SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies catcher Elias Díaz learned the hard way to "try easier."
Last year, Díaz pressed after signing a three-year, $14.5 million contract, struggling to a .228 batting average, and was uncharacteristically erratic with his throwing -- which in 2021 had been a strength. Díaz played better during the second half, when he allowed himself to relax. He promises to stay relaxed in 2023.
Díaz, 32, figures his work capacity will help him improve. For an early start, he will play for Colombia (his mother is Venezuelan, his father Colombian) in the World Baseball Classic.
“Everything is very confident,” Díaz said. “I have confidence every day and try to do my best.”
The Rockies expected some ups and downs offensively from Díaz last year after a 2021 that was a tale of two seasons -- a .125/.193/.188 slash line through May, and .283/.346/.550 the rest of the way, including 17 of his 18 home runs. But the contract he signed after that campaign -- modest for starting catchers, but a boon to Díaz, who was non-tendered by the Pirates after the 2019 season and played minimally in 2020 -- was based on his development as a receiver and his throwing. His 42.1 percent caught stealing rate in 2021 was second to Royals star Salvador Perez’s 53.9 among catchers who matched or exceeded his 98 games defensively.
His slow offensive start in 2022 was expected, given his profile, but his seven errors by July 15 (62 games) were unpleasant surprises.
At least Díaz wasn’t alone in having a ’22 season during which he suffered from self-inflicted pressure after signing a new contract. Pitchers Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela and third baseman Ryan McMahon also struggled, but general manager Bill Schmidt is confident that all four just need to be the players the Rockies signed, without forcing changes because of increased paychecks.
“As the season went along he got better,” Schmidt said of Díaz's 2022. “It [his performance] was still not what it was in '21. But I think he's capable of doing it [again]."
Schmidt said he did not address Díaz regarding his struggles. Díaz pressured himself enough. But starting pitcher Germán Márquez saw a player who tried not to burden others with his issues.
“I could see that he was pressing, and I talked to him about it,” Márquez said. “But no matter what happened, he would come back to the park the next day positive. It was good to see him play much better [in the second half].”
Díaz’s best stretch last season came July 4 to Aug. 10, when he batted .273 with one home run, eight doubles and one triple. But then he missed 10 games with a left wrist injury, and his offensive performance was spotty the rest of the year.
“My expectation for Elias is the same [he has for himself] -- the second half 2021,” Black said. “What he did the second half of that year is something that’s very doable for the entire season. Last year, when he solidified himself with us and was awarded the three-year contract as a veteran player and core guy, he put a lot of pressure on himself -- which players do.”
Like the start of last season, Díaz enters the year as the only catcher on the team who has been a regular in the Majors. After him is Brian Serven, who made 62 Rockies appearances last year. Behind them are organization draftees Willie MacIver, Braxton Fulford, Drew Romo (MLB Pipeline No. 84 prospect) and Hunter Goodman, who could also see time in the outfield or first base, plus non-roster invitees Jonathan Morales and Ronaiker Palma.