The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of needs at the MLB level.
If you followed this team at all in 2022, you probably don’t need an article breaking down every hole on the roster. If you are so inclined, I used the recent ZiPS projections to identify where the Pirates could add to the 2023 roster.
One area where they have a hole, but might not need to add, is at second base.
You don’t want to rely on prospects or unknown players for any position at this stage in the offseason. Regardless of what the Pirates do at second base, I think they need a veteran middle infielder to help the second baseman and Oneil Cruz. I don’t think they really need the experience for the starting role, since they have so many options from the minors.
Let’s take a look at those options, and their chances of being the long-term second baseman.
The 2023 Inside Track: Rodolfo Castro
At this stage, I’ve got Rodolfo Castro as the starting second baseman on the 2023 Pirates. There are several reasons why I think this will happen, and why I think it should happen.
The Pirates used Castro as their regular second baseman down the stretch in 2022, and he responded with a .247/.310/.478 line, with a 27.5% strikeout rate and an 8% walk rate.
By comparison, Castro hit for a .197/.269/.296 line in 78 plate appearances to start the season. When he went down to the minors, he focused on making better swing decisions.
The results were better when he returned in August, with the higher average and a decent strikeout rate for his power production. You could look at those results and say they need to improve in order for Castro to remain at second base. I think you would be correct.
Castro is trending up, although consistency still remains an issue. John Dreker wrote about how Castro has had a rough winter so far.
I don’t put much on winter stats, especially with the current development system that de-emphasizes the importance of stats in these situations. Castro homered the next day, and chances are he’s going to remain this level of player — prone to hot streaks, cold streaks, and all evening out for fringe-average starting upside at second.
There is a chance that Castro continues to trend up by finding a way to get on base more often. He’s close with Oneil Cruz, and having both of them in the middle infield could be a positive in comfort for both young players. Castro looks like the best bet to start the 2023 season at second, and has the power and defensive versatility to remain in the majors as a bench option.
On the Outside: Diego Castillo
At the start of the 2022 season, Diego Castillo surprised a lot of people and hit his way onto the Pirates roster. He didn’t maintain the offense throughout the season, ending up with a .206/.251/.382 line in 283 plate appearances.
Castillo had been playing in Venezuela this offseason, where he hit .342 with a 1.001 OPS in 22 games before being shut down for the remainder of the season over the weekend.
Castillo spent a lot of time at shortstop this winter, and also played third base and right field. That versatility could keep him in the running for an MLB super utility position this year. His offense will be something to watch. He improved to a .736 OPS in 54 plate appearances in July, followed by an .829 OPS in 26 plate appearances in September. These are small samples, just like the winter stats, but they show Castillo trending in the right direction.
The Sleeper: Ji-Hwan Bae
I’m not sure that calling Ji-Hwan Bae a “sleeper” is apt, after watching him hit for an .829 OPS in his brief MLB debut — which included a few games starting in center field over Bryan Reynolds in left. Bae’s small sample of offense was light on power, and lower on walks than his minor league totals. I wouldn’t bank on the OPS just yet.
He also might factor into this team more as a super utility guy than a starter. If he does start, he fits the Adam Frazier/Josh Harrison profile of a super utility guy with above-average hitting (fueled by contact), where his best starting position would be second base or left field.
Bae has more starting upside than the previous two players, but he’s a sleeper option compared to the players after him.
The Future: Nick Gonzales
I wasn’t sold on Nick Gonzales in 2020. He didn’t seem like a bad prospect at all, but the dream upside of him just didn’t seem like a real player that could ever exist. We’ve known for years that batting average is highly volatile and shouldn’t be trusted. That wasn’t even the Moneyball movement. That knowledge was in Bull Durham.
The dream of Gonzales being a batting champion relies on a certain amount of luck, and ignores the quality of contact needed to even get your contact abilities to the majors. I tend to have a bit of a bias against contact-first guys, maybe because the previous development system struggled to develop impact contact with any of them.
That was biggest difference I saw from Gonzales at the end of the 2022 season. I wrote in August about how the Pirates were working on keeping his bat through the zone longer, and how that is starting to pay off now that he’s healthy. Gonzales finished strong in the Arizona Fall League, leading the National League Fall Stars to victory, before doing the same thing with his AFL Championship team.
I’m higher on Gonzales at this point than I’ve been at any point over the last two years. He still needs to stay healthy (his injuries have mostly been freak accidents) in order to continue this development path he’s on. If he continues this trend, I could see Gonzales emerging as an above-average starter at second base, giving him more upside than the previous three players.
The Future Sleeper: Liover Peguero
Liover Peguero has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he’s mostly played shortstop, where I think he’s got the skills to stick. If he needs to move off the position, his abilities would play well at second.
What makes Nick Gonzales such a good hitter is his contact ability, driven by quick hands and excellent hand-eye coordination. When I was in Altoona this August, hitting coach Jon Nunnally mentioned that Peguero’s hands might be quicker than Gonzales. John Dreker wrote recently about how Peguero shows the signs of future stardom.
I still have Peguero as a shortstop prospect, and he would probably need to find consistency with his defense in order to unseat Oneil Cruz. If he gains consistency just with the bat, he could emerge as a potential impact second baseman.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.