With news today that Rule V draft pick Gustavo Nunez has been placed on the 60 day DL the Pirates backup middle infield job now appears wide open. First off I need to point out that in order to remain Pirates property Gustavo Nunez needs to spend a minimum of 90 days on the active roster. Since there are 30 days in September where teams can carry their entire 40 man roster if they choose it really becomes 60 days in the first 5 months. If Nunez fails to get that many days this season he will remain property of the Pirates but will have the same restrictions. It appears Huntington is going to do every hing h can to try and keep him without having him be a permanent fixture on the 25 man roster, so expect this to not be Nunez’s last trip to the DL. Now on to the people who may fill the backup middle infield role in his absence.
The Pirates have 5 guys in camp who appear as if they may be able to fill that role is some capacity: Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Anderson Hernandez, Jordy Mercer and Yamaico Navarro. Of those 5 players Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison appear to be long shots. Mercer is facing long odds because he has only played a handful of games above AA and was not too successful in that short sample. Harrison on the other hand has major league experience and a decent bat but what he lacks is shortstop experience. Harrison’s professional body of work at short consists of one appearance last year in AAA and some work this offseason at the position in winter league. Harrison still has a shot at winning the other open bench spot but his chances at this one are probably slim.
That leaves us with d’Arnaud, Navarro and Hernandez. Just going by last season the Pirates appear to view d’Arnaud as a potential future long term solution to their shortstop problem so one has to wonder if they would want him on the bench getting sparse playing time in April. I could see him being the first option to come up and start should something happen to Walker or Barmes but just having him here in a backup role, not getting consistent at bats does not seem like a route the Pirates are likely to take. With d’Arnaud on the fringe of the picture at the very best we are left with Navarro and Hernandez.
First a little bit about each player.
Navarro as acquired by the Pirates this offseason via a trade in which the Pirates gave up Brooks Pounders. At one point in time Navarro was considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Red Sox system so he comes with a decent pedigree. He has shown good bat speed which has led to him having good power for a middle infielder. On the down over the years he has maturity issues and weight problems and sometimes he becomes wild with the bat and the glove.
Hernandez was signed by the Pirates this offseason to a minor league contract and at the time it seemed like a puzzling move because the Pirates have quite a lot of options for the middle infield in the upper minors but now it appears not only will Hernandez have an easy time winning a minor league job but he also stands a good chance at winning a major league roster spot. Hernandez hitting ability is really not all that great and his defensive ability especially at short is considered average at best. He appears to be your prototypical utility infielder.
It should be rather obvious from those two short bios that Navarro comes with the higher upside and the fact he is already on the 40 man roster should give him a leg up in the competition. On the other hand Navarro is considered to be a very weak shortstop and when you combine that with his maturity issues and consider that Hernandez is the more experienced player of the two (The Pirates generally seem to like an experienced bench for some reason) it becomes a bit tighter of a battle. He won’t be able to fill in long term at shortstop should the need arise but that is what d’Arnaud or Mercer is for. Barmes should get the majority of starts at short and Navarro is good enough there that he will be able to give Barmes the occasional day off. The real difference maker here though is the bat. Navarro doesn’t profile to be a big bat off the bench but he does have some power and has hit fairly well in the high minors providing him with a lot more to offer offensively than Hernandez. Personally I see this as a no-brainier if Navarro shows the ability to handle the shortstop position even passably this spring he needs to be given the bench spot over Hernandez for no reason other than his upside.