Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pirates by Position: Second Base

Hey, this is an easy one: Delwyn Young. After the Freddy Sanchez trade, the Pirates committed all their faith and a handful of Perry Hill pixie dust to Young being able to make the transition. The results are mixed.

Young, 27, worked like the proverbial dog after the Sanchez deal. His hours showed; his range and release both improved dramatically. But he's very much a work in progress in the field; Young still misses plays that should be instinctive, and his DP turn is an accident waiting to happen.

Worst of all, his batting, the one sure thing about DY, took a dive steeper than an BASE jumper who's lost his harness. His overtime shifts learning the second base tango from Hill took a mental toll. His average dipped from .300+ to a season-ending .266-7/43 in 354 at-bats.

But he finished the year with a .301 RISP average, one of the few clutch Bucs, and we're not concerned with his bat; a few weeks off to clear his head of non-stop footwork drills should set that straight. The question is whether or not his mitt will get to the point that he can play everyday.

Still, unless the suits go outside the Pirate system, Young is da man, at least for the opening bell of 2010.

All the depth behind him is prime pine material - Ramon Vazquez, 33, (.230, 1/16), Brian Bixler, 26, (.227, 0/3), and Luis Cruz, 25 (.214, 0/2). No real competition there.

The minors aren't exactly brimming with guys after Young's job. Shelby Ford, 24, the heir apparent, took a big hit on his career with an abysmal few months at Indy, hitting .188-4/27. He didn't shine at Altoona, either, batting .233-2/17.

But Ford was highly regarded, runs well, fields OK, and has some gap power. He sprained his wrist in spring camp, and that particular injury sometimes saps a player's strength, never completely healing until it's rested in the off-season.

So it's a make or break season for Ford; if his wrist and not his ability was the problem, he can get back on the prospect track. But it certainly won't be in 2010.

Pitt's Jim Negrych, 24, is another player that could rise; he's the Pirates' Delwyn Young lite. Leather-challenged though he may be (and he is), Negrych hit .354 between A and AA in 2008. But abdominal surgery last year cost him a good chunk of the year at Altoona, and he hit .262-3/29 with a decent .360 OBP in 2009.

His bat makes him intriguing; his glove makes him a candidate for super-sub status; and his penchant for missing games while injured is the major bugaboo of his career. Negrych needs a healthy, break-out year to establish himself.

Josh Harrison, 22, came from the Cubs and is a utility-type player that the Pirates are trying to mold into a second baseman at Lynchburg. He's got adequate speed (he can steal you a base or two), OK glove, fairly decent plate discipline and a little gap power. He hit .276-2/22 in 211 High Class A at-bats.

Unfortunately, that eye deserted him when he switched allegiances; he struck out 19 times and walked but once as a Hillcat. We'll chalk that up to trying too hard to impress his new bosses. Harrison needs a lot of work, and we'd guess he's going to get another year at Lynchburg to try to establish himself.

There's also talk of trying out SS Chase d'Arnaud (.293, 7/57 split between West Virginia and Lynchburg) and injured Jarek Cunningham (ACL surgery), a 2008 high-school draftee, as second basemen, although d'Arnaud is still considered a prime candidate to play short.

We won't discount the rumor that with Pedro on the way and two being a crowd, Andy LaRoche may get an invite to move to second. But we expect that move down the road, maybe in 2011, if it does happen; there's no guarantee that Alvarez will remain on the hot corner.

So unless the suits go hunting, look for Young to man second again, backed by Vazquez. There just aren't any other bodies within hailing distance right now.

Contractual Issues: Ramon Vazquez is signed for 2010. Delwyn Young becomes arbitration eligible in 2011, and no one is out of minor league options except Young.


WilliamJPellas said...

Vazquez had a bad year in '09 but he is still capable in theory of giving you 400 at bats if we can't find anyone else. I thought I read somewhere that his knees were aching last season, though, so we'll need to watch that situation. He's no worse than a very capable infield backup if healthy.

Young is probably still going to have the job at least when we break camp next spring. I still like his stick and agree with you that he probably just got worn down with all the extra work in '09. However he might be another one who is best suited as a multi-position utilityman.

Agreed that 2010 will tell the tale with Shelby Ford. I have to believe his nosedive at triple-A was due to the injury, because he had made steady progress through the system prior to '09. Bixler and Cruz are non-entities, strictly quad-A deep reserve types.

The guy who really has an opportunity to seize the day is Negrych. How sweet would it be to see a hometown Pitt guy like him become our regular second baseman? I really believe he can hit .300 in the bigs if he can stay healthy. Probably won't have a lot of power, but that would still be a "plus" stick at the position.

Ron Ieraci said...

I guess, Will, that my issue is that the Pirates have gotten some talent, but it's kinda haphazard collection.

They got some pitching, and they need some more. But a lot of spots they were thin at, well now they're even less deep, and they have to get more than stop-gaps.

I can't imagine them lowering the payroll to much less than the level they have it at now, so I believe that it's time to put Bob Nutting's money where his mouth is, i.e., into getting big league performers, not fill ins, to cover the gap between the low minor league talent and the MLB club.