The trade of Freddy Sanchez to the Giants had two big impacts to the Pittsburgh Pirates system. The trade brought back top pitching prospect Tim Alderson, but at the same time it created a big hole at second base for the Pirates, with no reliable options ready to step in for the next year or two.
The 2009 Season
Freddy Sanchez was great in his time with the Pirates. Under Perry Hill, Sanchez improved his defensive skills. On offense he managed to bounce back from his poor 2008 season, hitting for a .296/.334/.442 line while with the Pirates. The trade that sent Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants opened up a big hole at second base.
Delwyn Young stepped in, but didn’t do much to win the job. Young is a big project at second, as he not only is learning the position on the job, but he isn’t even established as a full time player yet. Young hit for a .321/.386/.434 line in 159 at-bats before starting full time at second. Most of that time was playing off the bench, and making the occasional start as a utility player. In 195 at-bats as the regular second baseman, Young hit for a .221/.275/.338 line, a far cry from the production Sanchez brought.
Shelby Ford was considered the top second base prospect in the organization coming in to the 2009 season, and a strong candidate to replace Sanchez as soon as mid-season 2009. That didn’t happen, as Ford not only hit for a .188/.240/.279 line in 298 AAA at-bats, but hit for a .233/.325/.350 line in 103 AA at-bats. The numbers in AA were strange, as Ford hit for a .285/.338/.458 line in 319 AA at-bats last year. You can’t count Ford out because of one bad year, and he still has time, as he turns 25 this off-season, but he’s definitely not the heir to the throne anymore.
In Lynchburg, Chase d’Arnaud plays great defensively at shortstop, and has been learning second base. d’Arnaud hit for a .295/.402/.481 line in 210 at-bats in Lynchburg, batting from the leadoff spot. His big test will be making the jump to AA, something that Brian Friday failed at this past season.
As for Friday, he is getting some work in the Arizona Fall League at second base, and with a lot of middle infield prospects expected to be between AA and AAA next year, Friday could see a position change.
Josh Harrison was brought over in the Tom Gorzelanny/John Grabow trade, and hit for a .275/.310/.374 line in 211 at-bats at high-A this year. Harrison has a lot of speed and makes good contact, but he doesn’t walk much, with just seven walks in his time at high A. On the other hand, he doesn’t strike out much either.
2009 9th round pick Brock Holt looked promising in State College this year, hitting for a .299/.361/.449 line in 254 at-bats, and showing some good power for the position with six home runs. Gift Ngoepe also was a surprise in Bradenton, showing good hitting at times, and excellent defense. Holt and Gift are both too far off to take their performance seriously, but it’s good to see.
The immediate future doesn’t look bright for the Pirates. I don’t think Delwyn Young can be relied on as the starter going in to next year. The Pirates could add a shortstop and move Ronny Cedeno over to second base, but I feel there’s more value to be had in the second base market of free agency.
Guys I wouldn’t mind having on a two year deal are Ronnie Belliard, Adam Kennedy, and Felipe Lopez. I’d throw Orlando Hudson in there, but he’s a type A free agent, and I don’t want to give a draft pick up unless the Pirates get him for more than two seasons, which might not be responsible based on his age and the talent we have in the lower levels.
An optimistic view point would have a replacement ready by mid-season 2011, or maybe even by August 2010. A realistic viewpoint would have a replacement ready for the 2012 season. That means the Pirates are looking at a two year stretch where they will need an established second baseman. I would offer Felipe Lopez a two year deal with an option for a third year, just in case the Pirates don’t have any prospects ready by that point.
Lopez turns 30 next year, and has a .278/.349/.387 line the last three seasons, which is very impressive when you consider the fact that he’s played for five different organizations in that time span. He’s coming off a year in which he put up a .310/.383/.427 line in 604 at-bats with Arizona and Milwaukee. He’s also durable, playing in 143-156 games a year for the last five seasons. He’s also solid defensively, ranking fifth amongst qualified second basemen in UZR last year. I’d give him the same type of offer we gave Sanchez, and add an option for a third year, assuming he doesn’t re-sign with Milwaukee.
As for the future, it’s hard to say which prospect will step up. Was this just a one year fluke with Shelby Ford, or did his potential suddenly fall off a cliff? Will Brian Friday manage to hit above A-ball? Will Friday and/or d’Arnaud be used at second or shortstop in the future (something that I’m sure depends on whether we have someone else at short when the time comes)? Will Josh Harrison’s lack of walks catch up to him in the upper levels?
Considering Friday, d’Arnaud, and Harrison are not natural second basemen, you could say the Pirates’ weakest position going in to the 2010 season is second base. Luckily there’s some talent available on the market which should provide for some good options for the Pirates this off-season.