It was assumed by most, it not all, that veteran Brandon Inge, as a non-roster player, would have to show something this spring to make the Pirates and it was further assumed he would. Inge had 11 homers and 52 RBIs in only 311 at bats with Oakland last year before his season ended with shoulder surgery. He brought to the Pirates the kind of veteran bat that long had been missed.
Inge, 35, hasn’t shown much of anything and, in fact, practically nothing. He is 3-for-25, all singles. Two of those hits came Feb. 28. He’s 1-for-19 with five strikeouts this month.
Further hurting his chances are that he has no versatility. Although he had played many positions in his MLB career -- and has a versatility tag attached to him -- he has played third base almost exclusively since 2008. Not only that, playing his entire career in the American League, he has little experience as a pinch-hitter and, surprisingly, not much as a designated hitter. According to BaseballReference.com, he has 15 career plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and eight as a DH.
That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be an effective pinch-hitter, but there’s no history that shows he can.
Inge has an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent March 26, if he’s not on the roster. It could be the Pirates understand Inge is slow coming around following shoulder surgery and he’ll still make the team. But it looks like he has a lot of work in front of him to do that.
There are five bench spots available, if the roster includes 12 pitchers. Two of those are taken by platoon first baseman Gaby Sanchez and backup catcher Michael McKenry. Infielder Josh Harrison, who can play the outfield in a pinch, is pretty much a lock for a third. Jose Tabata, out of options and the best alternative to platoon with Travis Snider in right field, most likely has the fourth.
Candidates for the fifth are Inge, Alex Presley, Jordy Mercer and Ivan de Jesus, acquired in the Joel Hanrahan deal.
Presley: He’s a non-power-hitting outfielder who inconveniently also is a non on-base guy. His MLB on-base percentage in 626 plate appearances is .302. To put that in perspective, Tabata’s is . 328. A left-handed hitter, he’s barely more effective against right-handed pitching. He’s having a decent spring, .306 BA, .366 on-base percentage. There’s only one way he makes the team: By default.
Mercer: He’s the best backup shortstop available. Harrison can play the position but it’s an adventure. If Mercer makes the team, Harrison probably will not. Mercer batted .210 in 62 at bats last year and manager Clint Hurdle repeatedly gave him votes of no confidence. In the minors, he showed decent power --19 home runs in 2011 -- for a middle infielder.
de Jesus: He’s having the kind of spring to make people take notice, batting .407 (11-for-27) with one home run. But in 73 MLB at bats with the Dodgers and Red Sox, he has a .205 batting average. He has played three straight seasons of Class AAA. In 30 MLB games, he’s played shortstop in only one of them.
Inge isn’t doing much. But neither is his competition.