Catcher Fernando Diaz turns 16 years old on Friday and he is considered by some sources to be the top prospect in Mexico right now. He’s eligible to sign on July 2nd and the Pittsburgh Pirates have been scouting him for quite some time already.

Diaz was invited to a tryout in 2015 that was held by Pirates scout Jesus “Chino” Valdez. He was later chosen in the winter league draft by Venados de Mazatlan, which has a working agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They also employ Valdez, who has signed numerous players from the team for the Pirates, so he had input into the draft.

Players in Mexico have to sign with Mexican teams first, then the Major League clubs “purchase” the players from those teams. If you’ve followed our winter coverage over the years you know that the Pirate players in Mexico almost always play for Mazatlan. This off-season, they had six Pirates see action, so that’s the team you want to see him play for in winter ball.

After Mazatlan signed him, Diaz went to a showcase, where all 30 teams had representatives. There is obviously going to be a lot of interest in him since he’s the top player in the country, but the Pirates have an inside track with their scout seeing him numerous times, including another up close view this winter.

Diaz was with Mazatlan this September/October as part of their preseason. I was able to get scouting reports on him, which said that his bat is strong, with the ability to drive the ball well the other way. The defense needs a lot of work, but that’s typical of a 15-year-old catcher who is in a league where the average player has at least Double-A experience. For his age, he’s considered an average defensive catcher. Diaz has also put in some time at first base, but his primary position is behind the plate.

Diaz didn’t have a realistic chance at making the Mazatlan roster, but the preseason work gave him some great experience. He’s a big strong kid at 6’3″, 220 pounds and there is already power in his bat. His older brother Andres played four years in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles (2014-17) and stands 6’1″, 240 pounds. Fernando credits his brother signing a pro contract as his driving force to also become a pro.

The Pirates will have a $5.25 M bonus pool during the upcoming July 2nd period, so there shouldn’t be any player they can’t compete to sign. There will be six teams with slightly bigger bonus pools, but that won’t matter in this case because he isn’t going to get close to a full bonus pool from any team. The rules in Mexico are also different, where the players only get 25% of the actual signing bonus, and that 25% is all that counts against the signing pool cap. So signing Diaz won’t require a large percentage of the bonus pool, which is now a hard cap (though teams can trade for a certain amount of pool money based on their original number).

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37 COMMENTS

  1. How much bonus pool money do they still have leftover for 2017 and what do they plan to do with that money?

    Its nice that they are scouting this kid, but that is very different from actually signing him. When they do that, I will be convinced this team’s FO is starting to get a clue about how important it is for a small market team to utilize the LA free agent annual signing period to sign high upside, although very young, prospects.

    I was perusing one site’s ranking of all MLB team’s farm systems heading into 2018. The Pirates were ranked 16th I believe. Teams like the Cards, Yankees, Astros, Phillies, Dodgers, etc. all have highly ranked farm systems and I would estimate half of their top 20 prospects were LA kids – and I bet a majority of them were kids who got $500k and up signing bonuses….The Pirates need to start competing in that market or they can just fold up the tent and go home – their current LA prospect signing strategy is a losing strategy.

  2. John, if only 25% is counted towards the bonus pool, how does that work exactly? Say this kid were another Acuna, could a team offer $10 mil eventhough their cap is $5.75 or less with only $2.5 counting against pool? I would assume MLB would not like that. Just trying to understand how it works exactly because I’m not really comprehending what was written above. Thanks.

    • I can’t imagine MLB would be mad at a rule that they made. The player’s bonus is all that counts against the bonus pool. Since no one from Mexico has ever come close to that amount, it’s probably not something they worry about and I don’t think they would change the rule if that once in a lifetime player came around. That’s especially true with the hard cap now and teams that were limited to $300,000 bonuses, possibly using it to their advantage. The penalties are all over soon and you won’t have a bonus limit other than the cap itself.

  3. So the speculation begins. The Pirates have an in because he is signing with the team that they get players from. One thing is missing however, the manipulation that Gayo had with the team where they would get and give back to him. How did that work out for him or the Pirates. Others teams will be willing to pay more than the $500,000 max the Pirates seem to have in place, so lets not get to excited just yet. Let it play out and if they get the kid great, if not, so be it.

  4. His brother was a 1b though, so interesting that the younger Diaz is bigger and catcher vs his smaller 1b brother. Always in favor of adding potential talent nonetheless. His brother write up from 2004 from an MLB.com report

    “[These are] very exciting signings of mine,” said Ferreira, who compared Diaz to Kendrys Morales and Reyes to Clete Boyer. “Diaz puts on quite a show in any kind of batting practice and then he puts it in game situations. He’s not just a workout player. The kid can project a high ceiling. He’s got good actions around the first-base bag. He’s a legitimate first baseman.

  5. Good grief, what is the possible downside of signing this kid? He can’t stick at catcher and ends up at first? How awful! As long as we can get him for a reasonable price, this seems like a no-brainer. If he doesn’t work out, we can trade him to the Steelers. Maybe he’ll be Big Papi II.

  6. Any hint yet about how the Pirates will handle int. free agents now that Gayo is gone? Any chance they’ll be willing to pursue the top big money guys?

    • None yet, but they have signed seven players since he left. We will get a decent idea of the post-Gayo plans with this upcoming July 2nd class, but with the way things work on the international side, he will still be the main scout for some players they sign. Teams agree to contracts so far ahead of time in some cases, it’s extremely likely that multiple players he scouted already have a handshake agreement with the Pirates that will still be honored under a different head scout.

  7. My goodness! A 6’3″ 220lb *15 year old*?!

    There’s either no projecitibility left in his frame, or no chance he ends up sticking at catcher. Nothing wrong with a power hitting first baseman, though.

      • Precisely why I asked the question. Paying high $$$ is a fool’s errand when the return is not that great. I’d stay away from this kid. He’s bound to end up at first base?

        • He may end up at 1B, but that’s far from certain. It depends on both his defensive ability and his body type. Many of the top catchers in baseball these days are bulky: G Sanchez 6-2 230, S. Perez 6-3 240, W. Ramos 6-1 255, Roberto Perez 5-11 220, Evan Gattis 6-4 253, Wellington Castillo 5-1 220, Iannetta 6-0 230, etc.

          • That could well be true, but when it comes to International prospects, I subscribe to the quantity theory.

            When historically there is a 80-90% failute rate of the Top 30 bonus babies, it makes ;ittle sense to throw big money at players.

            • It just depends. There are so many busts but there are chances at the next Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sanchez, or Sano, too. It just depends on the signability and what your scouts think they have. Luis Heredia was a massive fail for sure. It does seem like if you are going to drop a large chunk on a 16-17 year old Latin American kid, hitters might be slightly safer.

        • If they think he can someday be a 30HR hitter or if he has great eye and bat speed, whether he sticks at catcher wouldn’t matter. If you think he is the best young hitter in Mexico and you can sign him why wouldn’t you? Especially if he is athletic (enough) to play catcher now. It at least means he’s fairly athletic.

    • It depends a lot on how he got to that 220 lb. If it’s an inefficient 220, he could still get stronger by making his muscle leaner. And at 15, he could also still get even taller and add more frame to build on. If he’s got a belly to cut down on, doing so could also help him stick at catcher, even if he adds more muscle and height.

      But as you say, even if none of this is true, the bat might be worth the money on its own.

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