Shortstops Thriving in May
One of the biggest needs on the team, at least if you listen to the cries of the fans, is a long term shortstop in Pittsburgh. Ronny Cedeno has been incredibly inconsistent in his time with the Pirates, showing flashes of a strong defensive ability, but usually following that up by booting an easy, routine play. The Pirates don’t have a guaranteed shortstop of the future, although they do have two guys with the ability to be an upgrade over Cedeno, which isn’t saying a lot, since Cedeno rates as slightly below average at his position.
The closest to the majors is Chase d’Arnaud. He is also the top shortstop prospect in the system. D’Arnaud broke on to the scene in 2009, when he hit for a .291/.394/.427 line in 213 at-bats in West Virginia, followed up by a .295/.402/.481 line in 210 at-bats in Lynchburg. D’Arnaud struggled in his jump to AA, hitting for a .247/.331/.377 line in 530 at-bats in 2010. He didn’t get off to a good start this year in AAA, with a .217/.323/.373 line in the month of April. However, things have turned around for d’Arnaud in the month of May.
Chase is currently hitting for a .354/.386/.508 line in 65 at-bats during the month of May. Last night he snapped an eight game hitting streak, which saw him go 16-for-30 at the plate. He’s also been a threat on the bases, with seven steals in eight attempts this month. The one downside is that he’s not walking as much this month, although when you’re hitting everything in sight, you don’t have room for many walks.
It wouldn’t be fair to write off the month of April and suggest the month of May is legit. D’Arnaud has 148 at-bats on the year, and his overall line points to a .277 average with a .782 OPS. If he can manage to be a .270s hitter with an .800 OPS, he would translate in to an average to above average shortstop in the majors with his defense. Of course, that assumes he continues his current hot streak, and stays away from the April slump.
Another shortstop who is having a hot month of May is Jordy Mercer. After a .154/.233/.346 line in 78 at-bats in April, Mercer is hitting for a .333/.389/.556 line in 63 at-bats in May. Mercer has been more of a .250 hitter in the past, with good power from the middle infield position, but a lack of walks to support his low average. In 2010 he got his average up to .282 in Altoona, but his power dropped off, and the walks still weren’t there.
The big thing about Mercer this year is that his power has returned. He already has seven homers on the year, which is more than double what he had in 2010, and three shy of his career best. He’s also on a pace to top 30 doubles for the third year in a row. He’s even drawing a decent amount of walks this year, although he could still use some work in that area.
Mercer is very capable of playing the shortstop position defensively, although the bulk of his value would come from the offensive side of his game. It would be fine if he was a .250 hitter, as long as he hit for power, and got on base at a good rate. Right now he’s hitting for power, and doing so at a much better rate than he was in previous years. He could use an increase in his walks, as I don’t think he will continue hitting for a .333 average like he has been doing in the month of May.
If d’Arnaud continues his hot streak throughout the month of June, he would definitely be deserving of a call-up to the majors. At the same time, Mercer would be a good fit to move up to Indianapolis to replace d’Arnaud if that happens, assuming he also continues his hot streak. The problem right now is that d’Arnaud and Mercer aren’t the only shortstops having a hot streak in the month of May.
Ronny Cedeno has actually been doing well in Pittsburgh this month. He’s currently hitting for a .320/.414/.440 line in 50 at-bats in the month of May. His hot streak spans back to the last two games in April, which followed a three game benching. Since then, Cedeno is hitting for a .321/.406/.464 line in 56 at-bats.
Just like d’Arnaud and Mercer, 56 at-bats is not nearly enough to suggest Cedeno’s current run is legit. We’ve actually seen this out of Cedeno before. He struggles, the Pirates bench him for a lack of consistent play, and he comes back strong. The problem is that, in the past, the hot streaks haven’t lasted.
Cedeno was benched twice in a three game span in late-April/early-May last year, and returned to hit for a .329/.386/.468 line in his next 79 at-bats. However, the hot streak didn’t last, as Cedeno went on a big slump that lasted for most of the month of June, which saw him go 7-for-65 at the plate, with no extra base hits, and one walk.
That led to a three game benching at the start of July. Cedeno returned and hit for a .396/.439/.660 line in his next 53 at-bats, with 11 of his 21 hits going for extra bases. Again, the hot streak was short lived. Cedeno went on to hit for a .188/.250/.292 line in his next 48 at-bats.
He missed eight games with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup, which was hardly a benching. From that point forward he was decent, with a .284/.306/.418 line in 141 at-bats, although those numbers are not what you dream about from your starting shortstop, especially since his defense totally fell off at the end of the season.
Because of his past, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cedeno goes on another cold streak. He’s playing well right now, but we’ve seen this out of him before. He’s also strong defensively this year, with a very impressive 18.7 UZR/150. We’ve also seen that. There were times last year where Cedeno was one of the highest rated shortstops in the league, according to UZR. His inconsistent play eventually led to a -4.0 UZR/150.
The Pirates should definitely ride Cedeno’s hot streak for as long as they can. Best case scenario, maybe something finally clicked with him and he’ll be able to put it all together. The more likely scenario is that Cedeno will once again go on a cold streak, which will eventually lead to him being benched. If Chase d’Arnaud is still performing well in Indianapolis when that happens, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the switch, bringing d’Arnaud up to the majors, putting Jordy Mercer in AAA, and moving Cedeno to the bench, where he might be able to provide some value to the Pirates.