Back in December I looked at the potential roster crunch that could take place in the Indianapolis Indians’ infield in 2011. With a group of talented young infield prospects making their way up from Altoona, and a group of off-season additions to the organization, there are far more players than available positions.
With the season getting closer, let’s take a look at who could be in line to play in the Indianapolis infield this year.
Starting the season, Jason Jaramillo should be the starting catcher. The Pirates signed Dusty Brown and Wyatt Toregas to minor league deals this off-season. My guess is that Brown will start the 2011 season as the backup in Indianapolis, while Toregas should provide depth in Altoona, or lower.
Ryan Doumit is expected to start the season as the backup catcher in the majors. If Doumit were to be traded, Jaramillo would be the candidate to take his place, which would move Brown to the starting role, and would call for either Toregas or Kris Watts to step up in to the AAA backup role.
As for prospects, it’s possible that Tony Sanchez could make it to Indianapolis by the end of the year. Sanchez will start out the 2011 season in Altoona, and his potential arrival in Indianapolis depends on how well he makes the jump to AA. Eric Fryer is another candidate to make it to AAA by the end of the year. He should start out in Altoona, and could get some time as the designated hitter. He would be less likely than Sanchez to make the jump to AAA. Sanchez will get most of the playing time behind the plate while in Altoona, which means Fryer could take over in Altoona once Sanchez eventually makes the jump to the next level.
The Pirates have three candidates to start at first base in Indianapolis at the beginning of the season. Steve Pearce received a fourth option year this off-season, and will most likely start the season in Indianapolis, as he is not projected to make the 25-man roster at this point. Jeff Clement was outrighted off of the 40-man roster this off-season, and will return to Indianapolis, where he spent some time last year. The Pirates also have Matt Hague coming up from Altoona. Hague hit for a .295/.375/.442 line in 509 at-bats in AA last year.
All three could be options to start in Indianapolis at the beginning of the season. Pearce could be a candidate to move to the outfield, Clement could serve as the designated hitter, and Hague could start at first. Clement could also start off the year on the disabled list. He was originally a non-roster invitee this year, but was removed from the list and assigned to minor league camp to recover from off-season surgery.
The Pirates have several shortstops who can also play second base, but we’ll save those guys for the shortstop section. As for starting second base candidates, the two top names are Josh Harrison and Corey Wimberly. There is a chance that Wimberly could make the majors out of Spring Training, and even if he doesn’t make the team, he could also play in the outfield for Indianapolis. Harrison had a strong year last year in Altoona, hitting for a .300/.345/.398 line in 520 at-bats.
Harrison can play second and third base, and has played in the outfield before. It would be more likely that he would continue starting at second base in the minors for now. He is very similar to Wimberly in that both are fast, have little power, and can play multiple positions around the field, making them potential super utility players. Harrison is younger, and still has the chance to be a starter in the majors, although that would require a strong batting average. Either player is a candidate to start at second at the beginning of the year, and my money would be on Harrison.
Jim Negrych and Shelby Ford are bench candidates that could be in Indianapolis at some point this year. Ford has pretty much washed out in the last two years, and is more likely to start out the season on the bench in Altoona, or even Bradenton. Negrych has hit well in his career, including a .295/.372/.416 line in 166 at-bats in AAA in 2010. He’s weak defensively, so a bench role as a utility player seems to be his upside.
As for prospects, don’t count out Brock Holt. Holt missed a lot of time in 2010, and there’s a chance he could return to high-A at the start of the season. If he continues to hit well, and shows that he’s fully recovered from his injury, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him make it to Indianapolis by the end of the year. It’s more of a long shot, but possible.
The shortstop position is where one of the biggest roster jams could take place. Chase D’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer could both make the jump from Altoona this year. D’Arnaud had a down season in 2010, specifically with his batting average. Mercer had a good average, but struggled hitting for power and getting on base at a strong rate. Neither players are guarantees to make the jump to Indianapolis at the start of the year. In fact, Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror had a quote from Kyle Stark talking about how the entire 2010 Altoona infield could return to AA in 2011:
It’s possible, Stark said, that the entire starting infield of first baseman Matt Hague, second baseman Jordy Mercer, shortstop Chase d’Arnaud and third baseman Josh Harrison could be back with the Curve. Those four played together all of last season, with Hague and Harrison enjoying the most success.
“There is a chance that you could see all or none [in Altoona], depending on what happens with the big league team and the Triple-A team,” Stark said. “A lot of it may be outside of their control. Some of it may be within their control.”
Out of that infield, I think Hague and Harrison are the most likely to start out the 2011 season in Indianapolis, while it’s very possible that Mercer and D’Arnaud return to Altoona to start the season.
Two players currently on the 40-man roster who could get playing time in Indianapolis are Josh Rodriguez and Pedro Ciriaco, depending on who wins the backup infield role out of Spring Training. Rodriguez would have to clear waivers, and the Pirates would then have to work out a deal with the Cleveland Indians to keep him in order to play in Indianapolis. That would almost certainly be enough to keep either Mercer, D’Arnaud, or both, back in AA at the start of the year.
Finally, there’s Brian Friday, who was at one time the shortstop of the future, but now looks like a bench option. Friday spent some time in AAA in 2010, and hit for a .257/.347/.378 line in 288 at-bats. He wasn’t much better in 2009 at the AA level, hitting for a .265/.361/.386 line in 407 at-bats. He gets on base at a good rate, and has some decent speed, but his lack of power, and poor average in the higher levels diminish his value. He’s also not the strongest defender. Considering the options available, it’s possible that Friday could be cut due to a lack of room for him on the roster.
The Pirates haven’t really used a true third baseman in the 2010 Altoona/2009 Lynchburg group over the last few years. Instead, they’ve worked with a combo of Josh Harrison, Chase D’Arnaud, and Jordy Mercer, with Mercer or Harrison playing third, depending on whether D’Arnaud played second or short. This year, the Pirates have signed several veteran third base options, and there’s a good chance that at least one will be opening the season in Indianapolis.
The three players the Pirates added were Garrett Atkins, Andy Marte, and Josh Fields. Marte and Fields are both in the same boat, with both players formerly being top prospects in the game, but never making the successful jump to the majors. Atkins had some success in the majors, which was heavily influenced by playing at Coors Field, but has struggled the last few years.
Odds are that one of the three will make the majors, and it seems like Atkins is the front runner at this point. I can’t see the remaining two players sticking around in Indianapolis, since there would only be room for one of them. My bet is that Marte would get the starting job at third at the beginning of the season, with the loser of the Atkins/Fields battle getting traded away or released (assuming neither has an opt-out clause). It is possible that someone like Fields could take the DH role if Clement is injured to start the year.
The Pirates also signed Christian Colonel earlier today to a minor league deal. Colonel is more likely to start off in Altoona, but could spend time on the Indianapolis bench this season.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day starters, with bench players in parenthesis.
C - Jason Jaramillo (Dusty Brown)
1B - Matt Hague
2B - Josh Harrison (Jim Negrych)
SS - Pedro Ciriaco (Brian Friday)
3B - Andy Marte
DH - Jeff Clement or Josh Fields
Candidates for outfield starting roles: Corey Wimberly, Steve Pearce
Could arrive in May: Chase D’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer
Strong chance at a late season arrival: Tony Sanchez
Could play in the majors in 2011: Almost anyone from the group above, although the players who could play the biggest roles are Jason Jaramillo, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Pedro Ciriaco, Corey Wimberly, and Steve Pearce.