Barmes' presence likely will tighten middle of Pirates defense

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The Pirates saw what their new shortstop could do from across the diamond last season, and they are pleased that Clint Barmes, the former Houston Astro, is on their side now.

"We played against him; you've seen what kind of glove he has," starting pitcher James McDonald said.

"I was really excited we got him up the middle, strengthened that up."

Barmes signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract in November and will assume the starting shortstop duties. He has spent much of this offseason preparing the new house his family bought in Colorado, but this weekend traveled to Pittsburgh for PirateFest to meet his new teammates and fans.

Having had time to digest his new surroundings, Barmes said he was optimistic about the 2012 season.

"There's no reason we can't compete and have a chance to make it to the playoffs," he said Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center before the start of PirateFest.

Barmes will replace Ronny Cedeno, who steadied himself in the field but remained erratic at the plate in 2011. The Pirates declined Cedeno's $3 million option after the season.

In Barmes, the Pirates found a sure-handed defender. Barmes' ultimate zone rating (UZR), a defensive metric that factors a fielder's range, arm and other variables and is measured in runs prevented or allowed compared to the average player, was 7.9, fifth among shortstops in 2010.

He committed 12 errors in 122 games.

Barmes, 32, also adds power to the lineup. He hit 12 home runs last season and has four seasons with double-digit home runs in his nine-year major league career.

Reuniting with Clint Hurdle, one of Barmes' managers when he played for the Colorado Rockies, was part of the reason he joined the Pirates -- "Knowing and understanding the way he manages and the way he motivates guys, I'm excited," Barmes said -- but the organization also intrigued him.

"Obviously pitching and defense is what wins championships," Barmes said. "I believe we have that. That definitely helped with my decision to come over here -- the talent that's in this organization and that's on this team."

Barmes played much of last season with young minor leaguers who were promoted to the majors like Jose Altuve and Jimmy Paredes, and the Astros finished a major league-worst 56-106.

"We were extremely young, very young in just about all aspects of the game," Barmes said.

Barmes said he has started to realize the importance of the Pirates' minor league system.

"[The Pirates have] done a great job with their minor league system," he said. "It sounds to me like it's only getting better, which, from what I understand, is very big."

Usually at this time of year, Barmes goes hunting, but now he is waiting until his 4-year-old son is old enough to accompany him.

He started his offseason workouts after taking three or four weeks off and will start adding baseball activities soon.

The Pirates have young players making significant contributions, including Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. They also have many young relievers in the minors.

But, while the Pirates watched his glove last season, Barmes saw the potential of the Pirates' young core.

"I'm looking at the young position players and the talent that they've got; it's definitely headed it the right direction, and I'm excited to be a part of it," he said.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com or Twitter @BrinkPG.


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