The Yankees lost the best hitter in their lineup for the last month or so when emergency appendectomy surgery ended Martin Prado's year yesterday. They replaced him on the active roster with Jose Pirela, a 24-year-old utility man who quietly had a really nice season for Triple-A SWB, hitting .305/.351/.441 with 87 R, 60 RBI, 21 2B, 11 3B, 10 HR, and 15 SB in 581 plate appearances. I believe he was named to the Triple-A end-of-year All Star team, but don't quote me on that.
Pirela's name has floated around on the periphery of the Yankee system for a few years when it comes to identifying real prospects. He's a guy who's been good enough to warrant mentioning, but not great enough to warrant real "top prospect" consideration. Now that he's on the verge of making his MLB debut, here's a quick profile on him for those unfamiliar.
Pirela was signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2007. He got a $300,000 signing bonus at the time, so it wasn't like he was a complete unknown on the international circuit. He quickly began his career playing for the Yankees' Dominican League team that year, moved up to the GCL in 2008, and spent a full year at Low-A Charleston as a 19-year-old in 2009, where he hit .295/.354/.381 in 97 games. After a down year for High-A Tampa in 2010, Pirela arrived in Trenton in 2011 and began a grueling process towards making it to the final rung of the pro baseball ladder. He spent almost 3 full seasons there before getting a late-2013 call up to SWB, and was a full-time member of the RailRider roster this year when he had the aforementioned best year of his career.
Offensively, Pirela profiles as a contact-heavy hitter with a little pop and plus speed. He's at his best when he's squaring the ball up, hitting it into the gaps, and using his wheels to turn it into extra bases. Not a huge home run guy early in his career, Pirela has developed some power as he's advanced and has hit 10 HR in each of his last 2 MiL seasons. Over his 8-year MiL career, he owns a .273/.339/.391 slash line in almost 3.500 PA. He doesn't walk a ton, but he knows what he's doing with the bat and hasn't had a K rate over 17% since 2010.
Pirela's player profile evolution has not been limited to just offense. Signed as a middle infielder, he spent his first 4 seasons splitting time between second base and shortstop. It wasn't until he got to Trenton in 2011 that his coaches started experimenting with him at other positions, and it wasn't until 2013 that second base became his primary position. This season he played second, first, and shortstop and spent at least 6 games in all 3 outfield spots for SWB, and he's been praised by scouts for the improvements he's made at second and the natural athletic ability that allows him to be so defensively versatile.
In a sense, the Yankees are replacing Prado with a poor man's version of Prado. Pirela can play all the same positions the Yankees were rotating Prado through and he offers a similar offensive profile. Because of the lack of output coming from guys like Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan up the middle and the injury problems in the outfield, Pirela figures to see some significant game action over the next dozen games. At least I think he does. He's due to become a MiL free agent after this season, so it behooves the Yankees to get a look at him for 40-man roster protection purposes. He most likely won't become an All Star at the Major League level, but Pirela could have a future on next year's bench if he shows enough with the bat in his 2-week audition.