Elias Diaz was once crowned the next catcher that was to take Pittsburgh Pirates by storm.
Unfortunately for Diaz, not all has gone according to plan. Fransisco Cervelli ended up receiving a contract extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates that suggested he is in fact the catcher of the future for the Pirates. Diaz does have a couple of aces up his sleeve, though.
He is a young controllable catcher and his salary is very friendly to the Pirates organization. Here now are three things that simply must happen if he is to spend more time with the big league club in 2017.
Improve his defense behind the plate
In Diaz’ limited time this year with the Pirates, one thing that was apparent was his defense needs some work. He needs to improve on his flexibility behind the plate. Pitches that were often time stopped by the chest pad with Cervelli, would go to the backstop when Diaz was catching. Another issue that Diaz must correct is his overall arm strength. In 2013 Diaz was throwing out an average of 26% of runners, followed up by 31% in 2014. In 2016, Diaz numbers on caught stealing percentage did improve to 52%, but bear in mind this was only in 33 games started.
Improve his power hitting numbers
Catcher is one of the positions on the diamond that you expect to receive some power. Diaz has not showcased himself as a power hitter over his first 8 seasons as a minor leaguer. Diaz best season was in 2014 when he hit 6 HR’s between the Curve and the Indians. He has compiled a .362 slugging percentage in his 8 years as a minor leaguer as well. That is simply not going to cut it as an everyday catcher in the majors, when you do not hit for average, either. Diaz combined batting average over his minor league career is .258. However, you can sometimes offset those poor power numbers with great OPS numbers by being a very patient hitter, but Diaz does not display that either. Diaz OPS over his 6 seasons in the minors is .685. Case in point, Diaz must improve upon his overall hitting if he wants to see an increased role at the major league level.
Another issue that Elias Diaz cannot totally control, but must limit is his injury history. While catchers do get beat up more than the average position player, Diaz has had trouble staying healthy throughout his 8 year minor league career. Speaking in more recent terms, he ended the season on the 60 day DL after having a procedure to clean up an infection in his leg. Another recent example could be in April as he struggled with elbow discomfort that would eventually turn into surgery. This injury kept Diaz sidelined until July 20th when he was then optioned to Indianapolis. It is important to understand that all athletes have injuries, but injury prevention can be a key part of what makes a player valuable to a manager and an organization.
It is not only hard for a player to get into a rhythm when they are injured on a consistent basis, it is also difficult on the manager. As a major league manager you want to know what pieces you have to use every day, like a game of chess. The National League presents challenges that you do not have to face in the American League, mostly the designated hitter. If you want to travel with the club as the back-up catcher, you have to be ready to come off the bench in a major situation ready to swing the bat or step in if Cervelli is injured. The Pirates strength and conditioning staff is top flight, hopefully versatility is something that Diaz can improve upon this year and play a full season.