The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of decisions they are going to have to make during Spring Training. One of the more intriguing ones is how best to utilize Ji-Hwan Bae and get his bat into the lineup.
He was able to play in the majors just enough to give a taste of what he might bring to the table.
In 10 games to end the season, Bae slashed .333/.405/.424 with three doubles and three stolen bases in 37 plate appearances. He also scored five runs despite also getting the majority of his at-bats in the nine-hole as a sort of ‘second leadoff’ hitter, with Oneil Cruz at the top of the lineup.
He singled and stole a base earlier. Here #Pirates speedster Ji-Hwan Bae shows off all the gears on this triple pic.twitter.com/uaxwVVIjRK
— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) November 17, 2021
A natural middle infielder, Bae is currently listed as an outfielder on the team’s website, a position where his speed may have its most impact, even with the lack of power.
While there is some power potential on the team, especially with some of the offseason additions, Bae’s may be one of the biggest points of impact this coming year.
The Pirates finished in the bottom half last year in home runs, and while they will get a full season of Cruz and Rodolfo Castro, as well as Andrew McCutchen, Bryan Reynolds, and Carlos Santana, Bae’s ability to create on the basepaths will only amplify the power’s impact.
In those ten games he played, Bae posted a 139 wRC+ and a 0.5 WAR on Baseball Reference. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but that does equate to an 8.1 WAR/162.
It can be a forgotten art at times, but still a way to impact the game in a positive way for the Pirates.
This time last year I wrote about finding a fit for Bae, especially defensively. There were (and still is) a lot of names in the mix at second base, and he’s still a bit raw in the outfield.
Turns out the answer to that question wasn’t as linear, but his true fit may end up being that Swiss army knife that never really finds a real home defensively.
Here are a couple of more names to watch this Spring that are probably on the bubble right now in making the roster, but could make an impact if they head north back to Pittsburgh.
Depending on what you want to call McCutchen, whether it be the primary DH or left fielder, it could open a scenario where Smith-Njigba and Bae are battling for the starting job next to Reynolds.
Canaan Smith-Njigba rips a double in his first MLB at-bat! pic.twitter.com/EyJG4lqN67
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 14, 2022
Smith-Njigba has plenty of raw power, and has a great approach at the plate. While built like a linebacker, he moves fairly well in the outfield. Playing left field at PNC Park is certainly a task on its own, and Reynolds didn’t grade out well in center last year, so the added defensive boost helps.
He’s been a hit machine the last two years in the minors, and may very well be the second best defender in the system behind Ke’Bryan Hayes. If there’s a glaring hole right now when looking at putting together a potential Opening Day roster is a right-handed middle infielder that can spell Cruz if they want to give him a day off against lefties.
They brought in Chris Owings to be potentially that guy, but Triolo has far more upside, and is almost as versatile.
Highlight of the Day
Cutch said it was a great day so it was a great day. pic.twitter.com/gSQRZmcTIE
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) February 17, 2023
Pirates Prospects Daily
By John Dreker
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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.
Ji-Hwan Bae, 6’1″ 185, played all of 2022 as a 22/23 year old in AAA (108 G) and played at 5 different positions – 2B, 3B, SS, CF, LF. At 6’1″ 185 with excellent foot speed, he’s perfectly built to be strong defensively as a 2B/Super Utility Player. In 57 Games at 2B he fielded .979, and at SS for 24 Games he fielded .976. A top of the order hitter, he had 23 doubles, 6 triples, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 48 BB, 80 K, and 30 SB/38 SBA. His slash was .289/.362/.430/.792 OPS.
Bae will enter the 2023 season as a 23 year old and will not turn 24 until late July. If the Pirates plan to use Bae as the primary backup to Reynolds in CF, he only has 240 innings in the minors in CF with only a .941 fielding %age. If held in Bradenton for extra work, or sent back to AAA to start the season, getting more innings in CF will be the reason cited. Getting reps is essential, so doing that in Bradenton would probably be the best option.
Definitely a building block for the future.
OT, but FG has its draft rankings out. Seems to see Crews as a clear 1-1, although comments about picking up breaking balls give me heartburn.
They have Dollander #5 , which is a departure from the crowd. But then I saw Casey Mize, who was supposed to be a sure thing, just went on the 60-day IL. Pitcher at 1-1? I don’t think so.
Dollander was reported some places to be 6ft even and some 6.2, wonder which might be more accurate?
At the moment, im going to just think of the breaking ball issues as kinda already being baked in. Like. He’s still the 1 1 even with the issues, and that if he magically didn’t have that issue, that he’d be downright generational.
If he’s a .240 hitter with 27 k% with 12%bb and 26 dongs and a few good CF years in his legs, I’m still in on that at 1.1. Thats probably, what, a 4-5 war guy these days?
I’m honestly more interested in how the defensive projections evolve this year. I dont think you can say no to him if he looks like he will give you 4 good years in CF. If he looks like a surefire RF then that’s when the debate on the other guys picks up.
Idk where fangraphs has Paul Skenes but im firing up the hype train now
That said, they should simply take crews and then buy pitching.
Do they even need to buy that much pitching?
The guys who were in low-A last season aren’t eons away. At least a couple of them should finish in AA this season. Those aren’t unrealistic additions after Super 2 in 2024. Jiminez, for example, would be right on the line between 21 and 22 y.o. If someone like Brennan Malone surprises a bit . . .
Obv, Priester and Burrows should be in the mix this season. Oviedo and Ortiz will get long looks this season. Brubaker should get his last long look as a full-time starter this before decisions need to be made in 2024 about who goes to the pen.
If the Pirates are looking to a 2025 competitive window, I’m not certain they need to be buyers on pitching unless they really surprise early enough this year.
They have a whole lot of decent-enough pitching, but not really anything that currently projects as high end.
They don’t need “a lot”.
They need to buy a high end guy or two.
Very few SPs are projectable as high-end talent at this point in their career. I’m fine seeing where these guys land. I think Burrows and Jiminez especially have some upside surprise. Solometo could be interesting, too.
TBH, after suffering through the 2019-today span, I don’t want to see the team sell too hard into a short window.
They have him 8th, so that’s gonna be tough for the Pirates. Possible two-way guy, sounds like a supercharged Brannigan.
I dont slob over Pitching Ninja gifs too often, but check out the skenes pitches from yesterday if youre interested. Really imposing figure and it looked effortless and he was, dare I say, hitting his spots!
Yeah he’s super impressive
It would not surprise me if he’s the top pitcher selected this year
He seems to have a toughness that’s helpful for MLB pitchers (e.g., Rodon, Mad Max, etc.)
Rocker should have been a lesson to folks who think things can get set in stone before the season even starts.
Dollander doesn’t look very good tonight
I hear you but if they were willing to risk 1.1 on a good-not-great first baseman I sure hope they’d be willing to risk it on the best pitcher in the class.
For some reason I was thinking of the Tony Sanchez/prep pitcher draft and it struck me — The basic principle of multi-player trades is that the team that gets the single best player wins the trade. Which suggests that, if there’s an identifiably best player in the draft, you just have to take him and not hope to finesse it with volume. Key word being “identifiably,” I guess.
Right on man, and it sure helps to be right!
Get the pitch fork and torches ready in case Owings makes the team over Bae.
I’ve said it elsewhere, but between Reynolds’ aging out of CF and/or Reynolds’ probability of getting dealt, i think some serious CF Of The Future data is needed.
Bae and Reynolds should probably split CF in the majors.
they should probably paste Swaggerty there in minors, although, it’s possible that they already know he’s fine there and can mostly plop him in RF/LF. refining his bat is the most important thing.
and they should give a ton of CF time to Triolo as well, whether it’s splitting time with Swaggerty in AAA, or repeating AA.
(triolo played in CF a little last yr and looked uncomfortable but could improve with reps)
I think of it a bit differently at this stage of the rebuild.
Would any of these dudes have started on any of the championship series clubs in last year’s playoffs?
Maybe at like a 95th percentile outcome, right?
I don’t of course mind having guys ready in a pinch, but this situation means they’re going outside the org to replace Reynolds if and when they actually want to try beating other teams.
They will probably need to go outside to replace Reynolds but I see no harm in giving these guys a year…..
Or simply get Dylan crews here asap.
Our next steady CF could be playing at LSU this year – Dylan Crews.
Reynolds is looking to lock in a long term deal to guarantee financial stability that lets him concentrate on his profession without having to nickel dime it with the Pirates each year. If he gets a 3 year deal (2024 thru 2026) with an AAV of $21 or $22 mil/year, he locks in his future financially, and gets to take another cut after his age 31 season. Sign the deal this year with a signing bonus split between 2023 and 2024.
Rather see Triolo playing SS!
First couple times I saw him he was at SS, back with the now defunct Black Bears. He looked . . . like a SS.
Kebryan Hayes is clearly the best SS in the org.
Cruz to RF, hayes at SS and triolo to third. If we can get cruz to buyin, that could be one hell of a defensive core
He and Triolo are actually very similar players. Hayes has stronger tools in some areas, most notably bat speed, and thus more upside. But the basic profile — a very broad base of skills that can provide a lot of cumulative value without, say, 40-HR power — is the same. That includes the ability, likely, to be a plus defender anywhere on the field.
I don’t see Suwinski as a sure bet to make the opening day 26. He needs a lot of work in AAA to get his game straight. Yes, I know he hit for a lot of power but why not let him work out the flaws under lesser talent and pressure? He did pretty much skip AAA. Bae has hit at every level. I think he should be rewarded with a starting job in the OF. He’ll use his speed not to embarrass himself and his athleticism will allow him to adapt quickly. The logjam between Cutch, Joe, Santana and Choi getting AB at DH is a bit concerning for me. I don’t see Cutch as an everyday OF so he is obviously in the mix for DH AB as are the other 3. Interesting to see how Shelton deploys these assets.
I kind of agree on Suwinski. His offense has some major holes, but the defense was sneaky good last year. The only thing really separating him and O’Neil last year was their offensive divergence the last month of the season.
There is no way they start Bae in the OF. His primary position is 2B. He has the athleticism to play OF, which makes him that much more valuable, but an optimal lineup probably has Bae and Castro platooning 2B with them getting additional ABs throughout the week at their secondary positions.
I don’t see a world where Joe DHs, especially with Cutch, Santana, and Choi; he’s likely your 4th OF, possibly a platoon partner with Suwinski in RF, with the ability to backup 1B.
The global theme here, they have options, which is a huge departure from previous seasons. Should be a fun spring to see how this all shakes out.
too much dilly dallyíng with this Reynolds trade for an ace starting pitcher
we should not have any trepidation about his outfield replacements – -Swaggerty and Canaan will far exceed current expectations
trade Reynolds straight up to Boston, Chicago or LA for Sale, Kopech or Urias
Like those teams would do that and we would pay Sale’s salary.
Are you crazy? If and when they trade BR, it will be for younger players.
rollin’ with the blues!
The title perfectly sums up my thoughts about Bae. He brings a unique combination of potentially being good and potentially adding some qualities that could help tie the lineup together.
Also, the new rules could legitimately be called the Ji-Hwan Bae Relief Act.
There’s no denying the new rules will create jobs for the traditional slap hitter with speed.
still bringing knife to a gun fight…
How does one hit a 3-run homer unless two guys are on base?
Can’t have all those guys clogging up the bases.
Where have you’ve gone Cal Mitchell? I don’t see CSN nor Bae playing over Cal…
Bae probably isn’t really in jeopardy. i think his outcome is separate from those guys since he can play CF and 2b.
But i think we’ll see a real battle between Mitchell and CSN making the roster.
Maybe add Suwinski into that mix. He by no means hit enough to warrant an automatic spot on the OD roster, IMO.
I really only see one of those three guys making the OD roster; there will be a huge glut of OFs in Indianapolis.
May the best outfielders win.
I rather see Suwinski and cutch in LF and Mitchell/Joe in right with Bae in AAA splitting reps with Swaggerty in CF.
So you are avoiding looking at Cutch’s terrible fielding metrics the last two years? He will be DH’ing a lot.
They were supposedly good last year in LF, besides the weak side platoon means just that, fewer games. Will take him over Andujar!
I would say LF for away games for Cutch…You need a Cf and CF(LF) for PNC.
Out of the right handed hitting outfielders on this team, which are Cutch, Joe, Andujar and Vilade which one would you rather have in LF…..
I guess out of those then Cutch or Joe…but rather have Reynolds or TSwag
Not LF in PNC.
No offense, Foo, but you want to start a middle infielder in CF.
It can be done, it will be done……see Jazz Chisholm.
Isn’t this just an experiment in progress?
No it’s 100% locked in. Arraez was signed to be Marlins second baseman, and Jazz volunteered to go to CF. And Jazz has not played a single inning in OF in his career.
No offense? You just offended me. 😂😂😂
The reports that I’ve read is that he is at least average there. He can only get better with playing time. Reynolds needs to move back to LF.
Eesh, what reports are those?
At least average, as judged against his major league peers, who are the very best defenders on the planet?
All from like a couple dozen games at the position?
Seems like that deserves a smell test…
I just don’t see a scenario where Bae is a starting CF’er on a good team.
maybe he becomes utility getting emergency starts in CF.
I think he’ll get a little bit of time at 2b, a little in LF and if he proves himself, you might have a Norichika Aoki.
Reynolds showed good defensive metrics in 2021 and the truncated season. I’d give him another shot out there, especially on this team.
On one hand it feels super lazy to comp every asian dude to the other successful asian dudes but on the other hand they legit have an incredibly consistent style that’s verrrry different from western baseball.
Nori Aoki, but with speed, is precisely who I think of as Best Case Bae.
Is Corbin Carroll a better comp?
Carroll is slightly faster and a bit smaller
Maybe body-wise, but from what I know of Carroll the power is far greater than what Bae brings.
Based on the first look at the batted ball data from his limited MLB time, Carroll doesn’t look very different than the likely SS for Greensboro this season
right field is easy in PNC park
But Cutch doesn’t have the arm for RF.
Actually didn’t see Cal or CSN the first two days, not that it means anything.
Bae in CF and Castro at 2b works for me. See how they do up until the All Star Break. If it works, great. If not, look for alternatives). But, they deserve a full time shot, imo.