Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pirate Corner Infield

Meh, the corners are a mess.  Platoon at first, knock on wood at third...

The only certainty is that Garrett Jones, 30, will see time at first. He's put up a .254/60/193 line in four seasons and 419 games. Like many corner players, Jones is a slash in the field. He played just 260 innings at first last year, to a pretty poor -13.2 UZR/150. He was better in right, where he picked up the majority of his time (659 innings) and played to a -0.9 UZR/150.

The big lefty has some pop, but a .147 BA against southpaws last year (and .199 lifetime) has reduced him to a platoon role. JR spent his time trying to turn Jones into an everyday player, but Hurdle had him work primarily against righties, getting Jones 405 PAs against them versus 60 against lefties.

Just yesterday, in his first year of arbitration, Jones lost his salary bid and was assigned a $2.25M contract. He was in his Super Two season, and will be arb eligible through 2015.

The spring will be spent looking for his alter ego at first base. Casey McGehee is the presumed front runner among right handed batters. We hope he spent the winter fielding throws, since the old Brewer third baseman has spent just 22 innings at first base during his four year MLB career and was used at the spot quite sparingly during his six year minor league stint.

The 29 year old, obtained for Jose Veras, had a pair of strong offensive years in 2009-10 with 39 homers and 170 RBI, but put up a line of just .223/13/67 with a .280 OBP last season. The Pirates will give him an opportunity to regain his past mojo, but they've got a couple of first base irons in the fire just in case. Beside, they may need him at third base.

His contract is for $2,537,500, just announced today, shortly before his arbitration hearing was scheduled. The amount was midpoint between his asking price and Pittsburgh's offer. McGehee still has two years of arb left before becoming a free agent.

Those irons in the fire? Internally, they have Matt Hague safe and secure on the 40-man roster, but he'll soon be passed up by the duo behind him, Matt Curry and/or Alex Dickerson. The latter pair won't be here this year, and Hague, 26, hits but doesn't have much power, speed, or leather. Big Jeff Clement is also back and trying to revive his career after 2010 microfracture surgery.

The best chance to break camp as an extra first baseman belongs to Nick Evans, 26, formerly of the Mets and signed as a non-roster camp invitee. His MLB line is .256/8/46 in 386 at-bats. He's actually played more outfield than first in the show, and hit .295 with a .360 OBP against lefties, making him a solid bench candidate.

That leaves the hot corner. Pedro Alvarez's name had been written in stone on that sack ever since he was drafted - until last year. Funny how a line of .191/4/19 in 235 ABs with an OBP of .272 and a 30.5% K rate will empty the bandwagon. El Toro took the winter off, and hopefully spent the time mentally envisioning himself drilling first pitch fastballs on the outside corner all around the park instead of watching them whiz by.

As we understand, Alvarez has one option left, and the Pirates may opt to start him off at Indy for a couple of months to get him going. He is, no matter where he starts out, going to be on a pretty short leash this season. McGehee will be his backup. If Evans sticks, he's played third base a bit in the majors and enough times to be acquainted in the minors. And whoever earns the bench middle infield spot should also be capable of stepping in to play third base.  

Josh Harrison would probably top the list of internal candidates for the position, with Jordy Mercer right there. Harrison can also play second, while Mercer plays all around the infield except for first.  And that would be about it in the system.

With the way the team is built currently, the corner infielders should provide the power. Jones, Alvarez, and McGehee all have that potential to varying degrees, but it would take a trio of breakout years, as unlikely a scenario as that is, to help power the Pirates. For Alvarez and McGehee, 2012 is most likely a make or break season.

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