Positional Breakdowns: Shortstop

Throughout all of the turnover in the last eight years, one thing has been constant with the Pirates: Jack Wilson has been their shortstop. Wilson has stuck around since joining the team at the start of the decade. He’s the only player in recent years who remained with the Pirates in to his free agent eligible years. He was the focus of countless trade rumors the last few seasons.
Now that Wilson is gone, the Pirates are faced with a predicament. Most of their talent at shortstop is in A-ball, with a few options at AA or higher, and Ronny Cedeno as the only option in the majors who should be considered for the starting job. Even with Cedeno, the Pirates haven’t seen enough to make a sound decision, and you couldn’t fault them for exploring the shortstop market in the off-season.
Of course, they could just go with a familiar approach and bring back Jack Wilson, assuming Seattle doesn’t pick up his option.
The 2009 Season
Jack Wilson elevated his defensive game under Perry Hill to become one of the top defensive shortstops in the league, although his hitting didn’t warrant the high salary he was receiving. Wilson hit for a .267/.304/.387 line with the Pirates before being shipped out to Seattle with Ian Snell.
Before the trade, Wilson was offered a two year extension at $4 M per year. Many called this a low-ball offer, although that’s probably because they were lumping the offer together with the offer made to Freddy Sanchez. The $4 M a year offer actually seems kind of high for Wilson, or at the least it would be the peak of what Wilson is worth. Wilson has hit for a .276/.322/.390 line the last three years. Orlando Cabrera has hit for a .288/.332/.385 line in that same time span. Cabrera only made $4 M this past season, and I don’t expect Wilson to make more than that.
After the trade, Ronny Cedeno stepped in and was a surprise, mostly because of his extremely poor performance in Seattle. Cedeno hit for a .258/.307/.394 line in his time with the Pirates, and looked really good at times, both at the plate and on the field defensively. At the least he’s a much cheaper version of Jack Wilson, as Cedeno will probably cost half of the $4 M a year offer to Wilson going in to Cedeno’s second arbitration year in 2010.
The other players who received playing time were Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz, although neither looked like major league players, with Bixler looking horrible at the plate, striking out 26 times in 44 at-bats. I wouldn’t be surprised if both players were designated for assignment after the season in order to clear room on the 40-man roster.
The Prospects
The Pirates don’t have much to work with in the upper levels. Argenis Diaz is strong defensively, but is weak at the plate. Diaz made his debut in AAA at the age of 22 following the Adam LaRoche trade, and hit for a .233/.273/.240 line. Diaz has the upside of either being an Alex Gonzalez type bench player/defensive replacement, or in the best case scenario, a Jack Wilson clone.
Brian Friday hit for a .287/.365/.387 line in Lynchburg last season, but struggled in Altoona this year, hitting for a .265/.361/.386 line, and showing some poor defense. Friday is still young, although with a few good options coming up from Lynchburg, his 2009 set-back could cost him.
Chase d’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer are the two from Lynchburg that will be pushing Friday. d’Arnaud had a breakout season, hitting for a .291/.394/.427 line in West Virginia, then moving up to Lynchburg and hitting .295/.402/.481 from the leadoff spot. d’Arnaud showed great defense at short, and was smart on the bases with 31 steals in 2009.
Mercer hit for a .255/.314/.400 line in 513 at-bats, but showed some good power potential, with a Carolina League leading 36 doubles, and ten homers. Mercer has good defensive tools, but was rough at times in applying those skills on the field this season. Mercer and d’Arnaud will both have to make a successful jump to AA before they can be penciled in any lineups, and as we saw with Brian Friday, that’s not always a guarantee.
Benjamin Gonzalez is one of the more interesting prospects in the lower levels. Gonzalez was drafted out of Puerto Rico in the 2008 draft, and was said to have the best defensive skills amongst all shortstops in the Pirates’ system heading in to 2009. The only problem was that Gonzalez was considered poor on offense. Gonzalez countered that thinking by hitting for a .289/.363/.333 line in Bradenton as a 19 year old, then hit for a .250/.308/.333 line in a brief appearance in West Virginia. If his hitting turns out to be legit, the Pirates could have a nice all-around shortstop prospect on their hands.
The Future
I’m not ruling out the possibility of any of the prospects arriving before 2012, although I don’t think it’s as guaranteed as Pedro Alvarez stepping in to third base, or Jose Tabata taking over right field before 2012. Right now my money is on d’Arnaud to be the shortstop of the future, although Chase is learning second base, and could fill in there if someone like Mercer or Friday also becomes major league ready at the same time.
The Pirates aren’t without talent at the position. They’re just without readily available talent. That’s why a two year stop gap would be a wise investment. I wouldn’t mind seeing them take a risk on Ronny Cedeno, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am seeing a middle infield of Cedeno and Young for the next two years. If the Pirates don’t add a second baseman (which I’ll go over tomorrow), then I’d like to see them add a shortstop and move Cedeno to second until one of the prospects is ready.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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