INDIANAPOLIS – Elias Diaz was feeling good physically last season with one glaring exception: his elbow.

The rest of his body felt good enough to play every game. But several issues — that elbow being the main one — caused him to miss about half of the season. Diaz had a cleanup surgery on his elbow, which was the reason for most of the games he missed. He later had a cut on his leg that got infected that led to missing a few more games, and his winter league season ended prematurely due to an oblique strain.

But that was last season. Diaz is once again healthy this season and that alone makes him feel pretty good. His performance on the field isn’t hurting his mood either. And now he’s been promoted to the Pirates as Francisco Cervelli deals with a foot injury. This is the third time in Diaz’s career he’s been called up to join the Pirates, though, he’s only played in three games.

So far this season, Diaz has started 15 of Indianapolis’ 21 games, including eight of the team’s first 10 games. He’s hitting well at the plate and his defense, is well, what you would expect.

“I’m 100 percent so I can play every day the way I’ve been doing in years before,” Diaz said. “The second half of last year was hard. It feels really good to be healthy.”

Diaz, the organization’s 14th-ranked prospect, has long been considered one of the top defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He’s playing that way this season and Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett thinks Diaz could be a backup catcher right now for any team in Major League Baseball, and possibly start for some teams.

“Defensively he’s been a major league catcher for us all season long,” Barkett said.

Diaz has thrown out nine of 19 attempted base stealers. He’s allowed just one passed ball and hasn’t committed an error, starting 15 of the Indians’ first 21 games.

That’s all good, but to be an elite catcher Barkett said “forget the blocking, the throwing and the hitting.” Instead, focus on the pitcher-catcher relationship that consists of 180 to 200 pitches a game.

“I think he really wants to be a good player and I think part of being a good player in that position is you have to understand that throwing the fingers down, and the relationship between you and the pitcher, is probably the biggest part of your job,” Barkett said.

Diaz has to be on the same page with his pitchers. That doesn’t happen from the first day they meet. It takes time, patience and communication. Steven Brault previously mentioned he appreciates the ability to shake off a pitch call from Diaz, without his catcher taking offense.

“I have confidence in my pitchers,” Diaz said. “I try to put down the right sign every time, but if he doesn’t like that pitch then they throw whatever they want to throw. We have a plan for the game and we try to have communication and a relationship prior to the game on how we want to attack the hitter. Sometimes they want to throw one pitch and you have to let him throw it.”

Barkett recalled managing Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto at Double-A Jacksonville. In the first year Realmuto didn’t understand sequences, or do a good job of reading swings and approaches from hitters to attack in later at-bats, Barkett said.

“The second year, J.T. really began applying the game plan, reading swings and trust what he saw, trust his eyes and trust his instincts,” Barkett said.

At that point Realmuto was able to lead the pitching staff, understanding the game, not just “playing” the game, Barkett said.

“Now, with Elias, for a couple of years now, I think he kind of sees the cat-and-mouse game a little differently,” Barkett said. “He just has to continue to grow with that.”

And while there’s more to catching than blocking and throwing out runners, Diaz is excelling at that this season. There have been games when his defense behind the plate has not only saved a wild pitch, but saved runs from scoring.

Diaz’s arm has always been highly regarded and his play so far this season isn’t going to change those perceptions. He has fielded numerous swinging bunts to throw out runners and has thrown out base stealers for a double play after a strikeout.

“He has a great arm,” Barkett said. “We get him at 1.79 seconds, at times, which is ridiculous. But catching is about good footwork. Just like infield play or outfield, you have to have good footwork or otherwise it’s hard to be consistent. Elias’ footwork is really good.”

All of his defensive play is good, but somewhat expected. Diaz has always been adequate offensively, but has arguably turned himself into a weapon at the Triple-A level so far this season. Diaz has batted cleanup in 11 of his 15 games, including the last seven. He’s hitting for a .305/.317/.441 line so far this season. And that comes after he hit .318 in August last season, finishing the year on a high note.

In the past, Diaz has gotten in spurts of over-swinging, Barkett said, but added he’s done a good job of avoiding that this season.

“I think he’s a lot closer [offensively] than he ever has before,” Barkett said. “If you look collectively, his at-bats have probably been the best at-bats any of our guys have taken.”

Diaz is likely the future starting catcher in Pittsburgh, but not until Cervelli leaves. In the very least, Diaz will provide a more than suitable insurance policy at the Triple-A level assuming he can stay healthy himself. Last season Cervelli and backup Chris Stewart were injured at the same time, but so was Diaz.

Diaz has been considered a top prospect for several years, especially defensively. He’s making some strides offensively this year, letting his tools shine through on the field. At this point he’s just waiting for an opportunity for playing time in the big leagues, and might see that if Cervelli’s foot becomes an issue throughout the year.

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  1. is there any real reason why we think Cervelli is better than Diaz overall? – I have honestly thought given where we are at, that trading Cervelli now, saving the money, and giving the job to Diaz so he has that experience day 1 next year, would make a heck of a lot more sense.

    • It would! It’s clear that the main problem with this team is not enough talent. They need to play their younger players and get what they can in youth for their “veterans”. Hate to say it but they need to explore what returns they can get at TD for Freese, Cervelli, Jaso, Gosselin, Nicasio. Probably not much! My sense is that they have gone as far as they could with NH and it’s time or past time to move on. They look like the worst team in the NL Central and one of the weakest in MLB. A shame because their top 3 starters look excellent. After that and Rivero, it’s not looking good!

      • well anytime you take away 2 of any teams best 3 positions players, the team is generally going to suck…..not really NHs fault.

      • well without kang and marte, and will taillon down……yes, the problem is not enough talent. all we can do is make sure we are getting our young players the experience so that they can contribute in 2018, or provide value back in a trade. 2017 is pointless.

  2. “We get him at 1.79 seconds, at times, which is ridiculous…” Can you guys go more into this? Is this pop time at 1.79 seconds? If so, isn’t that extremely good for the major leagues? I was thinking average catcher pop times are ~2.0. Anything like that might be helpful in future player pages too, average times from home plate to 1b from your in person experiences, pop times for catchers, etc..

  3. It is past time to start playing Diaz. The same can be said of Ngoepe and Hanson. If they are going to lose 90, which is looking more and more likely with this uninspired, error prone play, at least do it with youth! This is looking like a rebuild, again, the team as presently made looking mediocre. A shame because the Mets and Giants are having down years so the do it to a WC would have been open! Great work again NH and thanks again Starling and Jung Ho. This club will be buried by the end of May if not sooner.

    • Diaz is earning his ‘veteranosity’ from the bench. Same as Hanson and Ngoepe.
      Time for Diaz to earn his way by challenging Hamilton. At least there should be some reasonable doubt with Hamilton vs Diaz.

    • Yes, right now the games are very hard to watch. We just don’t put a consistently competitive team on the field. There’s no use crying about Marte and Kang. No one else cares. Let’s give Diaz a shot.

  4. While Stewart provides minor league quality in Pittsburgh. Three steals already…only in third inning. Even the opposing catcher runs on noodle arm

    • Congratulations ! You have to make some of the most stupid comments seen on this site.

  5. Not surprised he is on the bench tonight with Cole on the bump. Hopefully ttomorrow night he will be in the starting lineup.

    • not a bad thought, he’s caught TG a lot in AAA. Might give both of the guys some comfort.

  6. Can’t wait to see this guy play for an extended period of time, not saying that’s now, but hoping.

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