Despite an ongoing competition in major league camp for the backup middle infield spot, the Pittsburgh Pirates made infielder Chase d’Arnaud one of their first cuts. D’Arnaud spent time in the majors last year, taking over as the starting shortstop for part of the year while Ronny Cedeno went down. He didn’t do anything to make himself a lock for the backup job this year, but his early cut from camp was somewhat surprising.
Almost immediately, d’Arnaud began working daily with Pirates’ infield coordinator Gary Green on his fielding skills at shortstop.
A big reason the Pirates sent d’Arnaud down so early was to work on his fielding mechanics, specifically focusing on cutting down on his throwing errors.
“I think there were a lot of things I was doing wrong that I wasn’t aware of, and they brought it to my attention,” d’Arnaud said. “I was very open with them, and we’ve had good communication throughout the whole process of trying to tackle these things.”
“There was a lot of people that saw him in big league camp that had suggestions on what we could do to help fix him and get him straightened out,” Green said. “All of those suggestions were good, and we’ve put it in to practice here in the last five or six days. And he’s been a tremendous student, taking in the information and applying it. He’s been fantastic.”
The issue was that d’Arnaud wasn’t funneling the ball to his chest on routine grounders. He would funnel the ball to the side, which allowed his feet to get ahead of his arm. His arm would drag to the side, which would lead to bad throws.
The Pirates are working on getting him to funnel the ball to his chest, hold it for a split second, then begin his footwork. This allows his arm to catch up to his feet, which leads to him being square when he throws the ball, leading to more accurate throws.
“At first it felt awkward, but now [the changes] are starting to feel more comfortable,” d’Arnaud said.
The Pirates will enter the season with d’Arnaud as the regular shortstop in Indianapolis, with Jordy Mercer getting time at second and third.
“Right now, Chase [d'Arnaud] is going to get the primary opportunity at shortstop, partially because we’ve got more work to do there with Chase then we do with Jordy,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said.
The Pirates see Mercer as a more accomplished shortstop today, although they still view d’Arnaud as a guy who is capable of being a strong defender at the position.
“This guy’s explosive, he’s got a plus arm,” Green said of d’Arnaud’s skills at the position. “We just need to get him fundamentally sound and play under control on routine balls. If we can do that, if he can do that, there’s no telling what he can do down the way. He’s starting to get better at that. He’s starting to slow things down mechanically and mentally.”