BRADENTON, Fla. – Elias Diaz is still out with an undisclosed illness, which has now put him in question for the Opening Day roster. Francisco Cervelli isn’t currently injured, but his history of injuries are well documented.
That combination leads to an examination of the catching depth for the Pirates. You could argue that the catching position was already where the Pirates were weakest with their depth, position-wise. They do have some good options at the top, and a solid number three guy in Jacob Stallings. But the drop off after Stallings is steep.
If Diaz does need to miss time, Stallings would provide an easy solution to pair with Cervelli. This would also temporarily solve the issue of what to do with Stallings, who is out of options. As for options, the guys behind Stallings might show why it’s so important to keep him.
The Pirates are fine with Cervelli and Stallings, but what if Cervelli’s injury history has a repeat? Then you’ve got Stallings as the starter and likely Steven Baron as the backup.
Baron was signed this offseason as a minor league free agent. He’s got a .640 OPS in 529 plate appearances in Triple-A, and his career minor league numbers aren’t better. He’s made a few brief appearances in the majors. He looks like a defense-only option, and in this scenario it would likely be Stallings getting the bulk of the work.
The other option would be Christian Kelley. He also hasn’t shown much on offense, although I like the raw tools, especially with his power potential. Kelley does have solid defense, and it could be good enough to allow him to play in the majors in an emergency role, despite the fact that he hasn’t spent any time above Double-A.
The other two catchers in Spring Training are in similar situations. Jason Delay and Arden Pabst both have the defense to be an emergency option. However, the jump for these guys would be extreme, and the Pirates would be better off finding a journeyman option than calling them up from Double-A. That’s especially true of Pabst, who showed some good offensive potential last year in Bradenton, and has been making solid contact early in Spring Training. He’d be better served working on his development, with the hope that he could be a major league catcher one day, rather than just a short-term replacement.
I wouldn’t say that the Pirates are in desperate need of another catching option right now. Again, they’re fine with Cervelli and Stallings until Diaz returns, and we don’t even know how much time Diaz would miss, or if he’d miss any at all.
I think the Diaz illness has made one thing clear: the Pirates need to find a way to hold onto Jacob Stallings, because the catching depth really drops off after him. And if Diaz or Cervelli need to miss a long period of time, that’s when the Pirates need to bring in extra options from the outside.