The Pirates have shut down top catching prospect Elias Diaz due to concern over lingering soreness in his right elbow, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Diaz is seeking “multiple opinions” on the injury, but as Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets, there’s concern about structural damage. The 25-year-old Diaz spent last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .271/.330/.382 in 363 plate appearances. Baseball America, MLB.com and Keith Law of ESPN rank Diaz as the Pirates’ No. 10, No. 8 and No. 14 prospect, respectively. Each of the scouting reports notes that his defensive prowess gives him a high floor, but his bat, too, has come around recently and given him a chance to be an everyday catcher at the Major League level.
More from the NL Central…
- There’s better news on injured Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry tweets. Kang has been cleared to play extended Spring Training games without any restrictions or limitations. He’s played five innings on consecutive days to this point but can now take his progress another step further. Kang is recovering from torn ligaments in his knee suffered late in the 2015 campaign when he was injured on a takeout slide by then-Cubs utilityman Chris Coghlan.
- Turning to another Diaz within the NL Central, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes that the strong early play of Aledmys Diaz has probably taken away some playing time from Spring Training signee Ruben Tejada, who is nearing his regular season Cardinals debut after straining his left quadriceps in the team’s Grapefruit League finale. “We signed Ruben to give us depth,” GM John Mozeliak tells Langosch. “One of the things we wanted to do was allow Diaz to play. At the time, the thinking was to give him at-bats at Memphis and let him continue to grow. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen. He had to come here and now he’s getting a chance to play at the Major League level and he’s taking full advantage of that.”
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports spoke to Mozeliak, Cardinals outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and agent Joe Bick (who represents Hazelbaker) about the 28-year-old’s improbable journey from being released by the Dodgers in May 2015 to being one of the biggest stories of the early 2016 season. While Hazelbaker, who entered play today 10-for-19 with two homers and two steals, is of course due to come back down to Earth, he did make some notable adjustments to his swing mechanics upon signing a minors deal with St. Louis last season, which may have contributed to the best minor league numbers of his career. Hazelbaker was a minor league free agent at season’s end and received quite a few offers, and Mozeliak admits that the club gambled somewhat by not promising him the 40-man roster spot Hazelbaker and Bick sought. The Cards did offer him a hefty minor league salary, and injuries to Tejada and Tommy Pham created an opportunity on the big league roster. After thinking his career could be over last May, Hazelbaker says he has a vastly different outlook on the game. “I treat every game like it’s my last,” says Hazelbaker. “The last diving catch I’m going to have, the last flyball, the last stolen base or at-bat … that’s kind of how I go about it now.”
- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his staff could have assembled one of the most disciplined teams ever, writes Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom. While these Cubs won’t walk as much as some clubs did during higher-offensive eras like the late 90s and early 2000s, walks in today’s game are exponentially harder to come by. Fagerstrom looks at the Cubs’ early walk rate and uses ZiPS and Steamer projections relative to those numbers for the rest of the league to note that the Cubs are three standard deviations above the mean and are as far from the second-place team (Oakland) as that team is from the 11th-place team. Wearing pitchers down with a disciplined approach has long been a trademark of Epstein clubs, Fagerstrom notes, and this year’s team is no exception.