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Pirate Diaz Could Steal Treasured Role from Jaramillo

With a wrist injury sidelining No. 1 catcher Ryan Doumit for eight to 10 weeks, the backstop duties will fall to a pair of rookies: Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz. The former Phillies prospect, Jaramillo, will likely see the bulk of playing time early on due to A) The fact he was on the 25-man roster before the injury, B) His defensive reputation, and C) The manager’s familiarity with him from their time in the Phillies system.

However, don’t count out Diaz from wrestling the No. 1 gig away from Jaramillo before the first month is up. Diaz is an absolute freak as a hitter. He’s a classic bad-ball hitter in the same vein as Vlad Guerrero; he’s never met a pitch he couldn’t swing at – and make contact with. His minor league triple-slash line says it all: .304/.340/.391… Great average, few walks, almost no power. During the past three seasons, Diaz’ walk rate has hovered around 4.0 BB% (because he swings at everything) and his strikeout rate has been around 9.0 K% (because he makes contact with almost anything). The walk rate would be a little more worrisome if it were not for his consistent ability to hit .300, which compensates somewhat.

For a catcher, a .300 batting average is pretty impressive (especially if you’re running a fantasy team). Diaz also has the potential to offer some defensive flexibility. In the past, the athletic catcher has seen time at third base and second base. There was even talk of trying him in the outfield. During his prime prospect days in the Jays system, the 25-year-old catcher was 5’11” and 170-180 lbs. Some reports now have Diaz pushing over the 200 lbs mark, which would suggest his days of playing second base might be over, but he could still definitely help out at third, first and possibly a corner outfield spot.

A few years ago, there was a near riot amongst the Jays’ minor league pitching staff that was pitching to Diaz. While conversing a number of times with one specific Jays minor league pitcher, he would speak of what little effort Diaz put into the defensive side of his game – especially his game calling. But that, of course, was just one side of the story. And, to be even more fair, it was three years ago and the scouting reports are more favorable now.

Diaz has made strides in his defensive game. He even threw out about 40 percent of runners trying to steal last season. Both his range and fielding percentages have improved in the past two seasons. His game calling is still not a strong suit, but at least games can be called from the dugout, and he has a good person to learn from in the form of Pirates manager John Russell, a former catcher for parts of 10 MLB seasons. There is also room for improvements on blocking balls and receiving.

I once had a Jays official tell me that Diaz could be as successful in the game as he wanted to be. Translation: He sometimes lacks motivation, and is happy to get by on natural talent more often than not. It’s a lot harder to coast on talent alone in the Majors. There are players who do it, no doubt. But unlike the minors, the media glare is much brighter and the veteran players are vocal in most clubhouses. There are some players, like Hanley Ramirez, that post better numbers in the Majors than they did in the minors, quite possibly for that reason. Diaz could very well turn out to be one of those players if given the opportunity.