Who is the shortstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates?


Who is the shortstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The now 31-year-old Jordy Mercer has been in the Major Leagues since 2012 and he has been the everyday shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2014. However, Mercer’s time in Pittsburgh is winding down.

Jordy Mercer is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. This means the Pittsburgh Pirates need to begin to focus on who their shortstop of the future will be. Luckily, they have a pair of internal options.

When most Pirate fans think of the shortstop of the future they probably think of 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman. In fact, a lot of Pirate fans would probably rather see Newman be the present than Mercer.

Although Mercer has been the team’s everyday shortstop the past four seasons, his play has never been able to match his strong rookie campaign of 2013. In 103 games in 2013 Mercer owned a .435 slugging percentage, .333 wOBA, a 115 wRC+, and a 1.5 fWAR. This led to Mercer slowly taking the starting shortstop job away from Clint Barmes in 2013 before completely taking over in 2014.

More from Rum Bunter

However, Mercer has never been able to replicate his strong rookie campaign. Mercer has failed to be even league average as a hitter each of the past four seasons, and his fWAR is just a combined 4.9 in these four seasons.

These struggles of Mercer have led to many fans wishing for the Pirates to go in a different direction at shortstop in recent seasons. Naturally, a lot of fans have become big fans of Kevin Newman. As I wrote about last month, though, there is no guarantee that Newman is the actual shortstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In short, what Newman is known best for is his offense but he has struggled at the plate the past two seasons. Due to the questions surrounding his defense at shortstop, Newman must hit in order to be an everyday shortstop at the Major League level.

The .316 wOBA, 93 wRC+, and .318 on-base percentage Newman has had at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016 and 2017 are, to put it lightly, concerning. What is also concerning is that Newman’s walk rate dropped from 2016 to 2017, and then dropped again when he got to Triple-A last summer. In turn, his strikeout rate has risen as his contact rate has also dropped.

These struggles by Kevin Newman have helped to open the door for another former first round draft pick to potentially be the shortstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole Tucker.

The 21-year-old Tucker was the Pirates’ 2014 first round draft pick. After some struggles in his first two professional seasons, Tucker began to show growth offensively in 2017. This offensive growth was great to see as Cole Tucker has always been a plus defender at shortstop.

Cole Tucker has the tools to be a Gold Glove shortstop one day. However, he has started to show the signs of being an above league average hitter as well.

Tucker started the 2017 season at High-A and posted a 10.8 percent walk rate, .141 ISO, .364 on-base percentage, .367 wOBA, and a 133 wRC+ in 68 games. Then in 42 games at Double-A he owned a 10.8 percent walk rate, .120 ISO, .349 on-base percentage, .329 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 101. His strikeout rate also dropped from 22.2 percent at High-A to 16.0 percent at Double-A. Additionally, his Double-A results came at an extremely pitcher-friendly People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona.

Next: Free agent target: Luke Gregerson

The emergence of Cole Tucker combined with the struggles of Kevin Newman suggest that it is Tucker who appears to be the shortstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tucker will start the season at Double-A but should make it to Triple-A before the end of 2018.

While Newman will more than likely get his opportunity to be the everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh at some point in 2018 or 2019, all signs point toward Tucker being the longterm answer at shortstop for the Bucs.