Pittsburgh Pirates: Brief History of Two-Way Players

Apr 22, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder JB Shuck (17) reacts after pitching in relief against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder JB Shuck (17) reacts after pitching in relief against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Two-way players always are rare. It’s arguably the hardest thing to do in pro sports. What does the Pittsburgh Pirates history of these players look like?

Baseball is an extremely hard game. Being able to hit a 95+ MPH fastball as a batter and having both the mechanics to locate that fastball and generate the velocity as a pitcher are two of the hardest things for the human body to do. Not to mention the quick-twitch reactions needed to field a ball with an exit velocity over 90 MPH or the skill to effectively and efficiently track down a flyball. That’s why two-way players are so hard to come by in Major League Baseball. Even after five years with arguably the most talented athlete in professional sports Shohei Ohtani doing both at an MVP and Cy Young level, we haven’t seen any Major League player come even in the same universe as him.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that has been around for a long time. They played in the first World Series. Their history is long storied, but has the franchise ever had a coveted two-way player after the Deadball era? By two-way player, I mean a guy who both took plate appearances and pitched at least semi-regularly.

The simple answer is no; the Pirates have never had a two-way player in their franchise’s history after the Deadball era. The Pirates have had some pitchers play the field. One notable instance is when Vernon Law started a game in right field in 1954. Law played just a single inning in the grass and even made a put-out. He was also used as a pinch runner a handful of times, according to SABR.

So, if the Pittsburgh Pirates have never had a two-way player, have they ever had a pitcher switch from a mound to the batter’s box, or vice-versa? The Pirates did attempt this fairly recently. In 2019, the team decided to try and make outfielder JB Shuck a pitcher.

A career outfielder who was brought in as depth for the Bucs, Shuck made one appearance on the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates, averaging out in the low-90s. He was demoted to Triple-A to work on his pitching and threw 19 innings for Indy. He only allowed eight earned runs and struck out 23, but also walked 17 and surrendered three home runs. But Shuck hasn’t appeared in professional baseball since, at an affiliate, international, or independent level.

Another recent example of this was Elvis Escobar. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Escobar out of Venezuela in 2011. After years of producing unimpressive numbers as a light-hitting outfielder, the Pirates moved Escobar to the mound in 2018. Escobar didn’t do terribly either, pitching to a 3.07 ERA, allowing home runs at just a 0.6-per-9 rate, and striking out 26.3% of the batters he faced in 44 innings. He even reached Triple-A in 2019, but the Pirates cut Escobar loose after the 2019 season.

Of course, the most successful example of a position player-turned-pitcher was Tim Wakefield. The Pirates drafted Wakefield as a utility infielder in the eighth round of the 1988 draft. After two years of posting a sub-.650 OPS in the low minor leagues, Wakefield learned the knuckleball and moved to the mound in 1989. Wakefield finished third in 1992 National League Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 2.15 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP in 92 innings. Wakefield had a terrible sophomore season, and the Pirates then let him go after the 1994 season (he did not appear in 1994). The Boston Red Sox then picked him up, where he would go on to have a 17-year career in which he had a 4.43 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, an All-Star Game appearance in 2009, two World Series rings, and finished third in Cy Young voting in 1995.

One last former Pirate I want to highlight is Stetson Allie. A second-round draft pick by the Bucs in the 2011 draft, Allie was selected as a pitcher. However, after greatly struggling in 2011 and 2012, so the Pirates moved Allie to the outfield. Allie wasn’t terrible either, slashing .245/.342/.436 with a .354 wOBA and 120 wRC+. He also hit 92 home runs and had a solid .191 ISO. But after 2016, the Pirates decided to move on from the former second-round pick. Allie then moved back to the mound with the LA Dodgers and then the Tampa Bay Rays, where he continued to struggle heavily. If neither the Dodgers nor Rays could have figured him out, no team could, and he last appeared in the pros in 2021.

But the Pirates may have a two-way player on the horizon. In the third round of the 2021 draft, the team selected Bubba Chandler, who was one of the most talented players in that draft class. In the past year, Chandler posted a strong 2.61 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP as a pitcher and hit for an acceptable .213/.331/.382 as a batter. He’s currently one of the best Pirate prospects.

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And that’s a brief history of the Pittsburgh Pirates two-way players. They’ve never had a true two-way player, and only Wakefield has successfully transitioned from position player to pitcher or pitcher to position player. Of course, very few teams have had players either do both pitch and hit or play the field successfully or transition from one to another with success. Arguably the best ‘two-way’ players of the 21st century that isn’t Shohei Ohtani are Brooks Kieschnick, who had a .760 OPS as a batter, but 4.59 ERA as a pitcher, and Micah Owings, who had a .813 OPS in 219 career plate appearances, but a 4.86 ERA when he took the mound.