Who Wants to Be the Second Baseman For the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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.

Pirates Winter Report: It’s Been a Rough Winter So Far for Rodolfo Castro

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.

Winter Leagues: Tsung-Che Cheng Debuts in Puerto Rico; Diego Castillo Plays His Final Game

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.

Ji-Hwan Bae: Unlocking Power Was Mind Over Matter

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.

AFL Recap: Nick Gonzales Helps Saguaros to AFL Championship

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.

Pirates Winter Report: Liover 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.

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joesolo6181

so it would appear the Pirates have a lot of potential players for second base.

Y2JGQ2

I have Castro way higher. Castro showed the easy ability to hit 20-25 homers each year, has speed, the ability to play 3rd, and is a switch hitter. Even if he just throws up .250 and 20 bombs, I see him as a good chance of a .750 OPS player. That’s not a bench option unless the pirates become REALLY good REALLY fast. I Just don’t see that with the other players: 1. they haven’t done it in the majors 2. they haven’t even done it in the minors. Peguero isn’t going to unseat Cruz, unless Cruz just proves to be incapable at short. Thats just how it is. Diego Castillo I really like also, Nick Gonzalez to me…….is just a righty Neil Walker. MAYBE the upside of a .300 hitter and 20 homers, but can he stay healthy and will he reach that upside? To me Castro has a lot of untapped talent and has already nearly gotten there in just half a season.

jsdspud

It is nice to have multiple options at a position. The odds that none of these guys develop into a major league regular has to be slim.

pikebishop65

Well, this is the Pittsburgh Pirates were talking about………..

leefieux

My ranking:

Bae
Peguero
Nicky the K
Castro

I see Gonzalez’s quick hands. They look pretty when he is swinging and missing. Bae is the prototype leadoff hitter. If he can play CF well, then give Castro a shot first, but, as with Nick G, I am not sold on the contact ability.

roberto

As I have noted, this is the hard part of a rebuild. What does early success or failure mean?

SouthernBuc

My first observation is related to Bae both here and in the ZIPS projections. I guess my opinion is he has earned more playing time somewhere. My easy response to myself is, if he produces in his part time chance, that playing time will happen. He and Mitchell IMO both mastered AAA and have earned more regular MLB looks. I am not predicting or guaranteeing success, that just seems to be current development model.

Y2JGQ2

I’d put Bae in Center and have him hitting 1st, backing up 2nd base. He rounds out some of the high K in Cruz, Castro, and Suwinsky.

AdministrativeSky236

A lot of names here with various interesting qualities, but similar to the outfield my hope is that one or two guys really step up and take the position as theirs. With 4.5 guys that could conceivably make take this job (sorry Diego), we can hope that one of them plays up to a top half of the league 2B

SBRO

All things considered, I sure would prefer they not have traded away Newman. There’s plenty of upside among Castro, Bae and Gonzales, and all of them should get some time in Pittsburgh this year, but Castro’s the dean of that group with all of 100 games of experience. It makes sense to let all three of them get a crack at becoming the starting 2B for the next 5 years, but the lack of safety net should they all fail to adjust gives me indigestion.

Which makes me think they’re going to NRI an all-glove middle infielder anyway, probably for $1.5M, which wouldn’t be the worst idea. Unless that guy puts up a 50 wRC+ too.

Y2JGQ2

If they all fail, this rebuild has failed. Newman playing would be the utter result of complete and total failure and he presence would be beyond irrelevant.

SouthernBuc

I was on the opposite side of the Newman argument. For this collection of players to get enough playing time to make it or not, there was not room or a need for a ‘vet’ taking their at bats. You can tell from this that I also disagree with Tim’s proposed need for a veteran infielder to be signed. I’m not a Newman hater, I just don’t see the need, particularly given his overall career offensive profile.

Y2JGQ2

They should just sign Freddy Sanchez to be an infield instructor or Jack Wilson, cause you are right, we don’t need vets taking at bats, just providing guidance

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