At the turn of the decade, second base was a one-and-out position for the Pirates. Warren Morris, Pat Meares, Pokey Reese, Jeff Reboulet and Abraham Nunez all manned the spot.
Then in the middle of the decade, Jose Castillo claimed second from 2004-06 before Freddy Sanchez took the position. He lasted three years before being shipped to the Giants for Tim Alderson, and Delwyn Young and Aki Iwomura took their shots there.
That leads us to Neil Walker, who came up in 2010 as a utility infielder and ended up the regular second baseman a heartbeat later in one of JR's more inspired moves. The good news is that The Pittsburgh Kid is young (26), profiles nicely for a middle infield bat (.280/24/189 in 286 games), and made great strides in fielding the position. He still has room to grow, considering he had all of 21 games of minor-league experience at second before being thrown in the fire.
More good news is not only is Walker young, but he's an ironman. A throwback player, he needs to be dragged off the field for a day off, and he only had three in 2011.
The bad news is that his backup on the depth chart was Ronny Cedeno, the shortstop, when the 2011 season started (Chase d'Arnaud & Josh Harrison are the current reserves). And that about tells us where the Bucs are at the position.
When Sanchez left, Delwyn Young was tossed in the position in hopes that he could hold the fort until Shelby Ford or Brian Friday were ready. Well, Young is playing AAA for the Phils (as an outfielder), Friday is considered an organizational player now, and Ford is a minor-league free agent. How's that for depth? So they brought in a hobbled Aki Iwomura to start with Bobby Crosby and then Josh Rodriguez as security blankets until Walker showed up.
The Pirates actually have quite a few guys that can play the spot as their middle infielders have been multi-tasking in the minors. It's just that the second base list is just about the same as the shortstop list.
SS candidates d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer and Brock Holt have all been given substantial time at second. d'Arnaud has played 290 games at SS and 64 at second, Mercer 278/83 (with 75 games at third) and Brock 126/116, almost an even split.
Last year's big league backup, 24 year old Harrison, played 152 games at second in the minors to 161 games at the hot corner. He started five games in Pittsburgh at second, and looked OK in the field while hitting a quiet .272, quiet because he has little power and less discipline. But at least we know that he's not overmatched at the plate, can put a ball in play and fits into Clint Hurdle's go-go attack with his wheels.
d'Arnaud, 24, despite his game changing speed, had his problems with the stick. He struck out 36 times in 143 at-bats and drew just four walks while hitting .217. Many project him as a better second baseman than shortstop, but he only saw three innings at second base in 2011.
Mercer, 25, has been a 30 double - 15 homer guy so far in the minors, and is a good fielder with a strong arm that can play both middle infield positions and third. But he had a rough start at Indy when he was promoted during the year, and only a strong September allowed him to finish with a .239 BA. He'll need to be added to the 40-man roster this year.
Holt, 23, played his first full professional season this year after being injured in 2010, and hit .289 with a .356 OBP at Altoona. He's a contact hitter who will draw a few walks and steal the occasional base, although he's not a burner. Holt projects to be a second baseman because of his range and arm.
Brian Friday won't be 26 until December, but he's already been bypassed by the above group. He's a steady defender, puts the ball in play and has a decent eye, but was the utility guy for the Tribe and won't be on the 40-man roster.
Our take is that no one in the above group is ready to chase The Pittsburgh Kid. We think the likeliest to be kept on the major league roster is Josh Harrison because of the questions surrounding Pedro Alvarez. Who knows if El Toro will even start the year in Pittsburgh?
But another from that group could step in, depending on the status of Brandon Wood. We're not as sure as some of the other Pirate followers that he'll be let loose in the off season, not so much due to his performance as much as the need to fill the hot corner with a guy with a little muscle should Pedro falter again. But he didn't see much playing time in September, so we'll see how the Pirates craft their infield or 2012.