Sunday, November 15, 2009

#20 Jordy Mercer

The Pirates drafted Jordy Mercer in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. Baseball America had him ranked as the best prospect in Oklahoma and the 64th best overall player, so he was a bargain pick.

Mercer was All-State at Taloga High School in Oklahoma, and was picked in the 26th round of the 2005 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but opted to attend Oklahoma State.

While he was there, he played for Team USA in 2007, both as a pitcher and position player (he was the closer and starting shortstop for OSU). Mercer batted .330 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI as a junior with the Cowboys, and was named All-Conference.

He had 17 saves out of the bullpen over three seasons, but with an ERA in the high fours. It didn't take much evaluating to project the strong-armed (he threw at 95 MPH) Mercer as a shortstop. He also fit nicely into the American League mold of an offensive-minded middle infielder, a model that Neal Huntington and Greg Smith cut their teeth on.

And the Pirates were looking for one, despite (or because of) Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, and Brian Friday. Besides Mercer, they also picked Chase d'Arnaud, Benji Gonzalez, and Jarek Cunningham to groom as middle infielders in 2008.

Fourth round selection d'Arnaud had a breakout year in 2009, and may have passed Mercer on the depth chart. And the Bucs drafted Brock Holt in 2009 and brought in Josh Harrington from the Cubs, too, just to keep it interesting.

He signed without delay for a bonus of $508K, and got right to the business of playing pro ball.

The 6-3, 200 pounder started in State College and then moved up the ladder to Hickory. He hit for a combined .250/.297/.366 line, with five homers, 20 RBI, and a 47 K's to go with 13 walks in 216 at-bats.

Mercer, 23, was promoted to Lynchburg in 2009. His line there was .255/.314/.400, with 10 homers, 83 RBI, a league leading 36 doubles, 93 whiffs, and 41 walks in 580 at-bats.

He played a lot of short and a couple of dozen games at third, as the Bucs juggled their infielders around both to improve their versatility and to find places in the field for their kiddie posse of infield candidates.

It's certainly not that he can't handle the position. Mercer was considered one of the best pure shortstops in the 2008 draft, tall and athletic. Defensively, he has good range, soft hands, and a rifle arm, and was part of 86 twin-killings from short in 2009, and started seven DPs while he manned the hot corner.

Scouts also consider him a corner outfield possibility if push comes to shove, but until the Pirates are backed into a corner where they have to decide among their prospects, his greatest value is at shortstop.

On offense he has some pop, although it's shown up as gap power so far in A Ball. The old scouting adage is that power comes only with experience for young hitters, and doubles are the early indicator of impending long balls. Mercer should be golden if that holds true. And his production was solid, with 83 runs driven in.

But he still needs a lot of work on his pitch discipline and recognition. Reports say that he's a sucker for breaking balls in the dirt, a common malady at every level and one that he'll have to develop the vision and patience to correct.

Mercer improved both his walk and strikeout ratios a bit in 2009, although neither raises a glaring red flag. His on-base and slugging percentages went up, too. But he has a ways to go yet at the dish. That .250-range batting average has to come up too.

The Pirates are pushing their prospects through the pipeline as fast as they can go, so we expect to see Mercer in Altoona next season, where the battle between he and Chase d'Arnaud should continue. And it's about time we see prospects duke it out in the Pirate system instead of being anointed.

(Next - #19 Jim Negrych)

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