Going into the season, Elias Diaz was to be a valuable Triple-A depth option at catcher. Does his injury leave the Pirates in a precarious position?
The Pirates’ season has only just begun and some may think it’s too soon to be wringing hands about injuries. But a carry-over Spring Training injury to minor leaguer Elias Diaz again exposes a potential difficult situation in Pirates catching should the unthinkable happen to starter Francisco Cervelli or back-up Chris Stewart.
As long as Diaz is healthy, an injury at the major league level would not be a good thing, by any measure, but manageable in the short term. Diaz is currently fingered as the next guy to take on the backstop role with the Bucs – which could be as soon as next year with Cervelli hitting free agency at the end of this season and the team locking Stewart in with a new 2 year, $3 million contract. At 25, he’s played in the minors and his native Venezuelan Winter League for seven seasons, two at Triple-A Indianapolis and even saw two games’ worth of MLB action with the Pirates last season. Obviously he’s a departure from the veteran catchers who have played a pivotal role in team success since bringing Russell Martin on board in 2013, but with time and exposure, Diaz is a very promising prospect who could likely perform well-enough if called up.
But with Diaz currently on the 15-day DL with an arm issue we know relatively little about – what options do the Pirates have if an early season injury takes one of their catchers down?
With Diaz out, the Indianapolis Indians added Jacob Stallings to their roster. He’s spent four years in the minors, last year splitting duties with Sebastian Valle in Double-A Altoona. He made a good showing in Spring Training, and our own Justin Frazee projects him to get starting duties in Indy. Ed Easley, who the Pirates signed to a minor league contract in January, will likely serve as back-up catcher for the Indians this season. Easley, who’s spent nine season in the minors, has twice as many MLB games under his belt than Diaz, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, where he went hitless in six at-bats.
So, who gets the call? Let’s hope we don’t have to go there, but the safe bet would be Easley just given his experience. He caught 88 games in Triple-A Memphis last year with a .251 average, and even though he went hitless when he went up to the show, he still has the experience of having been there. While showing signs of a very bright future in his first big league spring training camp, this season will be Stallings’ first experience catching on the triple-A level, and if there’s one thing we know about the Pirates, they like to give their prospects plenty of time to mature in the minors before promoting them.
Just how long will Stallings be with the Indians? That’s the question of the day. The Pirates’ Injury Report notes that Diaz was “Placed on 15-day DL on April 2, retroactive to March 25” and his timeline for return is TBD. Just to add context, injury notes for Jung-Ho Kang and Jared Hughes both list “Possibly April” for their return.
So what exactly is wrong with Diaz’s arm anyway?
According to reports from Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 23, a chronic elbow issue:
We learned from the Tribune’s Rob Biertempfel on March 26, however, that Diaz was not as laid back as Pirates trainers.
So what’s the prognosis and treatment? The Pirates aren’t saying, but Diaz says he’s trusting in God that he’ll be back behind the dish soon.