After taking a look behind the plate in yesterday's edition of the spring training preview series, arguable the most important defensive position on the diamond will be discussed today. Shortstop.
Last season started with Clint Barmes getting the lions share of the playing time, but after a dismal start in the batters box, the Pirates called up Jordy Mercer. The two would begin splitting time at the position, until Mercer eventually supplanted Barmes as the starter. Even then, Barmes would be called on for late inning defensive relief at the position. While known for the upside involving his bat, Mercer was not particularly impressive defensively at short, even though he improved as the season progressed. Barmes, who was brought back on a one year, $2 million deal, was one of the best defenders in the game based on sabermetric stats, although his offense was punchless for the second consecutive year. So how will the position play out in 2014? And who will have a shot to contribute from the minor leagues?
The former third round pick out of Oklahoma State will begin the season as the Pirates shortstop, barring injury. Mercer hit .285 with a .772 OPS, eight home runs and 23 doubles. He was worth 2.0 wins above replacement, although his defensive WAR was just 0.2. Mercer will have a spot in the lineup so long as his bat provides that kind of impact from the eight hole. The main focus with Mercer is his defense, where he will be counted on to improve, hopefully so that Barmes doesn't have to sub in as a late innings defensive replacement in close games.
In his second season with the Bucs, Barmes put up an atrocious .558 OPS. Offensively, he was one of the absolute worst players in all of major league baseball, yet he still managed to put up 1.1 wins above replacement. Why? His defensive WAR was 1.8, and he provided the Pirates with solid play in the hole throughout the year. He is one of the most respected players in the Pirates clubhouse, and the Pirates decided to bring him back for another year to be a backup shortstop/utility option off the bench.
d"Arnaud didn't receive any time with the big league club in 2013 after being surpassed in the system by Mercer in addition to injury. Yet, if either of the team's top two options get hurt, d'Arnaud should be the first to receive a promotion. Formerly one of the team's top prospects, d'Arnaud recently turned 27, the year most baseball players find their greatest big league success. If he performs well to start the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, d'Arnaud could be making an impact with the team much sooner than many realize.Tags: Baseball, Chase d'Arnaud, Clint Barmes, Jordy Mercer, MLB, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, Shortstop