Orlando Merced was a 6’ switch hitting right fielder from Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. Born November 2, 1966, he was picked up by the Pirates as an amateur free agent just prior to spring training in 1985. He spent his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Rookie level Pirates, hitting .228 in 40 games.
Merced languished in the Pirates lower levels for most of his first four seasons, playing with the Watertown (NYPL), Macon (SALL), and Augusta (SALL) Pirates, as well as the Salem (CARL)Buccaneers. After raising his average to .268 between the AA Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League) and the AAA Buffalo Bisons (American Association) in 1989, Merced earned an invitation to the big club in June of 1990.
In his first major league action, Merced came on as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning on June 27th against Ken Howell, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. He promptly hit a double, soon thereafter scoring the winning run in a 5-3 Pirates victory. He would earn five more pinch hits through the rest of the season, in 24 at bats. Pittsburgh won the NL East with a 95-67 record, but lost the NLCS in six games to the Cincinnati Reds.
1991 would see Merced put up numbers that had him in serious consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year (he finished second, behind Jeff Bagwell). In 120 games, he hit .275 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI, walking 64 times and scoring 83 runs. On September 9th, the Pirates were losing to the Chicago Cubs, 10-8, with one out and two on in the top of the ninth. Merced was called into pinch hit, driving the ball over the fence in deep right field for the winning run. He batted leadoff for the eventual NL East Champions (98-64), going 2-for-9 in the NLCS with one home run. The Pirates lost in six games to the Atlanta Braves.
In 1992, Merced regressed to replacement level, hitting .247 in 134 games with six home runs and 60 RBI. On September 3rd, he enjoyed his best night of the year, going 3-for-4 with a double and five RBI in a 9-3 win over the San Francisco Giants. Mostly, he played first base, hitting fifth. He also batted leadoff, cleanup, and number six in the order, whatever manager Jim Leyland called on him to do. The Pirates again won the NL East, going 96-66 before getting dropped out of the NLCS for the second consecutive season by the Atlanta Braves, four games to three.
1993 would see Merced bounce back a bit from his disappointing 1992, hitting a career best .313 (ninth in the NL) in 137 games. He had eight home runs and 70 RBI, walking 77 times to only 64 strikeouts. On July 2nd, he went 3-for-4 with a triple, three runs scored and two batted in as the Bucs beat the Cincinnati Reds, 10-9. He played mostly right field, occasionally filling in at first base and hitting out of the three, four, and five holes. The 75-87 Pirates disappointed, missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
In 1994, Merced hit .272 in 108 games as the season was cut down due to the labor issue surrounding baseball. He hit nine home runs with 51 RBI, walking 42 times and scoring 48 runs. On April 26th, he went 3-for-4 with a walk, two doubles, an RBI and a run scored in a 7-4 win over the Houston Astros. He hit between third and sixth in the batting order as needed, splitting time pretty evenly between first and right. The Pirates finished well out of contention, with a 53-61 record.
Merced continued his pattern of good year/bad year with a bounceback performance in 1995, hitting .300 in 132 games with a then-career best 15 home runs and a career high 83 RBI. He walked 52 times and scored 75 runs. He played mostly right field, filling in a first and at left as needed. He batted third in the lineup, with occasional games batting fourth, fifth, or sixth. On August 18th, he went 3-for-5 with a walk, and a run, a double, a home run, and two RBI as the Pirates set down the Florida Marlins, 7-6 in 13 innings. Pittsburgh finished last in the brand new NL Central Division with a 58-86 record.
Merced bucked the trend of following a good year with a bad one in 1996 by hitting .287 in 120 games with a career high 17 home runs and 80 RBI. He walked 51 times and scored 69 runs for the cellar dwelling 73-89 Pirates. He batted mostly clean-up, with a handful of starts batting third. He also played all but a few innings in right field. His best game was on July 28, in a 12-8 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Merced went 3-for-5, hitting two round trippers. He knocked in four and also scored four times in the victory. After the 1996 season, he was part of a mega trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, as he was sent along with Carlos Garcia and Dan Plesac for Jose Pett, Brandon Cromer, Jose Silva, and players to be named later. The Jays later sent Mike Halperin, Abraham Nunez and Craig Wilson to complete the trade.
Merced hit .266 with nine home runs and 40 RBI in Toronto in 1997. He split the 1998 season between the Minnesota Twins (63 games, .289, five home runs, 33 RBI), the Boston Red Sox (0-for-9), and the Chicago Cubs (3-for-10). He spent 1999 with the Montreal Expos (93 games, .268, eight home runs, 26 RBI). After taking the 2000 season off, he finished off his professional career with the Houston Astros (340 games, .262, 15 home runs, 85 RBI over three seasons).
All-Time Statline: Seven seasons, 776 games, .283/.364/.428, 739-for-2613, 396 runs, 146 doubles, 19 triples, 65 home runs, 394 RBI, 35 stolen bases, 339 walks, 423 strikeouts, 11.5 wins above replacement.