Jose Pirela is coming off a torrid week in which he was honored with the International League Batter of the Week Award. Two games into this week, he is still finding his way on base and driving RailRiders home. With the struggles of Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, and both being on the wrong side of 30, it’s time to wonder why Pirela isn’t getting a chance.
There are those of us that listen to scouts and prospect experts and can simply reply that Pirela doesn’t grade out as a ready for primetime player. That may in fact be true on paper, as Pirela was barely in the top five second base prospects in the system coming into the season. He was also absent from many people’s Top 20 overall Yankees’ prospects lists. How could this guy possibly be ready for the big leagues?
John Ryan Murphy, although a top ten Yankee prospect coming into 2014, was still behind Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez on the prospect depth chart. He was batting a meager .192 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season without even being able to garner a walk. Yet he was given a chance and it has paid off thus far: Ryan is batting .333 with a home run and 8 RBI in limited back-up work. He is progressing well enough defensively that Yankees’ fans can postulate that if Alfonso Soriano continues to struggle or they don’t find a reliable first baseman to back up Mark Teixeira, he could take over the catcher spot and McCann could move to DH or first base.
There was this 26-year-old infielder that came over from the Texas Rangers at the end of the 2013 season. He was off the prospect charts and at 26, he wasn’t viewed to amount to much. But after a hot spring, the Yankees gave him his first major league experience and guess what? You could argue that the Yankees would be in last place if it weren’t for Yangervis Solarte. He has settled in at third base and has made Yankees’ fans forget about Alex Rodriguez. Sometimes stats and prospect lists aren’t 100% accurate.
There are those that are stat guys and will look at Pirelli’s checkered fielding numbers. To the naked eye, he has made 150 errors in 8 professional seasons. That’s almost 20 errors a year. But remember, Pirela was drafted to be a short stop. 107 of those errors came in the failed experiment at the start of his career at the shortstop position. Pirela doesn’t have the range or arm strength to succeed at shortstop, but since he’s learned to play second, he has become a different player. Only 36 of those errors have come at second and that’s just over four a season.
Brian Roberts had played 192 games from 2010 to 2013. At 36 years of age, it was absolutely outlandish to think that after four seasons of debilitating injuries, he would be able to comeback and be half of the player that the pre-2010 Roberts was. His age is showing and the middle of the infield is a mess. Kelly Johnson is a 32-year-old journeyman, who hasn’t hit above .235 since 2010. He has the best pop at second base out of all of the candidates and he does have a solid glove, but he is not the second baseman of a championship team. I think it’s safe to chalk up the Dean Anna experiment as a failure as well. The 27-year-old journey man was acquired from the Padres in the spring and made the Opening Day roster. This is a guy who couldn’t crack the San Diego Padres roster over his six years, and the Yankees somehow felt this guy deserved a shot. He rewarded their sound judgment by batting .136 in this first big league action of his career and is batting a whopping .208 since being sent down.
Pirela is 24-years-old. He will never be Robinson Cano, but there is nothing that shows he will be any worse than Johnson, Roberts, or the bevy of other players the Yankees feel could hold down the second base position. He is currently batting .322 with three home runs and 23 RBI primarily at the leadoff spot for the RailRiders. His hits have been big and he already has 94 total bases while getting on base at a .357 lick. The Yankees also have to begin to consider a promotion for Robert Refsnyder. The Thunder sensation is tearing up Double-A ball. The reigning Eastern League Player of the Week is still learning the infield and has a way to go with the glove, but his bat is quickly outgrowing Double A pitching. At 23 years of age, the Yankees need to find out if he can make the jump. The only way to make room for him is to get Pirela out of there. Some have argued that both deserve a shot at the big leagues before the season is over. A September call up may be in Refsnyder’s future, but he needs to work on his fielding before that conversation begins.
Is this a case of pride for the Yankees’ front office and management? Are they afraid that their philosophy of overpaying veterans is finally showing to be a failure? With every game the Yankees win because of Solarte’s bat and improving glove and every game changing hit Murphy continues to smack, fans are going to begin to wonder why more of the youngsters aren’t being given a chance. Or is this another case of mismanaging the minor league system and bringing a prospect along slowly? Or are the Yankees afraid that if their prospects fail at the big league level, they lose trade value? Here’s the thing: no one sees much in the Yankees minor league system, so they have nothing to lose. The Yankees’ are reeling right now and all of these Kendrys Morales and Jeff Samardzija rumors are simply more quick fixes that leave the Yankees searching for more answers in a year. Every game that Pirela continues to hit and remain in the International League leaders, people are going to wonder why he’s not in pinstripes. Maybe now is his time.