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Pirates Season Preview: Infield

The Pittsburgh Pirates lack depth in the middle of the infield, but the competition to provide that depth—between veterans and younger players—has been spirited this spring.

The Pirates saw a large mix of players see time in the infield in 2012. This season likely won’t be any different in that aspect, as some players on the roster are capable of playing multiple positions and will split time at positions that lack depth.

The two main departures from the system include Rod Barajas and Brock Holt. The Pirates chose not to pick up Barajas’ option for 2013, and he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Holt, a valuable prospect in the Bucs’ system, was a key piece of the Joel Hanrahan trade and could see playing time with the Boston Red Sox this season.

Catcher
Russell Martin

Photo by Pittsburgh PiratesSigned in the offseason from the New York Yankees to a two-year, $17 million dollar contract, Martin is the efficient, defensive-minded catcher the Pirates need for 2013.

The Bucs were abysmal last season in allowing the opposing team to swipe extra bags, allowing a league-high 154 stolen bases. Barajas threw out only six percent of base runners, while McKenry threw out 18 percent in significantly less playing time. Martin threw out 24 percent of runners last season with the Yankees, good enough for tenth in the majors.

Martin struggled offensively last season, hitting only .211 with a .311 on-base percentage. However, he belted 21 homeruns, only two less than Barajas and McKenry combined. Martin is a career .260 hitter and should provide a definite upgrade from Barajas.

A veteran with post-season experience, Martin should help the Pirates’ pitching staff immediately.

Mike McKenry
Photo by Charles LeClaire“The Fort” had a decent season in 2012, splitting time with Barajas behind the plate and seeing a lot of pinch-hitting opportunities off the bench. McKenry hit .233, belted 12 homers and posted a .442 slugging percentage. He threw out 13 runners in 61 total attempts (18 percent), and he only allowed two passed balls all season.

McKenry will have a similar role in 2013, playing as a backup to Martin. He is a solid option, and much like Martin, he will need help from the pitching staff to keep opponents from swiping stolen bags. He’s got a strong arm and quick release, and he is more than capable of throwing out more than just 18 percent of runners in an entire season of work. Both catchers just need that little bit of help from the pitchers, and the Pirates should see a significant drop in the amount of stolen bases allowed.

First Base
Garrett Jones

Photo by Pittsburgh PiratesJones had a career-year in 2012. He hit .274, crushed 27 homeruns, collected 86 RBI, and featured an on-base percentage of .317 and a slugging percentage of .516. The 27 homers were a huge jump from 2011 where he only hit 16, and his 86 RBI tied a career-best from 2010. Jones was a force offensively for the Pirates in the middle of the lineup.

In the field, Jones played most of his games at first (72), but also played 66 games in right field. He’s solid at both positions, and he boasts an average of .987 fielding percentage in his career at both spots.

While he most likely won’t best his numbers from 2012, Jones has proved to be a capable bat in the middle of the order. He will see most of this time in the clean-up spot.

Gaby Sanchez
Photo by Pittsburgh PiratesSanchez was acquired on July 31, 2012 from the Miami Marlins in a trade that sent former Bucs outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and a draft pick to Miami. Sanchez was an all-star for the Marlins in 2011 but saw his numbers dip in 2012, even being demoted to AAA before being acquired by the Pirates. He played in 50 games for the Pirates last year, hitting .241 with four homeruns and 13 RBI. In his all-star year in 2011, Sanchez hit .266 with 19 homers and 78 RBI. So far in spring training, Sanchez is leading the team with four homers and has maintained a .313 batting average. He’s driving inside pitches that he struggled with in 2012.

Sanchez will see time behind Jones at first base and he may even see a couple of games at third. A career .291 hitter against left-handed pitching, Sanchez will see most of his playing time when opponents have a lefty on the hill. He is capable of seeing extended playing time if he returns to how he played in 2010 and 2011.

Second Base
Neil Walker

Photo by Charles LeClaireDespite being sidelined in late 2012 with back issues, Walker has become an above-average middle infielder. A sort of hometown hero for the Pirates out of Pine-Richland High School, Walker had a strong year last season. He hit .280, hit a career-high 14 homeruns and drove in 69 runners. A herniated disc kept him out of 27 of the Bucs last 35 games, but as of spring training this season, Walker is back to 100 percent.

Originally drafted as a catcher, Walker converted to second base and is a strong fielder for the Pirates, boasting a career .989 fielding percentage. He’s got a rocket arm, and he turns double-plays as quickly as any second baseman in the league.

Look for Walker to post career numbers in all categories if he can stay healthy.

Third Base
Pedro Alvarez

Alvarez had a breakout season in 2012 for the Pirates. In his first full major league Photo by Justin Berlseason at third base, he hit .244 with 30 homeruns and 85 RBI. Alvarez is a pure power hitter, and he will see most of his time hitting clean up or fifth in the order in 2013.

He is basically the Bucs’ only starting option at third base and for good reason. His offensive numbers are good for a power hitter, and he’s got a strong arm and quick feet at third base for his size. He committed 27 errors at third base in 2012, but he’s athleticenough for that number to drop significantly.

The main downside to Alvarez is his strikeout percentage. His strikeout percentage for the whole season was 30.7 percent (180 K in 525 AB)—even when he’s on a hot streak, he’s still striking out a considerable amount. If he can keep his strikeouts down, even a little bit, and have more success versus left-handed pitching (.207 with a .270 on-base percentage), “El Toro” could see his numbers climb in a big way.

Shortstop
Clint Barmes

Clint Barmes struggled offensively in 2012. Acquired via free agency in the beginning of the season—and one of the Photo by Pittsburgh Pirateshighest-paid players on the roster—Barmes hit only .229 with a .272 on-base percentage, both the lowest numbers of his career in full seasons in the majors. He drove in 45 runners and struck out 108 times on the year.

Despite his offensive woes, Barmes main strength is his defense. He boasts a .981 fielding percentage in nine seasons as a middle infielder in the majors. He consistently makes good plays and is a veteran presence both on and off the field for the Pirates.

At 34 years of age, Barmesbestr offensive days may very well be behind him. There is capability of improvement in all categories, if only a slight increase in production. Barmes will be the Bucs’ starting shortstop for the majority of the season if he can stay healthy, and he will be a strong defensive presence on the field behind the pitching staff.

Utility
Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison was the ultimate utility player for the Pirates and is the only legitimate back-up second baseman on the Photo by Pittsburgh Piratesroster. Harrison played in 104 games last season for the Pirates, hitting .233 in 249 plate appearances. He saw the majority of his time at second base, but he also played at third, short, left field and right field.

Despite struggling offensively, Harrison is a solid back-up in any position he’s capable of playing. Harrison is a young player at only 25 years old with a strong upside. Going into his third season, Harrison will see more playing time if he produces. His playing time for 2013 relies completely on him.

Brandon Inge
Veteran Brandon Inge is a true third baseman, but is battling to make the major Photo by Pittsburgh Piratesleague roster out of spring training. The Pirates inked Inge to a minor league deal with an opt-out clause if he doesn’t make the opening day roster.

Inge has had an up-and-down career, playing all of his previous 12 seasons in the majors with the Detroit Tigers before being released last season. Inge played with the Oakland Athletics for the majority of 2012 after being released by Detroit. He hit .218 in 83 games with 12 homeruns and 54 RBI before undergoing shoulder surgery late in the season.

Inge gives the Pirates a veteran option in the infield who is capable of playing third, second and even catcher if the situation arises. He was an American League all-star in 2009, and he gives the Bucs a little bit of power off the bench and a veteran presence in the clubhouse. If he makes the roster, Inge could be a valuable piece to the Pirates as they try to get back to a .500 season.

Jordy Mercer
If Barmes struggles again in 2013, Mercer could see extended time at short for the Pirates. Mercer spent the majority of Photo by Justin Berlhis time in AAA last season, but he made his major league debut in May and saw time in 42 games. He spent 28 games at short and the others at second and third, making only one error in those games.

He hit .210 in 62 at bats and drove in five runners in limited opportunities. Mercer is still young and is one of the few middle infield prospects the Pirates have in the upper tier of their system.  

Chase d’Arnaud
Despite struggling in AAA Indianapolis last season, d’Arnaud played a few games in the majors for the Pirates in 2012. Going into 2013, he was Photo by Pittsburgh Pirateslooking to see his playing time increase but required thumb surgery on March 18 to repair a torn ligament in his left hand. The injury will set him back, but once healthy he is an option at second and short.

John McDonald
Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks this spring training, McDonald is a 38-year-old shortstop in the waning years of his major league career. He spent the majority of his career with the Cleveland Indians (1999-2004) and the Toronto Blue Jays (2006-2011). He was traded to the Diamondbacks in late 2011.

McDonald, boasts a career .975 fielding percentage in 15 seasons in the majors, and in 70 games last year with Arizona, he hit .249 in 197 plate appearances and drove in 22 runners.

McDonald was a fan-favorite in Toronto and is one of the most personable players in the league. He gives the Pirates veteran presence both on and off the field, and he will be a solid fielding option anywhere he is given playing time.

Final Thoughts
Photo by Pittsburgh PiratesLike the rest of the roster, the Pirates infield has shown spots of brightness the last few seasons and has major upsides. The Pirates finished 14 out of 16 in on-base percentage (.304) in 2012, with some of the infielders playing major parts in that downside.

However, with a new outlook and a season of experience under the belt for younger players, 2013 has potential for improvement. Like the other spots on the field, consistency will be the biggest factor for the Pittsburgh Pirates infield.

Pirates Preview: Starting Pitching
Pirates Preview: Bullpen
Pirates Preview: Outfield

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