First Pitch: The Bench Has (Almost) Been Fully Upgraded

One of the big areas of need for the Pirates leading up to the deadline was the bench. For a long stretch the Pirates had a weak hitting bench, with Michael McKenry, Brandon Inge, Clint Barmes, and Travis Snider all struggling to hit. The only other hitter on the bench was either Gaby Sanchez, who can’t hit right-handers, or Garrett Jones, who can’t hit left-handers, depending on who was playing that day in the platoon.

The Pirates obviously didn’t make a trade to upgrade the bench. But that’s not to say they didn’t upgrade the bench. Very quietly the bench saw a few upgrades — some due to injuries, some due to improvements, and some coming as a result of moving on from Brandon Inge. Below are the three spots that have been upgraded in the last month, followed by one spot that could still be upgraded.

Backup Catcher

Michael McKenry was struggling on both sides of the ball this year. He was having trouble throwing out runners, which wasn’t a new issue this season. He was also having trouble at the plate, which kind of was a new issue this year. That could be a result of a lack of playing time this year compared to the previous two seasons. McKenry started hitting at the end of July, then went down for the season with a knee injury.

That brought on Tony Sanchez. He hasn’t had a lot of playing time, but has hits in two of his three starts since coming up at the end of July. He has also been a big upgrade defensively over McKenry, highlighted by a great performance on August 3rd against the Rockies where he was displaying his pitch framing and blocking abilities.

The backup catcher isn’t going to provide a lot of value to begin with, especially with Russell Martin getting so much playing time. However, Sanchez was an upgrade, even if the value of the upgrade is minimal.

Josh Harrison Pirates

Josh Harrison has matched Brandon Inge’s 2.5 month production in two weeks. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Brandon Inge for Josh Harrison

Let’s take a look at two players:

Player A: 9 hits, 1 2B, 1 HR

Player B: 7 hits, 1 3B, 2 HR

Player A is Brandon Inge from May 7th to July 21st, which was his last game as a Pirate. That spans 38 games played and 75 plate appearances.

Player B is Josh Harrison since Inge was released. In those 19 plate appearances, Harrison has provided as much offensive value as Inge provided in a two and a half month span before being released. To be fair, Harrison was on the roster for a few weeks before Inge was released, so it’s not like the Pirates released Inge and brought up Harrison to replace him. However, they only had room for one of those two, and decided to stick with Harrison.

A Better Clint Barmes

Clint Barmes lost his starting shortstop job to Jordy Mercer earlier in the season. The Pirates officially made the switch on June 17th, although Mercer was slowly taking more and more playing time before that date. That just happens to be the date that the question was asked, and the Pirates acknowledged that Mercer was the starter.

Prior to that date, Barmes had a horrible .198/.231/.265 line on the season. Since moving to the bench, Barmes has been excellent. He has a .286/.348/.397 line in 63 at-bats. By comparison, Mercer has a .269/.349/.338 line in 130 at-bats since officially being named the starter. That’s not to say that Barmes should take over as the starter again, but he’s clearly an upgrade over the previous veteran leaders the Pirates have had off the bench. As for Mercer, he slumped for a while after taking over as the starter, but has been great since the second week of July.

And For the Final Upgrade, Free Andrew Lambo

The Pirates had a McKenry situation happen when Travis Snider went down with a toe injury. Snider had a great month of April, but had a .192/.254/.291 line in 182 at-bats since then. The Pirates replaced him with Alex Presley, who is 5-for-20 with a triple since being called up.

In the minors, Andrew Lambo continues to hit home runs. He hit two more tonight, giving him 31 total on the season. He’s not a slam dunk call-up right now. Lately all he is doing is hitting homers. In his last ten games he has a .250/.244/.700 line in 40 at-bats, giving him one of those rare situations where his average is higher than his on-base percentage. Half of his ten hits have been homers. He also has three doubles. He has no walks, and nine strikeouts. That strikeout rate isn’t as bad as his rate in July — which was around 30% — but it’s not good when paired with a low average and no walks.

If you look at the entire time he’s been in Triple-A, you can look past this. Lambo has a .273/.333/.606 line in 198 at-bats. He’s not exactly tearing it up hitting for average or drawing walks, and he’s mostly just crushing the ball, but his numbers outside of the power numbers are good. You could chalk this recent stretch up to a slump where he’s still managing to hit homers.

Lambo would be an upgrade in Pittsburgh, whether they decided to call him up now, or wait a few weeks to see if he can draw some walks, raise the average, and/or cut down on the strikeouts. He adds something the Pirates don’t have a lot of: power. I think after 31 homers and 22 doubles this year, we can say the power is legit. He might not be a 30 homer a year guy in the majors. A conservative guess would put him closer to 20 homers a year. Even if he was only a 15 homer a year guy, that’s more power than the Pirates are getting from Tabata, Snider, or Presley, possibly combined.

It’s not like any of the right field/bench options have been tearing up the majors. Lambo can’t do worse than Snider, could probably match Presley’s output in the last week, and it wouldn’t be hard to match or improve on Jose Tabata’s season numbers. At the least the Pirates could call him up to add a power bat off the bench, while easing him into the majors and giving him a few starts in right field. They might want to wait until he starts taking walks again, or hitting for more than just homers. When they do call him up, he will upgrade the bench — whether that’s Lambo on the bench, or Lambo pushing Tabata down to the bench.

Links and Notes

**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 15: Recapping the Slow Deadline; The Pirates Are Legit Playoff Contenders.

**Here is the newest episode of Pirates Roundtable Live: VIDEO: Pirates Roundtable Live — Episode 4.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo Adds Two More Home Runs.

**Top Performers: West Virginia Hitters Leading a Playoff Push.

**Top Performers: Clay Holmes Showing Why He’s a Top Prospect.

**Baseball America Releases Their Best Tools Lists; Several Pirates Mentioned.

**Zack Dodson Promoted to Altoona.

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow Goes For Strikeout Record.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Lose Late To Mets On Costly Errors.

Pirates

**Josh Harrison’s Pinch-Hit Walk-Off Homer Wins for Pirates 4-3.

**Pirates Notebook: Bucs Have Seen These Fish Before.

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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