First Pitch: The Pirates Short and Long Term at Shortstop

Today I wrote about Jordy Mercer and how I think he’s going to bounce back offensively this year. He may already be in the process of doing just that, but I don’t want to put too much stock on his recent hot streak, which is a sample size of six games.

If Mercer doesn’t bounce back, then the Pirates once again find themselves in trouble at the shortstop position. That’s not an uncommon thing, as shortstop is the hardest position in the game to fill.

The Short Term

Jordy Mercer (Photo by: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer (Photo by: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer – The Pirates need Mercer to bounce back. If he doesn’t, then there’s no one for the position until mid-2015 at the earliest, and possibly later than that if Alen Hanson isn’t ready by then. It would be nice if the offense returns to the 2013 levels, and the defense stays with the good 2014 numbers. But the Pirates could settle for last year’s version of Mercer, without the defense.

Stephen Drew – If Mercer isn’t working out a month from now, the Pirates might want to consider signing Stephen Drew. If he is signed after the draft, they wouldn’t have to give up a first round pick. Drew wouldn’t be available until the start of July, at the earliest, since he’d have to get ready for the season. If the Pirates have no shot at contending by mid-June, then they might want to just ride it out with Mercer, give him the entire year to fail or rebound, and then act accordingly during the 2014 off-season.

The Long Term

Gift Ngoepe (left) and Alen Hanson (right).

Gift Ngoepe (left) and Alen Hanson (right).

Alen Hanson – He’s currently the top shortstop prospect in the system, and over the last month he has a .301/.339/.505 line in 103 at-bats. That removes his slow start during the first two weeks of the season, which is the same thing he did last year before taking off with his bat. Hanson could use some more walks, since he projects to be a leadoff hitter. He should remain with Altoona the rest of the season, with a chance to move up to Indianapolis at the end of the year. Best case, he could be in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season. A more conservative projection has him in Pittsburgh in 2016.

JaCoby Jones – He’s making a lot of noise right now due to his bat. On the season he’s hitting for a .259/.335/.420 line in 143 at-bats. That’s down, in large part, due to a recent slump that has seen him hitting for a .565 OPS in the last ten games. Jones has shown some power, with five home runs in 143 at-bats, and a .161 ISO. He’s a converted outfielder, and I’m not sure how he’ll handle the shortstop position over the long run. I think the best and most realistic thing to hope for would be that he ends up what you’d want Mercer to be — a guy who can stick at the position, won’t kill you defensively, and will provide a decent bat with some power.

Gift Ngoepe – He had an .822 OPS in April, but that has dropped thanks to his .690 OPS in May. Ngoepe is the best defensive shortstop in the system, although that title could soon go to Adrian Valerio, who signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic last year (file Valerio under the long-long term). Ngoepe also has a ton of speed, and draws a good amount of walks. The problem is that he strikes out too much, and doesn’t hit for average. I’m not convinced that he can hit enough to be a regular. You might point to Clint Barmes as an example of a guy who didn’t hit and was a regular. However, if Ngoepe is striking out 25-30% of the time in Altoona, then he’s at risk of putting up Brian Bixler numbers in the majors.

Links and Notes

Pirates

**Pittsburgh Pirates Positive Regression Candidates: Jordy Mercer

**Podcast: Previewing the Pirates-Yankees Series With River Avenue Blues

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Locke and Glasnow Pitch Well; Three Hits For Polanco

**Minor League Schedule: A.J. Morris Has Been Impressive This Season

**Prospect Highlights: Home Runs From Stetson Allie and Gift Ngoepe

2014 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Updates For Players Linked to Pirates First Round Pick

**First Mock Draft From Jonathan Mayo Has a Familiar Name For Pirates

**Baseball America’s Second Mock Draft Has Pirates Going With Monte Harrison

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.

Share This Post On
  • emjayinTN

    Alen Hanson, IMO, is capable of being every bit as good as many of the recently drafted “superstar” Shortstops. He has hit well since breaking out the same year (2012) and at the same place as Gregory Polanco when they were both in Lo A. Hanson’s worth to the Pirates will be measured in his bat, but his defense has to get better. He is only in his age 21 season at AA, but 40 errors in 2012, 33 last year between Hi A and AA, and 11 or 12 so far this year. He tends to make a lot of errors early in the year – last year he reached 15 errors in less than 20 games, so he is doing better so far this year. He has the capability of hitting for doubles and HR’s from the leadoff position, but his defense will be the key to him getting a chance to advance to AAA and the majors. I think the Pirates deliberately paired him with Gift Ngoepe this year in hopes that some of Gift’s defensive qualities would rub off on Hanson – we’ll see how that works out. He did well in the Arizona Fall League last year as one of the youngest players in the league. I think May or June 2015.

    • Y2JGQ2

      emjay- for all the people poo pooing mercer’s defense, it makes me laugh as a lot of these people see hanson as the second coming, while averaging twice as many errors at the same level…..mercer has better plate discipline and more power, why would be hand over the job to hanson who doesn’t have better hitting skills, and whose defense is scary at least at this point.

      • SteveW

        For his age, Hanson clearly has better hitting skills than Mercer. For example, Mercer put up a .702 OPS in his first full season at AA – and he was two years older then than Hanson is now. There is no comparison at all with the bat – Hanson is much better.

  • jaygray007

    I do hope that Hanson has the stuff to stick at SS. I just remember that baseball prospectus didn’t seem to think he had the arm for it, but we’l see.

    My ideal situation is that they revisit the Didi Gregorious talks and get him and have Hanson at 2b.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Jaygray- he has the arm. I’ve seen it. What he doesn’t have, is the focus and ask Ronny Cedeno and Starlin Castro- that’s not an easy thing to fix

  • johndw28

    Without a serious improvement in the # of errors how could the PIrates even consider him at SS given their groundball heavy approach? Seems more like a second baseman to me.

    • Y2JGQ2

      the problem isn’t really his throwing, putting him at second wouldnt help, the only thing that would help him as far as a position change, would be outfield- but obviously we have no need there. I would expect Hanson to be a trade piece eventually

  • impliedi

    Awww, Tim, you had to go and ruin a perfectly good piece and kill any optimism that I might have by mentioning the dreaded name of Brian Bixler, haha!!! Actually, gotta give credit to Bixler, he appeared in 183 major league games, which is exactly 183 more games than I ever will!!

    • impliedi

      And, when making shortstop comparisons, don’t forget about the man in my avatar. What amazes me is that Khalifa was a 1st round pick and Bixler was a 2nd round pick. Seems like you could find similar players in the 37th round.

      • impliedi

        Was just looking at that 1982 1st round….. Of course, Dwight Gooden was picked 2 picks ahead of Khalifa at number 5, Gooden was the only real gem of that 1982 draft. Some other pretty decent players were picked in that first round: Ron Karkovice (14), Spike Owen (6), Todd Worrell (21), and Duane Ward (9), a couple of guys who would have great short-term impacts on the Pirates (both good and bad): Shawon Dunston (1) and Bob Kipper (8), and 2 future mangers: John Russell (13) and Dale Sveum (25).

    • Y2JGQ2

      although your batting average would have likely been similar

  • marty34156

    They should’ve signed Stephen Drew a few months ago, but didn’t because of the money. Jordy Mercer is pretty terrible, very possibly the worst SS, if not everyday player period, in the Major Leagues. Still do not think Hanson sticks at SS, nor do I think he hits enough. I think he, at best, ends up an utility guy in the Majors. Jones is a long ways away, and no guarantee he sticks at SS. Gift can’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag. Would love to see the Bucs try and swing a deal for a good, young SS this offseason. If not sooner.

    • emjayinTN

      marty: Steven Drew had some good years early, but the last 3 years he has had OPS numbers of .713 in 86 games in 2011; .657 in 79 games in 2012; and .777 in 124 games in 2013. Mercer had an OPS of .772 in 2013, his first year as a part-time regular. Mercer had 333 AB’s in 2013 with 22 doubles, 2 triples, and 8 HR’s. Drew had 442 AB’s with 29 doubles, 8 triples, and 13 HR’s. Drew made $9.5 mil, and Mercer made $500,000. I do not see that much difference in their performances in 2013 which was Drew’s best in 3 years, and he wants a long term contract – probably a minimum of 4 years. Large market teams can take a $40 mil gamble on a guy like Drew, but not the Pirates, and especially not with his injury history the past 3 years.

      • marty34156

        Jordy Mercer’s OPS last year vs RHP was .660, so he showed he can’t hit RHP. His BABIP vs LHP was over .400, that is not sustainable and deluted his numbers to make them seem better than they really were. His defense is also, at best, embarrassing. As you mentioned, Drew had an OPS of .777 last year. The Pirates could have afforded Dew, chose not to because Bob Nutting is a cheap asshole who doesn’t care. MLB needs to step in and force him to sell already, onyl way to save baseball in Pittsburgh.

        • stickyweb

          And Drew’s OPS against everybody the prior year was .657. And his defense is OK, but would be about what you’ve seen from Jordy this year. How many routine fly balls did the green monster turn into doubles last year? That might explain why he OPS over .713 for the first time in 5 years. And he’s worth a 1st rounder and $40 million? I don’t think so. But Nutting’s cheap because he doesn’t throw money away when he’s already got the same player in house.

        • Y2JGQ2

          Marty, you are an idiot. Why would we sign Drew and give away our 1st round draft pick? You must be on drugs

        • SteveW

          No offense Marty, but you are a clueless idiot!

    • Y2JGQ2

      marty- where exactly are you getting this in depth analysis of Mercer? Mercers defense has been good, and he has raised his average about 70 points in the last 2 weeks, he has power, and actually uses the whole field……alas if we are within 5 games of .500 on june 15th, I say sign Drew and cut Barmes. Adding Drew and Polanco would be a hell of a shot in the arm. Getting a healthy Martin and Grilli back would be nice too

    • SteveW

      The money was not the big issue. The reason the Bucs – and the rest of MLB – have not signed him is the fact that they would have to forfeit their first round draft pick. Not worth it for a relatively minor upgrade on what Mercer should produce.

  • Newmie

    What kind of contract do you think Drew would sign? Would he want to just finish this year out or want a longer deal? That will go a long way in determining who signs him. He will need to show his value so he will only sign with someone who will give him the starting job. I personally believe he will only sign for the remainder of this year and try for a big contract this off season. If I were signing him I would want at least a team option for next year as well.

    • Y2JGQ2

      He’d sign the best deal he can, period. Boras is his agent. It will be a bidding war, and if he doesn’t get what he want, probably a 10-12 million 1 year deal prorated

  • Y2JGQ2

    bixler wasn’t nearly that bad even at AAA lol…. prime example of a AAAA player. I actually agree with just about everything you said, I just can’t see a situation where Hanson is ready defensively in a little over a year, i think mid 2016 is really best case scenario, and i think mercer may hit better and play better defense than hanson quite honestly

  • piraddict

    Can anyone who has watched Gift Ngoepe consistently say whether his strikeout problem is more related to swings and misses (and if so whether on fastballs or on off speed stuff) or to taking too many called strikes? Leo or other Altoona guys, are you there?