With pitchers and catchers settling into Pirate City, it’s now time for the rest of the squad to make their way to the Bradenton complex to begin spring training. Most of the pieces from last season’s NLDS run return to go at it again, but there are others that hope to shake the roster up come opening day.
We begin with the middle infield positions of Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison.
Neil Walker: Walker had a down season last year batting .251/.339/.757 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs and 53 RBI. All of these stats, excluding homers, were the lowest he’s had since taking over at second in 2010. Those troubles could be explained with his performances against lefties as well as two 10+ day breaks due to injury. Walker was 18-for-80 (.225) with a double and 7 RBI against southpaws in 2013 which is down from .246 in 2012 and .269 in 2011. Don’t think Walker is set to repeat last year’s performance though, as he is looking to improve against lefties during the spring session.
On the defensive side, Walker posted his second-strongest year of his career posting a .989 fielding percentage (3rd NL for 2B in ’13) while allowing only 7 errors. His double plays turned (108) and assists (397) both ranked second among NL second basemen while ranking 3rd in putouts (256). Having Bill Mazeroski as a coach in spring training doesn’t hurt either, as the Pittsburgh native prepares to have another top-ranked year at second.
Jordy Mercer: Mercer went from Indianapolis at the beginning of the 2013 season, to platoon-mate with Clint Barmes, to projected starter for 2014. Barmes may be back, but it should be Mercer taking the reigns.
In 2013, Mercer batted .285/.336/.772 with 22 doubles, 8 home runs and 27 RBI in 103 games while switching between SS and 2B. He recorded a hit in 10 of his first 15 games he played in and kept a steady batting average throughout the season. Jordy did much better than Walker when facing LHP hitting .410/.692/1.152 which aided in his raise in playing time. He spent 72 games between the 2nd and 8th positions in the lineup which played part in the small RBI numbers. Like Walker, he wont produce large power numbers, but he will get on base.
Defensively, Mercer committed 15 errors (12 @ SS, 3 @ 2B) in his first season (84 defensive appearances), one of them proving costly in the ninth inning of a 6 – 5 loss to Cincinnati during the final homestand of the season. He did improve as the season progressed though, as his range and length improved thanks to the tutoring of Clint Barmes, who he platooned with at SS.
Look for Mercer to produce better numbers this season as the main SS as he will participate in a full major league spring camp and have Barmes as a backup to continue to help him work out any kinks.
Clint Barmes: Barmes came out of spring training last year as the outright starter at SS for the Pirates, but lost that spot due to his second-worst fielding percentage of his career (.968) and a batting average of .211, the worst of his career. He produced 15 doubles, 5 home runs and 23 RBI which were also all career lows.
On defense, he committed 13 errors, but his range and length allowed him to save 12 runs above the average SS and allowed the Pirates to successfully run the shift. That alone allowed the Bucs to remain in close contests throughout the season and into the postseason.
Barmes will be 35 in June and age could be starting to take over, but his defense off the bench could prove beneficial, especially in the late innings. He can also continue to help Jordy Mercer evolve into a better defender to complete the transition from one shortstop to another.
Another player that could work both positions off the bench is Josh Harrison. Harrison played 7 games at 2B and 4 games at SS during the 2013 season, but has had more experience in years past. He has only committed 6 errors over 46 games.
(Photo Credit: Credit: USA Today Sports Images)