Friday, June 1, 2012

Welcome to the Bigs - Jordy Mercer

As I sit in my basement watching the Pirates square off in a rubber match against National League Central Division rival Cincinnati Reds, Jordy Mercer has already made quite the visual impression.  In the bottom of the first, Mercer did a good job fighting off a pitch from Johnny Cueto for a lazy flyball that easily dropped between second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce.  The single was Mercer's first major league hit, even if it wasn't necessarily pretty.  In the top of the second, Jordy Mercer did accomplish "pretty."  A sharp line drive hit pitcher A.J. Burnett in the back.  Mercer reacted immediately, charging towards second base, but stopped, performed a pirouette, and snagged the deflected ball before making a strong, accurate throw to Matt Hague to record the out.  The Jordy Mercer era had begun.

Of course, that is said tongue in cheek. It's far from certainty that there will be a Jordy Mercer era.  His career is an unknown, so attempting to peg him into a hole would be foolish.  Still, the major league returns are early, super early.  On the other hand, Mercer has had enough of a minor league career to provide some insight into the type of player he may turn out to be.

Mercer was Neal Huntington's 3rd draft pick as the Pirates General Manager, going in the round of the same number in the 2008 draft.  Signed for $515,000, Mercer was regarded as one of the better shortstops in the draft coming out of Oklahoma State, known for his strong arm and power.  Defensively, Mercer projected to stick at shortstop and has done so thus far.  On the downside, Mercer had documented struggles with plate discipline, especially on high fastballs and breaking balls below the zone.

In 2011, that power shone through as Mercer hit 19 HR's over two levels (AA and AAA), posting a total ISO of .185.  That ISO is more impressive considering Mercer only hit .255 on the year. However, when time came for the Pirates to call up a shortstop, Chase D'Arnaud got the nod.

This year, Mercer's offensive game continued to develop, with some ups and downs.  In 198 PA's, he did hit 3 HR, although his ISO dropped from the previous year in AAA from .146 to .114.  On the positive side of things, Mercer managed to almost double his walk rate up from 5.2% to 9.1%.  In addition, Mercer was hitting over .300 at the time of his call-up.  Most of that increase is due to luck - Mercer's BABIP went from .271 in 2011 to .368 in 2012 - and Mercer actually struck out more this year in AAA than last year.  Looking at the stats in depth, it seems Mercer learned to walk more and lost some power.

Despite that, over the course of two seasons, Mercer has flashed the potential to be an adequate or better offensive shortstop with a strong arm and passable glove.  There's no guarantee he puts it all together, and it's almost a certainty he won't become a star, but Mercer will most likely be given a short over the next few years to prove that he can be a cheap, viable shortstop option.  For the sake of the Pirates and their fans, let's hope that happens.

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