It’s not often you see someone write an article saying they were wrong. I mean, it’s not as like I said something silly like Starling Marte is a liability to the Pirates. Rather, I’m going to say that Elias Diaz has made a believer out of me.
Heading into this past offseason, I wanted the Pirates to get a solid veteran backstop behind Francisco Cervelli, someone that could handle the load in case Cervelli would get injured (he would). But whether they believed in Diaz or didn’t want to allocate resources to a veteran catcher, the Pirates entered 2018 with Diaz as the backup.
Diaz started to get everyone excited back in 2014 when he slashed .328/.378/.445 (823 OPS, 129 wRC+) at Double-A Altoona, as an age-23 player. He was pretty good in 2015 at Triple-A Indy with a .271/.330/.382 (711 OPS, 106 wRC+), but then seemed to reach a plateau in 2016. Injuries took away key development time for him, as well, but he seemed to be more a backup, at best.
By signing Francisco Cervelli to his three year deal at the outset of 2017, that told me the Pirates’ front office wasn’t really fully onboard with Diaz as a starter, either. It’s not like his 2017 performance in 188 at-bats turned any heads — .223/.265/.314 (OPS 579, 52 wRC+).
But here we are chugging towards the finish line of 2018 and Elias Diaz is on the cusp of having a very respectable season. His .284/.332/.442 line (773 OPS, 108 wRC+) in virtually the same at-bats as last year (197) is a marked improvement. His game calling and management, heretofore concerns by the Pirates, are solid. When Cervelli needs a rest or has been dealing with injuries this year, he’s been a steady producer behind the plate.
Diaz’s 7 home runs this year are more than he’s hit in any single season in his baseball career. In his age-27 season, typically the heart of a position player’s peak, Diaz is performing well.
Now this isn’t going to end with some grand statement that the Pirates should sign Diaz to some 6 year team-friendly extension. He’s just not that kind of player for me to risk it. I’m perfectly content going year-to-year with him and reserving the right to upgrade over him at the first sign of decline. Not everyone needs extended. If there is a downside to this season it’s that his framing numbers are pretty bad at -6.2 runs below average, putting him squarely in the bottom quartile of catchers.
Rather, I’m just going to enjoy his breakout performance and acknowledge that the catcher position is stable for the Pirates. With Cervelli’s recurring concussion issues, there’s a chance that he may continue to see more time at 1B in 2019 (as long as he’s not traded in the offseason). If Cervelli were to be traded, Diaz would become the lead sled dog. Would that expose him as not being a full-time starter ? Perhaps, but at this point I’m willing to give him the shot to prove me wrong again.