The 5'10", 180-pound Jimmy Negrych 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 an All-America career for Pitt.
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 signed him soon afterwards for $150K.
Negrych stared out at short season Williamsport, hitting .267 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 in 84 games but his power dried up; many credit that to the thumb injury from the prior year. 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.
In 2008, he finally accepted 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. Not very toolsy, his speed, range, and arm are considered below-average, and the Bucs played him primarily at third, grooming him for a job as a MLB utility guy. Still, he booted 31 balls in 2008. They gave up on him being a competent hot corner guy.
The Pirates sent him to Hawaii in the Arizona Fall League to play second, his position at Pitt and one that better fits his bat (and mitt). He only hit .225 there, and 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 was a washout for the scouts.
He returned to Altoona last season, and they put him back at second base, where he showed some improvement. Negrych hit .272 there after an icy start, but again, he was lost in July when he had hematoma surgery after a collision in the infield with Brian Friday.
He'll be 25 next season, and should be the starting second baseman again at Altoona, although he could move to AAA, especially if Neil Walker makes the big club out of camp, he's seen as potentially blocking one of the Pirate pups as they rise in the system, or the suits figure it's put-up-or-shut-up time.
The clock's ticking on him, and Satchel Paige's old saw of "don't look back, someone may be gaining on you" is in play for him. The Pirates have a sweet collection of high pedigree draftees that they're fast-tracking, and they're quickly closing the gap. Negrych is also Rule 5 eligible this year, and presents the Pirates with a decision.
His play so far profiles him as a Delwyn Young clone, and that's a valuable commodity for any MLB bench. His organizational line is .307/.382.410, certainly nothing to sneeze at, and he has great plate discipline. But he's always hurt, and though it's nothing that's chronic, the injuries being more along the lines of bad luck (think Ryan Doumit), it's tough to make the club in a tub.
Another consideration is the status of Akinara Iwamura. The new Bucco second baseman is in his walk year contractually, and the Bucs likely will either ink him for a couple of more seasons or move him in July.
His future stay with Pittsburgh may well hinge on whether Shelby Ford can recover in 2010, or if Negrych can push him aside to provide Neal Huntington with a viable option at second in 2011 at a much cheaper price for the short term (along, of course, with the Andy LaRoche scenario).
It should make Indy a battleground for the two wanna-be second-basemen of the future with Aki as an interested observer.
The lefty is also probably ready for a bench role as an extra stick. ZiPS projects him as a .274 hitter in 2010; Chones has him hitting .267.
So the Buc suits have to decide whether to put him on the 40-man roster or risk losing him; there are several factors to weigh. Whichever way the coin toss goes, this is a make or break season for Negrych in determining if he's a major league prospect or poseur.
(Next - #18 Brett Lorin)