The Pittsburgh Pirates are a small-market baseball team that often uses a lot of different players over the course of a season. A good number of those players aren’t exactly major-league caliber players, and they probably wouldn’t get much playing time outside of Pittsburgh. Last year we saw this with guys like Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Michael McKenry, and Pedro Ciriaco. In fairness, Harrison and McKenry did a pretty good job considering their ability and situation, and they could also make a big impact in 2012. The Pirates have a few new names in the system that could turn out to be those types of players in 2012. They most likely won’t start the season in the majors, but there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing these guys at some point this season. So let’s get to know them.
The first guy we’re going to talk about is Rule V pick Gustavo Nunez. I was very confused when the Pirates took Nunez in the Rule V draft, because I just don’t think he’s a good enough player to warrant any major league playing time in 2012. However, if the Pirates want to hold on to him, they will have to give him that major league time or he will be offered back to Detroit. The story with Nunez is that he has only played 34 games above the A ball level in his career. Last year he hit .215/.252/.289 in AA-Erie after his mid-season promotion. For his career, he is a .266/.320/.349 hitter that can steal bases and plays pretty good defense. The kid is just 23 years old and was an international sign in 2007. Again, he has never had a ton of success at the plate in his career, but he has still has a lot of developing ahead of him. Right now, he is recovering from an ankle injury which could buy the Pirates some time in legally delaying his appearance in the major leagues, but he will have to be up there sometime if the Pirates want to hold on to him. I just don’t see this guy sticking in the major leagues, and that bench spot is far too valuable to waste on a middle infielder that can’t help you on the field. There’s a chance you’ll see Nunez this year, but it won’t be for long.
Next is Yamaico Navarro, who the Pirates acquired in a trade that sent Brooks Pounders to Kansas City. Navarro is a 24 year old infielder that has actually had some major league experience. In 2010, he hit .143/.174/.143 in 46 plate appearances with the Red Sox, and in 2011 he hit .250/.303/.350 in 66 plate appearances split between the Red Sox and Royals. His minor league numbers are only marginally more impressive than that, as he is a career .279/.348/.430 minor league hitter. He has some power in his bat, which could develop into a tool that actually makes him a major league caliber player, but I’m not holding my breath at this point. He profiles as more of a second or third baseman, and has good arm strength. He will have to develop that power to warrant any team putting him at third base, so it’s a safer bet to say he’s a second baseman for the future. Navarro will start the year with Indianapolis, pending injuries to guys like Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Josh Harrison, or Chase d’Arnaud. There is a chance he will begin to take shape and turn into a good ballplayer that could help the Pirates down the road, but I expect his major league action to be on an emergency-need basis for 2012.
Anderson Hernandez is the third infielder we’re talking about in this post. Hernandez, unlike Nunez and Navarro, is past prospect status. He is 29 years old and started his professional career in 2001 when he signed with the Tigers. He has played 240 games in the major leagues and has hit .241/.300/.314 in that time. He is a career .268/.315/.356 minor league hitter. He stole a lot of bases earlier in his career, but that has slowed down as he has aged, and he has never hit more than 9 home runs in a single season. It’s no wonder why the Houston Astros let this guy go after the 2011 season, he isn’t a major league caliber player and he is already past the ages where players develop. Hernandez is simply a minor league depth guy, and I’m hoping we don’t get to the point where the Pirates would have to use him in the major leagues this year. There’s a chance he could fill a bench spot if there are injuries and the Pirates want guys like d’Arnaud, Harrison, and Navarro to get more playing time in the minor leagues instead of riding the bench at the big league level. Hernandez does play some outfield, but there’s even less of a chance of the Pirates needing him there than in the infield. Hernandez has the least chance of anyone in this post to wear a Pirates uniform during the regular season, but it’s not out of the question for right now.
The last guy I am going to hit on in this post is the most exciting of the bunch, and that is Jordy Mercer, one of the Pirates better infield prospects. Mercer was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft and has been an interesting player ever since. This guy isn’t a top prospect by any means, but he has shown some good signs the last few years. In 2010, Mercer his .282/.329/.373 in AA with just 3 home runs. He really started hitting for power last year with a line of .255/.317/.440 with 19 home runs in 132 games split between AA and AAA. The average and on-base fell, but the power rose significantly, and I’ll take that trade off any day of the week knowing the Pirates current situation. Again, Mercer is past the ages where he has huge power potential, but for a guy who plays middle infielder (primarily), he has a pretty significant power bat. Mercer will start the year in AAA and if he performs well, he could make his major league debut at some point this year. He’s not going to be taking Barmes or Walker’s job, but he could be a guy that could fill in for an injured player. Right now I would probably take him over the previous three guys mentioned in this post, and that will become even more true if he continues to hit for power. Chances are he won’t see the majors this year, but it’s possible.
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