Pirates notebook: Breakout of catching prospect Diaz a pleasant surprise

Travis Sawchik
| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 6:51 p.m.

MILWAUKEE — Elias Diaz did not appear on Baseball America's top 10 list of Pirates' prospects in the spring. Baseball Prospectus has not authored a single word on him this season.

But one reason Tony Sanchez will log time at first base as the Triple-A season winds down is because of Diaz, a 23-year-old catcher who has improved his stock dramatically this season. Diaz was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis last week.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Diaz has been one of the Pirates' “brightest young prospects, development-wise” this season and added a number of teams asked about Diaz before the trade deadline.

Diaz has the potential to pass Sanchez on the organization's catching depth chart, which is noteworthy since Russell Martin is a free agent after the season.

Diaz always has been regarded as a strong defensive catcher since he signed out of Venezuela as an international free agent. Baseball America rated him as the best defensive catcher in the Double-A Eastern League this season. What has changed is his offense. Diaz hit .328 with nine home runs in 92 games with Double-A Altoona.

“All the defensive skills have showed up extremely well. … The arm, they all glow about. The accuracy (of the arm),” Hurdle said. “The bat has shown up as well. He's grinding out at-bats. He's hitting. He's been having at-bats like Russell Martin this year.

“I'm never surprised when players have success or when they pop. That's why you draft them. That's why you work with them. … He's a guy we'll have more conversation about over the winter.”

Another day off for Polanco

Rookie Gregory Polanco was held out of the starting lineup for a fourth straight game. Travis Snider made the start in right field.

Why has Polanco struggled? He might be tired. Dating to last October, Polanco has played in 178 games across various levels — winter ball, spring training, Triple-A and the majors — and has 682 at-bats.

“I played year round, played winter ball, then went into a season,” Hurdle said. “It doesn't matter if you're young. … I was anticipating a little bit of fatigue somewhere along the line just because it wasn't like he was playing three times a week (this winter). He won MVP and won the batting title.”

Hurdle believes the fatigue is showing up in Polanco's bat speed. He has struggled with elevated fastballs. The Pirates do have a date in mind to get Polanco back in the starting lineup.

Said Hurdle: “He's not in perpetual timeout.”

First-base platoon update

Pedro Alvarez made his second career start at first base Saturday. Hurdle said he wanted to go with power on power against right-handed Brewers starter Wily Peralta, whose fastball averages 95.4 mph. Alvarez is borrowing a first baseman's glove while he breaks in his own mitt, Hurdle said. Hurdle declined to say whose mitt he was borrowing.

Fathers' days

For the second straight year, the Pirates organized a dads trip, where any of the Pirate players fathers were welcome to join the club on the trip to Milwaukee. Eighteen dads are with the club in Milwaukee. Last season, the dads went to Chicago.

“We had them in the same time the All-Stars were announced (last year), and a number of fathers who had sons that were All-Stars were there for that, which was really cool,” Hurdle said. “They are out on the field shagging. It's just a blast. These are the guys you've been connected to since you were 6 in the backyard.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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