Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Ji-Hwan Bae Impresses in AFL Debut

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Highly touted Pittsburgh Pirates infield prospect Ji-Hwan Bae turned heads in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday when he impressed in his AFL debut

When he took over as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Ben Cherington inherited a minor league cupboard that was not as bare as many fans painted it to be. Since coming to Pittsburgh, Cherington has done nothing but flood the farm system. This has led to the Pittsburgh Pirates having one of the deepest, most talented farm systems in all of baseball.

One of the prospects that Cherington inherited was infielder Ji-Hwan Bae. Originally, Bae, a South Korean native, signed with the Atlanta Braves in September of 2017. However, after the Braves were busted for shady tactics in international free agency Bae once again became an international free agent. This led to the Pittsburgh Pirates signing Bae, who is just the second player to ever go straight out of high school in South Korea to playing professionally in America, for a hefty $1.25 million signing bonus.

The 22-year-old Bae is coming off a strong season with Double-A Altoona. The left-handed hitting Bae hit for a .278/.359/.413 slash line to go with a 14 wRC+ in 365 plate appearances in his first 83 games played at the Double-A level. Bae also flashed his plus speed by stealing 20 bags for the Curve.

Bae is now following up his strong 2022 season with a stint in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. On Wednesday Nick Gonzales and Canaan Smith-Njigba impressed in their AFL debuts. Thursday afternoon, it was Bae’s turn.

In an 11-9 loss for the Peoria Javelinas, Bae reached base multiple times. Starting over Gonzales at second base, Bae was 1-for-2 at the plate with 3 walks. Bae scored 4 runs and also drove in a pair of runs via a 2-run home run in the 8th inning.

The AFL experience will be nothing short of great for Bae. This will set him up further for success in 2022 when he will almost assuredly start the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. This will put Bae on the doorstep of the Majors.

Bae was primarily a shortstop, but can also play third base and second base. The Pittsburgh Pirates have also dabbled with Bae learning to play the outfield. This makes sense as the middle infield is flooded with talent in the Pirate farm system and third base at the Major League level will be locked down by Ke’Bryan Hayes for the foreseeable future.

Next. 2021 Position Grades: Outfielders. dark

Bae’s best path to the Majors is likely that of a utility player. This will add to the versatility he can bring to the Pirates and give him an opportunity to impact the game in multiple ways. It would not be a surprise to see Bae make his MLB debut at some point during the 2022 season.