Mercer takes unusual route to Opening Day MLB shortstop
PHILADELPHIA — At midseason in Single-A Lynchburg in 2009, Jordy Mercer was summoned to the manager's office. The door closed. He was told he would be switching positions.
The first question raised about any amateur player signed as a shortstop is this: “Can he remain at the position?” The position is the most athletically demanding in the game. Most players eventually move. Mercer was moving to third base.
“They told me they were going to bring Chase (d'Arnaud) up. He was going to start playing short,” Mercer recalled. “They were going to move me around the infield. … I was shocked. You never want to hear that news. I played shortstop my whole life.”
Mercer did not have a high-profile pedigree. He was a third-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Oklahoma State. He was not a seven-figure bonus signee. In his first 160 professional games at shortstop, he made 29 errors. Scouts and coaches questioned whether the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was too big for the position. His first-step quickness was doubted.
But a funny thing happened. Mercer made his way back to shortstop and played it at the game's highest level last season, displacing Clint Barmes. Mercer will open the regular season as the Pirates' starting shortstop against the Chicago Cubs at 1:05 p.m. Monday at PNC Park, his first Opening Day in the majors. Mercer's story is interesting because most players move down the defensive spectrum at the professional level, not advance up it.
“Not a lot of guys get to (stay at short). I know that,” Mercer said. “I just had a competitive edge. … I became quicker and stronger. … You want to show them, ‘Yeah, I can do this.' ”
Mercer became a better defender. He has worked with the same personal trainee the last four offseasons improving his strength, quickness and agility. He reduced his minor league error total every year since 2009.
Another funny thing occurred that helped Mercer stick at the position at the major league level: The man he replaced last June, the veteran Barmes, shared his knowledge with the rookie.
Like Mercer, Barmes is not the typical athlete you find at shortstop. He doesn't have the strongest arm or quickest foot speed. Barmes became one of the top defensive shortstops, according to defensive metrics, by mastering angles — taking more direct paths to groundballs — and aggressive positioning.
“I put myself in that position. ... So instead of getting upset, I went about my business the same as if I was in the starter,” Barmes said. “I do know working together and just talking about positioning and the way we attack groundballs and footwork … there are things he would pick up.”
Said Mercer: “There are different things I've added to my game: angles on balls that aren't hit as hard up the middle or on the backhand (side), positioning certain hitters in certain ways. ... Little keys that you don't really pick up when you come through the minor leagues, but when you get an older guy that's been there and he's kind of showed it to you and broken it down for you, it made the transition a lot easier.”
According to defensive runs saved, Barmes (12 runs saved in 2013) remains a better defensive player than Mercer (-1.5 runs saved). But Mercer's more potent bat combined with improved defense has allowed him an unusual path to membership in an elite group: an Opening Day major league shortstop.
“It's a pretty cool feeling how when that happened in A-ball and there was a few guys that played (shortstop) over me … yet I still came to play shortstop,” Mercer said. “It's a cool feeling that I ended up here.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates analyst Kent Tekulve recovering after heart transplant
- New approach on offense has Pirates in playoff contention this season
- Tuesday’s scouting report: Red Sox at Pirates
- Pitt notebook: Expanded game plan likely awaits Iowa
- Biertempfel: In wild-card game, Cole must get call
- Pirates notebook: Holdzkom’s wild ride continues
- Rare triple play sparks Pirates’ comeback victory over Cubs
- Pirates notebook: Morton to start Tuesday against Red Sox