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).