Is Mercer pulling a coup at shortstop? … And the Cobra 2.0 timetable


PNC PARK - Clint Hurdle‘s confidence in Jordy Mercer has lagged behind much of the fan base, judging from my email inbox, but Hurdle’s confidence in Mercer is growing.


Mercer earned a second straight start at shortstop Thursday, the first time that’s happened this month. He’s had back-to-back starts at short three times this season.


Hurdle was asked if we are going to see more regular starts for Mercer prior to Thursday’s game.


“I think if you keep showing up and keep an eye on that lineup you’ll be able to read into what we are trying to do,” Hurdle said. “We are not quitting on anybody. We are not putting at anybody aside. There are still appropriate times for everyone to stay engaged, but we want to pick some spots for Jordy to face some right-handers. He’s handled left-handers very professionally.”



Time for the torch to be passed on an every day basis to Mercer? (I hear the collective ‘Yes’ from readers)


I wasn’t so much interested in Mercer getting a start against a right-handed pitcher as I was this: for a second straight game Mercer started when the Pirates placed a heavy ground-ball pitcher on the mound.


Of course most of the Pirates starters are ground-ball prone pitchers. Still, If you were going to platoon Mercer and Barmes based upon defense you would think you’d want Barmes out there with your heaviest groundball pitchers on the mound. Charlie Morton is one of those guys. But it was Mercer getting the start.


Look, I’ve been on record saying I value defense over offense at shortstop. Barmes has cleaner hands, cleaner actions, than Mercer. But there comes a point where you have generate some offense at the position.


Barmes has a .505 OPS.


Mercer has a .490 slugging mark.


Moreover, Barmes’s fielding runs above average per is 2.1, Mercer’s is 1.4.  Does Barmes possess enough defensive value to forego .250 slugging percentage points?


“We know the impact Barmes has been able to provide the last year-plus for us defensively up the middle,” Hurdle said. “We do think that bat will still come up and help us.”


Still, it’s June 13th, the Pirates are competitive, and Mercer has a 0.7 WAR in limited playing time,  Barmes has a -0.2 WAR.


What’s clear is Mercer is going to get more playing time this go around with the Pirates. He might even have a chance to also win the job. And if he wins the job outright it won’t be because of his bat, we all saw the pop the 6-3, 200 has at New York earlier this year, it will be because Hurdle is gaining confidence in Mercer’s defensive ability.


“When we brought Mercer back up … I sat down and Neal (Huntington) and I talked. I shared ‘If we are going to keep the young man here he has to play.’ I have to find opportunities for him to play and stay engaged. This is a completely different situation than it was last year. He’s brought more to the table. His confidence lever has never been higher. His game is as fresh and as solid as it’s ever been. We have a lot of confidence. He’s finish games. How much more confidence can you show in a guy than have him finish games at shortstop?”




In case you missed it, earlier today the Pirates promoted CF/RF Gregory Polanco to Double-A Altoona on Thursday.


The 6-foot-4, left-handed Polanco was likened to a future Dave Parker to me by one scout, who said earlier this year Polanco has more power potential than St. Louis prospect Oscar Taveras, widely regarded as the best pure hitter in the minors. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But Polanco is regarded as a top 25 overall prospect by Keith Law and Jason Parks.


Polanco was impressive in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League posting a triple slash like of .312/.364/.372 this season. He showed good strike-zone discipline and contact rates and can play center or right. That tells me he is advanced. The power is expected to come.


What does his promotion mean? When a prospect gets to Double-A it’s a very big deal. It’s probably the biggest leap prior in pro ball prior to making the majors. If he proves he can handle Double-A, he’s a prime candidate to reach The Show in June 2014. That would be a full year in Double-A.


It means the current Pirates’ right fielders have some proving to do.