How many times in the last few years have you been watching a Pirate game and there’s a call for a pinch hitter?  You wait with a split-second of anticipation only to see….Casey McGehee…or Josh Harrison…or Delwyn Young…or Pedro Ciriaco.  The disappointment would be swift, as usually the pinch hitter would flail at the first pitch or two.  Or strike out.  Or weakly ground to shortstop.

There’s nothing sexy about a pinch hitter.  You never go into a draft hoping to get a future pinch hitter.  You don’t sign a guy in free agency specifically hoping to have a great “first pinch hitter off the bench”.  But then you get in a 2-1 game and the Pirates are leading off with the pitcher, needing a pinch hitter.

By my estimation, the Pirates may be cultivating a perfect candidate for this unglamorous, but necessary spot on the bench.  His name is Adalberto Santos and he is currently plying his craft at Double A Altoona.

Santos was a 22nd round pick from the 2010 draft.  As a college senior and late-round draft pick, his future was most likely consigned to being an organizational player that would fill a role here and there in the minors.  However, Santos has done nothing but hit, hit, hit while in the system.

In 2010, he hit .319 with an .885 OPS at State College.  In 2011, it was .314 with an .868 OPS at High A Bradenton.  The 2012 season saw him play primarily at Altoona and hit .340 with an .858 OPS.  Santos also demonstrates a skill that is at times rare to find in the Pirates’ system — the ability to take a walk and get on base.  His on-base percentages have been .406, .392, and .425 in his first three seasons.  Each of his seasons has resulted in stolen base totals of 17, 29, and 17.  Oh, and he only strikes out about 15% of his at-bats, too.

So why is Santos not touted as a future starter?  His defense is, to be polite, a little challenging.  He’s listed as an outfielder, but he has played some games at 3B and 2B as well.  His range is fair, but his arm is not any more than average at best in the outfield.  Could Santos fill in for a game in RF at PNC Park or LF on the road?  Sure.  But he’s not a full-time starter option.  He would be a strong upgrade for the bench, though, in a super sub role.

Santos is not young, as 2013 is his age-25 season.  And yet, he is languishing back in Double A (hitting .420 with more walks than strikeouts in this nascent part of the season) while such luminaries as Brett Carroll, Felix Pie, and Darren Ford take prime roles in the Indianapolis outfield.

The role of your Triple A team is to primarily serve as a holding tank for players who could be called up to the Majors, if needed, or as a finishing school for your prospects.  Joining Carroll, Pie, and Ford in the outfield at Indy are Alex Presley and Jerry Sands, both borderline major league players.  The Pirates have 5 options in the outfield with Marte, McCutchen, Jones, Tabata, and Snider.  There is already redundancy for center fielders with Marte and Tabata both capable of playing it.  Obviously there are 4 candidates for corner outfielders.  If there is an injury, Presley could play all 3 OF spots and Sands could play a corner.  So why are minor league vets like Carroll, Pie, and Ford in Triple A instead of Santos getting one of their spots?

I would like to think that Santos would have the chance to move up to Indy in early June and perhaps earn a September callup to Pittsburgh (after being added to the 40-man roster in the process).  That would give Santos a legitimate shot to make the Pittsburgh roster in 2014.  However, Santos will be only 26 in 2014 so he’ll need to age himself about 7 years in order for Hurdle to feel comfortable enough to play him during a game.  And he needs more grit.  Perhaps he can borrow some leftover grit from John McDonald?

Kevin Creagh

SCB Pirate Staff Blogger