First Pitch: The Lack of Third Base Depth

Today the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Brent Morel off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. The move isn’t exactly inspiring. Morel doesn’t have good offensive numbers in his time at the major league level, and that includes any platoon splits. It’s normal for a waiver claim to lack noticeable appeal. The players who are on waivers were the guys who were the 40th best player on their former team’s 40-man roster. The better players who are designated for assignment usually get traded for a minimal return before they have a chance to hit waivers. So in most cases, a waiver claim isn’t going to bring an exciting player.

The addition of Morel seems to be about depth. The Pirates have no depth at third base behind Pedro Alvarez. Currently their internal options are the following.

Gaby Sanchez – I wrote about this earlier today. Sanchez was taking ground balls at third base this afternoon, and the Pirates plan to get him more time at the position this Spring. I’m not sure if that will still happen with Morel in the mix. But the reality here is that Sanchez is a first baseman making the jump to third base, and usually players don’t move from right to left in the infield. The fact that Sanchez looks like a top alternative says a lot about the third base depth.

Josh Harrison – He has played third base a lot in the minors and majors, but his .648 OPS in his brief major league career wouldn’t cut it. Morel’s numbers have been worse in the majors. The big appeal with Morel is that his defense is good, although Harrison has strong defense in a small sample size. Harrison is pretty much a utility player who can play a good third base, but doesn’t have the bat to fit the position. His best role on the team is platooning at second base with Neil Walker.

Matt Hague – Just like Sanchez, Hague has been getting reps at third base in the last few years to add some options. Also just like Sanchez, Hague mostly has success against left-handers. But this is another case of a first baseman trying to move across the diamond, which doesn’t lead to a strong option.

Jordy Mercer/Neil Walker – The Pirates could move one of these guys to third base, in theory. However, in doing so, they’d start a roster shuffle that would lead to Clint Barmes being an everyday starter, which would be a big downgrade offensively from Alvarez.

Russell Martin – Same concept as above, only Tony Sanchez would be the starter, which would be better than Barmes. However, this move doesn’t make any sense. Martin was arguably the best defensive catcher in 2013. His best value is behind the plate. It would be foolish to move him off a position that he excels at, and move him to a position that he technically can play, but probably doesn’t play very well due to a lack of experience.

Those are the options. It’s a pretty grim position. Morel isn’t exciting, but he adds another option to the mix. Unlike the rest of the group, Morel gives the Pirates an actual third baseman. He doesn’t do anything offensively, but his defense would be good. The rest of the options lack offense, or don’t have enough offense to make up for their lack of defense. And considering how many ground balls the Pirates get, it would make sense to focus on defense at third base if you don’t have a good option for offense.

Morel is basically a replacement level player. However, I’m not sure that the Pirates even have a replacement level player who could take over at third base if Alvarez goes down. Harrison might be the only other option I’d go with outside of Morel. So while Morel doesn’t look appealing in a vacuum, he does fit the Pirates need for depth at the third base position.

Links and Notes

**If you haven’t ordered your copy of the 2014 Prospect Guide, you had better act fast. I just opened up the last case of books today. I say that’s the last case because I don’t think I’ll be ordering more this year. Each year I order the books in bulk through the publisher, which allows me to save several dollars per book, and I pass that savings on to you to keep the price of the book low. You’ll still be able to buy the book from the publisher after I sell my supply, but the bulk discount price won’t be included, which means you’ll be paying $25, plus $3.99 for shipping. Right now you can buy the book for $25 shipped on the products page of the site.

**Pirates Claim Brent Morel Off Waivers From Toronto

**Pirates Designate Chase d’Arnaud For Assignment

**Neil Walker Taking Batting Practice (Video)

**Spring Training Notes: Polanco Sticking With McCutchen and Marte

**Gaby Sanchez a Backup Plan to Pedro Alvarez?

**Draft Prospect Watch: Max Pentecost and J.D. Davis Homer

**Spring Training Starters and TV Schedule

**Week In Review: The Rotation Depth Looks Strong Again

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://@gwbicster gwbicster

    Scary.

  • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

    This is a guy that had some sort of pedigree before back issues derailed him. He’s a waiver claim so anything he provides will be a bonus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      back issues derailed Andy Laroche, too.

  • https://www.facebook.com/lfhlaw lfhlaw

    As much as we talk about depth, Pedro sat all of 10 games last year. Do we anticipate him sitting more than 10 games this year?

    Usually Clint would sit Hurdle against a Tough Lefty, wondering if that’s always going to be the case going forward or whether he’ll let him hit when Pedro’s riding a hot streak.

    The only other concern might be the errors at 27. If they go up any more might that indicate that management may be considering moving him? which would then require a regular 3B and moving Alvarez to 1B would fill the possible black hole at 1B. Just Brainstorming here and Management has stated they want Pedro to stay at 3B……

    • JRIcentral

      Pedro actually improved his Deffense in 2,013, so I don’t think that’s much of an issue.
      You forgot to include the “I” Word (Injuries), which is really the reason for this depth decision!
      Harrison, Hague and Sánchez could probably cover for eventual games, but not for a 30-game stretch, if Pedro got injured.

  • https://www.facebook.com/brian.odonnell.712 Brian O’Donnell

    Wouldn’t Wallace (from Houston) have been a better option as a platoon, emergency 3b?

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      Platoon, no. Wallace bats lefty. Emergency? Kind of depends on what you’re looking for. He’s got as much swing and miss in him as Pedro does, but without the in game power. Defense looks below average – really small sample in the majors, but he comes out negative in the minors as well. But the AAA numbers are tantalizing…

  • skliesen

    Why do people keep talking about platooning Alvarez? Hello! You don’t platoon the leagues leading HR hitter! Jeesh!

    Morel is just insurance to keep the team from sinking if Pedro has to go on the DL. Nothing more, nothing less.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Pedro had an OPS of .537 vs LHPs last year.

      They’d actually be better off sliding Mercer to 3b and playing Barmes at SS. Clint’s OPS was .529, but he’d more than make up for it with his defense.

      So, yeah….I’d platoon him.

      • Born4rf

        “They’d actually be better off sliding Mercer to 3b and playing Barmes at SS.”

        *<

        Sorry but I had to do a spit take on that comment. The idea of taking your best power hitter by far out of the lineup for Clint Barmes makes me wonder if you were serious? Yeah, platoons are great if we are talking about getting the most from mediocre players. Justin Smoak has proven to really stink but in a platoon he might not be bad. Same from Gaby. But as a full time player Pedro lead the league in HRs. If you platoon him he will see a lot less pitches, which means he may be a lot less effective when he faces a righty. He also will be insulted and humiliated. I would be really mad. You would too. He can hit .199 against lefties, if he hits 32 HRs against righties all year, I'm good with that.

        • Andrew

          From 2010-2013 vs LHP

          Barmes: .249/.326/.688
          Alvarez: .200/.272/.604

          Of players with >100 PAs against LHP from 2010-2013, Alvarez struck out 38.0% of the time, 2nd worst of 528 qualified players, only Matt Cain was worse.

          The ability to hitting RHPing and LHPing are to wide divergent skills for Alvarez. Was not Brandon Inge the 3rd base depth last year, and what did Hurdle keeping saying “I need to get him ABs versus LHPing” While Inge was not exactly the good or average option, and neither if Barmes, I think the team realizes Alvarez’s deficits.

        • Y2JGQ2

          You and I are in agreement. I think we saw it from Garret last year actually. Yes, he hits lefties like crap, however, when you take someone out of the lineup they will not get better vs. lefties and they will be more rusty vs. righties and also somewhat discouraged in general. Most everyday players don’t react well to being platooned, its like a demotion. Do most employees do well with a demotion to do just one thing they were really good at before? No. Usually management will tell you they will just excel less at that one thing. Its a human behavioral characteristic, is it ALWAYS the case, of course not. The point here, is that a nerdy stat guy sometimes has to take a back seat to a psychologist and all the indirect effects of a platoon

      • skliesen

        If you were Pedro and CH was conducting your entrance interview for the 2014 season and you were told, “Pedro congrats on leading the league in HR’s, driving in 100 runs, and playing your best ball of the season down the stretch and through the playoffs. But for all you did for this team, we’re going to have to sit you vs lefties.” How is your morale going to be?

        • Cato the Elder

          “How is your morale going to be?”

          I don’t know, but if I had to put a # on that morale it would be something like .180

      • RLoreski31

        Pedro is never going to get better at hitting LHP if he doesn’t face them! Pedro is a franchise player, and the best power hitting 3B in the league. I don’t care what the splits are. You don’t platoon him!

      • joe g.

        Right, but Willie Stargell wasn’t so great against lefties in the early part of his career. Should they have benched him or were they right to play him?

    • Cato the Elder

      Quite simply, because he batted .180 with 3 HRs in 133 ABs against LHP last year. Feel free to disagree with the idea of platooning him, but the numbers suggest a platoon and citing the 33 HRs against RHP don’t help your argument.

      • skliesen

        Cato, if all there is to putting in a line up card and Managing players was looking at splits, then Nutting should save his money and have one of NH’s number crunchers do double duty.

        • Cato the Elder

          I’m not actually advocating true platoon for Pedro, but neither am I incredulous (Jeesh!) at the suggestion.

          • skliesen

            I apologize for aiming the venom I have for those who advocate the Pirates need to find a platoon partner for Alvarez at you Cato. For the Pirates to succeed, they need their best hitters to hit their best. And quite frankly, telling their best power hitter he needs to watch when a lefty comes to town isn’t the way to get it done.

            With that being said, I am on board with resting him when Kershaw, Baumgarner and maybe one or two other really special lefties are on the mound.

            • Cato the Elder

              No worries. I understand the impulse to push back against the perceived “need” of platoon. I don’t think it is at all necessary. For one, in his career Alvarez has 425 ABs against LHP. I repeat: IN HIS CAREER. I think it is easy to assume that “he is what he is…” but it is actually harder to justify from a 425 AB sample size (with most of those coming from more than a season ago). So a case could be made that Pedro could (maybe even should) get better against same handed pitching.

              Personally, I’m okay with giving him a rest against left handed pitching at a greater clip than the occasional “really special lefty,” if for no other reason than the lack of depth at the position and the need to try and keep him healthy. I’d be fine with sliding Mercer over to 3rd and starting Barmes at SS every now and again and/or giving Harrison the occasional start at 3rd. If LHP represents ~%30 of the starts I’d be inclined to rest/platoon Pedro for roughly half of those or somewhere between 15-25 games over the course of the season. That maybe too many for some (too few for others), but I wouldn’t get worked about it one way or the other, largely cause I understand both sides of the argument.

              • skliesen

                Thankfully all the best SP’s in the NL Central are RH, except Liriano. Making this argument moot for the most part.

              • skliesen

                I just looked it up, Pirates only had roughly 20% of their total AB’s vs LH. The fewest in the NL.

    • gregenstein

      I disagree, though I wouldn’t mind Pedro still getting some hack against lefties just to see if he could adjust better. At this point though, there’s 2 years of AB’s telling us that he hits like Clint Barmes when a lefty is on the hill.

      That said, I don’t platoon him with minor league fodder like Morel. The only way Morel gets on the 25-man is if Pedro is on the DL.

      With the guys I expect to be on the 25-man, I’d say we’re basically looking at Pedro playing at least half time against lefties, unless they decide to slide Mercer over against lefties and have Barmes cover SS.

      One thing I’ll point out is that Pirates faced among the fewest lefties in the league. Outside of Pittsburgh, there’s only 2-3 other lefty starting pitchers in the NL Central. Each team has basically 1 guy, and the Reds and Brewers might not have any.

      We’re going to be looking at another season where we see very few lefty starters, in my opinion. So, with that in mind, I like the Pirates approach. This guy is org fodder and a 911 option only.

  • emjayinTN

    Morel is definitely going to be at AAA as an insurance policy that cost the Pirates nothing. CdA was cooked as soon as Jordy Mercer proved able to stay in the majors, and Alen Hansen can be a few months away or a year away, depending upon the need. He only had a brief stay in Altoona, but his work in the Arizona Fall League was very good. I have stated before that Neil Walker is our best platoon option opposite Gaby Sanchez at 1B, and he is also our best option to fill 3B if Pedro is injured. If he goes to 3B and Barmes fills in at 2nd or he at SS and Mercer at 2B, we become a defensive team dropping probably as much as a run per game on offense if everything is the same as last year. But, it all depends on what we get out of LF and RF. I think Starling Marte is set to have a big year, and whoever is in RF has to be more productive than what we had in 2013.

    Pedro had a very good year in 2013, but there is room for improvement in using the whole field in certain counts and game situations, and, of course, missing it less. However, when the big lights came on in the post-season, he was right at .300 with a double, 3 HR’s, 7 RBI’s and a slash line of .300/.348/.800/1.148 ops in 6 games. Can’t add any more to that!

  • DannyB415

    Won’t Hanson be arriving about the time that Pedro is expected to leave? Does it make sense to extend Walker to replace Pedro? So, Walker @ third, Jordy @ short and Hanson @ second? Or keep Walker @ second and put Jordy or Hanson @ third?

    • gregenstein

      Nothing about moving Walker back to 3B makes sense, unless he loses range and develops power. I can see him losing range in a few years, but not developing power. If we ever see him playing 3B again, you will know he’s a utility guy.

    • Cato the Elder

      I don’t know that any of those guys have the bat (or bat/glove combo) to be an average 3B.

      • DannyB415

        Better than the alternatives currently being discussed — Morel, Hague, etc.?

        • Cato the Elder

          Morel, Hague, etc. aren’t being discussed as options for when “Pedro is expected to leave” i.e. 2017. They are being discussed as emergency options if Pedro were to be hurt in 2014.

    • emjayinTN

      When Hanson arrives he will be our switchhitting leadoff hitter and Shortstop, followed by our RF, Gregory Polanco or our LF Starling Marte depending on whether a LH or RH pitcher is throwing, followed by ‘Cutch. In the next few years I expect Marte to grow into being a 25-30 HR guy and to hit in the middle of the order. The Pirates have two top trades coming up – the first will occur sometime this year and will involve Francisco Liriano. If he is still pitching well, the Pirates will ask for a prospect LH Hitting 3B/1B and a prospect LHSP. The second will occur probably in 2015 or 2016 and that will involve Pedro Alvarez. I would make an offer to Pedro, but knowing his representation is Boras, he will probably not sign long term.

      • gregenstein

        You’re a lot higher on Marte’s ability than I am. He’s going to be prone to prolonged slumps.

        Personally, I doubt he ever hits .280 again. His BABIP was insanely high last year. I feel like his first year numbers were more representative of what to expect in the future. Certainly not bad, but not middle of the lineup.

      • skliesen

        Only wY they entertain a Liriano trade is if they’re sellers at the deadline. If they’re in a pennant race, they wouldn’t dare trade him.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    I thought this was an appropriate and fun article to read about our new 3b. Enjoy!

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2012/2/23/2816075/the-next-next-jose-bautista

  • http://twitter.com/anthonycloskey anthonycloskey

    Presents a strong need for Stephen Drew.

  • BellSupplyCO

    Anybody care to guess what it would cost to sign Pedro Alvarez right now? Years and dollars?