clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pirates Spring Training middle infielders: Who are these guys?

New, 28 comments
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Part four is middle infielders.  Again, I'm leaving out players who made significant contributions last year, specifically Jordy Mercer, Jung-Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Sean Rodriguez.  Of course, you could debate whether the last three should all be considered middle infielders.  That still leaves a surprising number of possible middle infielders in camp; fewer of them than usual are minor league veterans, and one of the exceptions will be one of the more interesting fringe guys.

Uniform numbers indicated where available.  The full series is here.

Juan Diaz (77): Diaz is a bit of a puzzle.  He's a big guy (6'4", 220) with a strong arm who played shortstop almost exclusively until he played mostly third in AAA last year.  He has ten years of pro experience, including a brief stop in the majors in 2012, which was also the only time he ever made any sort of prospect list, but he's still only 27.  He's never hit much, with a .685 career OPS in the minors, although he's developed a little power in the last couple years.  He's supposedly advanced on the strength of his defense, but he's had consistently high error totals.  He hits left-handed, which is something.  He got a non-roster invitation and hasn't played as low as AA since 2012, so it's likely he's slated for Indianapolis, maybe at third rather than the middle infield.  I'm not sure how he's going to get any time there, though, as the Indians look to be seriously overloaded with infielders.  Altoona, on the other hand, looks to be short on infielders.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Low.

Cole Figueroa (24): Figueroa is a left-handed hitting infielder who has a good deal of expetience at second, third and short.  There's one obvious thing that stands out about him:  in his minor league career, he has 383 walks and just 280 strikeouts, and his plate discipline has actually improved as he's faced tougher pitching.  He's 28 now and has eight years of experience in three different systems, along with 57 major league plate appearances.  I don't know why he's never gotten more of a shot, especially since he spent three years in AAA with the analytically savvy Rays.  My sense is that scouts aren't wild about his defense, as he has a heavy lower half and doesn't run well.  Brian Cartwright's data, though, shows him to be at least solid defensively, even at short.  He's with the Pirates as an NRI on a minor league deal.  My initial reaction was that the Pirates have had roughly similar players (i.e., offensively competent, veteran infielders) like Ivan De Jesus, Jr., and Dean Anna, and always passed them over for zero-offense utility guys like John McDonald and Michael Martinez.  Neal Huntington raved about Figueroa at Piratefest, though, so maybe he'll get a real shot.  He'd be much more useful on the bench than Pedro Florimon.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Moderate.

Pedro Florimon (51): The classic good-field, no-hit shortstop, Florimon played an important role in 2015 as AAA depth who could be called up when Jordy Mercer's injury left the Pirates without an average-or-better defensive shortstop.  Now, the Pirates have a nearly identical player on the 40-man roster in Gift Ngoepe.  It doesn't seem terribly efficient to have 5% of the 40-man roster devoted to AAA shortstop depth.  Florimon has no options left and Ngoepe has three, so the choice seems obvious.  The Pirates may wait until the end of spring training, when they'll have a clearer idea of Jung-Ho Kang's status, to make that choice.  Even then, it makes little sense to have Mercer and Florimon both on the 25-man roster.  The Pirates, however, seem to value defense over offense in their backup infielders, so Florimon could make the team pending Kang's return.  Once Kang is back, it's really hard to see a role for Florimon.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Moderate.

Adam Frazier (73): Frazier is part of a wave of infield prospects who, among other things, probably made the Pirates all the more comfortable about letting Neil Walker go.  More importantly, they should eliminate the need to bring in washed-up veterans to serve as utility players.  Frazier had a bit of a breakout season for Altoona in 2015, falling just short of the Eastern League batting title.  He fits the Pirates' current emphasis on all-fields hitters who make contact and don't necessarily have more than gap power.  He was almost exclusively a shortstop until last year, when he started getting a lot of time in center field.  Scouts seem to think short is a bit of a stretch for Frazier, but Brian Cartwright's data again likes the glove.  Frazier hasn't played in AAA yet and, maybe more importantly, is not on the 40-man roster, unlike Alen Hanson, Gift Ngoepe, and Max Moroff, so the odds are probably against him reaching the majors this year.  The NRI he received, though, is hopefully a step toward a future at least as a utility player with the Pirates.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Low.

Dan Gamache (74): Gamache was originally a third baseman, but the Pirates moved him to second, thinking his bat would play better there.  Once he reached AA, he moved into more of a super-utility role, playing first, second and third.  He hit very well there in a little over a season (he missed most of 2014 with a broken foot), including some power; he even won the Eastern League HR derby last year.  He also hits left-handed, which is useful.  Scouts may not be sold on the bat, though, as he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft.  Gamache will be in camp on an NRI, which is encouraging.  If he does well in AAA he could become an option as a left-handed bench bat.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Low.

Alen Hanson (63): Hanson's prospect status has slipped a bit and the Pirates gave him some time at third in 2015, in possible anticipation of a utility role.  They still insist, though, that he could have a future as their second baseman.  He made the move from short successfully, cutting way back on the errors, so now he's a second baseman with a shortstop's range.  His hitting has declined each year since his 2012 breakout, but he's still got some ceiling as a hitter and he has top-of-the-order speed.  Assuming Kang is going to miss just a few weeks, it seems like one good option would be to let Hanson start the season at second, then go back to AAA when Kang returns.  That'd be out of character for the Pirates, though; they've even made alarming noises about having Sean Rodriguez make many outs while manning second during their Kang-less interlude.  To some extent, it's probably up to Hanson to force the team's hand.  In any event, he'll be in his final option year and will almost certainly make his debut at some point this year.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  High.

Max Moroff (--): Moroff has a lot in common with Frazier, with some differences.  They both were originally shortstops who might be headed for utility roles, and both had breakout seasons in Altoona last year.  Moroff has more pop and also strikes out a lot more, but he draws a lot of walks.  Moroff was the one who got moved off short first, but he got some time there, as well as at third, in 2015.  Unlike Frazier, Moroff is on the 40-man roster and so could be ahead of Frazier for a callup if a need arises this year.  He'll need time, though, in AAA.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Moderate.

Gift Ngoepe (--): Ngoepe brings major-league-ready defense and a suspect bat.  He stopped switch-hitting a couple years ago, but that didn't help his struggles with slow stuff.  He does have a little pop.  Ngoepe doesn't run as well as he used to, as he's gotten stockier, but he remains very quick and agile in the field.  There's a good chance he'll make his major league debut this year now that he's on the 40-man roster, especially if the Pirates remove Florimon from the roster.

Chance of contributing in 2016:  Moderate.