Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jim Negrych: Have Bat, Will Travel

Among all the hoo-hah generated by the Bucs bringing in a boatload of new blood through their deadline deals, one home grown talent has continued to shine bright as a pure hitter in the Pittsburgh organization, infielder Jim Negrych.

The 5'10", 180-pound second sacker is from Buffalo, where he was born on March 2, 1985. He starred at St. Francis HS, where he hit .500 with 91 RBI, 11 home runs and 35 stolen bases before going on to have a lights-out career for Pitt.

Negrych was the Beast of the Big East during his three years with the Panthers.

He started out by being named the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2004, earning Freshman All-America honors from both Baseball America and Louisville Slugger. Negrych finished second in the conference in batting with a .378 average and sixth in on-base percentage (.464) and slugging percentage (.592).

In 2005, Negrych hit .349 and set a Pitt record by drawing 44 walks. He led the Big East with 16 homers, was second with 59 RBI and was selected All-Conference. Baseball America christened him as an All-America as the best second baseman in NCAA Division I.

As a junior, Negrych continued raking with a .396 average, 11 homers and 60 RBI. His .515 OBP was 7th in NCAA Division I and BA picked him as an All-America for the second time. He became one of three Panthers to collect 200 hits during their Pitt careers.

The Pirates made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, and Negrych was off to an OK start at short season Williamsport, hitting .267 with a .711 OPS while making the transition to wooden bats, heating up as the season went on. But the year ended abruptly for him in August, when he tore thumb ligaments while sliding into third base.

He was shut down for three months after surgery, and began 2007 at Class A Hickory. Negrych hit .287 there with a .705 OPS in 84 games. But he was hurt again, missing several weeks of action with an oblique strain. Negrych played second for the Crawdads, and did OK, committing 10 errors.

This year, he finally dealt with the fact that he's not the long ball threat in the pros that he was in college, and quit trying to yank pitches.

Negrych cranks out line drives, and has pretty good gap power. He's patient at the dish, and his walks to K's ratio is almost 1:1. Throw in the fact that he finally had an injury-free year, and it added up to a break out season.

Negrych was named the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year after posting a .359 batting average between Lynchburg and Altoona, fifth best in the entire minor leagues. He also ranked fifth in on-base percentage (.438), ninth in hits (170) and 12th in doubles (41).

Ah, but that glove. If Perry Hill needs a poster child for his infield voodoo, Negrych is it. Not very toolsy, his speed, range, and arm are considered average to below-average, and the Bucs played him primarily at third, probably trying to groom him for a job as a MLB utility guy. Still, he booted 31 balls in 2008.

The Pirates sent him to Hawaii to play second, his position at Pitt and one that better fits his bat. He's only hitting .225 there, but the injury bug that he avoided during the season bit him again at West Oahu, as he lost a couple of weeks to a finger sprain. So that winter audition is a washout for the scouts.

His good hit/mediocre field, overachiever rep could fit Freddy Sanchez's profile - or Bobby Hill's.

He'll be 24 next season, and should be the starting second baseman at Altoona, with Shelby Ford moving up to Indy. The clock's ticking on him, and the suit's eyes will be watching his performance carefully.

The Pirates are faced with a decision. Is Negrych's bat solid enough to overcome his glovework? The answer to that question will ultimately determine his future role in the bigs.

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