Time to look at the first-half surprises and disappointments at Indianapolis and Altoona.
Jordy Mercer, IF: After a slow start, Mercer adapted to AAA and put up a very good (for a middle infielder) line of 303/379/417, with a solid 2:1 K:BB ratio. That earned him a callup to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, a few days after his promotion he was abducted by aliens. His whereabouts remained unknown until he mysteriously reappeared in Indianapolis just recently. It’s still uncertain what happened to him while he was missing.
Jeff Clement, 1B: Clement also started off slowly following his traditional off-season knee surgery. The power returned in May, though, and Clement stayed hot until a recent slump dropped him to 292/371/502. With 28 walks and 45 strikeouts, he’s also shown better plate discipline than in the past. The Pirates, however, have shown no inclination to add him to the roster. With their offense emerging in the last few weeks from its deep, dark slumber, it appears very unlikely that will happen.
Rudy Owens, LHP: After struggling to a 5.05 ERA and finishing the 2011 season on the disabled list, Owens has been strong from the start in 2012. He currently sports a 2.38 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and better than 4:1 K:BB ratio. The velocity he showed in 2010 at Altoona hasn’t returned, so it remains to be seen whether his stuff will play at the major league level, but he’s put himself in a position where it makes sense to find out.
Justin Wilson, LHP: Wilson’s season has been uneven, but at times the results have been spectacular. He’s already combined on a no-hitter and a one-hitter, and took a no-hitter into the 6th in his most recent start. He’s allowed only six hits in his last 19 innings and opponents are batting just .196 against him. He’s also striking out a batter an inning. The downside, of course, is that he’s walking a batter every other inning and still has games in which he can’t find the plate. He also tends to run up high pitch counts even in his better games. Last year, however, he struggled so much he had to move to the bullpen. He’s much closer now to being able to try his very-difficult-to-hit stuff in the majors as a starter.
Rick VandenHurk, RHP: The former Marlins prospect seems to be turning things around since joining the Indians. He’s now 6-0, 2.27, with a 1.10 WHIP, .216 opponents’ average and nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio. He’s given the Pirates another potential option should they need a starter from AAA.
Starling Marte, OF: Marte hasn’t had a bad season, but he hasn’t put himself in a position to be called up. He’s never really gotten hot as pitchers have taken advantage of his unwillingness to take pitches. He’s currently hitting just a decent 264/326/439, with a weak 3.5:1 K:BB ratio.
Chase d’Arnaud, SS: D’Arnaud hasn’t remotely resembled a prospect, batting just 201/295/305 since missing most of April with a concussion. His walk rate isn’t bad, but he’s fanned in over a quarter of his ABs. The one positive has been his perfect 19-for-19 record as a base stealer.
Eric Fryer, C: Fryer got a chance to put himself on the catching depth chart in April, while Jose Morales was out. He’s firmly crossed himself off that chart by hitting 167/220/219 and throwing out only one of 27 base stealers.
Brock Holt, SS: Holt is a surprise mostly because of the fact that he’s still at Altoona. While Chase d’Arnaud plays himself off the prospect list and Anderson Hernandez takes up space, Holt is sporting a 317/377/427 line, with 25 walks and 30 strikeouts. This follows a good 2011 season in AA. What gives?
Vic Black, RHP: After pitching barely over 70 innings in his first three pro seasons, Black has managed to stay mostly healthy and has taken significant steps toward conquering the severe control problems he showed last year. He didn’t seem ready for AA going into this season, but has posted a 1.45 ERA and fanned 40 in 31 innings. He’s walking a batter every other inning, leading to a merely OK 1.39 WHIP, but last year his WHIP was 1.63, mostly in low A.
Robbie Grossman, OF: Like Bradenton, Altoona has had more disappointments than pleasant surprises, and Grossman heads the list. He’s hitting 232/329/376 on the year, striking out in nearly a quarter of his ABs. The good news is that he has a 1.023 OPS in his last ten games, following a one-week suspension, so he may be poised for a strong second half.
Jarek Cunningham, 2B: After missing some time with a wrist injury, Cunningham hasn’t hit much. He’s currently at 219/292/338 and is striking out in a third of his ABs after whiffing five times on Sunday.
Ramon Cabrera, C: Cabrera won the Florida State League batting title last year and the Pirates were eager to see what he could do once Tony Sanchez was out of his way. Cabrera has responded with a 241/300/314 line, although he at least remains very difficult to strike out.
Elevys Gonzalez, IF: Gonzalez batted .322 with 36 doubles at Bradenton in 2011, but he completely tanked in AA this year, hitting 196/274/291 at Altoona. He was recently sent back to Bradenton.
Nate Baker, LHP: Baker has struggled most of the year, with an ERA of 5.18 and nearly as many walks (37) as Ks (40). He recently moved to the bullpen and hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight innings, with one walk and seven Ks, so maybe that’s where his future is.