November 7, 2008: Diaz signed with the Pirates as an international free agent, out of Venezuela, via scouts Rene Gayo and Redolfo Petit.
Like most little brothers, Elias, as he was growing up in Venezuela, wanted to imitate his big brother.
Diaz’s older brother was a catcher. So when Diaz was 5 or 6 years old and played his first game, he felt it was only natural that he put on the catching gear, even though it likely weighed nearly as much as he did at the time.
“I loved it,” he said. “That’s all I wanted to do—be a catcher,”
Elias is an athletic guy with a strong arm and at least the potential to be a solid hitter. He showed strong defensive skills from the start, but struggled to hit until 2013.
Diaz has worked very hard to understand how to attack hitters, general pitch philosophies and to understand game plans.
"I've learned a lot. So much more of the game is mental in the big leagues, especially with all the scouting reports and information you have on all the hitters. I’ve learned a lot just being in the scouting meetings and listening to coaches and other catchers talk.”
In 2015, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Diaz as the 11th-best prospect in the Pirates organization. He moved up to #10 in 2016. And he was still at #10 in the winter before 2017 spring training.
Feb. 8, 2018: Diaz's mother was kidnapped from her home in Venezuela.
Feb. 11, 2018: The mother of Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Elias Diaz was released, three days after being kidnapped in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, authorities said.
"Thank God, our security forces were able to rescue Mrs. Ana Soto," Zulia's state governor Omar Prieto said on Twitter. Ana Soto, 72, was abducted as she chatted with neighbors outside her home in a working-class area of the northwestern city.
Five police officers were arrested after the abduction, local press reports said. The five arrested officers work for state police, according to regional newspaper "La Nacion". One is a neighbor of the family and provided his colleagues with "all the information" needed to carry out the crime, the report said. Prieto confirmed that they were suspects. It said the group was detained Saturday by the national police agency CICPC.
"It really hurts when they go after your family," Diaz said in remarks published Friday by the newspaper Panorama. "I only ask that they not harm her and return her to me alive."|
Diaz, 28, is in Venezuela visiting his family, but was not with his mother when the kidnappers drove up in a van and forced her inside.
Elias sat in front of his locker and pointed to a box behind him. Inside lay a customized catcher's chest protector with "DIAZ" written on top and splashes of pink everywhere. Diaz vowed to wear that gear if he's behind the plate or just standing in the dugout. May 13, 2018, is Mother's Day, and Ana Isabel Soto has earned that much and more.
Diaz said through an interpreter, "From the moment I received this package, I took pictures of it right away and I sent it over to her. I said, 'Mom, this is all for you. Thank you for everything that you've done for us.'"
Soto was kidnapped in Venezuela in February as she was standing outside her house. They sought money, but received no ransom. Three days later, Soto was rescued. Diaz's mom remains in Venezuela, surrounded by family. For now, Elias can only communicate with her by phone—something he does every day.
"Glory to God, she's doing very well. She's at home, at peace," Diaz said. "I'm doing everything possible to bring her over here as soon as possible. ... We're very happy to see my mom doing well."
Diaz is simultaneously stunned, yet unsurprised, to see his mother like this. It's been only three months since she survived the kind of harrowing, traumatic moment many Venezuelan baseball players fear for their families. But Soto is mentally tough, Diaz said, and not just as a result of that experience.
"Siempre," he said. Always. "To be able to bounce back and continue forward, that brings us a lot of peace," Diaz added. "It brings us a lot of comfort. It helps us recognize that we have an amazing mom. My mom's always been like that. Not only has she always been a fighter, she's just always been a very optimistic person, someone that doesn't allow things to overcome her or bring her down. She's always been a fighter, a survivor. That's something she's always taught us and demonstrated to us as a family."
When Diaz arrived at Spring Training 2018, after spending additional time at home following Soto's rescue, he said he felt his "mom was reborn and I was reborn, as well." He's taken full advantage of this new opportunity.
That perseverance? Diaz learned it from his mom. The success he's enjoying? That's for her, too. "She's taught us to be fighters, to be people that don't throw in the towel and give up easy. That's been a huge part of my career," Diaz said. "Outside of God, she is my biggest support system. Of course, I always come out and play for my family, but my mom is a huge part of that.
"Coming from a country where we experience devastation the way that my mom has—just so much heartbreak in my country—it just reminds you that this is all worth fighting for and that I'm a very blessed person to be able to be here." (Berry - mlb.com - 5/13/18)
The Rockies signed 29-year-old Elias Díaz to an MiLB contract after he’d had a grim 2019 with the Pirates. Here’s how Bud Black described the decision:
It’s clear that the Rockies were interested in adding some offensive power to their catching corps. Rockies fans liked the move.
But then, to their frustration, Díaz did not see much on-field action early in the season. (There was also the matter of him violating team COVID protocols when the Rockies were in Houston, being sent back to Denver, and placed on the restricted list.) Ultimately, he caught in 24 games, starting 13 of them. It’s worth noting that Díaz often caught Antonio Senzatela, including his complete game against the A’s.
That said, Díaz was not a remarkable defensive catcher though he was the best of the Rockies. All were average to slightly below average defensively. (Butera had a DRS of 1 while both Díaz and Wolters were 0.)
According to Baseball Savant, Díaz was the Rockies’ best catcher in terms of catcher framing (37th in baseball) with Butera, 39th, and Wolters, 43rd, close behind.
For most of the 2020 season, it appeared the Rockies would be the lone team lacking a catcher-hit home run. And then, Elias Díaz happened, hitting not one but two homers.
As he earned more playing time toward the end of the season, his offense became stronger. He finished the season a triple shy of hitting for the cycle against the Diamondbacks.
Although Díaz did not have a remarkable year offensively, he did compare favorably to Tony Wolters and Drew Butera. Díaz slashed .235/.288/.353 and earned a wRC+ of 58. (For comparison, Wolters was 37; Butera was -11.) He also had better strikeout and walk rates.
There was some jersey confusion on August 6 when Jairo mistakenly put on Elias’s jersey.
It was a light moment in what was mostly a grim August for the Rockies.
Presumably, Díaz will continue with the Rockies. He is arbitration eligible in 2020 and becomes a free agent in 2023. (Renee Dechert@307Renee - Oct 17, 2020)
2021 Season: The 31-year-old had an incredibly productive season at the plate, slugging .464 thanks to 37 extra-base hits. His 18 home runs were the fourth-most in franchise history by a catcher.
Díaz did most of his damage at the dish after mid-June, homering in four-consecutive contests from June 28-July 2, the longest home run streak by a Rockies catcher in a single season.
The Venezuelan-born backstop also impressed fans at Coors Field in 2021 thanks to three walk-off performances, most on the club with Charlie Blackmon.
On the defensive side, Díaz did well with one of the best pitching rotations in club history. In addition, he handled an inexperienced bullpen that was one the better National League groups in the second half. The overall staff’s 4.82 ERA was the 10th-lowest in franchise history and the best mark since a 4.33 ERA in 2018.
Díaz also recorded 14 caught-stealings, good for seventh-most in MLB. His 42.1 caught stealing percentage was the second-highest in the Majors; he trailed only Salvador Pérez (43.9%) amongst catchers who started at least 60 games. (Patrick Lyons - Nov 18, 2021)
Dec 2, 2019: Diaz elected free agency
Jan 6, 2020: The Rockies organization signed free agent Diaz.
Dec 2, 2020: The Rockies and Díaz had reached a one-year, $1.2 million agreement for 2021 season, with $300,000 in incentives.
- Nov 18, 2021: The Rockies and Díaz agreed to a three-year contract valued at $14.5 million.
|Birth City:||Maracaibo, Venezuela|
|Draft:||2008 - Pirates - Free agent - Out of Venezuela|
Diaz uses a slightly uppercut swing to hit to all fields and go with a pitch when needed. Elias has a 45 hit tool grade and a 40 grade for his power.
Scouts see about a dozen home runs in the future for Elias, max, but they also see a tendency to get out in front of off-speed pitches. But he's worked so hard to become competent with the bat—and he has developed moderate power to the gaps and makes contact much more consistently. He has learned to work counts and find a pitch he can hit.
In 2014, Diaz had a breakout season as the regular catcher at Altoona, building on his 2013 progress with the bat. He doesn’t hit for a great deal of power. He had a decent walk rate and didn’t strike out much.
Overall, Elias has now developed his bat to where he should hit in the neighborhood of .250, with 8-10 homers per season. but he struggled a lot at the plate his first three years in the U.S. He decided to do something about it by taking the more-is-less approach with the bat.
“You can’t be a starting catcher in the major leagues if you aren’t at least a decent hitter,” Diaz said. “I knew what the problem was—I would panic when I was at the plate, put too much pressure on myself to try to get a hit.
“I knew I had to find a way to relax, take a deep breath and just relax. I quit worrying about hitting home runs, trying to hit the ball hard, and I concentrated on hitting the ball up the middle and hitting the ball the other way.”
The results followed. With his outstanding defense behind the plate, that should allow him to be a regular catcher in the Majors.
June 2, 2017: He ended the night with Pittsburgh's first six-RBI game since Neil Walker on Sept. 23, 2015. It was the first six-RBI game by a Pirates rookie since Andrew McCutchen on Aug. 1, 2009, and the first six-RBI game by a Bucs catcher since Don Slaught plated seven on July 2, 1993.
2019 Season: Díaz, 29, started the season on the injured list with a viral issue. Then he batted .241 with a .296 on-base percentage and a .307 slugging percentage.
2020 Season: Díaz, 30, batted .235 with two homers and nine RBIs in 73 plate appearances over 26 games for the Rockies last season. He has appeared in 276 games over six seasons with the Pirates (2015-19) and the Rockies, and batted .248 with 15 home runs and 91 RBIs.
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Elias's career Major League stats were: .248 batting average, 15 home runs and 203 hits with 91 RBI in 817 at-bats.
Elias is a defense-first catcher, though his bat came alive in 2015. And he does an excellent job back there, drawing raves for his receiving. He provides an excellent target. And he frames pitches well.
Diaz is said to be the Pirates' catcher of the future. (Spring 2015)
Diaz gives his pitchers a big frame to throw to. And he is very quick, nimble and flexible when it comes to blocking balls.
And he does a fine job of framing pitches with his soft hands.
In 2014, Eastern League manager rate Diaz as the best defensive catcher in the loop, via Baseball America's annual Tools Survey.
Elias takes charge of his pitching staff.
THROWING OUT BASE-STEALERS
His arm is well above-average.
In 2014, Diaz caught 33% of base-stealers in the Eastern League.
In 2015, he nailed 30 percent who tried to steal. Elias threw out 9 of 28 runners who were endeavoring to steal a base. During his six minor league seasons, as of the start of 2016, he had caught 29 percent (186 of 637).
- In 2015, Diaz was named the Captain’s Catcher Award for being the best defensive catcher in the minors, via Baseball America.
“That’s a great honor,” Diaz said. “I take a lot of pride in my defense. Defense always comes first for me. I have to take care of the pitchers. That’s the most important part of the job. All the rest comes after that.” Elias is most noted for his strong arm. Though humble by nature, he lights up and shows extreme confidence when asked about his throwing.
“I feel like I am threat to throw anybody out who tries to challenge me,” he said.
“He’s got a gun,” said Tom Prince, who was a Major League catcher for 17 seasons and managed Diaz at both high Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona.
While the arm is Diaz’s best tool, Elias is also mobile behind the plate and sets a good target. He has become an above-average pitch framer, which is a point of emphasis throughout the Pirates' organization.
“I threw to him in spring training and enjoyed it,” veteran Pirates righthander A.J. Burnett said. “He knows what he’s doing back there, especially for a young kid.”
Righthander Tyler Glasnow, the organization’s top prospect, raves about Diaz.
“He’s just a great defensive catcher,” Glasnow said. “You don’t realize how important a great defensive catcher is until you work with someone like him. He got me a ton of calls with the way he frames pitches. It’s definitely a confidence booster with him behind the plate.”
Diaz, though, takes special pride in his ability to work with his pitchers. It has been a process that hasn’t always come easily because he arrived to his first spring training in 2008 at Bradenton, Fla., with the limited English vocabulary of “hello” and “how are you?” He worked hard to improve his English and now speaks to his teammates with ease.
“I tried real hard to learn English as soon as I came to the United States,” Diaz said. “I still work hard at it. I try to learn a new word or a couple of words every day. It’s very important to be able to communicate both at the ballpark and away from the park. I think my English has improved. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty good now.” (John Perrotto - Baseball America - 10/09/15)
- Elias is slow
March 25, 2016: Diaz began the season on the D.L with a right elbow debridement.
May 3-July 20, 2016: Diaz underwent surgery to clear damaged tissue from his right elbow.
September 13-Nov 4, 2016: Elias was on the D.L. with cellulitis on his left knee.
December 2016: Diaz strained an oblique muscle while playing in his native Venezuela.
Feb 2019: Pirates catcher Elias Díaz may not be ready for Opening Day as he remains sidelined due to a virus of an undisclosed nature. Diaz reported to camp on time and in good shape. He informed the Pirates’ medical staff of his symptoms and sat out of the club’s workout on Feb. 20. Team doctors discovered Diaz’s virus shortly afterward. Tomczyk did not reveal details of the illness. Diaz is being treated and evaluated by the club's medical staff in Florida.
- March 25-April 21, 2019: Diaz was on the IL with a virus.