Díaz spent his first four seasons with the Pirates (2015-18), doing more waiting than catching until he played 101 games in 2019.
Yet, when the Rockies signed him for 2020, they asked him to wait just a little longer, believing his receiving and throwing could use sharpening. He spent much of the year assigned to the alternate training site, working with bench coach Mike Redmond.
As a result, a more-polished Díaz made the most of his chance last season. He overcame a poor offensive start before catching fire with his power bat, and made a defensive impact — particularly with his throwing. The end result was a three-year, $14.5 million contract he received after the season, and more opportunities.
All because Díaz understood that sometimes a catcher must wait his turn.
“Every catcher in the big leagues has a process to get to the point where you catch every day,” Díaz, 31, said. “Not everybody, but most.
“You listen to the coaching. You want to learn and get better. I needed to do it. Redmond was available to me every day, to help me with my catching [and] to help me with my mentality. I said when I came to the Rockies, I wanted to be the guy to play every day and now I’m doing it. But it took some time.”
The Rockies didn’t retain their main catchers in ’20, Tony Wolters and Drew Butera, which meant a greater chance for Díaz in ’21. He plunged immediately, as evidenced by his .125 batting average through April and May, but playing time was still available because rookie Dom Nuñez was also struggling with the bat.
From June 1 to season’s end, Díaz hit 17 of his 18 total homers — the most by a Rockies catcher since Wilin Rosario’s 21 in 2013.
The extra work paid off on the defensive end.
Díaz threw out 42.1 percent of runners trying to steal last season, the second-highest among catchers with at least 60 attempts against them to Royals All-Star Salvador Perez’s 43.8 percent. He displayed his strong arm in Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Angels, when he threw out Mike Trout at second base in the first inning and just missed nabbing Tyler Wade in the sixth.
“He’s getting comfortable with the [pitching] staff, more so each and every day,” manager Bud Black said. “The COVID year, he didn’t play until the last 20 games or so. Last year was big for him, getting to know the guys. Once he got in there pretty regularly, once he started hitting, I thought in his interaction with the pitchers and the coaching staff, you could see the confidence grow. This year, the same.”
Díaz saw the contract, friendly to the Rockies’ payroll, as part reward. but more an invitation to keep working and learning.
“Especially after I signed my extension, I want to keep improving my confidence, and keep improving myself,” he said.