The Pittsburgh Pirates signed one of the top international free agents in the 2017 class. He had a strong first season with the organization.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to take advantage of a miscue by the Atlanta Braves organization. This past off-season, the Bucs signed one of the top international free agents in Ji-Hwan Bae. Bae was brought into the Pittsburgh Pirates organization after they signed him for about $1.25 million. That of course came from the team’s international signing pool for the 2017 season.
The reason the team was able to sign Bae was because the Atlanta Braves were caught in a scandal. The MLB investigated the Braves and found that they were making questionable deals with the international free agents. The team would either pay a higher bonus to a lesser prospect and have the money moved to the bigger named prospect, or they would pay a big-time prospect’s agent extra money to convince their player to sign for less. Essentially, they were cheating the bonus system that is in place to stop teams from overspending.
With that, the Atlanta Braves were stripped of 12 prospects and General Manager John Coppolella was given a lifelong suspension. One of those prospects released was infielder Ji-Hwan Bae, who was forced to be released by Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to take advantage and sign him for still what was a substantial bonus of 1$.25 million, almost a quarter of the team’s bonus allotment.
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However, things did not get much better for Bae after joining the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Bae was accused of domestic violence by a woman back in his home country of South Korea. Bae temporarily left the organization to handle the matter. The latest update came at the end of May and it was reported that charges were never filed against him and he returned back to the United States.
After returning, the middle infielder was finally able to start playing games. He was part of the Pittsburgh Pirates Gulf Coast affiliate for the 2018 season. While he is a lefty hitter, he throws with his right arm, allowing him to play both shortstop and second base this year. The majority of his playing time came at shortstop where he appeared in 34 games, and he only played two games at second base. He made 15 errors at shortstop, which obviously is alarmingly high in just 34 games.
On the offensive side of things, Bae put together a much stronger season. Right now Bae stands at 6’1” and is only listed at 170 pounds. With that being said, he has a lot of room to fill out and does not have a lot of power behind his swing yet. He was able to hit for a .271 batting average and got on-base at an impressive .362 clip. He did this by drawing 15 walks in 129 at-bats. Even more impressive was his plate discipline, he only struck out 16 times which was less than half his games.
Now, as mentioned above, Bae is not working with a lot of power yet. The recently turned 19-year-old did not hit a single home run and only slugged .349. Any time a player’s slugging percentage is lower than their OBP, the chances are they do not have much raw power to speak of. Furthermore, he had a wRC+ of only 104 with an ISO of .078. However, he made up for it by swiping 10 bags. This would have put him on pace for over 40 steals in a regular 162 game schedule. His speed is considered to be one of his best, if not the best, tool Bae has in his game.
Bae did not have a monster breakout season like some expect from top international signings. Still, he had a very strong first performance in his Pittsburgh Pirates organizational début. Keep in mind that he had a lot going on off the field as well. He was essentially thrown off his original team, he had to deal with a controversy back home, and, in general, had to transition to a new country and culture here in America. With all that being considered, Bae showed that he very well should be watched next season. He most likely will join the Low-A West Virginia Power.