By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.—Is Curve infielder Chris Diaz a future major leaguer? Only time will tell, but his versatility will keep big league organizations, including the Pirates, looking at him.
“The big leagues want guys who can play multiple positions,” Curve manager Joey Cora said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field, “and he’s helping himself by playing multiple positions.
“In my (playing) days, big league teams carried 10 or 11 pitchers and usually 15 position players,” Cora said. “Now, many teams have 12, 13 or even 14 pitchers so the position players have to be more versatile.
“Chris is pretty good defensively,” Cora continued. “From what I’ve seen, he handles shortstop and second base very well. I haven’t seen him at third yet, but I’m sure he can handle it, too. He makes all the plays.”
Larry Broadway, the Pirates director of minor league operations, has also been impressed with Diaz, picked by the Bucs out of North Carolina State in the 11th round of the 2012 draft.
“He did a great job at Bradenton last year when Jacoby Jones was moved and he had the opportunity to play every day,” Broadway said. “He was great defensively and earned his promotion here.
“The more versatile minor leaguers are, the more they can help you at the big-league level,” Broadway said. “It’s huge for managers and players because they have more opportunities.”
The 5-9, 180-pound Diaz was born in Miami and moved to Apex, N.C. when he was 16. He played high school ball in North Carolina and eventually wound up at N.C. State where, as a junior, he batted .356 with 25 doubles, 55 RBIs and 54 runs scored in 61 games.
“I followed in my brother’s footsteps,” Chris said.
Jonathan Diaz, who is five years older than Chris, also had a fine career at N.C. State. He’s played in the major leagues with the Red Sox and Blue Jays and is playing for the Yankees’ Class AAA team this season.
“He and my dad were my role models growing up,” Chris said. “My brother and I talk a couple times a week. His experiences have helped me tremendously.
“Just seeing what he’s gone through has helped me pursue my dream,” Chris said. “Seeing his perseverance with limited opportunities and how professional he is in everything he does makes me try to emulate him.”
After being drafted, Chris played the 2012 season at short-season State College. He missed most of the 2013 campaign after suffering an ACL injury limited him to 42 games between the GCL Pirates and low-A West Virginia.
He played 82 games at West Virginia in 2014 then got his best opportunity in 2015 when he replaced Jones and played 96 games, batting .248, for the high-A Bradenton Marauders.
“Getting the opportunity to play regularly helps a lot,” Diaz said. “It certainly helps you find a rhythm and it’s easier to move up if you play multiple positions. Josh Harrison is a good example.”
Unlike many utility-type players, Diaz hasn’t played the outfield yet, but he’s ready.
“Wherever they want me, I’ll play,” he said. “As long as I’m on the field, I don’t care.”
Diaz is enjoying his first season with the Curve, who, after a slow start, are in the thick of the playoff picture in the Eastern League’s Western Division.
“It’s been nice,” he said. “The fans are great and the stadium is nice. It’s been a great experience.”