Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Highly Touted Infield Prospect Getting Outfield Reps
By Noah Wright
Highly touted Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Ji-Hwan Bae is starting to get outfield reps to help free up a crowded middle infield picture
The Pittsburgh Pirates came into 2021 with a handful of decent middle infield prospects. The likes of Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Oneil Cruz, Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, Maikol Escotto, and Jared Triolo. Then they added even more middle infield capable prospects over this past month with the additions of Tucupita Marcano, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, and Jackson Glenn. To say it’s a crowded middle infield picture is an understatement.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to need to find space for some of these prospects. There are only two middle infield spots, so getting some of these players familiar with other positions is what the team is starting to focus on. Before his injury, Cruz started to get stretched out as an outfielder after seeing some time in the grass during Spring Training. Another one of their top middle infield prospects is also starting to get some reps in the outfield, that being the speedy Korean prospect of the group in Bae.
Bae has mainly been a second baseman/shortstop up until this point. He saw a few innings at first base in 2019 with the Greensboro Grasshoppers and played a third of an inning in left field during the 2019-2020 offseason in the Australian Baseball League, but aside from that, he’s played just both middle infield positions.
However, Bae has gotten two starts in center field at Double-A Altoona. Bae certainly has the speed to be a plus center fielder as he would need to cover a ton of ground. His 65-current speed grade makes him one of the 5 fastest prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates have. MLB Pipeline gives him a 70-grade for his running ability. He’s displayed that speed throughout his minor league career, swiping 53 bags in 170 games. That includes 31 in just 86 games in 2019.
So far this season at Altoona Bae had a solid season batting .266/.332/.420 with a .331 wOBA, and 104 wRC+. Though he is striking out more often compared to 2019 (23.1% to 20.3%) and walking less (8.2% to 11.3%), he’s starting to hit for more power. He had just a .107 isolated slugging percentage in 2019, but that currently sits at .152.
Bae’s hit tool is his best weapon, even over his speed. FanGraphs projects it as a 70-grade tool in the future. He only has a 35-future game power and 40-future raw power grade. Though he’s considered an average fielder with a decent enough arm for shortstop. His move to the outfield is more because of the prospect depth the Pittsburgh Pirates have at both his primary positions rather than his ability to play both positions.
Looking at Pittsburgh’s prospect list, they have very few options in center field they could turn to within the next year or two. Travis Swaggerty is their top option. Although highly talented and got off to a good start at Triple-A, the soon-to-be 24-year-old got injured early in the season. But right now, he’s the Pirates’ only notable prospect who has played above Low-A or High-A (unless you count Jared Oliva). Most of their high-ranking center field capable prospects like Hudson Head, Lonnie White Jr., Sergio Campana, and Sammy Sinai, are 20 or younger.
The Pirates are going to need to free up some room in the middle infield. They have about a dozen noteworthy shortstop/second base prospects, so it’s a good idea to get some of those prospects some reps at other positions. Given Ji-Hwan Bae’s athleticism, it makes sense that they’re giving him some reps in the outfield.