Middle infield prospects have been few and far between for the Pirates for a long time. The biggest problem, of course, was the administration of The GM Who Shall Not Be Named. The Pirates in those days were unwilling to invest any resources in Latin America and that's where the shortstops are. (It's funny that the most significant shortstop signing in the Dark Years was Starling Marte, who never played there after signing.) Inept drafting (Brian Bixler, anyone?) didn't help, either. The Pirates managed to come up with a solid middle infield anyway. Neil Walker moved to second with almost no experience there in the minors. Jordy Mercer -- who was touted as a prospect by absolutely nobody, including the Pirates -- has given the team a solid shortstop.
Walker will be a free agent after 2016 and the team has shown little interest in extending him. Potential solutions, however, are present in the form of Jung-Ho Kang and Alen Hanson. Kang is under contract through 2018, with a team option for 2019. If he's not needed at third, he could take over for Walker and, in fact, might ultimately be a very similar player. Hanson's shortstop days clearly are over, thanks to erratic defense, but he has the speed and athleticism to be a good defensive second baseman. Another possibility, a little further down the road, is Pablo Reyes, currently the second baseman for West Virginia. Reyes has shown surprising pop for a small guy and also runs well. Defense, however, has not been his strong suit so far.
Replacing Mercer would be much more difficult in the short term, but he's under team control through 2018. If the Pirates are fortunate, Cole Tucker could be ready by then. Tucker currently is more than holding his own as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Two other players currently in the system also project potentially as regulars at short. JaCoby Jones is coming off a big offensive year in low A, but has plate discipline issues that could derail him as he moves up. He needs to hit. Despite the fact that he wasn't a shortstop in college, the Pirates believe he can stay at the position. Nevertheless, he profiles as an offense-oriented shortstop. Further down in the system, and probably not an option for another 4-5 years, is Adrian Valerio, who only turned 18 in March. He has premium defensive talents, but will have to show he can hit.
Beyond Hanson, Reyes, Tucker, Jones and Valerio, the Pirates have a few other prospects who could project as utility infielders. The most intriguing right now is Max Moroff. He was drafted out of high school and has been promoted aggressively despite uninspiring offensive numbers. This year, however, he's stepped up his hitting and is currently batting over .300 as a 22-year-old (in another week) in AA. Moroff probably doesn't have the range to see extended time at short, but he did play there until he moved to second last year. If he continues to make strides at the plate, Moroff could be a major improvement over the zero-offense veterans who've provided most of the team's middle infield depth for many years.
A couple of other prospects in the upper half of the system could develop into utility players. Adam Frazier will be the shortstop at Altoona once he returns from a broken finger. He struggled at the plate last year, but before last year showed the ability to get on base regularly. Another potential utility player is Bradenton's second baseman, Erich Weiss. He'd be a backup strictly at second and third, not at short, but he has the advantage of being a potentially solid, left-handed bat.