27 games, with 21 strikeouts in 95 at-bats, which is a high strikeout rate for him. Diaz has thrown out well over 50% of runners attempting to steal this winter, plus he has picked-off numerous others. So the defense has been as strong as ever, but he hasn’t hit at all since a strong start to his winter back in November.

Jorge Rondon threw 1.1 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and picking up one strikeout. He has thrown four shutout innings over his four appearances.

In Puerto Rico, Danny Ortiz had his recent hot streak snapped, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He is hitting .228/.309/.293 in 37 games.

In Mexico, Carlos Munoz went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Munoz has slumped for the last five weeks, seeing his average drop more than 80 points during the stretch. He has just two extra-base hits in his last 25 games, both coming in the same game. With the fast start he had to the season, he still has a .743 OPS, which ranks him just outside the top 20 in the league. Munoz has had trouble against left-handed pitchers this winter, with a .558 OPS in 45 at-bats. That wasn’t an issue during the regular season, when he posted a .993 OPS in 63 plate appearances versus lefties.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Diaz is already better than Stewart defensively and probably just as good offensively, and why he should make the team out of camp. Just be the back up if he played 1out of 6 games he would gain a lot of experience. And let’s be honest Stewart cost a few games last year with his lack luster D. So if we could upgrade that position maybe we would of made up those 2 games in the division. Also Cerville maybe gone next year, so it would make sense to get Diaz feet wet now and now wait until June.


Saw a report Cardinals turning to Rockies to possibly replace Heyward…….Cargo, Blackmon or Dickerson.
They may be better with bat than Heyward.


Charlie Blackmon is a favorite player of mine. I just wonder about the Coors field effect with all of them. But they do need a player.


If he can throw out people like Martin did, I don’t care what he does on offense- if he can hit .250 I’m fine with that


Russell Martin .257 career…of course, he does a lot of other things on offense.


well…he didn’t hit .257 for us, so his career average isn’t really relevant for the purposes of this post


Ha! OK.

joe s

Not on point but I am embarrassed as what the Pirates have done so far this off season. I hope something of a positive signing or trade is made. If not, it looks like the Cubs and Cards will top the division and the poor or is cheap Bucs will be looking up at them

Bill W

NH said” Would you rather have one KIT KAT or 3 bags on MM’S” .

Robert J

You talk a lot about Diaz’ defense in terms of throwing out runners. But how is his receiving and pitch framing?

Shawn T

The pitch framing he was ranked as the #1 framing catcher in AAA and he is doing it again in winter league if you don’t believe me look up his winter ball and when he catches he has a 2.68 era when he doesn’t its well over a 5 era so that should say how good he frames pitches plus the cannon for a arm picking off runners at 1st if he hits 250 or close to that . That is a big plus for us he very well could be the best framing catcher in mlb and his arm is as deadly as a heat seeking missile . I love the D but just hope he can hit close to 250 then we have a close to all star catcher

Bill W

Yes I noticed in 2016 Prospect Guide they did not mention pitch framing under his attributes. I believe they did for McGuire. I am also curious is it a strength?


This is why we need to sign Cervelli to an extension. Neither Diaz nor McGuire (at this point) look like they will hit enough to be regular starters in the majors.


In 2012, a 26 year old Francisco Cervelli posted a .657 OPS in the International League.

In 2015, a 24 year old Elias Diaz posted a .711 OPS in the same league.

I know there’s nothing else to do right now, but every year folks take winter league stats way, wayyyy too seriously.


Point taken, but Elias’ regular season hasn’t given me warm fuzzies either.

My comment was more towards the fact that in addition to an uninspiring offensive display at Indy, he is continuing that in Winter Ball.


Diaz has outhit Alen Hanson at every level since low-A. That may be damning with faint praise depending on your view of Hanson, and Diaz is of course two years older, but I’m more bullish on his skill set than most. Great contact rate, will draw a walk, and fringe average raw power isn’t a terrible starting point.


Did I mention that I am not an Alen Hanson fan either? 🙂


I personally think they could get more value trading both of them now, then 1-2 years from now when they are up.

Especially with Mcguire and all those middle infielders behind them. Definition of SURPLUS.


If they did extend Cervelli while also picking up an option on Niese, you’re looking at four players making >$10m in 2017, assuming Cervelli isn’t signing for a lower AAV than that.

About $55m for five players, *before* talking about arb-3 for Tony Watson and Gerrit Cole’s inevitable record breaking first time through for a Pirate player.

Bill W

I still like the premise of extending Cervelli. I think that all players are leary of tying themselves up because of skyrocketing salaries.


Josh Bell is playing winter ball in Venezuela?


There was literally no doubt in my mind that you would’ve missed a prospect like Bell showing up on a winter league team all the sudden.


That’s hilarious.

Bill W

I think it’s another JOSH BELL. Padre MILB

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