Since May 1, there has been no hotter hitter in the International League than Jose Pirela.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s second baseman has been on a tear over his last 38 games raising his batting average nearly 90 points.
Pirela has been so good since then that when New York general manager Brian Cashman was in town last weekend, he praised the 24-year-old and said Pirela is playing other positions like first base and the outfield to try to work his offensive skills into the lineup.
“He can swing the bat,” Cashman said. “As you see us moving the chess pieces around, you see we got some struggles on the defensive side with the backup to (Mark) Teixeira at first base so we thought let’s prepare for what-if’s.”
If Pirela keeps swinging the hot stick, he may not need an injury to get his first Major League call-up. The only two hitters in the I.L. that have higher batting averages than Pirela’s .329 are Syracuse’s Steven Souza Jr. (.368) and Indianapolis’ Gregory Polanco (.347). Polanco has been with the Pirates for more than a week, while Souza has played in eight games for Washington, has participated in 13 less games in Triple-A than Pirela and the RailRider has nearly 90 at-bats more than Souza.
Being able to play multiple positions is key for Pirela, nicknamed “Petey” but it’s most likely he’s a second baseman. The Yankees have played five different players at second base with Brian Roberts seeing the bulk of the time there. Roberts has struggled at times this season hitting just .238 with an on base percentage of .318 and an OPS of .660. Pirela’s got a .366 on base percentage and and OPS of .818.
“For me, if Brian Cashman asked me I’d say ‘take him right now,’” RailRiders hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “That’s how much I like him. I think he can inject some energy into that club up there and he’ll fit right in. I absolutely love him. He’s my number one pick right now. I think he can help up there right now.”
Pirela has never hit higher than the .295 he batted for Low-A Charleston in 2009 — unless you count his .305 average for the RailRiders when he played in just five games. He’s never been known as an elite prospect in the organization, but he’s certainly opened eyes over the last month and a half.
He even got off to a slow start this season for SWB opening the 2014 season struggling to a .241 average in the season’s opening month with a .259 on base percentage and just six extra-base hits in 21 games. To put that into perspective, in 12 games in June, he has five extra-base hits.
He had a strong season for Double-A Trenton last season hitting .272 with 10 home runs, but that doesn’t always mean the success will carry over to the next level.
“My worry always with Double-A kids when they come to this level is the adjustment period to Triple-A pitching is slowing down,” Wynegar said. “His adjustment to me has just been slowing down at the plate, understanding how to slow down, trust his hands and give him a chance to see the ball before he swings. Early in the year he was moving fast forward, he was chasing pitches in the dirt, breaking balls and swinging at high fastballs.”
While his aggressiveness at the plate is an asset, Pirela shows an energy and hustle on the basepaths. In the first inning of a game last week against Toledo, Pirela led off with a walk then advanced to third on a single to shallow centerfield and scored the game’s first run in a victory.
That’s the type of spark that could eventually lead to his call-up.