Elias Diaz has been on the Pirates prospect radar for a couple of seasons now, especially with his strong defensive ability. As fans, we often talk about him having value and as a future starter for the club. But is that really the case?
Francisco Cervelli signed a deal keeping him with the Pirates through 2019, and Chris Stewart is signed through this season with an option for 2018. Elias Diaz is currently 26, turning so in November, which would make him 27 years old when a job in Pittsburgh is finally available.
Two months ago, I wrote that the Pirates should move on from Stewart and go with Diaz as the backup, with Diaz coming in at a third of the cost. I still believe that should be the case, but it will likely not occur. So the Pirates are stuck with a catching prospect, in his age 26 season, in Triple A. He is a nice depth option to have, but he could also be included in a trade as one of the lesser prospects in the deal.
Elias Diaz brings to the table an elite arm, and solid defense. With the stick however, the 6’0″ and 210 pound catcher leaves a lot to be desired. A quick look shows that Diaz is just a .258/.323/.362 hitter on 2255 plate appearances in the minors. He’s posted just a .314 wOBA and 92 wRC+. His bat just is not there.
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His best levels were A+ in 2013, AA in 2014, and the Fall league in 2014. In 2013, Diaz posted a .366 wOBA in 220 plate appearances. In AA in 2014, he posted a .369 wOBA in 367 plate appearances, and in the fall league a .380 wOBA in 60 plate appearances. The fall league is a rather small sample, and really so are the other two levels.
Diaz had just 37 plate appearances in AAA in 2014 (.213 wOBA), so that is a wash. But in 2015, Diaz had a .329 wOBA in 363 plate appearances. And his minor league total for 2016 was just 133 plate appearances, with a .310 wOBA. For the most part, in terms of plate appearances, Diaz has split time as the catcher. 2016 was cut short due to injury, but outside of that season.
Using MLB Farm, the ability to see where Diaz hits the ball can occur. Since 2013, Diaz has hit a ground ball 46.57 percent of the time, a fly ball 28.43, a line drive 17.87, and a popup 7.13 percent. Ground balls are outs, that is why the Pirates preach it.
Defensively, Diaz is solid. He is an excellent pitch framer. In fact, in his 6460 chances with Altoona in 2014, Diaz posted a +9 in framing runs according to Baseball Prospectus. In 4512 chances with Indianapolis, Diaz had a +2 in framing runs. However, he did have a down year in 2016, with -2.5 framing runs in 1809 chances.
Diaz also possess a strong arm, one that MLB Pipeline ranks a 65 on the 20-80 scale. They also give this description of Diaz’s arm:
"He has a plus arm, though he does like to show it off a bit too much and the Bucs have worked with him at quickening his release."
The arm plays, which is helpful with a team that has struggled to throw out runners. Partially the blame is on the pitchers, but the blame also goes towards the catchers. Diaz’s arm would help in the area of stopping opposing base runners from stealing left and right. His defense is also up to par to play on the major league level, backed up by his pitch framing numbers.
Diaz’s offensive struggles will always hold him back though. The .314 wOBA and 92 wRC+ he has posted in 2044 plate appearances is similar to the .319 wOBA and 90 wRC+ that Chris Stewart posted in the minor leagues from 2006 to May 25, 2011 in his 1477 plate appearances.
With his bat lacking and his age, Diaz is a backup catcher or a weak starting catcher. If the Pirates keep Chris Stewart around for the next two seasons, Diaz is better off served being thrown into a trade, even though his value is probably low, but he might be a more valuable trade option for the Pirates than a young, low level minor league throw in prospect.