Two Promotions the Pirates Need to Make

With a .335 average and an .897 OPS, Presley should be in the majors.

The offense for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year has been, no pun intended, hit or miss.  The Pirates have scored one or fewer runs in six of their last ten games.  Not surprisingly, their record in those games has been 1-5, including two straight 5-1 losses to Cleveland.  The pitching has been great this year, but no pitching staff should be expected to pitch six 1-0 shutouts in a week and a half.  It’s not like the Pirates need much run support.  The team is 32-11 when the offense has scored three or more runs this year.  They are 3-24 when the offense scores two or fewer runs.  That’s not surprising.  What is surprising is that they’ve managed to score two or fewer runs 25 times this year.

The Pirates currently rank 25th in the majors in runs with 259, tied with Oakland.  They rank in the bottom third of the league in average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Pedro Alvarez hasn’t exactly been the star of the future for Pittsburgh this year, and is now injured.  Neil Walker and Jose Tabata have shown flashes of good play, but have been inconsistent, and both are in the low-.700s for their OPS.

The Pirates are basically stuck with Alvarez, Walker, and Tabata, not that this is a bad thing.  They all have about a year of playing time in the majors (less for Alvarez), and to try and make a career out of a year’s worth of stats is a flawed approach.  That’s not to say that the Pirates can’t replace some guys who are under performing.

Lyle Overbay is one of those guys.  On the season, Overbay is hitting for a .228/.306/.354 line in 237 at-bats.  He’s not exactly coming around from his funk either, as he’s got a .208 average and a .613 OPS in June.  Ronny Cedeno is another culprit.  Cedeno has a .221/.278/.310 line in 213 at-bats.  His defense has been great, but a .588 OPS can really counteract the benefits of good defense.  Matt Diaz has also struggled, with a .252/.283/.313 line in 115 at-bats.  Diaz has done well with his average lately, with a .282 average in 39 at-bats in May, and a .296 average in 27 at-bats in June.  However, he’s not getting on base that much, and not hitting for power, and his defense isn’t exactly strong enough to keep him in the lineup.

On some nights, the Pirates have all three of these guys in the lineup.  There’s been some debate over whether the Pirates are contenders this year.  I don’t have to go through history to find out how many teams were contenders with three out of eight position players hitting for a sub-.700 OPS, including two with a sub-.600 OPS.  Unlike Walker, Tabata, and Alvarez, guys like Overbay, Diaz, and Cedeno are expendable.

I’ve mentioned this countless times in the past, but it needs to be said again: it’s time to bring up some young players to take over in Pittsburgh.  Specifically, it’s time to bring up Alex Presley and Chase d’Arnaud.

Presley is hitting for a .335/.383/.513 line in 263 at-bats in AAA this year.  He’s following up a .294/.349/.460 line in 272 at-bats in Indianapolis last year.  In 535 at-bats at the AAA level he has 14 homers and 23 stolen bases.  There have been concerns about Presley.  There’s concerns about his defense.  I’ve seen him in action, and while his defense isn’t strong enough to be a regular in center field, it’s strong enough for him to be a starter.  There’s concerns about his size.  Size isn’t something I worry about with hitters.  If a guy can hit, he can hit, and looking at Presley’s stats in AAA the last two years, it’s pretty obvious he can hit.  There’s concerns about his ability to hit for power.  He’s currently got 14 homers in what amounts to a full season.  Even if that’s his upside in the majors, is that so bad, especially when he’s a guy who might be able to steal 25 bases a year and hit for average?

It’s not so much about Presley’s questions.  It’s about comparing Presley to a guy like Matt Diaz.  Presley might not be a gold glove defender, but he’s not bad, and he definitely isn’t worse than Diaz.  His strong hitting might not translate over to the majors, but how much worse can he be than what we’re seeing out of guys like Diaz and Overbay?  He might not hit for a lot of power in the majors, but considering that Diaz doesn’t have a homer, and Overbay has a homer every 47 at-bats, Presley’s “limited power” doesn’t look that bad.

Then there’s Chase d’Arnaud.  He’s hitting for a .281/.347/.425 line in 221 at-bats in AAA this year.  I’ve seen D’Arnaud a lot in the last few years.  He’s fast, and his speed is deceptive for a guy his size (6′ 2″, 200).  He plays good defense, and is capable of starting at shortstop.  He doesn’t hit for much power, outside of gap shots for extra bases, but he’s a threat to steal second and third, with an efficient 14 steals in 17 attempts this year.

Compare that to Cedeno.  Cedeno might rate better defensively, but he’s been inconsistent.  Like d’Arnaud, Cedeno doesn’t hit for much power as far as home runs go.  I’d rate d’Arnaud’s speed better than Cedeno, making him more of a weapon on the bases.  And just like Presley and Overbay/Diaz, how bad could d’Arnaud really be in comparison to what we’re seeing out of Cedeno?  Since the month of April ended, d’Arnaud is hitting for a .323/.368/.466 line in 144 at-bats with three homers and 12 steals.  Even if that doesn’t fully translate over to the majors, what are the odds that he hits for the .588 OPS that we’ve seen out of Cedeno this year?

The Pirates really have nothing to lose here.  They could bring up Alex Presley and Chase d’Arnaud tomorrow.  Best case, they provide an offensive upgrade at two positions.  Worse case, they put up the same numbers that we’re seeing from guys like Overbay and Cedeno who will be free agents next year, with the rate they are currently playing.  Here is how I would handle the roster:

-Cut Overbay, move Garrett Jones to first base.  Move Matt Diaz to the bench, where he might have some value if he can continue hitting for average.  Make Alex Presley the third starter in the outfield, next to Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

-Demote Pedro Ciriaco to AAA.  Seriously, this guy plays less than I do.  There’s no reason to have him on the roster right now.  It makes sense not to play him.  He’s strong defensively, but he can’t hit, which actually makes him worse than Cedeno.  Bring d’Arnaud up and start splitting time with Cedeno at shortstop 50/50.  Let d’Arnaud push Cedeno, all while easing in to the majors.  If d’Arnaud starts heating up, give him the full time job, and make Cedeno a bench option, capable of backing up second, short, and third.

You basically replace Overbay and Cedeno with Presley and d’Arnaud in the lineup, and like I’ve said, it would be hard for Presley and d’Arnaud to be worse than those two have been this year.  Another benefit is that you open up the shortstop position to allow for a Jordy Mercer promotion.  Mercer just hit his 13th homer of the year tonight, and since the end of April has been hitting for a .320/.370/.562 line in 192 at-bats, with nine homers, including six in 62 at-bats in June.  Mercer turns 25 in August, so he definitely needs to be at the AAA level, especially since he’s starting to look like he doesn’t belong in AA anymore.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • http://twitter.com/JamesSantelli James Santelli

    I agree completely. One move I would add would be trading for Toronto 1B/RF Juan Rivera to platoon with Garrett Jones at first base.

    Jones has hit for a paltry .626 OPS against LHP since joining the Pirates in 2009 (over 352 plate appearances). Brutal. But Rivera has hit for an .894 OPS in 367 plate appearances over the same timeframe. He also has experience playing 1B and corner outfield positions.

    Steve Pearce could returs soon to platoon with Jones at first (and occasionally Pedro Alvarez at third). In that case, Rivera could play in RF against lefties, and I like his bat on the bench much better than Matt Diaz and his sub-.600 OPS.

    It’s hard to say how much it would take to get Rivera from the Blue Jays. Toronto is still in the hunt for a playoff spot, sitting at five games back of the Yankees in the AL Wild Card race, and Rivera has played in 59 of the Jays’ 70 games. However, his contract his up at the end of the season, and is due $3 million over the rest of 2011. If the Pirates take on that $3 million, I think he could be had for a low-level prospect.

  • Todd Smith

    This feels like Iwamura blocking Neil Walker all over again.  Baffles me why this team is so slow to promote players.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      how in the world did Iwamura block Walker when Neil never played 2B until Iwamura began to struggle?

      this is the kind of argument that makes no sense whatsoever, and just reeks of fan frustration.

      put it this way:  if Iwamura DIDNT struggle, you may never have seen Walker get his chance.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        Good point.  It’s important to note that Walker only played 21 games at second base prior to getting the call, which happened in late May.  Most of those games took place between late April and his callup, and he was moved there full time due to Iwamura’s struggles.

      • Todd Smith

        That’s absurd.  Walker was hitting .321/.392/.560 at AAA last year.  He was going to get his chance whether Iwamura struggled or not.  

        Iwamura hit .182/.292/.267 and they still let him start almost up until June with a better option at AAA.  They are doing the same thing this year.

        Outside of Cedeno’s infamous “two good weeks at the plate”, he is hitting .187 on the year – including a .156/.207/.247 line since May 24th.  No excuse for letting him continue to start every game.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

          no one is arguing against Presley nor d’Arnaud…  in fact, d’Arnaud is argued to be a real prospect while Presley is not.

          cedeno is alot like Jones.  what you see is what you get.  neither is going to magically become an above average hitter.  however, Cedeno has become a stellar defender at the 2nd hardest position to play.
          good news concerning d’Arnaud is that he is having a good year defensively as well.  so thats a plus for him.

          just remember this;  Ronny Cedeno has a lifetime batting average of
          .357 in tripleA.   so you really need to temper your expectations of guys like Presley.

          that being said, Presley does deserve a shot, but whom gets replaced for him to get that chance?

          • Todd Smith

            Oh, I have no expectations that Presley is a long-term solution for this team.  I’m definitely at the “can’t do any worse” point as well.  I don’t see Cedeno, Diaz, Overbay, Paul or Jones as long-term solutions either though.  With the way this offense is struggling, I don’t think it should be that difficult to find a roster spot or playing time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740167494 Mike Adamson

      I agree on they are slow at promoting players… I don’t think every player needs AAA. If you can stand out at AA then you should get a chance at the Majors. Marte could make the jump and never leave the MLB but we wont see him until atleast next season. Presley has nothing left to prove. Diaz and Jones both are worse options than Presley. D’Anaurd should be up soon.  Get rid of Ciraco and Wood. Try to trade Jones… Terrible fielder and useless without the power.

  • Anonymous

    Agree totally, after those moves happen I will be a happy man.  But, before this happens I would cut Pearce, aka the AAAA all-star.  For heavens sake, how long can we keep him, he is absolutely horrible at the big league level.  You cannot tell me we don’t have something better than Pearce in the system.  I know he plays multiple positions, but he can’t be worse than Presley and D’Arnaud, besides they deserve the call-up.  The buccos are almost there (.500 season).  And when that happens, Pittsburgh will become a drinking town with a baseball problem.

    • http://twitter.com/millec311 Chris M

      Pearce was actually doing well before he was injured… Just like he was doing well before he was injured last year. 

    • Anonymous

      He was hitting 291 with one homer in 55 at bats before he went down.  That is better than any one who plays first on the team right now.  Defense seems solid too

    • Anonymous

       Yeah, in his last 2 years in the majors he has a .286/.360/.393 line. 
      Of course this is only in 100 plate appearances, but these numbers look a
      lot better than the other options.  And I certainly would call them “horrible.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

    i have been an Overbay supporter since he signed, and I know hes not hitting well, but i dont see cutting him and putting Jones at 1B being an improvement for this club.  Lyle IS the best 1Bman we have and he HAS helped this team with the glove despite his errors.

    putting Jones at 1B just because he has a higher OPS than Overbay sounds like someone running a fantasy baseball team and not reality.

    yes, Jones has looked better at the plate.  yes, the team should always be on the lookout for better players.  yes, presley deserves a shot but not to just sit on the bench.

    it takes more than great offensive numbers to win ballgames.  if matt curry were ready to be moved up to PITT, i would probably get rid of Overbay then, simply because we already know what Jones provides, and its not an improvement over Overbay.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I’m not really a fan of Jones’ defense at first.  That’s been well documented.  But the issue here is, if you bring up Presley to play full time in the outfield, where does Jones play?  Do you move him to the bench, with his .782 OPS?  Or do you get rid of Overbay, who has a .660 OPS, and put Jones at first base?

      Overbay has better defense, but is the difference in defensive abilities really worth the loss in offense? It does take more than great offense to win games, but you do need SOME offense to win games.  Overbay is hitting like a below-average middle infielder right now.  That definitely doesn’t help.

      • Todd Smith

        Matt Hague is putting up some interesting numbers at AAA.  How is he defensively compared to Jones?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

          matt hague is actually playing 3B almost exclusively in the month of June.  looks like they know his bat wont play in the majors unless he becomes more like Pearce or even Harrison by playing more positions.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

        i agree about Overbay not hitting well, Tim.  i really do.  but Jones is not the answer at 1B.  his so called hot streak will be over soon and then his game, plus his confidence, will be shot for another month or so.

        jones’ swing does look much better lately though.  i hope im wrong about him but i dont think i am this time.

  • Anonymous

    I think one of the biggest misconceptions of Overbay is that he is a great defensive first baseman. Again last night his lack of range cost him getting to two balls. He is near the top of the league in errors made at first. While he is good at the 3-6-3 when the ball is hit to him it’s not enough to justify keeping him when he has had only 1 rbi in the last two weeks. Even his homers (low at 5) were mostly stroked in a blow out game. Lyle is way past his prime, and its time to cut him loose. Matt Hague in Indy would be an upgrade over Lyle. Still I expect him here until the end of July.

  • Dante Cammarata

    “Demote Pedro Ciriaco to AAA.  Seriously, this guy plays less than I do.”
    haha

  • Anonymous

      OK diaz dfa and try to recoup some money, jones goes to first overbay to bench and a defensive replacement in the late innings. presely goes to outfield with a mix and match with tabata and paul. de’araud come up and pedro C goes down de’arnuad

  • Anonymous

    get 60%of the playing time. also the catching needs to be addressed long term and short term .All dl player will be not counted on until fully heal ,so that be said the perce’s and ollie and doumit are preety much dead to me.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

    I agree this needs to happen and probably already should have.  Give these guys a shot, the big league squad needs a boost of energy.  I agree that bringing up D’Arnaud will really make Cedeno work harder, Pressly deserves a shot.

  • Anonymous

    If D’Arnaud is ready to compete at the big level, he should be brought up. From an organizational standpoint, that also puts Mercer at AAA where he needs to be. That’s an easy move  that would just require Ciriaco going back to AAA. Presley is a little tougher move, in that someone is going to have to be let go or traded to make a move. Overbay should be the guy moved if that’s the move. His swing doesn’t seem to be a fit for PNC when he does make contact. My question about Presley, is does he provide a marked improvement over Paul? Even though Paul has no power to speak of, he provides stellar defense, and outstanding speed. If it were me, with the way the roster stands today. I’d move Jones to first and play him against righthanders and move Wood there against lefties. I’d platoon Paul in right against righthanders with Diaz, and I would bat Tabata, Paul, McCutchen as the top three in the order and I’d be running like crazy. They need to be stealing second more often since they lack the power to get there more often than not.

    Like it or not, this team will go as far as speed, defense and pitching take it. Teams have won with that formula before, there’s just less room for error.