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Corey Wimberly Struggling To Win Bench Job

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Jenifer Langosch has some notes on Corey Wimberly, who, if you happened to see the game yesterday, didn't play particularly well as a shortstop.

Well, Wimberly finally got his chances on Sunday. And the outcome, as those of you who watched at home can attest to, wasn't all that pretty.

On the first ball hit to him at short this spring, Wimberly sailed a throw over Josh Fields' head at first base. The error eventually led to two unearned runs. Wimberly had another chance in the fifth and made a low throw over to first. The ball took a short hop just in front of Fields, who had to make a terrific pick to record the out.

The Pirates are intrigued by Wimberly's speed, but it has been noted multiple times that the club has to carry a middle infielder who can play short well. That was the Pirates' biggest concern with Wimberly coming in, and it's a concern that has not been alleviated to this point.

I'm not sure Wimberly's struggles as shortstop should, in themselves, disqualify him from a bench job. I think the Bucs will carry either Josh Rodriguez or Pedro Ciriaco as a utility guy, and that in addition to the regular utilityman, there could still be a spot for Wimberly, who can play several infield positions and center field. (This assumes the Pirates don't do something silly like carry a third catcher.) If Wimberly is to be useful as a shortstop, it will mostly only be for a few innings here and there, in spots where the regular backup has been used already and the Bucs need another guy to make a double switch, or something like that. He doesn't need to be great, or even particularly good, at the position in order for him to make life a little easier for his manager.

Still, I'm skeptical about whether he can contribute. In order to be a good major league bench player, as opposed to a merely convenient one, you've got to hit at least a little. ZiPS projects that Wimberly will hit .245/.310/.295 this year. That's just ... no. For perspective, Rodriguez is at .249/.324/.374, and Ciriaco is at .265/.285/.356. Rodriguez projects to be a lot better, and even Ciriaco (who I'd prefer not make the team either) is probably slightly better, and he can actually play shortstop. Or, to put Wimberly's projection in perspective in a different way, the on-base and slugging percentages were almost exactly what Bobby Crosby hit for the Pirates last year.

Why, you might ask, does Wimberly's projection look so bad when he posted good OBPs in the minors? Vlad in the comments a couple weeks ago:

High-walk low-power hitters from AAA tend to become low-walk low-power hitters when promoted to the ML level, since ML pitchers aren’t afraid to just throw strikes right down the pipe (insofar as the hitter lacks the physical ability to make the pitcher pay with an XBH). If he were a spectacular contact hitter (like Howie Kendrick or Jeff Keppinger) propping up his OBP with BA, he might hang onto some of it, but as things are it probably won’t carry forward. And at his size, I don’t see him having a lot of untapped power potential.

This is pretty much how I see it as well. You'll occasionally have guys like Nyjer Morgan and Willy Taveras who have Wimberly's basic hitting profile and manage to succeed for a couple years, but those guys are often exceptional defenders, and Wimberly doesn't appear to be, at least not at this early point in Spring Training. I went through Wimberly's lists of comparables at ZiPS and PECOTA (the PECOTA one hasn't been updated for this year), and after ZiPS' top comp (Taveras), both lists look pretty dire. Both compare him to Keith Thrower, an '80s player who never got out of the minors. ZiPS compares him to Jim Buccheri, who played 13 years in the minors and never made it to the show. PECOTA's top comp is Darrell Brown, who got 591 major-league at bats and had a .629 career OPS. The rest of the top five includes Thrower, Tony Womack, and career minor leaguers Larry Reynolds and Sam Haro. (Big props to those of you who knew that Haro was a Pirates minor leaguer - I didn't. That was before my time.)

I'm probably heavily over-thinking this. If Wimberly is the perfect fit for the team otherwise, and he's only competing for the sort of bench role that will get him 150 at bats in a season, then you go ahead and give him the job; the comparables don't matter too much. But my point is that there doesn't appear to be any real upside here. The guy is tiny and his bat does not look like it will play well at all. So if he can't play terrific defense, the Pirates should probably just shrug their shoulders and send him to Indianapolis, where he can probably do pretty well.