Monday, December 27, 2010

Corey Wimberly

The Bucs just added another infielder/outfielder to the camp mix before Christmas when they traded for 27 year old Corey Wimberly from the Oakland A's. He joins Pedro Ciriaco and Rule 5 pick up Josh Rodriguez in the back-up middle infielder sweepstakes to be held in Florida a few weeks from now.

His calling card is his legs; the diminutive (he's listed at 5'8"; caveat emptor with that) Wimberly can flat-out fly, and is on the short list of the fleetest minor league burners. He's a product of Alcorn State, and the Pirates have some familiarity with Southwestern Athletic Conference. Pittsburgh took Marcus Davis from Alcorn in the 2007 draft and Calvin Anderson from Southern in the 2008 lottery.

Wimberly wasn't just good at Alcorn; he owned the SWAC. He hit .420/.508/.527 with 52 runs in 42 games as a freshman in 2004, and won the SWAC Newcomer of the Year Award. The infielder was named to the All-Conference Team at second base. He was ninth in NCAA Division I batting and tenth in swiping bases with 40 steals. As scary as it may seem, Wimberly got better the next season.

In 2005, his line was .462/.571/.606. Wimberly was on the All-SWAC team, named the conference's Outstanding Hitter and its Player of the Year. He led all NCAA D-1 players in average and OBP, and he stole 42 bases to finish fifth in the nation in that category. Wimberly was named to the Collegiate Baseball Magazine's All-America team as its second baseman.

That season, he was selected by Colorado Rockies in the sixth round (177th pick overall) of the 2005 draft. The infielder signed quickly for $145K and was assigned to Casper in the rookie Pioneer League.

In 67 games, he hit .381 with an OBP of .427. He began his career miscast by playing mainly at the power position of third base because Eric Young Jr. held down second base.

But Wimberly made the PL All-Star team at second base and was rated the #18 prospect in the league by Baseball America, right behind Mat Gamel. Of course, he was a 21 year old college player and fairly high draft pick, so a flying start was to be expected.

He skipped a level in 2006; his first full pro year of ball was spent at High A Modesto, where he hit .325 with a .404 on-base average and 50 steals in 87 games; he missed a couple of lengthy stretches with a pulled hammy.

Wimberly moved up to the AA Tulsa Drillers in 2007, hitting .268 with an OBP of .323 while leading the Texas League with 36 steals; Baseball America rated him the league's fastest runner. He again had hamstring woes, and it certainly wasn't the kind of season he needed to boost his stock.

He did restore a bit of his luster when he won an off-season batting title by hitting .407 in the Arizona Fall League, and he followed up with a .291 BA and .370 OBP to go along with 59 stolen sacks during his second year at Tulsa in 2008, even with groin problems. His last game was on August 7th, when he left with a nagging wrist injury that would eventually require hamate surgery after the season.

His run with the Rox was over after that. The surgery not only cost him a possible spot on the 40-man roster, but during the off season, Wimberly was traded from Colorado to the A's for Matt Murton.

Oakland, a team that lives and dies by data-driven projections, got a player in Wimberly with blazing speed and great on-base numbers, but who was injury-prone throughout his Colorado career. The 108 games he played at Tulsa in 2008 was his minor league high water mark after four years of pro ball.

2009 was no different. Wimberly was OK for the first 70 games at AA Midland, then he broke his thumb stealing a base. It cost him the remainder of the season; ring up another victim of the headfirst slide syndrome.

But he managed to keep himself in one piece for the 2010 season, getting into 135 games for AAA Sacramento. Wimberly hit .284 with a .373 OBP and 56 swiped sacks, his usual fare. In the field, he was a Chone Figgins clone. He played 89 games in center and left, 31 at SS, 17 at the hot corner, and eleven at his original position, second base.

His base stealing ability should actually step up a notch; one advantage of the Oakland years was that Wimberly got a couple of seasons to get in some work with Rickey Henderson.

Now it's the Pirates' turn to see if Corey Wimberly has what it takes to play in the show.

Wimberly is what he is at the dish, a Punch-and-Judy slap hitter; his lifetime OBP of .373 is higher than his slugging percentage of .363. But hey, he's a little guy with fast feet, so what would you expect? He's a switch-hitter, and his career stats aren't bad: a .302 average with 72 doubles, 17 triples, 10 home runs, 191 RBI, 412 runs scored and 259 stolen bases (76%) in 2,215 at-bats.

So if you need a long fly to get back into the game, fuggedaboutit. But if you're a run down and looking for a guy to lead off an inning with a walk (or pinch run) and steal second, he's your man.

Wimberly has good range to go with his speed, which allows him to be versatile. His hands aren't reputed to be the best, but he does help stretch a bench with his ability to play just about anywhere on the diamond. Over his minor league career, Wimberly has appeared in 253 games at 2B, 105 games at SS, 83 games at 3B, 59 games in CF, and 58 games in LF.

Wimberly will attend spring training as a non-roster invitee. And his enthusiasm at switching scenery is more than apparent. Heck, he announced the trade on Twitter before the teams did. He tweeted "all my hard work paid off someone wanted me now I'm with my new favorite team the Pirates."

He's an easy guy to root for, and been a fan favorite throughout his farm stops. He ends his pregame routine with backflips, wears old-school stirrups, and has been a team leader and role model everyplace he's been. Wimberly wears his enthusiasm for the game on his sleeve.

As for the Bucs, they see a guy with wheels that has all three options, with six years of control when and if he hits the show. He can cover the whole outfield, the middle infield, and offer a jolt of speed to the attack. He - or Ciriaco or Rodriguez, for that matter - has to be an upgrade over the usual Ramon Vazquez or Bobby Crosby veteran back up plan.

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