Monday, December 24, 2012

The Pirates' Future At Shortstop

With Clint Barmes is entering the final year of his contract, the Pirates were reportedly looking for a shortstop in the Joel Hanrahan trade. Now that it appears that the club will not be receiving shortstop Jose Iglesias in return for the closer, what does the short term future look like at the position? 

As good as Iglesias’ defense may be both scouting reports and his minor league statistics point to him struggling to hit major league pitching. As this point, he looks like Clint Barmes with less offensive value, which would have limited his impact in Pittsburgh. So now it appears that the Pirates will be shortstop shopping next winter, unless Jordy Mercer or Chase d’Arnaud take a step forward next season, as the club will need to bridge the gap while Alen Hanson develops. 

The free agent shortstop market is not the strongest next winter. After players with options for 2015, Stephen Drew headlines it again, with Rafael Furcal, Jhonny Peralta and Barmes close behind. If Drew bounces back with the Red Sox next season, then he will likely be a popular option for many teams – probably forcing him out of the price range of the Pirates, leaving Barmes and a pair of players with questionable defense (at best). 

The ideal scenario for the Pirates is that Jordy Mercer takes a step forward next season and he appears to be in pole position for a backup role; however that would rely on Mercer being Clint Hurdle’s primary infield option off the bench. When Pedro Alvarez's wOBA of .284 and Neil Walker's .271 wOBA when facing left handed pitching in 2012 are considered, it underlines the significant upgrade that a right-handed hitter could have; so Mercer should be given plenty of opportunities against southpaws - especially the top left handed pitchers in the league. Furthermore, Barmes’ .240 wOBA when facing right-handers removes almost all of his defensive value, so Mercer should also be given opportunities a short next season. This will allow the club to access what they have in Mercer and he may also strengthen the line-up in the process.

The problem is that Hurdle clearly favored Josh Harrison over Mercer last season, highlighted by a spell in June where Mercer picked up just one plate appearance after being given a start on the first of the month before being demoted at the end of the month. Mercer spent most of June and July with the Pirates as well as August and September, yet amassed just 68 plate appearances on the season. In comparison, after Mercer’s promotion on May 29th, Harrison was given 194 plate appearances despite hitting just .226/.271/.311, which included starting 16 games at shortstop – a position that he had played just once professionally prior to the start of the season. 

If Mercer is given the opportunity but is not able to produce at the plate then that could give Chase d’Arnaud or even Drew Maggi a shot, however both players will need to take a big step forward this year. Both players have a lot of speed and decent plate discipline, but then they also have little-to-no power. d’Arnaud will begin the year at Triple-A, with Maggi at Double-A, so if the latter will be considered as an option for 2014 he will have to force his way up the system. 

Given the in-house options, it would also be logical to believe that the Pirates would have an interest in Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, although I have seen no rumors indicating that this is the case. Diaz has a workout on January 5th before he turns 23 on January 8th and will likely wait until that date to sign with a club. If Diaz signs any earlier then he’ll be subject to the restricted international signing budgets of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, limiting his potential signing bonus. 

His statistics in the Serie Nacional de BĂ©isbol (Cuba), 2008-11 courtesy of Amazin’ Avenue and 2012 from beisbolencuba.com, backs up the report from mlb.com’s Jesse Sanchez that Diaz can hit for power and average:

Year
Age
AB
AVG
OBP
SLG
HR
SB
2008
18
32
.281
.313
.281
0
0/1
2009
19
276
.341
.401
.482
5
0/5
2010
20
262
.282
349
.363
3
2/7
2011
21
282
.294
.435
.433
7
1/3
2012
22
313
.315
.404
.500
12
11/13

While power has developed over his last few years in the Cuban league, Diaz certainly has displayed the ability to get on base. Plate discipline is always something that I look for in a player, as it is something that is difficult to teach, so the fact that he demonstrated the ability to take a walk at such a young age is impressive (he walked 36 times and struck out 25 times in his final season in Cuba). I have found a few videos of Diaz on YouTube, at the plate displaying good bat speed to hit a home run (link) as well as a double (link) and in the field demonstrating range (link) and his arm (link) – albeit with less impressive range. It would be a questionable decision if the Pirates were not in on Diaz, given that none of their options in the upper minors offer any guarantees of being other than depth off the bench. While he may not be ready for the majors initially, he would certainly begin his career in the upper levels of the system so could well receive a September call up to audition for a role in 2014.

With Clint Barmes entering his final season of his contract, the Pirates should be looking ahead to bridge the gap to Alen Hanson's projected arrival. Jordy Mercer will get a look in a utility role in 2013 and should be given the majority of plate appearances over Josh Harrison (who had 276 plate appearances last season). If Mercer can pick up 300+ PA when facing left-handed pitching for Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker as well as right-handers when covering for Barmes, the club would have a good idea of what they will need to do at short next winter as well as likely improving the line-up by taking the platoon advantage against southpaws. Nonetheless, Aledmys Diaz should also be on the club’s immediate radar, given he's a shortstop that should have offensive value. He has plus plate discipline, which should help him develop further as a hitter, as well as decent power and a good arm defensively. Diaz is not major league ready so will have to spend some time in the minors; however he would instantly become the leading candidate to become Clint Barmes’ successor.

9 comments:

  1. Great article.

    From Baseball America

    "In Florida State League Best Tools balloting, [Gift] Ngoepe was voted the best defensive shortstop in the high Class A circuit by league managers. He fell just short of also being named the league's most exciting player."

    2013 SS lineup

    Majors - Barmes, Mercer
    AAA - D'Arnaud
    AA - Ngoepe
    High A - Hanson
    Low A - Moroff
    Short A / Rookie - Osuna, Reyes, Kennelly

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The concern with Ngoepe is his bat which limits his upside. Hopefully he can cut the strikeouts while maintaining a high walk rate as he moves up the system. Still, trying out Mercer properly in a utility role and adding Diaz would be worthwhile - having 2/3 guys who could start at the position would be a great problem to have

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