Born: August 27, 1986
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 192
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 3rd Round, 79th Overall, 2008
How Acquired: Draft
College: Oklahoma State
Agent: The Legacy Agency

(Pirates Prospects/David Hague)


Mercer was an uncharacteristic choice at shortstop for the Pirates due to his size and hitting potential.  He improved his offensive game in his junior year in college and showed some pop.  Baseball America referred to him as having the potential to be a good hitter while also staying at short, although his plate discipline wasn’t exactly ideal.  He’s bigger than the typical shortstop, but he’s a good defensive player with solid range, good hands and a strong arm, strong enough that he served as closer for Oklahoma State.  BA had him ranked as the best prospect in Oklahoma and the 64th best overall.

Coming up through the Pirates’ system, Mercer seldom if ever was touted much.  Instead, the Pirates quickly focused more on Chase d’Arnaud, drafted a round after Mercer, on their shortstop of the future.  D’Arnaud never worked out, though, and Mercer continued improving gradually as he moved up.  He eventually took over the starting job at short from Clint Barmes.  Mercer has had some ups and downs at the plate, hitting for decent power at times.  He’s had a huge platoon split, batting 311/375/480 against LHPs through 2016 and just 242/296/349 against RHPs.  His splits have led Clint Hurdle to bat him leadoff at times against LHPs.  Defensively, Mercer isn’t flashy but for much of his career ranged somewhere from average to very good, depending on the metrics you used.  The Pirates, whose defensive metrics are probably more sophisticated than anything available publicly, don’t give out information, but there were some hints that they regarded Mercer as well above average.  Mercer always had very good hands and a strong arm.  After a 2015 knee injury, though, his range clearly suffered.

A-:  250/280/500, 25 AB, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 BB, 3 K, 1-1 SB
A:  250/300/349, 192 AB, 7 2B, 4 HR, 12 BB, 44 K, 4-7 SB

Opened at State College along with fellow shortstop, fourth round pick Chase d’Arnaud.  Mercer didn’t stay long, though, as the Pirates wanted to separate the two, so they sent him to Hickory.  He struggled there for about five weeks, a lot of it due to offspeed pitches, then came around in August, hitting 312/341/442.  His plate discipline remained poor, though, as he drew only three walks for the month and fanned twenty times.

A+:  255/314/400, 513 AB, 36 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 41 BB, 93 K, 10-16 SB 

The Pirates sent Mercer to Lynchburg, as they faced logjam at short with d’Arnaud in low A.  Mercer never quite got hot, struggling still with offspeed pitches.  He saved his best hitting for August, when he batted .303, but August in the minors can be like September in the majors, with the best players being promoted and pitchers being shut down for the year.  He did show good power, leading the Carolina League in doubles and finishing fifth in RBIs (83) despite batting second.  His walk and K (93) totals could have been better, but weren’t alarming.  He hit RHPs a little better than LHPs.  Mercer played short until d’Arnaud moved up in late June, then alternated between short and third.

AA:  282/329/373, 485 AB, 31 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 31 BB, 69 K, 7-8 SB 

Spent the season at Altoona.  His hitting was better in some ways but not in others, as he evidently cut down on his swing.  His power and walks dropped off some, but he cut down on whiffs and hit for a better average.  He had a lot of doubles, but only three HRs after hitting ten the year before.  He was more consistent; except for a May slump (.210), he hit at least .272 in every month, and .296 or better in three months.  The contrast between Mercer and d’Arnaud was interesting: d’Arnaud retained good secondary skills (gap power, patience and base stealing), but didn’t hit for average.  Mercer opened the season playing mainly third, with d’Arnaud at short and Josh Harrison at second.  As the season wore on, Mercer changed positions first with Harrison, then with d’Arnaud.  The Pirates didn’t give any reasons for this, but it may have been a consequence of the other two struggling at their initial positions.  Judging by what I’ve seen, Mercer has a better arm than d’Arnaud and is a much more reliable defender, especially at short.

AA:  268/329/491, 265 AB, 17 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 23 BB, 35 K, 6-9 SB
AAA:  239/304/385, 226 AB, 13 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 13 BB, 43 K, 3-6 SB 

The Pirates sent Mercer back to Altoona.  They faced a logjam of infielders in AAA and Mercer lost out to d’Arnaud and Harrison.  He got off to a slow start, hitting .154 in April, but got hot in May, hitting for more power than ever.  By the time he was promoted at the end of June, he was slugging close to .500.  Despite the increased power, his plate discipline actually improved.  In Indianapolis he got off to another slow start, hitting just 177/275/313 in July.  He turned it around in August, though, hitting 313/347/491, before going 1-for-14 in September.  His plate discipline was much shakier than in AA and actually got a little worse in August.  He had a huge platoon split in AAA, posting a .902 OPS against LHPs and .607 against RHPs.  For the year as a whole he had 30 doubles and 19 HRs, the latter total leading the farm system.  He played short full-time at Altoona, then alternated between short and third in AAA.  He had only 11 errors total all year.

AAA:  287/357/421, 209 AB, 14 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 20 BB, 45 K, 3-8 SB
MLB:  210/265/371, 62 AB, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4 BB, 14 K, 0-1 SB

The Pirates added Mercer to the 40-man roster after the 2011 season and he returned to AAA.  He got off to a somewhat slow start, hitting 238/347/375 in April.  He then hit 358/408/453 in May and was called up at the end of the month.  Except for a brief stretch from late June to early July, he remained with the Pirates the rest of the year as their 25th man.  Or at least that’s what the official web site said.  Clint Hurdle didn’t seem to be aware, as Mercer met the same fate as Pedro Ciriaco the year before and remained largely forgotten.  He frequently went stretches of five to eight days without playing at all.  In one stretch of 32 days, from August 20 through September 26, he made no starts and only four plate appearances.  With Clint Barmes mired in a terrible season, this isn’t easy to understand.  Even harder to understand is the fact that, from mid-August on, Harrison served as the backup shortstop, with Mercer getting only one start at the position.  Mercer is dramatically better defensively than Harrison and even had a slightly higher OPS than Harrison in his very limited opportunities.

AAA:  333/404/484, 96 AB, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 12 BB, 17 K, 3-4 SB
MLB:  285/336/435, 333 AB, 22 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, 22 BB, 62 K, 3-5 SB

Having inexplicably acquired washed-up veterans Brandon Inge and John McDonald, the Pirates sent Mercer back to AAA to start the season.  He had a very strong month there and, when Neil Walker went on the disabled list at the beginning of May, the Pirates called Mercer up.  This time, instead of disappearing into the Hurdle Triangle, Mercer got to play.  He homered in his first game, then had a two-HR game a week later.  That didn’t stop the Pirates from sending him back down when Walker was ready, but Mercer came back up two days later when McDonald got hurt.  This time he stayed up and, with Barmes again hitting nothing and the team struggling to score runs, Mercer became the everyday shortstop for much of June and July.  After hitting well through June, Mercer slumped slightly in July, although his .671 OPS that month was still over 100 points better than Barmes’ season OPS.  Hurdle eventually went to a shortstop platoon, with Barmes getting the majority of the time.  Mercer also played second at times, either when Walker had minor injuries or when the Pirates started sitting him against LHPs.  In September, Mercer started only 13 games, but posted an OPS of 1.005.

Mercer’s defense was the subject of some concern, especially at the end of the year when an error on a routine play in the 9th inning cost the team a win against the Reds.  UZR considered him below average, while the Fielding Bible +/- system considers him average.  In either case, far more data is needed than less than half a season (Mercer started only 50 games at short).  At the plate, Mercer torched lefties for a 410/460/692 line, while hitting 247/297/357 against righties (which was still about 100 OPS points above Barmes’ season numbers).  Mercer hit for very good power for the position and didn’t strike out excessively.  He sometimes hit second against lefties, giving Hurdle more flexibility with his lineup.

MLB:  255/305/387, 506 AB, 27 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 35 BB, 89 K, 4-5 SB

Mercer established himself as the Pirates’ regular shortstop, with Barmes returning strictly as a backup.  Not surprisingly, since he finally got a chance to stay at the position full-time, Mercer’s defensive numbers improved:  UZR had him as slighly above-average and +/- as well above.  At the plate, he got off to a terrible start, posting an OPS of .404 in April and .594 in May.  Starting in June, though, he hit consistently well, never falling below .735 in any month.  His plate discipline improved dramatically in the second half, from 14 walks and 58 Ks to 21 walks and 31 Ks.  His platoon split lessened; he hit 236/292/366 against RHPs and 314/349/455 against LHPs.  Hurdle batted him second 14 times against LHPs.

AAA:  240/269/360, 25 AB, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K
MLB:  244/293/320, 394 AB, 21 2B, 3 HR, 27 BB, 73 K, 3-5 SB

Mercer got off to an even more dismal start than the previous year, with an OPS of .472 in April and .469 in May. His struggles led to more playing time for Jung-Ho Kang. He started hitting in June (304/343/457), but in mid-July Mercer went out with a knee injury sustained when Carlos Gomez slid into him. He returned in late August and ended up in a shortstop/thirdbase rotation with Kang, Aramis Ramirez, and Josh Harrison, but went back to playing short every day when Kang suffered a knee injury. For the season, Mercer slipped badly at the plate from 2014. He continued to have a large platoon split, with a .580 OPS against RHPs and .738 against LHPs. It probably didn’t help him that the Pirates faced very few left-handed starters; barely over a quarter of his plate appearances came against LHPs.  Mercer’s defense gets different evaluations from different metrics.  Some rate him as average or a little above for the position, while others consider him well above average.  The Pirates, who have their own proprietary metrics, seem to consider him above average.

MLB:  256/328/374, 519 AB, 22 2B, 3 3B, 11 HR, 51 BB, 83 K, 1-2 SB

Mercer bounced back well at the plate, with significantly improved plate discipline and more power than the previous year.  The large platoon split continued, as he put up an .829 OPS against LHPs and .669 against RHPs.  There are a lot of good-hitting shortstops in MLB now, though, so Mercer’s .702 OPS only ranked him only 17th of 23 qualifiers at the position.  He was hitting better through much of the season, with a .750 OPS at the end of July, but he posted figures of just .605 and .604 in August and September, respectively.  Defensively, most of the metrics showed him as declining from his previous standards, possibly by quite a bit.

MLB:  255/326/406, 502 AB, 24 2B, 5 3B, 14 HR, 51 BB, 88 K, 0-4 SB

Mercer had a nearly identical season at the plate, except he hit for more power.  For a change, he didn’t have a platoon split, with an OPS of .735 against RHPs and .723 against LHPs.  The offensive numbers weren’t exciting, but for a shortstop his OPS was almost exactly average for MLB, which would make him above average once PNC Park was accounted for.  Mercer’s defense bounced back to about an average level, according to the metrics, possibly due to his knee recovering fully from the 2015 injury.  He missed the last week of the season with a sore knee.

MLB:  251/315/381, 394 AB, 29 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 32 BB, 87 K, 2-2 SB

For much of the season, Mercer hit at about the same level as in 2017.  He continued, as always, to hit better against LHPs.  The defensive metrics had him as below average, possibly by a good bit.  In mid-August, Mercer went on the disabled list with a calf injury.  He returned in September, but by then the Pirates were playing Kevin Newman at short.  Mercer started one game in each series during the month and hit very little, dropping his overall numbers below his 2017 level.

Mercer will be a free agent after the season.  The Pirates are expected to go with Newman as their shortstop in 2019, but the local media, at least, thinks they’ll look for a veteran “mentor” and could bring back Mercer in that role.  Mercer himself has indicated a desire to return.  Carrying a glove-oriented shortstop behind Newman, who’s a good defensive player, would make little sense as it would hamper the Pirates’ chronically weak hitting off the bench.  Apart from that, Mercer isn’t a good defensive shortstop any more.

2014: $515,500
2015: $538,000
2016: $2,075,000
2017: $4,325,000
2018: $6,750,000
Signing Bonus: $508,000
MiLB Debut: 2008
MLB Debut: 5/29/2012
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2011
Options Remaining: 1 (USED:  2012, 2013)
MLB Service Time: 6.095
June 8, 2005: Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 26th round, 796th overall pick.
June 5, 2008: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 3rd round, 79th overall pick; signed on June 17.
November 18, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.