Spring Training Preview: Middle Infield

WEEK 4: MIDDLE INFIELDERS IN THE PIRATES ORGANIZATION

“Defense” is the name of the game for the middle infield ranks of the Indianapolis Indians’ parent club at Spring Training. The  Pirates’ core of 2B/SS likely slated for Triple-A in 2014 will include a trio of slick fielders in Steve Lombardozzi, Gustavo Nunez and Justin Sellers, and be headlined by slugging top prospect Alen Hanson.

Potential Indians Middle Infielders:

Justin Sellers

Justin Sellers was originally selected by the Oakland Athletics in the sixth round (191st overall) of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Drawing rave reviews for his solid defense up the middle, Sellers has lived up to his scouting reports by ranking as the Best Defensive Infielder in the Oakland Athletics system following his debut season in 2006 and as the Hawaii Winter Baseball League’s top defender that same offseason. The Bellflower, California native reached the Double-A level while with Oakland one year later, and prior to the 2009 season, was involved in two transactions that sent him from the A’s to the Chicago Cubs on Feb. 2, 2009, and from the Cubs to the Los Angeles Dodgers exactly two months later on April 2, 2009.  He immediately excelled in the Dodgers chain to hit .304 with Triple-A Albuquerque in 2011 and appear in 36 big league games through August and September as part of his late-season promotion.

Last season, the 29 year old received his first taste of action in the International League as a utility player for the Columbus Clippers. He hit .254 with 22 extra-base knocks and 40 RBIs in 102 games between shortstop, second and third base and left field. Sellers was promoted to the Cleveland Indians in May and went 3-for-16 while notching his fourth straight season of 15+ appearances at the Major League level.

Status: Attending camp as a member of Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster.


Alen Hanson

Alen Hanson was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent on July 14, 2009.

Hanson headlines the group of potential Tribe middle infielders after ranking among the Top-100 prospects in all of the Minors and as a Top-10 Pirates farmhand during each of the last three seasons. The multi-tool 22 year old has catapulted his way through the lower levels of Pittsburgh’s organization after he hit .324 with the DSL Pirates in 2010, .260 between Short-Season and Rookie-level in 2011, .309 with Low-A West Virginia in 2012 and .274 across Hi-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona in 2013. He was selected to three All-Star teams during that climb and earned recognition as a postseason “Rising Star” of the Arizona Fall League.

Hanson returned to Altoona last season to form the second half of an electrifying duo with fellow top prospect, Josh Bell. Along with Bell’s transition to first base, Hanson, primarily a shortstop through the majority of his career, also made a shift in his defensive role to finish the year with 17 starts at second base for the Curve. He rounded out another strong year in the minors ranked first among Pittsburgh farmhands in triples and tied for third with his 25 stolen bases.

Status: Attending camp as a member of Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster.


Steve Lombardozzi

Steve Lombardozzi was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the 19th round (571st overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

The slick-gloved infielder joins Pittsburgh’s organization with 277 games of Major League experience between Washington (2011-13) and the Baltimore Orioles (2014), primarily as a second baseman (100 MLB starts). He made his Minor League debut in 2008 and made both his Triple-A and Major League debuts during just his third full season in the pros. Lombardozzi capped that 2011 campaign ranked as the “Best Defensive 2B” in the Eastern League and as the “Best Defensive Infielder” in Washington’s system courtesy of his two total errors in 1,063 2/3 total innings at second base.

Lombardozzi has since been featured in two big-name trades, including his acquisition by the Detroit Tigers with a pair of left-handers for RHP Doug Fister on Dec. 2, 2013 and a swap with the Baltimore Orioles for SS Alex Gonzalez on March 24, 2014. He spent the majority of the most recent season batting .270 in 78 games with Triple-A Norfolk, and also hit .288 in 20 big league games with the Orioles.

Status: Non-roster invitee to big-league camp.


 Gustavo Nunez

Gustavo Nunez was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers as an international free agent on May 3, 2007.

Joining Sellers as the primary shortstops of this group, Nunez is returning to the Pirates two seasons since being claimed away on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2012 offseason. Prior to that swap, the 27 year old spent his first five pro campaigns in Detroit’s system where he earned back-to-back Florida State League Midseason All-Star selections from 2010-11. Nunez was then selected by Pittsburgh in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, and after hitting .273 in limited action in 2012, was sent back to the Tigers and Triple-A Toledo for the 2013 season. His eight-year Minor League career has featured recognition as the “Best Defensive Infielder” and “Fastest Baserunner” in the Tigers’ system, as well as the “Best Infield Arm” of the Midwest League in 2009 and “Best Defensive SS” in the Florida State League in 2010.

Last season, Nunez appeared in 97 games with Double-A Mississippi of the Atlanta Braves’ organization. He hit an impressive .301 with 15 extra-base knocks and 31 RBIs for the M-Braves, and finished with his fourth year of swiping double-digit bags on the basepaths.


In the System

Other notable middle infielders in the Pirates organization include Cole Tucker, the No. 8 farmhand in the club’s system according to Baseball America, and the not-NFL wide receiver, JaCoby Jones, the No. 13 prospect in Pittsburgh’s chain.

The highly-touted shortstops are still just settling into their pro careers but have impressed during their limited action in the lower levels of Pittsburgh’s organization. Tucker, the Pirates’ first-round selection in 2014, hit .267 with 13 stolen bases for the GCL club in 2014. Jones, in his second Minor League season since his selection in the third round in 2013, hit .288 with 23 home runs for Lo-A West Virginia last year.

jones
Third-round draft pick from 2013, Jacoby Jones, led the entire Pirates system with 23 homers for Lo-A West Virginia last season. (Photo: MiLB.com)

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