A Pittsburgh Pirates off-season wouldn’t be complete without rumors that the Pirates were interested in extending Neil Walker. The rumors have already come up this off-season, but I’d b surprised if they actually took place at this point. I also feel there’s little need to extend Walker now.
I write about this every time the Walker extension talk comes up. He’s got two years of control remaining, the Pirates are getting no discounts by extending him now, he’s been injury prone, and they’ve got internal options that could take over after the 2016 season. With no cost benefit to extend him now, they can wait until the 2016 season is up and see if they actually need to keep him around.
I’m writing about this again today as a quick review for one of those points — the potential replacements. I believe that Jordy Mercer can handle the shortstop position in the majors, and the Pirates have him under control through the 2018 season. As a side note, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to extend Mercer, since I think the Pirates could get some value here, I think Mercer can still improve, and shortstop is much harder to fill than second base. With that said, they’ve got Mercer for the next four years, meaning that all of the current middle infield options in the farm system are competing for the future second base job.
I’ve written a lot about Jung-Ho Kang and how I think the Pirates should handle his approach. They’ve got the benefit of being able to use him in a bench role in 2015, seeing how he could adjust to the majors. If he’s successful, he could be the replacement at second base for Walker, assuming he’s not needed elsewhere.
Prior to adding Kang, the top future option at second base looked to be Alen Hanson. I don’t know if Kang moves ahead of Hanson right now. Based on where we would have ranked Kang in the prospect rankings, Hanson would still be ahead. There’s just more upper level competition right now. I think Hanson will arrive in the majors at some point during the 2015 season. The Pirates moved him to second base last year in part for that reason, to speed his bat up to the majors. When he does arrive, that will be the start of his attempt to unseat Walker.
Beyond those two, the only other option in the top three levels of the minors that could take over for Walker would be JaCoby Jones. He was our number 19 prospect this year, as profiled today. He’s coming off a big season at the plate in West Virginia, although that did come with some alarming strikeout numbers. He was also learning the shortstop position, and he should remain at shortstop in the short-term. He will spend the 2015 season in Bradenton, and his chances of moving up to Altoona depend on whether the Pirates want to move Adam Frazier off the shortstop position in Altoona, or whether they want to move Jones to second base.
The only way it would make sense to rush Jones or move him to second base would be if Mercer struggles, or if Kang and Hanson both struggle. Otherwise, the Pirates can take their time with Jones, keeping him as either a backup plan if Kang and Hanson eventually don’t work out, or a potential replacement for Mercer down the line.
As for Walker, with the three potential replacements in the top three levels of the minors (or the majors, in Kang’s case) give the Pirates time to decide on an extension. If none of those replacements establish themselves as starting options by the end of the 2016 season, then it would make sense to extend Walker. And the Pirates will probably end up paying the same rate for his free agent years that they would pay right now.
Links and Notes
**The 2015 Prospect Guide is now available on the products page. The book features our full top 50 prospects, plus profiles for every player in the system. I’m on vacation this week, which means all book orders placed will ship out on Monday morning, January 12th. All eBooks will be available for download immediately.
**In the only Pirates related news from the last few days, Clint Hurdle will have left hip replacement surgery on Wednesday. Despite the surgery, he plans on attending winter mini-camp on Monday.
**Winter Leagues: Gustavo Nunez Reaches Base Four Times, Back-to-Back Multi-Hit Games For Edgar Munoz Update in this link on Alen Hanson and his performance in the Dominican playoffs.