One of the biggest surprises the Pittsburgh Pirates saw last year was Jordy Mercer emerging as a guy who could become the team’s starting shortstop of the short-term future.
After not making the team out of spring training, Mercer made the most of his opportunity when he got it and for the most part took the ball and ran with it.
Mercer became the Pirates’ primary shortstop until late in the season when all of the concerns about his glove came to reality when he singlehandedly threw away and important game late in the season against the Cincinnati Reds.
Those concerns about his ability to field the position are still there, which begs the question of whether or not he can handle being the Pirates primary shortstop.
He’s switched roles with veteran Clint Barmes, who will now serve as the team’s backup middle infielder.
There’s no denying the fact that Barmes is a superior defensive player. Over the past three seasons, his 39 defensive runs saved is the third-best in the majors.
However, Mercer is in there for his bat and he is going to have to continue to get better to warrant getting a majority of the playing time this season.
Over the past two seasons, Barmes batted .221 with a .579 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS), which simply wasn’t getting the job done. But you can live with that given the fact that he is outstanding defensively.
Mercer still has room to grow at the plate, especially against right-handed pitchers. Last year, he hit .410 with a 1.152 OPS against lefties and only .247 with a .654 OPS against right-handers.
To make the transition to an everyday guy, Mercer’s going to have to be better with the bat in 2014.
Having Barmes around again was a very good move by Neal Huntington as the 11-year veteran continues to work with Mercer and is a good fallback option if Mercer doesn’t perform as expected.
You can expect to see Barmes a lot late in games, something Clint Hurdle likely should have done more of season ago.
It will be exciting to watch Mercer’s progress. Hopefully he continues that this season.
For a change Mercer comes into a year with expectations put on his shoulders, something he hasn’t had to deal with yet.
We will find out quickly if he is capable of handling it.