||Born: August 27, 1986
Height: 6′ 3″
Drafted: 3rd Round, 79th Overall, 2008
How Acquired: Draft
College: Oklahoma State
Agent: The Legacy Agency
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Mercer represented a departure for the Pirates, as under the former administration they’d generally drafted shortstops, like Brian Bixler and Brian Friday, more for speed than anything else. That emphasis may have changed due to GM Neal Huntington and Scouting Director Greg Smith moving from the American League, where offense has generally been valued more highly at the position. Huntington has stated that he believes the team needs to get offensive contributions from its up-the-middle players. One result of the change was Mercer, who was an uncharacteristic choice at shortstop for the Pirates due to his size and hitting potential. He improved his offensive game in his junior year in college and showed some pop. Baseball America referred to him as having the potential to be a good hitter while also staying at short, although his plate discipline wasn’t exactly ideal. He’s bigger than the typical shortstop, but he’s a good defensive player with solid range, good hands and a strong arm, strong enough that he served as closer for Oklahoma State. BA had him ranked as the best prospect in Oklahoma and the 64th best overall.
Opened at State College along with fellow shortstop, fourth round pick Chase d’Arnaud. Mercer didn’t stay long, though, as the Pirates wanted to separate the two, so they sent him to Hickory. He struggled there for about five weeks, a lot of it due to offspeed pitches, then came around in August, hitting 312/341/442. His plate discipline remained poor, though, as he drew only three walks for the month and fanned twenty times.
The Pirates sent Mercer to Lynchburg, as they faced logjam at short with d’Arnaud in low A. Mercer never quite got hot, struggling still with offspeed pitches. He saved his best hitting for August, when he batted .303, but August in the minors can be like September in the majors, with the best players being promoted and pitchers being shut down for the year. He did show good power, leading the Carolina League in doubles and finishing fifth in RBIs (83) despite batting second. His walk and K (93) totals could have been better, but weren’t alarming. He hit RHPs a little better than LHPs. Mercer played short until d’Arnaud moved up in late June, then alternated between short and third.
Spent the season at Altoona. His hitting was better in some ways but not in others, as he evidently cut down on his swing. His power and walks dropped off some, but he cut down on whiffs and hit for a better average. He had a lot of doubles, but only three HRs after hitting ten the year before. He was more consistent; except for a May slump (.210), he hit at least .272 in every month, and .296 or better in three months. The contrast between Mercer and d’Arnaud was interesting: d’Arnaud retained good secondary skills (gap power, patience and base stealing), but didn’t hit for average. Mercer opened the season playing mainly third, with d’Arnaud at short and Josh Harrison at second. As the season wore on, Mercer changed positions first with Harrison, then with d’Arnaud. The Pirates didn’t give any reasons for this, but it may have been a consequence of the other two struggling at their initial positions. Judging by what I’ve seen, Mercer has a better arm than d’Arnaud and is a much more reliable defender, especially at short.
The Pirates sent Mercer back to Altoona. They faced a logjam of infielders in AAA and Mercer lost out to d’Arnaud and Harrison. He got off to a slow start, hitting .154 in April, but got hot in May, hitting for more power than ever. By the time he was promoted at the end of June, he was slugging close to .500. Despite the increased power, his plate discipline actually improved. In Indianapolis he got off to another slow start, hitting just 177/275/313 in July. He turned it around in August, though, hitting 313/347/491, before going 1-for-14 in September. His plate discipline was much shakier than in AA and actually got a little worse in August. He had a huge platoon split in AAA, posting a .902 OPS against LHPs and .607 against RHPs. For the year as a whole he had 30 doubles and 19 HRs, the latter total leading the farm system. He played short full-time at Altoona, then alternated between short and third in AAA. He had only 11 errors total all year.
The Pirates added Mercer to the 40-man roster after the 2011 season and he returned to AAA. He got off to a somewhat slow start, hitting 238/347/375 in April. He then hit 358/408/453 in May and was called up at the end of the month. Except for a brief stretch from late June to early July, he remained with the Pirates the rest of the year as their 25th man. Or at least that’s what the official web site said. Clint Hurdle didn’t seem to be aware, as Mercer met the same fate as Pedro Ciriaco the year before and remained largely forgotten. He frequently went stretches of five to eight days without playing at all. In one stretch of 32 days, from August 20 through September 26, he made no starts and only four plate appearances. With Clint Barmes mired in a terrible season, this isn’t easy to understand. Even harder to understand is the fact that, from mid-August on, Harrison served as the backup shortstop, with Mercer getting only one start at the position. Mercer is dramatically better defensively than Harrison and even had a slightly higher OPS than Harrison in his very limited opportunities.
Having inexplicably acquired washed-up veterans Brandon Inge and John McDonald, the Pirates sent Mercer back to AAA to start the season. He had a very strong month there and, when Neil Walker went on the disabled list at the beginning of May, the Pirates called Mercer up. This time, instead of disappearing into the Hurdle Triangle, Mercer got to play. He homered in his first game, then had a two-HR game a week later. That didn’t stop the Pirates from sending him back down when Walker was ready, but Mercer came back up two days later when McDonald got hurt. This time he stayed up and, with Barmes again hitting nothing and the team struggling to score runs, Mercer became the everyday shortstop for much of June and July. After hitting well through June, Mercer slumped slightly in July, although his .671 OPS that month was still over 100 points better than Barmes’ season OPS. Hurdle eventually went to a shortstop platoon, with Barmes getting the majority of the time. Mercer also played second at times, either when Walker had minor injuries or when the Pirates started sitting him against LHPs. In September, Mercer started only 13 games, but posted an OPS of 1.005.
Mercer’s defense was the subject of some concern, especially at the end of the year when an error on a routine play in the 9th inning cost the team a win against the Reds. UZR considers him below average, while the Fielding Bible +/- system considers him average. In either case, far more data is needed than less than half a season (Mercer started only 50 games at short). At the plate, Mercer torched lefties for a 410/460/692 line, while hitting 247/297/357 against righties (which was still about 100 OPS points above Barmes’ season numbers). Mercer hit for very good power for the position and didn’t strike out excessively. He sometimes hit second against lefties, giving Hurdle more flexibility with his lineup.
Mercer obviously has established himself on the Pirates, but it’s unclear as yet whether he’ll be the regular shortstop in 2014. Concerns about his defense should be tempered by the fact that he’s seldom played the position regularly. In the minors, he frequently played other positions when he was on the same team with Chase d’Arnaud, and even in 2013 in the majors he played a quarter of his innings at second. There’s no reason to think he can’t be at least average at short, which would make him an above average player overall if he keeps hitting close to his 2013 level. The Pirates will probably look for a defense-oriented veteran to provide an alternative, which may involve bringing back Barmes and returning to a shortstop platoon.
|2014: Major League Minimum|
|Signing Bonus: $508,000
MiLB Debut: 2008
MLB Debut: 5/29/2012
MiLB FA Eligible: 2014
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2011
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2012, 2013)
MLB Service Time: 1.095
|June 8, 2005: Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 26th round, 796th overall pick.
June 5, 2008: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 3rd round, 79th overall pick; signed on June 17.
November 18, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.