The Pirates starting lineup is pretty much set for the 2012 season. There aren’t any real battles going down for starting positions. However, there is a bench spot or two up for grabs. Right now, Nate McLouth, Michael McKenry, and Casey McGehee all have spots solidified. That leaves the Pirates needing a backup middle infielder for Opening Day. The two names that are going to be fighting for that one are Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro.
No one has said much about either of these guys during this offseason. So let’s take a look.
Harrison: Jay-hay had a half decent season in his time with the Pirates last season. He hit .272/.281/.374 in 204 plate appearances. He drew all of three walks in that time and hit for no power. His defense wasn’t great but it could have been worse, and he showed good intangibles, not to mention the fans really liked him. Harrison was a 6th round draft pick in the 2008 draft and came to the Pirates in the trade that sent John Grabow to Chicago.
For his minor league career, Harrison is a .306/.355/.424 hitter. Again, not drawing many walks and not hitting for any power. That’s the story. He’ll put up a decent average for you, but isn’t going to do much else. He’s played second base, third base, and even some outfield. Shortstop isn’t an option for him; he’s played just one game there in his career. All that said, Harrison has a decent shot at making the big league club, and he isn’t going to hurt you coming off the bench. He’s a good runner and a good contact bat, so he could be useful in the major leagues.
Harrison has a career wOBA of .287 and Bill James projects him to hit .278/.309/.383 and post a .306 wOBA in 2012.
Navarro: This guy is one of the newest Pirates. Pittsburgh traded Brooks Pounders to Kansas City to get him, and they are hoping he turns into a solid backup middle infielder. Unlike Harrison, Navarro does play shortstop, having played 19 of his 45 major league games at the position. In those 45 games, he hit .206/.250/.265.
His minor league numbers aren’t too impressive with a triple-slash of .279/.348/.430 and some speed. He’s never registered a 20 steal season, but he has had a few in the teens. There is some pop in the bat, he’s hit double-digit home runs twice. He also doesn’t draw a ton of walks (but he draws more than Harrison), and he strikes out a lot (24.4% of the time). His overall offense is probably not as great as Harrison, but he’s a better defender and he can play shortstop.
Navarro probably wins the upside battle as well. Bill James projects him to hit .224/.281/.312 this season and post a .267 wOBA.
I think the clear edge goes to Harrison here, however, he doesn’t play shortstop. The Pirates could try him out there, which couldn’t kill them since he’d be backing up the very defensively steady Clint Barmes, but I don’t know if the Pirates are willing to do that.
There’s a chance that both of these guys make the team, and putting them head-t0-head isn’t really fair because of the difference in priority positions.
Chase d’Arnaud is the other shortstop that could play at the major league level. However, I really think the Pirates want to give him more time in AAA while Barmes starts in Pittsburgh. d’Arnaud would be the starter if something happens with Barmes, but I would bet good money that he starts the year in AAA regardless of what happens in spring training.
Two other guys the Pirates got this offseason are Gustavo Nunez and Anderson Hernandez. Nunez is injured and probably isn’t going to be ready for the start of the season (especially since he’s a Rule V selection, the Pirates will almost certainly milk out his injury to avoid being forced to have him on the major league roster). Hernandez just isn’t all that great and he has no upside, so I don’t think he’ll factor in unless he has a massive spring training.
We’ll be talking more about these kinds of position battles once spring training starts and we see these guys in action.