2012 Expectations: Shortstop
Clint Barmes: The Pirates biggest (at least monetary wise) free agent signing this offseason has been Barmes. Given a 2 year, 10.5 million dollar contract there is no question the Pirates overpaid to get him to come to Pittsburgh. However a lot of Pirates fans have taken this to mean that Barmes is a bad player and not an upgrade over Cedeno, this is simply not true. On the defensive side it is a close call with Cedeno probably having the better talent but Barmes not having the mental lapses. However on the offensive side it is not even close, Barmes brings far more to the table than Cedeno. My prediction is that Pirate fans will be slightly disappointed with his performance but it will be what should be expected. His OBP will be right around .300 and his slugging percentage will be in the .370-.390 range. His defense should be excellent and greatly assist the pitching staff.
Gustavo Nunez: Taking by the Pirates in the Rule V draft Nunez will likely get the first crack at the backup middle infield job. If he makes the team he will likely play a similar role to what Ciriaco did last season, meaning he will be barely noticed and only make the occasional appearance. His bat is poor and will make a non-viable option on the bench for this reason alone he will hopefully not stick too long. Nunez does have good defense and has had success in A+ ball but it is rather obvious he isn’t major league ready. Since the Pirates have no real option at SS in AA it would be nice if they could work out a trade with the Tigers but short of that I don’t see him having much of a future with the Pirates.
Chase d’Arnaud: Coming off a disappointing major league debut last season d’Arnaud will likely start off in AAA. With Barmes, Nunez, Navarro and Harrison all likely in front of him on the infield depth chart (to start the season at least) d’Arnaud will likely not see time in the majors until later on in the season. He has the talent to assume the starting SS job by the end of the year but will have to improve on a few areas before receiving that chance. I don’t know what it is about d’Arnaud he appears to have all the tools to become a solid MLB starting SS but for some reason I just don’t see him developing into that. He will likely get another chance in the majors some time season but I once again foresee a disappointing campaign.
Jordy Mercer: On the flip side of my pessimistic view of d’Arnaud is my optimistic view of Mercer. Having led the entire Pirate minor league system in home runs last season Mercer would be quite a nice power bat to have at the usually offensively challenged shortstop position. Mercer’s defense at short is definitely good enough to allow him to stick there and with the potential of his bat he could become and above average starter at shortstop. I see a nice season in AAA from Mercer this season. I see him putting up similar numbers in AAA this year to what he did in AA last year, meaning a .268/.329/.487 line.
Drew Maggi: This is a big year in Maggi’s development. He has yet to put up a great season although he does a few solid ones. He has played mainly shortstop but he is actually more of an athlete than a shortstop and could ultimately end up as a center fielder. Maggi has good speed, gap power and is fairly sound defensively (though his game does need some work). He profiles as a Chase d’Arnaud type player and his value will be greatly impacted by this season’s performance. Being in a hitter friendly park Maggi has the potential for a great season. I expect Maggi will have a good season but not quite good enough to be viewed as a legitimate shortstop prospect.
Alen Hanson: Hanson made his US debut last season and put up strong numbers in the GCL. It was a little surprising to see him get so much playing time at SS considering Barrios and Carvajal were at the level and were more highly regarded. However his performance justified the Pirate’s decision and in fact he performed so well there is a though he could skip short season ball and go straight to A ball. I don’t see Hanson as quite polished enough for that level and since I have Ngoepe repeating the level there really isn’t an open spot for him. Hanson should start the season in extended spring training and could be sent to A ball later on but I see him going to short season ball and I actually think he will do quite well there. The low level performance won’t be enough to vault him up the rankings but it will allow him to become a little more known.
Summary: Shortstop is a weak position for the Pirates and although they have a few intriguing options down in the minors no one player stands out. Barmes will hopefully prove to be solid enough for the Pirates this season and hopefully one of d’Arnaud, Mercer, Navarro or even one of Nunez or Holt steps up and takes the future shortstop position. The Pirates really need to find a shortstop of the future and if it doesn’t come from this group of players it could be a long time before any other candidate emerges. The 2012 season is going to be an important year for the Pirates in terms of the sho