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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.”

 

Jordy-Mercer

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 Fangraphs.com 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?”

 

CORBRA 2.0 PROMOTED

 

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.

 

-TS

 

 

33 Comments

  1. Polanco promoted to Double-A days after San. Who gets to the bigs first? Who stays longer?

    Ihavee not been for Mercer either. But a .505 ops just isnt good enough to keep an everyday job. #ThisYearIsDifferent

  2. Clemson Travis,
    .
    Do you really think fans are clamoring for Mercer to be the shortstop?

    Or is the cacophony really about Barmes NOT being at shortstop? Check your emails/sources!
    .
    So, you are still pushing the idea that a batter who has yet to have one At Bat above ‘A’ ball will be in the Major Leagues one year from today?!?!
    .
    Lessens your credibility!

    • “If he proves he can handle Double-A, he’s a prime candidate to reach The Show in June 2014.”

      You must have missed the word “if”.

      • If my aunt wore a cup, she’d be my uncle!
        .
        Neither is happening. No ifs.

        • Again, if Polanco succeeds in Double-A for a year, and he very well might, he can be the team’s RF in June 2014.

          Is this likely? Perhpas not. Plausible? Certainly.

          I think there’s a 40 percent chance of it happening. But there’s a lot of variables including the performance of the team’s RF.

          • Travis,

            I think your proposition was an interesting one. Certainly not one that lessens your credibility. Keep the good analysis AND speculation coming.

    • Groat:

      I believe he said “If he proves he can handle AA.” He didn’t say he will be up next year. Cole pitched in AA last year, if I recall correctly. The progression for top prospects (and Polanco is a top prospect) is often AA by mid-season, AAA at the tail end of that same season, AAA for the start of the next season, and it all goes well, MLB my mid-next season.

      I think we are all a little rusty in Pittsburgh on how quickly top prospects can move through the upper levels of the minors because we just have not had a ton of top prospects for the last 20 years. That is all in the process of changing now. And, that is a very good thing.

      • Sweet Jimmy,
        .
        This is a continuation of a discussion Travis and I had 4-6 weeks ago, when Travis claimed that in June 2014 the Bucco outfield could be made up of Marte, McCutch, and Polanco.
        .
        I was astounded then: I continue to be dubious now. There is a difference between being Hopeful Travis and Realistic Travis.
        .
        Let me be clear——AA is, as Travis says, a HUGE jump. I do NOT see a prospect, who has yet to have ONE SWING against the better stuff pitchers of AA and the wily-ness and control of AAA pitchers, jumping from A ball today to the the Pirate outfield in the Majors one year from today.
        .
        No way! No how! No “ifs”!
        .
        Check out McCutchen’s Minor League progression.

        • First off, I agree with you in that I just can’t see Polanco making that jump.

          But which part about the theory do you find so outrageous? The specific June date? Would your mind change if Travis said August or September? Is it that you don’t think the PIRATES would promote somebody that quickly? Baseball is littered with examples of other teams promoting top prospects at that pace, or faster. Or do you just not think Polanco, specifically, is that good?

          • In order:
            .
            1/ June date —— no way. One exact year from A to Majors!?!?!?!?
            2/ Current Pirate minor league history——what would lead anyone to believe Pirates will break their established style?
            3/ Polanco has yet to prove himself against real baseball players, in AA and especially AAA oldsters. One outta 20 A ball players make Majors.
            .
            4/ I keep only two baseball cards on my desk at work: Chad “Walk on water” Hermansen and Brad Eldred (signed!) —— to remind me to have temperance.
            .
            I rather doubt Polanco even has a chance to be a September call-up next year. Of course, I also doubted in Spring Training that Mike Zagurski would ever pitch in the Majors for the Pirates!

          • That’s fair, Groat. You have your reasons.
            .
            Now how fast would your opinion change if Polanco finshed the season at AA with a line similar to his production in A ball?

          • Exactly, NMR. Quick progression is not the norm. But, the very best prospects are also not the norm. Polanco has continued to get better at each level. He was doing this at his last stop in a pitcher-friendly environment. That still does not make anything a guarantee, but it seems to indicate the possibility of a continued rapid rise through the system and up to Pittsburgh. If he struggles at AA for awhile, it will not be unusual. That would mean he won’t make it to Pittsburgh next year. I believe Travis was laying out the best case scenario for Polanco. Personally, I believe 2 years from now is when we’ll realistically see him in PNC. That would still be a great trajectory for him.

          • Jim,
            .
            Not to steal a line from Dejan, but I don’t think we’ll be able to tell when he’ll arive in the ‘burgh until we know who is running the franchise next season.
            .
            Would not surprise me one bit to see a new GM push him onto the big club faster than the current one, for a number of reasons.

        • First of all, Groat, why do you feel the need to start out with insults?

          Travis said in this post that Polanco could be in Pittsburgh in 2014 if all goes well at AA. He did not say all would definitely go well at AA, and he did not say Polanco would definitely be in Pittsburgh in 2014. Obviously, AA is a huge jump as was acknowledged by Travis and you. But, the fact is, Polanco has made a huge jump in overall MLB prospect rankings over the past 2 seasons, and is now in the 20′s according to most of the people that do this for a living. It doesn’t mean he is can’t miss, but it is a very good sign of a player who, if all goes well (there’s that phrase again), COULD be at the MLB level a year after arriving at AA. I don’t think Travis said anything outlandish, and he did not make any bold predictions about when Polanco will be in Pittsburgh. He simply stated the normal progression for a top prospect if he continues to excel. I brought Cole into the conversation because he is a top pitching prospect who went from AA to AAA to Pittsburgh in a similar timeframe. So, it is possible for the very best prospects to accomplish this. A lot of people think Polanco is in the same class. You don’t have to agree. That is why blogs are a great place to converse and share opinions. If you want to have a rational, intelligent conversation, I’m fine with that. But, if you don’t like something I write, maybe you should try to convince me why my position is wrong and yours is right rather than insult those who may not share your exact same position.

          • Sweet Jimmy,
            .
            I am perplexed at your “hearing insults.” I’m not an insulting type.
            .
            As I explained, I picked up in my comments with Travis from 4-6 weeks ago, when he first presented the idea of Polanco starting in right field for the Pirates in June, 2014.
            .
            You say, “experts” now have Polanco ranked in 20′s, which I think is inaccurate on your part. Regardless, these are the same “experts” who had Tony Sanchez ranked in the 20′s 3 years ago. He is now unranked!
            .
            Again, I will repeat, look at how this Pirate regime progressed McCutchen through the system. Look at Marte. Starling Marte won a AA batting championship, and they made him play a whole year at AA.
            .
            Gregory Polanco has yet to even be brought to Spring Training with the big club. Starling Marte spent 2 years in Spring Training before being brought up, hitting over .400 his 2nd Spring Training and still being sent back to Minors.
            .
            It is not this Pirate Management’s style to fast-track prospects! Not insult, just fact.

          • With regard to the Polanco/McCutchen comparison. Their development tracks are slightly different, as one was international signee the other a HS draft pick.

            NH and co took over prior to the 2008 season. Cutch spent all of 2008 at AAA as a 21 year old. He began his age 22 season at AAA, where he played 49 games before being promoted. In total he played 511 minor league games.

            Polanco has logged 340 minor league games. Assuming he plays the rest of the year at AA and then a half season or so at AAA he play an additional 140 minor league games, for a total of 480. A similar number to Cutch. He’d also be called up in the middle of his age 22 season, same as McCutchen.

            Again this trajectory is based on the assumption that Polanco continues to succeed as he’s challenge at higher levels. If he struggles significantly that will obviously change his time frame.

        • “Check out McCutchen’s Minor League progression.”

          apples oranges….Cutch came up after A LONG LIST of failed can’t miss prospects…he was a true BETTER NOT MISS for the organization. and extra care and time had to be put into preparing Cutch.

          Planco is labeled can’t miss (we all know the reality of that moniker) how the organization is not even remotely comparable to the organization of 5+ years ago. while they need to cultivate their prospects carefully, they dont have to take such a careful approach with him.

          • btw…that in no way means i think he will be in in pittsburgh by 2014…i do see his point however

    • Groat,

      Here’s the thing: if, IF, a prospect succeeds at Double-A, he can often skip Triple-A. Why? Because Double-A contains more talent (greatest collection of top prospects), Triple-A contains more experience (more former MLB players).

      Giancarlo Stanton never played at Triple-A.

      Miguel Cabrera never played at Triple-A.

      Jurickson Profar jumped from Dobule-A to the majors last season.

      So if Polanco succeeds at Double-A for a year, it’s not a requirement he has Triple-A seasoning.

      The other thing is elite prospects often force their own timetable, accelerating the organization’s typical timetable for minor leaguers. Polanco has shown good plate discipline and strike-zone awareness in the FSL in addition to flashing all five tools. That discipline tells me he’s more advanced than many 21-year-olds.

      Keith Law and Jason Parks have Polanco as an easy top 25 prospect in baseball. With more power he could be top 10. He’s going to make his own timetable.

      • Add Machado and Zunino to that list.

      • As much as I like Starling Marte, from a plate discipline maturity standpoint, he is not in Polanco’s league. Polanco is actually striking out less as he moves up the ladder and faces better pitchers. That is a sign of a potentially great hitter. I used the word “potentially” because nothing is a certainty about prospects. There is a good chance Polanco is every bit the hitting prospect Cutch was, and quite possibly even better.

      • Clemson Travis,
        .
        MLB.com has Gregory Polanco listed as 2013 #65 prospect.

        Baseball America has Polanco listed as 2013 #51 prospect.

        Jonathan Mayo has Polanco listed as 2013 #57 prospect.
        .
        Since I don’t have access to Inside ESPN, I cannot check Keith Law. However, none of these others have Gregory Polanco listed “as an easy top 25 prospect in baseball” as you stated above.
        .
        Not sure how you and Mr. James S——”is now in the 20′s according to most of the people that do this for a living”——have managed to promote him.
        .
        This is what I mean when I stated that it “lessens your credibility.”
        .
        Head and eyes trump heart in legitimate presentations. Not ragging on you, just trying to approach Polanco rationally. He has yet to swing a ONE PITCH above A ball.

        • I believe those are preseason rankings, Groat. Travis is referencing updated comments from those who do such things.

        • Groat,

          I assume your skepticism that we may see Polanco in Pittsburgh this time next year is a result of the fact that Pirates have been less aggressive promoting top prospects than other teams in recent years? I’d suggest that there’s quite a bit of precedent for promoting top prospects at rate similar (if not more aggressive) to the one Travis is describing in his post above: beginning 2013 in A+, 2013 promotion to AA, beginning 2014 in AAA, and June 2014 promotion to the Majors.

          A few recent examples:

          – Manny Machado – 109 games in AA then promoted to ML in 2012
          – Mike Trout – 91 games in AA then promoted to ML in 2011
          – Bryce Harper – 37 games in AA in ’11, 21 games in AAA and promoted ML in ’12
          – Jason Heyward – 47 games in AA and 3 AAA games in 2009, began 2010 in ML
          – Eric Hosmer – 50 AA games in 2010, 26 AAA games in 2011 then promoted to ML

          Obviously the possibility of Polanco in Pittsburgh around this time next year hinges on his success at AA and AAA–which Travis readily acknowledges above. Assuming he’s healthy Polanco will play about 70 games at AA this year. At this point next year, again assuming health, he’ll have logged approximately 60 games at AAA. I think it’s entirely possible that if he continues his success at AA he opens 2014 in AAA, and if he’s successful there merits a mid-season call up depending on the status of the RF job in Pittsburgh.

          Let’s compare his prospective trajectory to Starling Marte’s. In doing so it’s important to note two things. The first is that Polanco is regarded as a more polished player and also that Marte’s development track was interrupted by a hamate injury that cost him half a season.

          In 2009 Marte played the bulk of his 20 season season (54 of 57 games) in Low A. In 2010 began his age 21 season in High A, his season was interrupted by a hamate injury, as result he only play in 68 games (counting rehab starts). In 2011 he began his age 22 season in AA and played a full season there. In 2012 he opened his age 23 in AAA and played 99 games before being called up.

          So the aforementioned trajectory for Polanco (rest of the year in AA, 2014 in AAA, mid-season call up) really isn’t that much more aggressive than Marte’s. Especially considering the fact that Marte had plate discipline issues to work on where as Polanco’s displayed excellent plate discipline throughout his career to this point. The major difference being that Polanco is making the jump to AA midway through his age 21 season, which Marte did not, in part perhaps because of his injury.

          As Polanco’s current prospect status he was as you mentioned ranked in the 50-60 range coming into the season, largely because 2012 was the first year he’d translated his tools into on field success. His continued success in 2013 has resulted in his stock rising.

          - Keith Law’s updated list ranks him #22.

          - Jason Parks, the lead prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus had this to say about him after his promotion “Already a no doubt top 25 prospect in the game, Pirates OF Gregory Polanco on his way to AA.” In response to whether or not he’d reach Pgh in 2014, “Yep. I bet Polanco reaches the majors at some point in ’14.”

  3. Groat:

    What I meant by insults is you would not call me Sweet Jimmy to my face if we were having a civilized discussion, and you know that is what I meant by insults. So, why do it in a blog? But, if that’s your style, so be it. I won’t bring it up again.

    I think the point of contention here is whether it is POSSIBLE for a prospect to go from AA (which is now where Polanco is) to MLB in 12-15 months in the Pirates organization. I say it is entirely possible, and the evidence of it is Cole just this week. Will it happen again, one year later, with Polanco? I say it is doubtful. I think he is more likely to be a 2015 Pirate, and have thought that all along. But, saying you know for a certainty that it can’t happen because the Pirates don’t do that sort of thing is not accurate.

    • Jim, thats just Groat’s thing. He makes up nicknames for everyone. Take a close look at my avatar, a National Record Mart sign. Groat’s nickname for me.
      .
      Sweet Jimmy is likely far closer to a term of endearment than an insult.

      • Thanks, NMR. And, Groat, if I misjudged you on that point I apologize. I appreciate your take on things on both this and Dejan’s blog, even if I don’t always agree.

  4. Just one note regarding the respective UZRs of Barmes and Mercer.

    Mercer’s put up a 1.4 UZR while playing 2B and a 0.0 UZR while playing SS. Both obviously in tiny sample sizes, so a not sure that either is even of statistical significance, but wanted to point that.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=6547&position=2B/SS#fielding

  5. Cobra 2.0 3-5, 2RBI, SB in his debut. He’s hitting .600. Bring him up.

  6. Barmes made a sweet play last night on the Hanley grounder that Mercer may not have made, but I still want Jordy as my SS.

    Travis….I love your stuff! I am mainly a PG Plus guy, but I read anything you put out there. Keep up the good work!

    Foo

  7. Let me make my view simple and clear, play Mercer until he stops hitting better than Barmes.

    I rank their “gloves” about equal, maybe a shade to Barmes.

    But in a lineup which is not hitting well, the edge must go to a superior hitter. Barmes and then pitcher at the end of our lineup, especially when the Fort is catching, is a very weak segment.

    Play Mercer until he shows he doesn’t belong at the spot; they are stuck with Barmes’ salary, so let CB ride the pine and hope Mercer shows he’s the SS of the future..

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