#12, Catcher, Elias Diaz
The Pirates signed Elias Diaz in 2009 as an 18-year-old. He is now entering his age 26 season playing in a grand total of three Major League games. Unless Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart go down with an injury in 2017, Diaz won’t see much time until September.
This offseason I wrote about Diaz, and the final conclusion was:
"“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.”"
His bat contributes to this as well. Diaz posted a 128 wRC+ in 2013 and followed that with a 129 wRC+ with the Curve in 2014. His time in Indianapolis in 2015 saw him post a 106 wRC+, and in an injury-riddled 2016, Diaz played in just 35 games.
His defense remains solid, though he did post negative framing runs last season (small sample). But given his age and empty bat, which projects to be below league average especially given his size, his prospect status ranks lower now than in year priors. However, given Cervelli’s injury history, there’s a good chance Diaz will play in Pittsburgh, his impact will just be rather low.
#11, Left Handed Pitcher, Taylor Hearn
The Pirates drafted Hearn in the 22nd round in 2012 out of Royse City High School (Texas). He did not sign and was ultimately drafted each year through 2015, at which point the Washington Nationals selected him in the fifth round out of Oklahoma Baptist University. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Hearn in the Mark Melancon deal last July.
The left-hander, who does not turn 23 until August, has not pitched past full season A ball yet. Hearn has dealt with injuries in the past as Bill Ladson of MLB.com points out
"“When he was attending Royse City High School in Royse City, Texas, Hearn strained his ulnar collateral ligament. During his freshman year in college, he had two stress fractures in his humerus bone, and a screw was put in to stabilize the elbow.”"
Despite all these injuries, it is his stuff that makes him intriguing. MLB Pipeline’s description of Hearn demonstrates the stuff, but also concerns:
"“Hearn has relied heavily on his fastball thus far in his career. It’s a good one, at 97-98 mph consistently, but he would throw it 95 percent of the time and his command of it has been poor. If he could throw it in the zone, he’d miss bats, if it was out of the zone, the walks would pile up. His slider has a chance to be above-average, but he needs to commit to it more. He has a below-average changeup that needs a good amount of work.”"
We can see this in the numbers. In his 30 games in the minor leagues, Hearn has started only 18. He has pitched to a 2.98 ERA and 3.28 FIP, mainly because of his 28.2 percent strikeout rate. Hearn misses bats, but he does walk 8.9 percent of hitters. For reference, Francisco Liriano in his big league career has only walked 8.2 percent of hitters.
We rate Hearn highly because of his velocity and ability to miss bats. If never develops a third pitch he won’t become a starter. If he is regulated to the bullpen on a full-time basis, Hearn can use his fastball and slider combo and fit an Andrew Miller type mold. That provides value, and almost makes Hearn a top 10 prospect.