In the early going of Jose Pirela‘s major league career, he’s done little wrong. In last season’s cup of coffee with the Yankees, he hit .333/.360/.542 in a very small sample of 25 plate appearances. He’s also opened this spring with a flourish, posting a .421/.476/.632 triple-slash in 21 times at the plate. Now, in conjunction with Stephen Drew struggling in camp after a terrible 2014, opposing scouts are wondering why the Yankees simply don’t give Pirela the job at second.
Prior to Drew’s signing, there was supposed to be an open competition between Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. That statement might have been somewhat like when Brian Cashman declared that he was comfortable with Bubba Crosby as a starting center fielder for the 2006 season, only to sign Johnny Damon not long after. Yet, after bringing back Drew, management was mum on officially announcing him as the starter until last week. The announcement was undeniably a vote of confidence in Drew, perhaps to quiet the possibility of the Yankees benching him.
As March has progressed, it became apparent that Refsynder was ticketed for Triple-A for additional seasoning, as his defense definitely needs improvement after committing three errors in 38 innings this spring. Refnsyder is still in camp for now, but the writing is on the wall. Meanwhile, Pirela’s been on fire offensively, as previously mentioned. The consensus has been that Refnsyder has better upside than Pirela, but recently, I’ve seen a few comments like this:
Pirela, whom opposing team scouts overwhelmingly feel is the better all around player to Refnsyder, now 7-for-14 this spring.
— Erik Boland (@eboland11) March 11, 2015
That’s a bit surprising since Refsnyder is largely considered the better prospect (see: Fangraphs, Baseball America, and KATOH to name a few). Yet, the positive reviews of Pirela don’t end there. Now that Drew is scuffling in March (.105/.227/.105) much like he did last season, opposing scouts are ready to declare Pirela as a favorable option to Drew:
“I don’t understand Drew. He was as bad a player as I’ve ever seen last year and he hasn’t looked any better this spring. He can’t hit a lick and whether they know it or not, the Yankees need offense. That’s why I’d take my chances on Pirela at second.”
I [Bill Madden] asked another NL scout assigned to the Yankees this spring for his opinion on the second base situation.
“You’re asking me, Pirela or Drew, who do I like better?” the scout asked. “Pirela. No contest. I just don’t think Drew’s gonna help them and I really like Pirela’s bat.”
These scouts might be right. I mean, they certainly know more about what they’re seeing than you and me. Yet, it’s possible that the juxtaposition of Drew’s and Pirela’s Grapefruit League performances are clouding these scouts’ judgement. Pirela has torn the cover off the ball, but should he really be the starter come opening day?
My main concern with hypothetically going with Pirela out of the gate is him getting exposed as opposing teams get a better read of his weaknesses. I’d guess (and I could be totally wrong) that the other 29 teams don’t have too much on Pirela, at least not yet, as he probably wasn’t a big focus of opponents who scouted the Yankees’ farm system in recent years. Nonetheless, taking Drew out of the picture from day one immediately cuts the Yankees’ internal options at second base from three to two, without even giving one a fair shot. Sure, maybe Pirela is the real deal, but the odds are definitely stacked against him being much more than a second division starter. I’m just not comfortable handing him the job now, so I can totally see why the Yankees have already declared Drew their man to begin the season.
All I’m saying is that at this stage, I’m not ready to give up on Drew being a reasonable option to start the season. Does he deserve a long leash? No. I think the Yankees learned their lesson last year with Brian Roberts, and won’t be as patient with Drew as last season. Roberts had 348 putrid plate appearances (84 wRC+), and I’d bet that the Yankees would pass the baton to Pirela (or Refsnyder) in less than half the time. After all, there’s already enough evidence from last season that Drew might be toast, so if it continues after maybe 150 trips to the plate (say mid-May) it might be time to cut the cord. It’s been fun watching Pirela tear the cover off the ball, but let’s keep things in perspective for the time being.