The Post-Gazette suggests today that Andy LaRoche will transition into a utility role:
"Right now, the way I've been playing, I don't deserve to be starting at third," he said before the Pirates' game Friday night, when Neil Walker took his starting place at third base. "I'm feeling good, but..."...
While Russell sees signs of progress lately both in the field and in LaRoche's plate approaches, LaRoche is starting to take pregame work at other infield spots: He toiled at second base in Washington, and expects to take grounders soon at shortstop and first -- where he played a 2008 game with Los Angeles.
The main thrust behind what Russell described as an attempt to make LaRoche more versatile: the impending arrival of top-prospect Pedro Alvarez at third base.
"The obvious reason for me to move is to get him up here," LaRoche said. "Hey, I'm all for it if that's going to help our lineup, which I'm sure it will. If he's playing great, and, obviously, I've been scuffling a little bit lately, he deserves to be up here."
In the past I've been a loud advocate for LaRoche, because of his strong minor-league record and because of the flashes of potential he showed last year, and I still hope LaRoche will see a fair amount of playing time when Alvarez arrives. However, there has never been any reason to believe he should play ahead of Alvarez, and the case for playing him ahead of Walker gets flimsier by the day. LaRoche has been awful at the plate, making weak contact in at bat after at bat, and inconsistent with the glove. His back issues may indeed have something to do with his recent struggles, since he doesn't look like the same player he was at the beginning of the season, but his entire track record with the Pirates still has to enter the equation--we now have data from parts of three seasons that suggest he's just not particularly good.
Walker, meanwhile, has turned his career around--he's hit very well since the end of last season in the minors, his hitting in both the minors and the majors this year has been strong, and he has played defense athletically and effectively. I feel like it's been a long time since I've seen LaRoche make a play like the one Walker made last night on that foul pop-up by Don Kelly. Walker has earned the chance to continue starting once Alvarez arrives.