Perhaps one of the most consistent players from the 2012 season, Neil Walker has given Hurdle and Huntington a legitimate second baseman for the first time since I guess Freddy Sanchez. While Sanchez didn’t blossom into the batting champion he was until later in his career, Walker is showing he can be a force in the middle of Pittsburgh’s lineup at a relatively young age as he was only 26 last season.
The former first round pick back in 2004 was having one of the best years of his career before his season was cut short, playing in just 129 games. In those 129 games Walker had a career high 14 HR and drove in 69 RBI in his limited action in 2012. He also saw his OPS improve from .742 in 2011 to .768 this past year, showing that he can put up solid offensive numbers for a second baseman. One has to figure that if Walker had stayed healthy the entire year he would have ended the season with roughly 18-20 HR and passing his career high RBI total of 83.
While Walker was out of the lineup, the Pirates used a combination of young players like Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Brock Holt. Harrison was actually best suited to play second base out of any of the other positions Hurdle used him at this year. He struggled mightily in the field outside of second base and did not make up for it with his bat, as he continued to show almost no plate discipline (10 walks in 104 games) and slugged at a clip of just .345 making Hurdle use others as well to fill the hole at second base.
Mercer stills has yet to get a genuine shot at being an everyday player as Hurdle only played him in 42 games, giving him just 68 plate appearances in 2012. However in the games he did play, Mercer made just one error in the field showing he serve as a viable defensive replacement late in games at the very least. At the dish Mercer hit just .210 and had a slugging percentage of .371 which gives the Pirates hope that there could be some untapped power in Mercer’s bat.
This brings up to Brock Holt, who I discussed in a previous blog post when he was originally called up. Holt made his debut on September 1st and was one of the few bright spots for the Pirates as the 2012 season came to an end. His .292/.329/.354 line in 72 plate appearances filled in nicely for the injured Walker. Holt doesn’t supply nearly as much thump, but he does profile nicely as a 1 or 2 hitter in Pittsburgh’s lineup if need be as well as giving Hurdle positional flexibility by being able to play shortstop as well (232 minor league career games at shortstop).
This is one position that the Pirates won’t have to worry about this offseason or in Spring Training next year. Walker will be the starter on Opening Day as long as he returns healthy from offseason back surgery, and Holt, Mercer, and Harrison will hold bench roles and starting spots for Triple-A Indy.