Friday, October 16, 2009

Pirates by Position: Shortstop

OK, whether you loved Jack Splat or are glad that he's gone, his era is done. The question is, does it belong to Ronny Cedeno?

He hit .258 for the Bucs, with a .309 OBP, five homers, and 21 RBI in 155 at-bats, very Wilson-esque numbers. Cedeno's fielding was not in Wilson's league, though - his UZF was slightly below average, his range factor slightly above - and the eye confirms the data. He also missed the final three weeks of the season, thanks to some sore hammies.

GW finds him to be a very average player - oh, where are you, Cesar Izturis? -and it's possible they may plug him in as a stop-gap in the hopes that Brian Friday can make the leap to the show in 2011.

Friday, 23, Altoona's shortstop, is the closest player to being MLB ready in the Pirate system. He was a third round pick of the 2007 draft from Rice, hit .265/7/46 with a .361 OBP for the Curve, and his glove is considered above-average.

The good news is that he's working on his craft in the winter league, unlike some of those lay-abouts that the Pirate suits harumphed. The bad news is that Scottsdale has eight infielders on its roster, and six are shortstops.

One, in fact, is Chase d'Arnaud, 22, the fourth round selection in the 2008 draft from Pepperdine. He rocked in Lynchburg, hitting for a .295/.402/.481 line with four homers in 210 at-bats as the Hillcats' plate setter, stealing a combined 31 sacks for the Hillcats and West Virginia in 2009.

The 6-1 d'Arnaud was voted the best defensive shortstop in the Carolina League, and was the league's #13 prospect, according to Baseball America.

He split his time between second and short almost evenly at Lynchburg, though, as he's on the same track as 2008's third round pick, SS Jordy Mercer, 23, from Oklahoma State. Mercer is a big guy for the position, 6-3, 195 pounds, and hit .255/10/83 for Lynchburg. He got the lion's share of work at short, but also played 27 games at third base.

Where either of these guys ends up in the field is yet to be determined, but they both have a decent shot at landing in Pittsburgh by 2012-13.

The Pirates also have a couple of youngsters that could challenge in time, Jarek Cunningham and Brock Holt. Cunningham, 19, was drafted out of high school in 2008, and batted .328 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 148 at-bats at Bradenton.

But he had ACL surgery, and lost this season. He played quite a bit at third for the baby Bucs because of the knee, and it's tough to project where he'll line up on the field until the results of his visit to the chop shop become known.

Holt, 22, this year's 9th round pick from Rice, hit .299/.361/.449 for Low A State College, with six homers, 33 RBI, and nine stolen sacks. He played 18 games at second base and 48 at shortstop, and is a good glove guy.

So the lower levels of short look OK, the caveat being that except for Friday, all the others are playing musical chairs in the infield until the suits slot them. That leaves us with the here and now.

As with second, the depth behind Cedeno is Ramon Vazquez, Brian Bixler, and Luis Cruz. Short-term inconvenience, hey?

You can add Argenis Diaz, 22, obtained in the Adam LaRoche deal, to that list. He's on the 40-man roster and is a great glove man. His problem is he can't hit a lick. At Indy, Diaz hit .233 with a slugging percentage of .240, your classic banjo hitter. But he could push Bix or Cruz out as Vasquez's pine partner.

The other option is to go outside the system and get a body that can play short until the wave of young 'uns splashes over PNC. There are a couple of guys available - J.J. Hardy, maybe Stephen Drew and Reid Brignac/Jason Bartlett could find new teams, if the price is right.

So the Pirates are faced with either plugging in Ronny Cedeno or going outside the organization to patch the shortstop hole until the minor league cavalry arrives.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Ronny Cedeno and Luis Cruz are out of options; Cedeno is arbitration-eligible. Ramon Vazquez is under contract for 2010. The others are under team control.

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