Pittsburgh Pirates Minors: Ji-Hwan Bae Breaking Out


The Pittsburgh Pirates look like they may have their shortstop of the future.  However, there is one shortstop in the lower minors who is breaking out.

A few years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates had some of the worst shortstop depth in baseball.  Jordy Mercer started way longer than he should have, but that was because he was the team’s best option.  The team simply did not have any intriguing shortstop prospect in the minors during the Mercer years.

However, it appears the team may have their impact shortstop of the future in one of Cole Tucker or Kevin Newman.  Both were first-round picks and have had action this season.  Newman is in the lead for the job going into next year as he has done a solid job on defense and has hit around .300 all season.  Meanwhile, Tucker showed off his natural abilities as a defender and showed some decent pop during his time up.

As Pittsburgh Pirates fans know, all good players do not last in Pittsburgh.  The team is a small market team and will continue to act as such under the current regime.  In a few years, the team likely will be looking for another shortstop.  The good news is they have a very intriguing prospect in the lower minors who is having a breakout season.

Two year’s ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates made one of their biggest international signings in the organization’s history by signing South Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae.  Bae signed with the Bucs for a large bonus of $1,250,000, a rare bonus for the Bucs to hand out.  Furthermore, Bae had originally signed with the Atlanta Braves, but they were forced to release him for breaking international signing rules.

The scouting report on Bae projects him to be a top of the lineup type bat.  He has a decently projectable frame standing at 6’1”, and being a left-handed hitter he could find some power down the road.  However, right now he is a line-drive hitter who has plus plate discipline.  His best tool is likely his speed, which is rated as a 65 grade on Fangraphs (20-80 scale, 50 being average).  With his ability to get on base consistently and his speed, Bae is a fantastic leadoff hitter.

The Bucs were aggressive with Bae and placed him at Low-A Bristol.  The expectation was for him to continue and play in the Gulf Coast League or Short-Season ball.  However, the Pittsburgh Pirates placed him at full-season ball at just the age of 19 (now 20).  Part of the reason is because Bae had a domestic dispute court hearing in Korea.  The league decided to give Bae a 30 game suspension.  Instead of him missing the bulk of the Short-Season teams, the Bucs let him serve his suspension sooner on a full-season team.

Bae has proven to be ready for Low-A Bristol.  He has appeared in 67 games for the Grasshoppers and has posted a .309 batting average and a .390 on-base percentage.  As mentioned above in the scouting report, Bae is doing exactly what is expected, getting a lot of base hits and finding ways to get on base.  Furthermore, he is only slugging .393 as he has yet to hit a home run this year.  While lacking power, he has made up for it with 25 stolen bases.

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As Bae gets older and grows into his frame, he will definitely add some pop to his bat.  Still, his build is lean and his game has always benefited from his speed, meaning he will likely stay as a leadoff type hitter.   Bae’s future could be a potential .300 hitter with 5-10 home runs and 30+ stolen bases.  If he can stick at shortstop and put up those types of numbers, the Bucs could have another top shortstop prospect.