On November 11th, 2015, the Padres completed a deal with the New York Yankees.
The infielder had spent nine years with New York, after being signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela. Pirela hit 72 home runs and stole 148 bases during his span (winter league stats included) within the New York Yankees’ system. In his nine minor league season with the Yankees, he showed progression with the bat. His numbers basically improved every year that he played. A.J. Preller, ever the scouting guru, recognized his abilities and numbers.
Pirela did not progress right away for the Padres. Upon arrival, he flashed ability, but did not stand out. In his defense, he was never given ample time to showcase his skills. In 2016, he recorded a batting line of .295/.353/.435 in 271 at bats and 73 games with the El Paso Chihuahuas. Respectable numbers, but again, nothing flashy. He got a taste of major league pitching with the Padres in 2016, where he hit .154 (6-39) in 15 games.
At the end of the 2016 season, Pirela was DFA’d by the team and granted free agency. Every other major league team had a chance to sign this young man, but nobody came calling. Preller and the Padres still saw something in Pirela, and he was re-signed by the team on December 4. That proved to be a very wise move.
In 76 games for the San Diego Padres, the 27-year-old has put up a .295/.354/.503 slash line and is, quite frankly, the Padres’ most consistent hitter in the lineup. He has taken over the #3 spot in the order and has delivered there (37 games-.280/.362/.523) exceptionally well. Pirela has amassed a 2.0 WAR in 74 games, which leads all the Padres. He has also put up an impressive 124 OPS+ in his half a season. Numbers like that over a full season would give the right-handed hitter credibility towards a possible future all-star nomination.
Take a look at his spray chart for the 2017 season. He uses the whole field and does it effectively.
Defensively, Pirela is regarded as a second baseman. If you ask scouts, they will tell you that it is his best defensive position, though he has the ability to play third, first, and some corner outfield. The experiment in the outfield is new for Pirela, who has looked rough at times. He has progressed though, and seems way more comfortable in the last few weeks. He is a hard worker and you can be sure that he will spend the required time to learn the nuances of the position.
Jose Pirela needed to showcase flexibility to remain with the major league team. He has certainly done that. At this point, you can safely pencil him in the lineup somewhere next season. He has earned that right. The question is where will the team play the versatile Venezuelan ball player? There are plenty of options for the team moving forward, but you can be sure there will be some tweaking of this current 40-man roster. A.J. Preller is not one to be complacent.
You have to admire players like Pirela who have all the motivation in the world to get better. The journeyman minor leaguer has no intention of returning to the farm. He has had three consecutive tastes of major league life (before this 2017 season), only to have to return to the minors. The man had to fight and claw all the way to get where he is presently in this game. Grinders like him are very well respected by fellow ball players. Not that blue-chip prospects are shunned or looked down upon for their breeze through the minors. But for someone to keep their dream alive for 10 years, and have great success, is what makes baseball so beautiful. Every one of Pirela’s teammates is pulling for him, and that type of comradery goes far in this game.
What is the future for this man? Nobody really knows. He is a pleasure to watch each and every day though. He plays the game like each day is his last on this planet. That type of intensity is exactly what the Padres want to feature as their “Padre Way” to play the game. Jose Pirela is quickly becoming a fan favorite and a player to rely on for a developing Padre team.