Rox catchers see careers intertwine once more

Díaz, Stallings together again after coming up with Pirates

February 21st, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- set a Rockies record by catching in 126 games last season, and he will never turn away from playing time. But since the club would rather rest him more this year, he at least has an old friend to handle the games when he’s not playing.

The Rockies signed veteran , who was a catching partner of Díaz during their days with the Pirates. Díaz, last year’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, and Stallings, who won a Gold Glove Award with the Pirates in 2021 and spent the past two years with the Marlins, hope to smooth the waters for a Rockies pitching staff that struggled through injury and inexperience last year.

“We grew together,” Díaz said. “We played High-A and Triple-A and big leagues for a couple years. We have a good relationship, and he’s a good friend. I love to have him.

“I like to play, but I know he’s going to play and I know he can play. It’s going to be good. We’re going to have good times here.”

Stallings, whose AL/NL-record 256-game streak without a passed ball from 2020-23 surpassed a mark held by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, looks forward to a healthy stretch of playing time alongside a friend.

“Anytime you come up with somebody, go through the Minor League grind with him, it’s cool to see any success he has at the big league level -- what he did in the All-Star Game was a pretty cool moment,” Stallings said.

Both have shown offensive potential.

Díaz, 33, the first catcher in Rockies history to play in an All-Star Game, had his best season as a regular -- a .267/.316/.409 slash line with 14 home runs and 72 RBIs. Díaz had a .774 OPS and 18 homers in 2021 but dipped to a .648 OPS in ’22, when he admittedly felt the pressure of a three-year, $14.5 million contract.

Last season was rewarding, and becoming the first Midsummer Classic MVP from Venezuela since the Reds’ Dave Concepcion in 1982 touched off a winterlong celebration in his homeland. Díaz provided for children in Venezuela through his foundation.

“Every time I go home, I take energy,” Díaz said. “It was my best year. You can see what I did. But it’s over. I learned from everything, and now it’s a new year. I’m healthy, and I’ll try to do my best every day.”

Stallings had three straight seasons (2019-21) with an OPS over .700. In ’21, he batted .246 with eight home runs and a .704 OPS while playing 112 games and earning the Gold Glove.

Traded to the Marlins before 2022, Stallings saw a downturn in his offensive numbers (combined .210/.287/.290 slash line). The Rockies need competitive offense from Stallings.

“I just got off to such a bad start to both seasons,” Stallings said. “Once I was able to get through the bad start, I was pretty much who I've always been for the rest of those seasons. I’m not going to go out and hit 30 home runs this year, so it’s whatever the at-bat at the moment calls for -- driving in a run or getting on base.”

The lack of another solid-hitting catcher was part of the reason Díaz played so often last season. Brian Serven batted .130 and saw his already sporadic playing time lessen before he was sent to Triple-A. He now is with the Blue Jays. The eventual catching partner was Austin Wynns, who received high marks for strategy and receiving but batted .214 in 45 games with the Rockies. He signed with the Reds over the winter.

Díaz served as designated hitter eight times, and entered behind the plate as a reserve 10 times in an effort to help an already light lineup.

If the roster is healthy, Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant, Elehuris Montero and others can rotate as DH while Díaz and Stallings share the tasks of not only lengthening the lineup, but helping the pitchers.

The old working relationship should help.

“In the past, we would try to help each other -- he asks me questions, and I ask him,” Díaz said. “We’ll try to be together and help the team.”