What To Do With Jordy Mercer When Neil Walker Returns?

What should the Pirates do with Jordy Mercer when Neil Walker returns?

What should the Pirates do with Jordy Mercer when Neil Walker returns?

Neil Walker is starting a rehab assignment with the Altoona Curve on Thursday, and could be in line to rejoin the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend. Walker being out has created an opportunity for Jordy Mercer to get some playing time in the majors. So far, Mercer is 3-for-15 with a double and a home run in that time. Mercer also had a .333/.404/.448 line in 109 plate appearances in Triple-A before coming up, with an impressive 11% walk rate and a low 15.6% strikeout rate.

“Jordy’s done some really good things here in a short period of time at the major league level. He did some great things in Spring Training. And he’s done some really good things in Triple-A,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “He’s taken a good step forward.”

The big question with Mercer is more of a long-term question: can he start at shortstop? The Pirates are committed to Clint Barmes at short for the immediate future, placing a high value on his defensive skills. But Barmes is a free agent following the 2013 season. The free agent class doesn’t have many strong options next year, which means the Pirates will be left with another Barmes-type free agent (all defense, no bat), or one of their internal options. Mercer would be the favorite if they go with an internal option to replace Barmes.

The question is, how do you get Mercer to the majors? He’s been getting playing time in the majors only because Neil Walker has been injured. Once Walker returns, the Pirates will have to decide whether to keep Mercer up in a bench role, or send him back down to get everyday playing time.

“The challenge with any player that’s breaking into the big leagues is do you break him in? In a role with the idea that he becomes an everyday guy as we did back in the day with Walker? Or do you send him back out, let him play on a regular basis, and then he just comes right in as a regular?” Huntington said of Mercer making the jump to the majors. “We want to make sure we give Jordy the appropriate development time to continue to grow, because he is an option for us at short next year, and we have to give ourselves as many options as we can.”

The focus for Mercer should be on the 2014 season, but what is the best approach to get him ready for the majors? You want him to get as much playing time as possible, but you also would like to see what he could do in the majors before committing to him for a full season.

If Mercer played on the bench, his playing time would be limited. John McDonald has been a disaster off the bench, and it would certainly be welcome to see Mercer replace him. But McDonald only has 29 plate appearances on the season in a little over a month. That’s hardly the type of playing time you’d want to see Mercer receive. If that’s the option, then he’s better off in Triple-A.

It’s not like bench players can’t receive playing time. Brandon Inge is an example. Inge has been on the roster for a little over two weeks, and already has 35 plate appearances. He has started nine games, getting time at second base, third base, and right field. Mercer wouldn’t be an option for right field, but he could play second, third, and short. As I wrote last night, he could also be an option against left-handers, since he’s had some success against lefties in his career. That would allow Mercer to ease in to the majors, get adjusted to major league pitching, and all while seeing somewhat regular playing time. Getting adjusted is key, since Mercer usually struggles with the bat in his initial jump to a new level. Looking at his Double-A and Triple-A numbers:

Double-A: .702 OPS in 2010, .816 in 2011

Triple-A: .689 OPS in 2010, .778 in 2011, .852 in 2012

The Pirates feel that Mercer can stick at shortstop. He hasn’t played the position as much throughout the minors, but that’s mostly because he’s been at the same level as Chase d’Arnaud.

“He and Chase have always seemed to be at the same club, and Chase has had more shortstop time because he’s not as polished a shortstop as Jordy is,” Huntington said. He also noted that d’Arnaud’s injury allowed the Pirates to give Mercer time at short to sharpen things up with his game. D’Arnaud could be starting a rehab assignment later this month, and is already back to baseball activities.

I talked with Pirates Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway a few weeks ago about Mercer being an option at short. Broadway noted that Mercer is a vanilla type, but can make the routine plays.

“He’s very reliable,” Broadway said. “There’s nothing flashy about him. He’s a vanilla type and reliable. You can count on him to make the routine plays.”

It’s pretty much established that the Pirates like Mercer, and feel he could be an option next year. But that does bring up the question of how to get him ready. Personally I think they should keep him in the majors. Give him all of the at-bats that John McDonald would normally get. Give him time as a platoon player, taking at-bats against left-handers in place of Pedro Alvarez, or even Neil Walker. Let him sub for Clint Barmes, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez when needed. The only problem with all of this is that Mercer would have to be on the depth chart ahead of Brandon Inge, and I’m not convinced Clint Hurdle would take that approach. The only hopeful sign that would suggest otherwise is that Mercer has started all four games since coming up, and Brandon Inge has been on the bench for two of those games.

If the Pirates continue making Mercer a priority over Inge, and get rid of John McDonald instead of sending Mercer to Triple-A, then I think that would be a much better approach to getting Mercer ready for 2014. Not to mention, it might even make the 2013 team better.

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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  • leadoff

    IMO, Mercer should start at SS and Barmes should sub for him on Sunday baseball days. If Mercer falters you still have Barmes. I do not think the money has much to do with Barmes playing at this time, they probably only owe him about 3mil now.
    I agree that McDonald could and should be moved, he could probably be traded because there are teams looking for a good backup SS.
    I also think Sanchez should be brought up, I like McHenry’s bat, but I am having trouble watching base runners running at will, Martin has shown that it is the catcher most of the time even though no Pirate player or Pirate management would dare admit it, because they think their work with pitchers has cured the problem, but it hasn’t.

  • leadoff

    It is a strange system the Pirates have, Huntington makes the moves, Hurdle decides whether or not he is going to use the moves, when it involves Mercer or any other young player, Hurdle seems to be more in the forefront.

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      Frankly, I think NH needs to be a bit more pro-active (or, if you prefer, “meddling”) as far as getting playing time for younger guys like Mercer; he needs to impress upon Hurdle that Inge and McDonald are not part of the future and should be treated as “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” options. I think Tim’s idea of getting Mercer a couple or three starts a week as a platoon option makes all the sense in the world.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      not sure I agree with that. I doubt VERY much NH makes moves without consulting Hurdle extensively.

  • Ldistance

    I agree that Mercer needs more playing time. We have been hearing how the Pirates are saying “no more free rides” and you need to be accountable. Well if that is the case, they need to make 2 moves NOW. 1) Part ways with McDonald now. I don’t care if he is hurt and with this latest stunt, give him cab fare and say good-bye. 2) they MUST sit Barmes down and play Mercer. Unless you a re a power hitter, ie. Alvarez or can draw a lot of walks, which Barmes does neither, NO player should be playing if you can’t hit above the Mendoza line. Barmes’s defense in my opinion is NOT that good either. Barmes has been here long enough to see what he can do which is NOTHING. Part ways with McDonald and Barmes NOW and send a message that we WANT to win…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    “It’s pretty much established that the Pirates like Mercer”. That’s the funniest thing I have read in quite sometime. I guess they showed that last season though when Mercer was on the big club for an extended period of time and his only job was to pick up the jock straps after the games when he should have been starting at SS. This season you have the same thing with a putrid hitting SS with way overrated fielding. The Pirates make Barmes sound like he is a 10X better fielder than Ozzie Smith even dared to dream about but hey, I guess you have to make stuff up to back up your side when everybody knows the reason is $5.5 million big ones. Bottom line, Mercer is either 27 or almost 27 and he is either ready now or will never be. Mercer by all accounts is a good solid defender with potential to hit for a good average. Unfortunately, the Pirates are married to Barmes and no matter how poorly he plays he will be the starting SS. I really can’t wait until Barmes is gone, they’ll probally resign him though.

  • lawdog

    Well, the one quibble I have with the article is that it assumes Mercer would get the same ABs as McDonald. Maybe he would get more because he is better? McDonald only has 29 ABs because he is stinking. Also, I did not think it was a coincidence that Mercer comes up finally and “poof” Barmes starts hitting, including his first HR. Barmes knows McDonald will not start over him, but Mercer can actually hit, competition works for some players.. Mercer should be here over McDonald and Inge, even though Inge has been ok, I would rather have Mercer and he has more of a future than Inge.