Elias Diaz Could Miss Opening Day For The Pittsburgh Pirates
By Marty Leap
The Pittsburgh Pirates could be without a key bench player to start the 2019 season
One of the many unexpected positives of the 2018 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates was the emergence of catcher Elias Diaz. In his first full MLB season Diaz was a breakout player for the Pirates. The 28-year-old backstop emerged as one of the best backup catchers in the game, and paired with Francisco Cervelli to give the Pirates one of the best catching tandems in baseball.
Logging career highs in games (82) and plate appearances (277), Diaz slashed .286/.339/.452 for the Pirates. All of these were career highs for Diaz, as were his .167 ISO and 114 wRC+. Mix in plus defense and Diaz finished the season with a 2.0 fWAR, which, despite him being a backup catcher, was 10th best among MLB catchers in 2018. Diaz and Cervelli combined to give Pirate catchers a MLB best 5.3 fWAR in 2018.
After his breakout 2018 campaign, Diaz may not be ready for Opening Day in 2019. This is due to an undisclosed illness. On Wednesday, the Pirates head trainer Todd Tomczyk met with the media to discuss Diaz.
Tomczyk told the media that Diaz has been shut down from baseball activities and is considered to be week to week. He added that team doctors discovered the illness shortly after Diaz complained of symptoms prior to team workout on February 20th.
If Diaz were to start the season on the injured list, it could make one of the team’s toughest spring decisions and non-decision. The organization’s third catcher, Jacob Stallings, is out of minor league options and can not be optioned to Triple-A to start the season. Due to this, the Bucs were going to have to decide between carrying three catchers to start the season and taking the risk of losing Stallings on waivers.
Even if Diaz is ready to go, there are pros to carrying all three catchers to begin the season. You can read about said pros of carrying three catchers here.
What to do with Stallings becomes a non-decision if Diaz is not ready for Opening Day. If Diaz can not go on March 28th, then Stallings will begin the season as Cervelli’s backup. Diaz starting the season on the injured list would also create an extra spot on the Pirate bench. If he is not ready for Opening Day, odds are, both Melky Cabrera and Pablo Reyes would make the Opening Day roster instead of just one of the two heading north with the team.