Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Farm Fresh - Minor League Second Basemen

Hey, we all know how fragile Freddy Sanchez has become in the past couple of seasons with a bum wheel, shoulder, and scratched-up eye. Does the team have anyone that can give him a blow during the upcoming year?

Heck, no. Basically the same pretenders for shortstop are also in line for second base, too. That doesn't bode real well for the Bucs in the short term if Sanchez continues his rickety ways.

Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz manned the position towards the end of Indy's year as the Pirates tried to prime the pair for utility roles. When they were out of the lineup, veterans Matt Kata and Luis Ordaz held the fort, and neither one of them is exactly a fuzzy faced prospect.

The Buc light at the end of the tunnel is Shelby Ford at Altoona. He was a third round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2006, and there's hope for him to be ready for Pittsburgh when Sanchez's contract expires after 2009, with a 2010 option.

So far he's gone a step at a time, from A to high A to AA, and done OK at every stop. He should be at Indy this year. The switch hitter will turn 24 in December, not exactly a babe but still well on course for the show if he doesn't falter.

Like Freddy, he's a steady fielder that won't make many flashy plays, and a line-drive hitter who's put together solid, but not super, years at the plate, batting in the mid-to-upper .280 range. Ford is a much better runner than Sanchez (he's hit more triples than homers the past two seasons) and a threat to steal a base or two.

Oh, another similarity - he missed a couple of months in 2007 with back issues and a couple more in 2008 with a hip flexor. Let's hope he stays in one piece. Unless the suits swing a deal, he's the cavalry at second base.

Pirate Minor League Player of the Year Jim Negrych is a second baseman in name, too, but he's all bat and no mitt. And we don't mean "work in progress" bad glove - the dude flat out cannot field at an acceptable level for an everyday major league player according to most reports.

But he can crank out line drives, and while he's not a fence buster, Negrych has good gap power and hits a ton of doubles. He's played a lot of third the last couple of seasons, and it looks like the Bucs are trying to fit him into the Bobby Hill - Chris Gomez mold as a utility man and bat off the bench.

The 23-year old was chosen in the 6th round of the 2006 draft after a sterling career at Pitt. In 2005, he led the Big East with 16 homers, was second with 59 RBI and was All-Conference. Baseball America named him as its All-America at second base in NCAA Division I.

We expect him to start at Altoona, and if he keeps mashing, to pop up at Indy before the 2009 season is done. It'll be interesting to see if the Pirates give him a steady position or continue to play musical chairs with his glove.

The other guys in A - Dan Bomback, Matt Cavagnaro and Adenson Chourio - don't appear to be MLB threats, although Chourio has hit well in Venezuela and Bradenton.

He's a speedy lil' devil with a good eye, larcenous feet, and a decent mitt. But Chourio played in the GCL at age 21 (he turned 22 in August), and has absolutely no power at all, two bad signs.

He's hit 1 home run, 4 triples, and 21 doubles in 751 minor league at bats, and that ain't much muscle flexing for the ground floor of organized baseball.

But the low levels will be filled with second sackers within a year or two, when the logjam of SS's on the A rosters are converted into 2B's and 3B's as the coaches determine their niche.

Guys like SS's Jose Luis de los Santos and Angel Gonzalez have gotten reps at both middle infield spots, and Chase d'Arnaud could make the move to second, too.

So it's in the same bind as short, with the talent still years away from bubbling up to Pittsburgh, except for Shelby Ford. Cross your fingers that Freddy can hang on another year or two.


WilliamJPellas said...

Write it down: Shelby Ford is a nobody. He is not nor will he ever be a regular second baseman in the major leagues.

As for Negrych, if it were up to me, I'd find the position at which he'd do the least damage defensively (first base? left field? third base?), bring in a Hall of Fame gloveman such as Brooks Robinson, and Crazy Glue him to Negrych. Then I'd coach him up as hard and fast as I could and take my chances. Hitters like Negrych are simply too good to kick to the curb without making every effort to salvage them. Maybe he'll end up like Whatsisface Phelps who was here a couple seasons ago---a nomad hitter without a position who wanders around from bench to bench---but if there's any way to make Negrych even passable in the field, we owe it to ourselves to do so.

That said, I don't think he is a second baseman, so I get why you're promoting Ford. I don't like Ford and don't believe the Pirates in fact have a suitable replacement for Freddy Sanchez anywhere in the organization at present. They'll have to go outside the organization to find someone.

Ron Ieraci said...

I'm sure they're coaching up Negrych as hard as they can, Will. There aren't too many bats booming in the Buc's minors, and I'm sure they'd like him to get his swings here.
I've never seen Ford, just read the reports, so I'll hold judgment on him. I haven't seen anyone peg him for a star, but I haven't seen anyone dump cold water on him yet, either.

WilliamJPellas said...

That assessment sounds suspiciously like what they used to say about Brian Bixler. Personally I've had it with organizational soldiers who are in over their heads. Give me some real prospects.

Ron Ieraci said...

We'll ask Pedro, Jose, Andrew and Brad to pick up the pace, Will.