It looks like a good time to buy stock in Anderson Hernandez. The Pirates’ decision to place Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez on the 60-day disabled list greatly narrows the competition for utility infielder spots. They have a lot of players available to compete for bench spots, but many, such as Nick Evans and Jake Fox, are strictly corner players. Somebody has to backup Clint Barmes at short and the Pirates want Chase d’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer to get more time in AAA. Nunez, a good-glove, no-offense player who by all accounts is a legitimate shortstop, seemed like a good bet to make the team, because Clint Hurdle values defense highly off the bench.
Now it looks very likely that either the veteran Hernandez or Yamaico Navarro, acquired over the winter from the Royals, will make the team. Hernandez has played over a third of his major league games at short, although he’s really better at second. He doesn’t have much of a bat. Navarro has good hitting potential but is not regarded as a guy who can do more at short than fill in occasionally. That doesn’t bother me much. Bench players are used proportionately much more for offense than starters, due to pinch-hitting duties. If the Pirates need a fill-in for an extended period due to injury, d’Arnaud or Mercer is a phone call away. For some reason, though, a lot of baseball people, apparently including Hurdle, think defense is more important off the bench. In any event, Nunez should become available in April, so he may yet end up as Barmes’ backup.