Archive for Jose Pirela
The Yankees are averaging only 3.48 runs per game over the last calendar month. They’ve been held to two runs or less ten times in 27 games during that stretch. Even if Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann start hitting as expected, the Yankees would still be running out a lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki/Alfonso Soriano, and Kelly Johnson/Yangervis Solarte on a regular basis. That’s way too many soft spots. The Bombers need to add some thump to the lineup before the trade deadline even if McCann and Beltran show up to the park and start raking tomorrow.
The Yankees are locked into players at catcher, first base, shortstop, left field, center field, and designated hitter either by contract status or iconic status. There is nothing they can do at those positions other than hope for more production, so, the only spots they can make real changes are second base, third base, and right field. The trade market has yet to develop but the Yankees do actually have some internal options if they want to shake things up. They aren’t future stars or the sexiest names, but they might be upgrades. Here are those internal options with their 2014 PECOTA projections because why not? No one knows what to expect from them at the MLB level and this gives us a point of reference.
UTIL Jose Pirela (PECOTA: .254/.307/.394)
The 24-year-old Pirela has been in the farm system so long that he became a six-year minor league free agent this past winter. The Yankees re-signed him and he is now hitting .320/.361/.466 (130 wRC+) with seven homers and ten steals in 304 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton, his first extended stint at the level after spending most of 2011-13 with Double-A Trenton. He hit .281/.355/.430 (~120 wRC+) with Trenton while repeating the level from 2012-13.
Pirela is a classic stats over scouting report guy. He didn’t hit much in the lower minors but broke out during the 2012 season (123 wRC+). It seemed fishy at the time because he was repeating the level, but he has continued to hit this summer at Triple-A, where he has only five games of prior experience. Pirela has always had an interesting enough bat but he is a poor defender. Eduardo Nunez bad. Well, maybe not that bad, but bad. He moved off shortstop for good in 2012 and has spent most of his time at second base and left field since.
After starting the season as the RailRiders’ everyday second baseman, Pirela has spent just about this entire month in left field while mixing in the occasional start at first base, a position he had never played before this year. (The move off second was prompted by Rob Refsnyder’s arrival.) Unless the Yankees are going to stick Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury in right field — Gardner played one game there earlier this season and it was ugly — Pirela only fits at second base. Either that or move him to right for the first time in his life.
2B Rob Refsnyder (PECOTA: .235/.319/.344)
I’ve written about Refsnyder on more than one occasion this season, so I’m going to keep this short. The 23-year-old has hit .292/.404/.458 (145 wRC+) in his first 14 Triple-A games after tearing the cover off the ball at Double-A and really his entire pro career before that. Refsnyder might not be the team’s best hope for a long-term Robinson Cano replacement (Gosuke Katoh and Angelo Gumbs are among those in the system with higher ceilings), but he is the closest to the show and will get the first crack at the job. His defense is the issue; Refsnyder still needs to improve at second after playing the outfield in college.
UTIL Zelous Wheeler (PECOTA: .245/.316/.390)
The Yankees signed the 27-year-old Wheeler as a minor league free agent over the winter, mostly because they had a need at third base and he has a ton of experience there. Plus it didn’t hurt that he put up decent numbers at the Double-A and Triple-A levels the last few seasons (~106 wRC+). Bring him to Spring Training then see what happens in Triple-A type of deal.
Wheeler has put up an impressive .308/.365/.469 (134 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 59 games with Triple-A Scranton while playing all over the field — he’s played at least ten games each at third base, shortstop, and right field. He’s also spent time at second base throughout the years. Wheeler was never a top prospect — he failed to crack Baseball America’s top 30 lists in some pretty bad Brewers’ systems a few years ago, for what it’s worth — but he’s versatile and he’s hitting well at the highest level of the minors. That could be enough to get him a call-up given the current state of the roster.
OF Zoilo Almonte (PECOTA: .252/.300/.419)
Almonte, 25, has had two cups of coffee with the Yankees since last year and they haven’t been particularly impressive (50 wRC+), but he continues to hit at Triple-A, putting up a .268/.314/.455 (111 wRC+) line with ten homers in 223 plate appearances this year. Zoilo absolutely can not hit lefties (.394 OPS vs. LHP at Triple-A this year) despite being a switch-hitter, so his only value comes as the left-handed half of a right field platoon. The Yankees already have Ichiro doing on okay job in that role, but Ichiro hits lefties better than righties and Almonte could give them more power from the position.
IF Scott Sizemore (PECOTA: .245/.330/.392)
Like Almonte, the 29-year-old Sizemore has been up and down a few times this year, going 5-for-16 (.313) in pinstripes while hitting .265/.327/.387 (99 wRC+) with three homers in 226 Triple-A plate appearances. He has had to shake off the rust after missing nearly two full years with a pair of knee surgeries. Sizemore has destroyed minor league lefties in a limited sample this year (.880 OPS), which matches up with his career 122 wRC+ against MLB southpaws before the knee problems. He could serve as a right-handed platoon option at either second or third.
* * *
I don’t think the Yankees will cut ties with Roberts. He’s hit well enough over the last week or so and they seem to appreciate his long at-bats and veteran presence*. I don’t believe Soriano is safe though, and Solarte could always be optioned to Triple-A to clear another roster spot. It’s not like he’s done much with the bat over the last month anyway. Johnson has received some more playing time of late but could still go. Ichiro? Forget it. He’s on the roster until he decides to retire.
If the Yankees do decide to cut bait with Soriano, I think Pirela or Wheeler would be the best bests to replace him, preferably Pirela because he’s younger and might actually have a future with the team. Refsnyder needs more time to work on his defense and doesn’t offer the same kind of versatility. If they kick an infielder to the curb as well, I’d go with Pirela/Wheeler or Sizemore. That’s just my opinion. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here other than calling up Refsnyder and playing him twice a week. None of these guys are going to save the offense, but they could be an upgrade over what the team is running out there right now. The tricky part is figuring out which one will help the most.
* I resisted the “veteran presents” joke, but only this time!
- VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed C Gary Sanchez is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. I thought he had at least one more year to go, but it’s always tough to pin down the international guys. Obviously Sanchez will be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the draft.
- RHP Chase Whitley may remain a starter in the future. The career reliever has made a handful of spot starts the last two years, and he’s the rare reliever who used three pitches fairly regularly. “He’s got a great changeup, so it was, let’s see if he can do this,” said Newman. “His velocity picked up over the last two years, he’s always had a very good changeup, we’re working on his breaking ball. We had some innings in the rotation, and he’s got starter stuff, so he may get a look in that way in the future.”
- Newman confirmed RHP Jose Campos will again have his workload controlled next season. He was limited to three or four inning outings all summer. He’ll throw more innings overall, but they’re not yet ready to turn him loose just yet. Campos missed pretty much all of last season with an elbow injury.
- Apparently OF Ravel Santana broke his arm at some point. That’s on top of the brutal ankle injury that completely derailed his career two years ago. “He’s had two really tough injuries,” said Newman. “He’s had a tough go.”
- The Yankees re-signed UTIL Jose Pirela to a minor league contract. He became a six-year minor league free agent after the season. The 23-year-old has spent the last few years with Double-A Trenton, putting up a ~120 wRC+ in 888 plate appearances the last two seasons. Pirela’s not much of a prospect, but he can play all over the field. He’s the kind of guy who could sneak a call-up at some point.
After signing for a $300,000 bonus as a 16 year-old out of Venezuela, it feels like Jose Pirela has been in the Yankees system forever. At the time of his signing, Pirela was considered to be a player with a good chance of sticking at shortstop, his natural position, and projected to be at least average in all five tools (speed, hitting, power, arm, defense). He made his debut at age 17 in the Dominican Summer League, and put together an impressive season. Pirela posted a .746 OPS, flashing impressive plate discipline (34 walks against 36 strikeouts), a little power (4 homers), and decent basestealing ability (15 steals vs. 5 CS). While these were not eye-popping numbers, that kind of production from a 6-figure bonus baby with a chance to stick at shortstop was nothing to sneeze at, and put Pirela on the radar as a prospect to watch.
The next few seasons were up and down for Pirela, as he made his stateside debut at 18 in the Gulf Coast League. However, he struggled offensively, managing an OPS above .700 just once across his next 4 minor league seasons. Despite the weak offensive performance, the Yankees continued to advance Pirela one level every season, leading him to Trenton in 2011, at the age of 21. The 2011 season was an erratic one for Pirela on both sides of the ball. On defense, he committed a league-high 39 errors (37 of them came while playing shortstop), and on offense he posted an anemic .239/.292/.353 line. This was certainly a low point for Pirela’s prospect status, as neither his offense nor his defense looked capable of becoming major league quality.
This season, Pirela is back with Trenton at age 22, and his season got off to an inauspicious start. On April 11, Pirela was beaned by a fastball from Chris Martin of the Portland Seadogs, causing Pirela to miss six weeks due to concussion symptoms. As The Trentonian‘s Josh Norris described in a June 10 story, when Pirela came back from the injury, he was a different player. According to manager Tony Franklin, Norris wrote, Pirela began making adjustments in the second half of 2011, and carried over the positive momentum into 2012. After struggling mightily at shortstop last season, Pirela was given the opportunity to play more of a utility role, getting playing time at 2nd base, 3rd base, and left field. While he has seven errors in 11 games at 3rd base, he has only one in 23 games at 2nd base and none in 19 games in the outfield. This might indicate that his defensive problems were primarily related to throwing, and switching to 2nd base (and outfield) alleviated some of those issues.
The move from shortstop may also have helped Pirela’s offense, perhaps by letting him play positions where he is more comfortable. After weak offensive production throughout his career throughout his career, Pirela began hitting the ball with more authority in 2012. On the season, he is hitting .322/.390/.503 with seven homers (one short of his career high for a season). He has also cut his strikeout rate and improved his walk rate, both encouraging trends. Yes he is repeating the league, and yes at 22 he is not that young for the level, but an .893 OPS from a middle infielder in a pitcher-friendly park and league is impressive any way you slice it.
Prior to this season, Pirela had pretty much fallen off the prospect radar. He was not on Mike’s top 30 prospects list (or any other organizational list, to my knowledge). If Pirela continues to hit like he has so far in 2012 (and sustains this production whenever he hits AAA), we will probably have to start thinking of him as a prospect again. Definitely not as a top-tier guy, but as a back-end prospect who has a shot at making the major leagues at some point. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle Pirela going forward. His value would be greatest if he could stick at shortstop full-time, but his usage this season may indicate that this ship may have sailed.
Pirela may be most valuable as an everyday second baseman, but that is a pretty stacked position for the Yankees at the upper levels, with Robinson Cano in the majors, Corban Joseph in AAA, and David Adams in AA. Nonetheless, like Ronnier Mustelier in AAA, Pirela could still have substantial value in a utility role, playing 2nd, 3rd, and the outfield (and probably handling shortstop in an emergency if necessary). Unlike the 27 year-old Mustelier, Pirela likely still has some room for development and improvement. He could also have some value as a trade chip for a complementary piece (like the inclusion of Jimmy Paredes in the Lance Berkman trade in 2010), or as a throw-in with some upside in a deal for a possible outfield starter. Even though Pirela is never going to be a star and unlikely to be a starter for the Yankees, he may still have some value in the right scenario. The improvements that Pirela has made this season will definitely increase that value.