The Pirates Prospects 2016 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2016 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. Subscribers to the site get free and discounted books, with Top Prospect subscribers getting the 2016 book for free, and Annual subscribers getting $10 off. Both levels of subscribers can also get the book for just $5. Details on all three promotions can be found on the products page, and you can subscribe to the site or upgrade your current plan on the subscriptions page.

While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. The reports will only be available to site subscribers, including those with a monthly plan. You can subscribe here, and if you like these reports, be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site to get much more analysis on every player in the system.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Willy Garcia, RF
19. Clay Holmes, RHP
18. Mitch Keller, RHP
17. Max Moroff, 2B
16. Chad Kuhl, RHP
15. Cole Tucker, SS
14. Stephen Tarpley, LHP
13. Steven Brault, LHP
12. Yeudy Garcia, RHP
11. Kevin Newman, SS
10. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
9. Nick Kingham, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 8 prospect, Elias Diaz.

8. Elias Diaz, C

Over the last two years, Elias Diaz has emerged as the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh, at least for the short-term until Reese McGuire arrives. Diaz has always been regarded well for his defense, and had some raw offensive tools that finally developed in the second half of the 2013 season. This led to a breakout 2014, and has him currently lined up to take over for Francisco Cervelli in the future.

The Pirates called Diaz up in September, and he shadowed Cervelli, learning from the starter, while seeing very little playing time in the majors. Aside from his work with Cervelli, he also worked with the pitching staff, getting to know each guy. Cervelli called Diaz a special kid, citing his hard work.

The bigger praise this year came from a veteran MLB pitcher signed as a minor league free agent who called Diaz the best catcher he has ever thrown to. Diaz gets a lot of praise for his work with the pitching staff, along with his strong blocking skills and excellent framing work. He’s got one of the strongest arms in the system, with a quick release and good agility.

Diaz has some power potential, and the ability to hit for average and get on base. His defense is strong enough that he could be a starter, even with below-average offense for a catcher. But there is enough offensive potential that he has a shot at being a two-way player and an above-average starter.

The Pirates have entertained the idea of extending Cervelli. If that happened, they could bring Diaz up as a backup in 2017. He could make a real debut in 2016 if Cervelli or Chris Stewart go down with an injury. If Cervelli leaves after 2016, Diaz will be the guy who takes over as the new starter.

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75 COMMENTS

  1. My 2 cents on Elias….

    Floor, I see a solid backup, that can control the running game, good framer, works well with the staff, hits around .220 and slaps his way to a mid .600 OPS.

    Ceiling – I see a top 3-5 defensive catcher in the show making 120-130 starts per year, while hitting .270 with good power #’s (for a backstop) with an OPS hovering in or around the .725 range…

    As for McGuire – this is a big year for him in AA, kinda a sink or swim year for him. I’m not going to give him a “floor” or “ceiling” since he has yet to hit anywhere near a level that would make him a viable MLB’er. As John mentioned, he is still very young for his age/level. TBD

    • If he is young for the level and struggles a bit hitting but the defense stays as advertised and his k rate and walk rates are still good then with Elias up and around for six years then let him repeat AA. There isn’t really a rush is there?

      • I don’t think it’s sink or swim for McGuire by any stretch. He can take his time figuring out AA and still be younger than Diaz when he makes his debut. He’s just further away so there’s a lot more risk, IMO.

    • I agree with your take on Diaz…but, as for McGuire, just….no.

      He’ll be a 21 year old…probably in AA, maybe in high A.

      To assume this year is his shot to prove himself sort of ignores the fact that he’s one level below, and five years younger than Diaz.

      Does he have work to do? Yup.
      Is he major-league ready? Nope.
      Is this a “make or break” year for him? Hell no.

      • Certainly not in a career-threatening sense, but if he goes a fourth professional season without hitting you can bet that prospect stock will further erode.

        Even the best defenders have to eventually show something with he bat.

        • I just don’t get the “Well Diaz didn’t have his breakout season until…”

          Like it’s assumed since one guy did it, that McGuire will breakout.

          • And like Diaz, if that “breakout” *does* come as a 22/23 year old the questions about the bat will still follow him.

            Like I mentioned above, it’ll take a considerable amount of improvement *just to reach* the level Diaz is at with he bat right now. Giving McGuire the clear cut benefit of the doubt is inherently suggesting his still-to-come breakout will be significantly better. That’s a long way to go, my friend.

            In my opinion, this isn’t bashing McGuire as much as it’s crediting Diaz.

      • Blaine, I said “kinda a sink or swim year”

        If he hits under .600 OPS in AA, his shine will start to fade and then you have to ask, when is he going to “breakout” or is this just who he is ?

        You can only play the age card for so long.

  2. Every major baseball prospect site that I read (Sickels, BP, MLB Pipeline, Garrioch, Fangraphs) has McGuire ahead of Diaz. But the esteemed readers of this site, most of whom have never seen either play, and none of whom has the rep to get paid for their scouting expertise, are sure that McGuire has no hope to be a major league regular. I marvel at the collective egos on display here.

    • Hey hey hey we’re all allowed to have opinions that’s why there is a comment section! It’s just an alternative viewpoint I don’t think that makes us all egomaniacs!

    • Your straw man aside, I think many of us have seen a few decades of hyped guys who haven’t played above A ball being written into the lineup three years in the future, such that perhaps we have what you could call a healthy amount of skepticism regarding the success rate of prospects.

      Or maybe they are using a different “scoring” system than we are. Maybe prospect writers weight a player’s ceiling, or his draft pedigree.

      It’s not like projecting prospects is an exact science. Look at any top 10 list from 10 years ago and you see a whole bunch of guys that you can’t even remember.

      And beyond that, we all pay for the right to voice our opinions here.

  3. I don’t feel strongly about it, but I would rank Diaz above McGuire based on what I’ve read. I see that McGuire will reach AA two years younger than Diaz did, but I give Diaz credit for actually succeeding at both AA and AAA — and it’s not like he did it while being old for the level.

    Maybe McGuire has a slightly higher ceiling, but it certainly hasn’t shown up in his batting profile yet. And he a few years away and several large steps in talent away from the majors, and even if it all goes well, probably about 4 years away from being a regular.

    Diaz, is knocking on the door already. It wouldn’t be a stretch for him to be a regular in 2017.

    If you could plot a distribution of possible future values for Diaz vs. MCGuire,
    I think the guy with excellent defense, decent bat, nothing left to prove at AAA would more often exceed the value of the guy who’s two years younger with SUPER-excellent defense, a weaker bat, who hasn’t reached AA yet.

    • Can’t we just love them both?

      🙂

      While I don’t agree with you over the longterm value of Diaz/McGuire…meh, different opinions…

      …where I really don’t agree is that Diaz could be a regular in 2017. Really, I think he’s probably ready now…just, as a playoff contending team, the Pirates don’t want to risk the rookie adjustment period. If the Pirates are out of contention in July, the Diaz era begins…if only for three seasons.

    • About $96.5 mil I think. Everyone seems to be saying the magic number is 105. This leaves room for a bench bat and probably a “reclamation project”. I was hoping they’d sign a #3 but with the contracts Chen, Kennedy and Kazmir got I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably Neise as the #3 and that they’re using Locke for a 4 and will try and get someone to push Vogelsong to the pen as the long guy.

      • On Pirates official MLB site..embedded in Q&A with site writer, Neal Huntington stated the Pirates have “expended the majority of our resources” and “the majority of our heavy lifting is done”

      • Passing on Sean Hurdle and signing Zobrist and Happ would have gotten the Bucs to a payroll of about $120M – probably a bit less if the contracts were structured to increase over time. That would have adde about 5 WAR – maybe a bit more. Remember that they chose NOT to do this when they are whining about empty seats in the stands in September.

        • Happ’s contract now seems more reasonable than I initially thought. Some of the contracts this offseason have been a little outrageous, more than just what you’d call “bad value”.

  4. I could see Diaz beating out Stewart on a playoff roster this fall. Just because of his ability to control runners in a big game.

  5. Yadier Molina minor league OPS – .711 Diaz at .686 in about 800 more AB. Yady had the pedigree with his brothers so he developed unusually quickly. Molina didn’t post a .750 OPS in a season until he was 28. It took a good 6 years for the bat to catch up. With Diaz’ size and strength and plate discipline, which is fairly similar to Molina, he looks just like a poor man’s version. I look at a guy like Bob Boone and think Diaz could be a lot like him unless the bat develops more. Diaz is a lot faster and athletic than Boone though so that could add a little more value.

  6. Having a platoon of extremely good defensive catchers (regardless of which one is “better”) who could OPS around .700 as a tandem is exciting to me for a team that is very defensive (and pitching) minded.
    And how anyone can question whether it is possible for McGuire’s bat to improve is beyond me – I mean seriously, the guy is about to turn 21 in March. If he was striking out 30% of the time, I might have a little concern. Since his is at 10%, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  7. I think the comparisons between Diaz and McGuire are absolutely fair to consider.

    Age should certainly be a factor, and why McGuire should still be given the benefit of the doubt as the superior prospect, but we get ourselves in trouble arguing the general for the specific. Yes, *some* prospects see massive jumps in ability as they get older which is why younger prospects like McGuire get the upside befit of the doubt, but the vast majority of kids in the game do not.

    McGuire is young, but we *do* have more than a thousands professional at bats from which to observe. Nobody should be drawing any conclusions based on the final counting stats of those at bats, but there’s absolutely enough there to get a feel for his inherent hitter profile, and that’s one of a player who has great contact ability but questionable on-base skills and a sever lack of power production.

    He’ll almost certainly progress better than what he’s shown thus far, but you have to ask yourself just how far he has to go – and how much he has to inherently change as a hitter – to end up an appreciably better player than what Diaz projects to be. The answer: a lot.

    • I’m sure age is a big part of it, but there’s probably an element of valuing defense first at catcher, and many scouts believe that while Diaz is a really top notch defender, that McGuire is *even better* defensively. So while Diaz might have more of a bat right now, the idea might be that McGuire doesn’t even have to develop his bat to the level of Diaz’s to be his equal or even his better, and with his youth (two levels ahead of Diaz at the same age) and his contact skill (better K% than Diaz), there’s enough there to consider his bat coming along *enough* a fairly safe bet.

      • Aren’t we approaching the point of diminishing returns?

        In order to assume McGuire will provide appreciably more defensive value, aren’t we saying that either the lavish praise for Diaz’s defense is overstated or Reese McGuire’s defense will essentially be the love child of Pudge Rodriguez and Yadi Molina?

        Again, I’m just talking about the comparison. I don’t have any problem giving the slight nod to McGuire for all the reasons you state, but even still, you’re not talking about appreciably different players here.

        • Well, that’s exactly the question to ask. When does more defense stop mattering? Does it stop mattering? How much does it matter?

          My guess is that the prevailing attitude of scouts concerning catchers is that more defense doesn’t stop mattering, and it matters a lot. The returns don’t diminish. Because ultimately, all these decisions are based on the scouting.

          But even so, regardless of the ranking number, Diaz and McGuire are prospects with roughly indistinguishable value. The question becomes which do you prefer, forced to choose? It seems most folks have settled on the lefty with better defense over the righty with a better bat.

          • Well that’s *not* the question, IMO. Nothing says you can’t have both, not sure why a preference is needed this early.

            And FWIW, any description of preference for McGuire over Diaz that *doesn’t* heavily mention age is incomplete.

        • It’s fairly obvious Diaz will get the first opportunit fould become tradey between them and if he takes advantage of the opportunity, McGuire could become trade bait, depending on the level of success. Not a bad problem to have going forward.

          • Little, but please don’t take that as a knock on McGuire.

            It was definitely good to see him taking a few more walks and hitting the ball with a bit more authority, but I don’t really think anyone can be considered appreciably different from their regular-season selves after only 50 or so at bats in the Fall League.

            Said the same when Meadows struggled this year, and Bell last year FWIW.

    • NMR I would rather have these two prospects coming up than what we had with Barajas and that leprechaun 4 years ago. I think we are definitely in a better place.

  8. Comparing Diaz to McGuire is an interesting insight into how fans view prospects.
    Based on most of the articles I’ve read, the two are very similar in terms of defensive skills, pitch framing, and handling pitchers. McGuire has a slight edge in ranking 4 versus 6 compared to all catching prospects in baseball.
    However, both are “slap” hitters that haven’t really proved much in the minors. The best you can say about their hitting is that Diaz had one solid AA year and McGuire hasn’t embarrassed himself against older competition.

    Yet with all of these similarities:
    Diaz is viewed as an MLB back up – even though that is likely his floor at this point.
    McGuire is viewed as a future starter – even though that is likely his ceiling.

    • The difference is due to their age. McGuire is 4 1/2 years younger, so he still has plenty of room to grow as a player, but he’s already on par with Diaz defensively, and some people even say he’s better.

      • John – not to get too far ahead of ourselves but, any theories on what the Pirates will do when both McGuire and Diaz are ready to be on the MLB roster?
        With Cervelli signed through this season, Diaz starting the season in Indianapolis and McGuire in Altoona, and assuming the organization sticks with a step-per-year approach, it seems completely possible that they could be simultaneously in the MLB as soon as 2018.

        • It is getting far ahead, but just to play along, it could go two ways. If McGuire hits enough, then you would have a long-term tandem behind the plate with McGuire starting and Diaz backing up.

          If McGuire continues as is offensively, then you could go with a platoon, which wouldn’t be much different than a starter/backup situation. McGuire hits lefty, Diaz, righty.

          Going with option two as a possibility, you see that Diaz had an .817 OPS vs LHP, and .667 vs RHP. McGuire was .670 vs RHP and .409 vs LHP, so a lefty/righty platoon would play to their current splits.

          It’s too early to assume McGuire won’t hit LHP though, but it’s a thought for 2018 based strictly on their current status.

          • Two 250 plus AB catchers, great defense, and a lefty/righty platoon at catcher is a perfect luxury to have. With both guys being young it should be a good friendly competition also for a year or two until one of them wins the full time job…which still might only mean a 400/200 AB split.

    • Personally, I wanted them to draft JP Crawford at the time. I still don’t see why McGuire gets all the love, either.

      He and
      Diaz seem interchangeable.

      • In 2016 that may be true, but Diaz hadn’t yet broken out when they drafted McGuire in 2013. Plus, to John’s point, McGuire is 4 years younger, so saying they are interchangeable right now is saying something about McGuire, isn’t it?

        • No, Foo saying they’re interchangeable is *already* giving McGuire the age benefit of the doubt.

          There’s a massive gap between current offensive production between Diaz and McGuire…calling them interchangeable is assuming the younger McGuire will make the same jump in offense that Diaz has shown. Don’t underestimate that part.

          • I’m still waiting for McGuire to prove he’s something other than Chris Stewart. Don’t get me wrong, I like Stewart, but a nice glove, low K rate, and zilch in power equals a Chris Stewart comp to me. Is that above Diaz? Ehh. With regards to catchers, personally I think Diaz’s advanced level (not necessarily age) works toward his favor; catcher is just a crazy rough spot to stick at. Plus Diaz has shown at least something with the bat.

          • True, or that McGuire’s relative defensive edge is enough to compensate for offensive shortcomings relative to Diaz.

            But, I think my point still stands that Diaz hadn’t broke out yet when they drafted McGuire so you can’t really fault them for taking him at the time (assuming we are only considering talent in that draft decision, which obviously isn’t the only consideration in a draft pick).

            Anyways, it’s a good problem to have. If Diaz turns out to be the best option then McGuire will still have trade value. Or, if McGuire’s bat never improves, then worst case they have 6 years of a great backup.

            • Shoot, sorry, I very much agree with that point. Misunderstood your original post!

              I do think Crawford was the better pick regardless, even at the time, but nothing about Diaz should factor into that decision, IMO.

            • I can buy that.

              I’ve said it before, but Salvador Perez looks to be a hell of a present-day comp if McGuire develops.

              • That would be a terrific best-case situation ! I am very much looking forward to seeing McGuire’s defense, because I was really impressed with Diaz when he was in Altoona.

            • Kendall’s batting average was about .300 and OBP about .400 for the Pirates. But the comparison is hard to make in that Kendall did roids and .300 wasn’t necessarily amazing at the time, and now the Pirates don’t have a single hitter at .300

      • Lee we need to move on from Crawford talk. Ignore for a second the fact that he’s a consensus top 10 (top 5 probably) prospect in the game at a position we sorely, sorely need. And let’s ignore the fact that he’ll be playing less than 15 miles from my house possibly this summer. Let’s celebrate Diaz today instead of revisiting the crushing what if’s drafts past. I fully expect a Machado comment coming next Tuesday despite my pleas…………..

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