Neil Walker was the steady glove at second base for the majority of the season. He appeared in 101 of the first 103 games over the first four months before an injury forced Walker to end his 2012 season early. Walker was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his low back, which forced his to miss 16 straight games from August 27th-September 4th. Manager Clint Hurdle called upon rookie Brock Holt, who filled the void primarily in his absence during that stretch.
Overall, Walker missed 27 of the final 35 games attempting to battle through the injury while several players got looks at the position. Walker will be arbitration eligible this season, and there has been no current updates on a long-term contract extension as of the end of the season.
Walker was in midst of putting together a career-year before the back injury forced him to put away his cleats early. Walker hit just .200 over his final 10 games attempting to battle through the herniated disc, but felt the best thing for both him and the team was to end his season early. Walker finished with a .280 average with 27 doubles, 14 home runs and 69 RBI in 129 games with the Pirates. His 14 long balls surpassed his career-high 12 that he hit in 2011. They are the most by a Pirates second baseman since Warren Morris in 1999 (15).
Holt started the season at Double-A Altoona, but the infielder’s bat got him not only to a promotion to Triple-A, but to the Majors as well. Holt was one of the first round of September callups, and Manager Clint Hurdle inserted Holt into the starting lineup as the team’s second baseman for 11 straight starts in Walker’s absence. Holt hit .292 with two doubles, a triple and three RBI in 24 games with the Pirates. Combined at Double-A and Triple-A, Holt hit .344 with 31 doubles, 6 triples, three home runs, 50 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 126 minor league games.
Holt will likely start the 2013 back in Triple-A to get more at-bats with Indy. He appeared in just 24 games at that level before becoming a September callup.
Harrison broke camp with the Pirates out of spring training for the first time in his career and spent the entire season in Pittsburgh as the club’s super utility man. Harrison hit for a .233 clip with nine doubles, five triples, three homers and 16 RBI in 104 games with Pirates. He bounced around for the club and provided a spark in the lineup. He made 18 starts at shortstop, 18 at second base, 10 in right field and nine at third base. Harrison will likely fill the same role with the Pirates in 2013.
After making his Major League debut in June of last season and going on to appear in 48 games with Pittsburgh, d’Arnaud spent the majority of the 2012 season in Triple-A Indianapolis. d’Arnaud hit .252 (96-for-381) with 24 doubles, four triples, six homers and 38 RBI in 98 games with Indy. The infielder swiped 34 bases out of 39 attempts, which was ranked second in the International League.
D’Arnaud’s playing time after being promoted in September was limited. He went 0-for-6 with two runs scored in eight games with the Pirates and made just one start at second base on October 1st.
Mercer appeared in 56 games at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the 2012 season before the Pirates promoted the infielder to the big leagues. In limited playing time, Mercer hit .210 with five doubles, a triple, homer and five RBI in 42 games with the Pirates. He made 28 appearances (nine starts) at shortstop and seven appearances (four starts) at second base.
Mercer batted .287 with Triple-A and was with the Pirates from July 6 through end of season. Mercer will likely head into spring training battling for a bench role with the club. With Clint Barmes’ final year of his contract in 2013, Mercer could get more looks next year to see if he has the bat for an everyday player in the future.
by Tim Williams
Neil Walker is under team control for four more years, so there’s not much of a need for prospects at this position in the short-term. The Pirates do have a few options, with Brock Holt currently leading the upper level choices. Holt could see some playing time next year if Walker misses more time with injuries, and that’s always a possibility of happening with a back injury. Ultimately Holt profiles more as a utility player, with the chance to be a starter if he can continue hitting for a high average in the majors. He doesn’t hit for much power, so his value is going to have to come from his average and on-base skills. His .682 OPS this year wouldn’t be enough as a starter.
Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, and Jordy Mercer are all in a similar situation as Holt. None of them have put up impressive offensive numbers in their limited time in the majors so far. They are all getting up there in age, to the point where they’re looking more like utility players than potential starting options.
The Pirates have an interesting option in Double-A with Adalberto Santos. He was drafted as a second baseman and played 26 games at the position in 2011. He didn’t get any time at the position in Altoona this year, although he played second last night in the AFL. Santos hit for a .340 average with a .425 OBP. He’s similar offensively to Brock Holt in that he doesn’t hit for much power, but hits for average and gets on base at a good rate. He’s also not good defensively, so he’d have to continue with a high average/OBP in order to be more than a future utility player.
The top second base prospect in the system might be Dilson Herrera. Right now he hasn’t played above short-season A-ball, spending a few weeks at the level at the end of the year. Herrera is a great hitter with plus speed and pop in his bat. He’s got the chance to be next year’s Alen Hanson. Herrera is a long way from the majors, and because of that he’s no guarantee. But with Walker under control for four more years, the Pirates have plenty of time to develop the young infielder, just in time to take over in the majors when Walker is set to leave after the 2016 season.