Pittsburgh Pirates 2023 Breakout Candidate: Ji Hwan Bae

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Ji-hwan Bae #71 of the Pittsburgh Pirates smiles at second base after hitting a two run RBI double in the fifth inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 24, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Ji-hwan Bae #71 of the Pittsburgh Pirates smiles at second base after hitting a two run RBI double in the fifth inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 24, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Looking ahead to the 2023 season, there are few players who have a higher chance at putting together a breakout campaign with the Pittsburgh Pirates than Ji Hwan Bae

During the 2022 season there were few Pittsburgh Pirates prospects that fans spent more time clamoring for than Ji Hwan Bae. In September Bae finally got an opportunity with the Pirates and impressed in his small sample size in the majors.

In 473 plate appearances in 108 games played for Triple-A Indianapolis last season Bae hit for a .289/.362/.430 slash line with a 112 wRC+. He drew walks at a 10.1% clip, struck out in just 16.9% of his trips to the plate, hit 8 home runs, and collected extra bases at an 8% rate. Bae also stole 30 bases for the Indians.

Bae was then promoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates in late September. In 37 PAs wit the Pirates, Bae hit for a .333/.405/.424 slash line with a 139 wRC+ and a 136 OPS+. He posted a 2:6 walk:strikeout ratio in the majors, while hitting 3 doubles and stealing 3 bags.

Looking ahead to 2023 could be in line for a huge breakout campaign. Bae can play third base, shortstop, second base, and all three outfield positions. This can help Bae get into the lineup on a regular basis if he continues to hit well.

Two big questions for the Pirates in 2023 are who will play in the outfield along with Bryan Reynolds and who will bat leadoff. Bae could fill both of these holes, and could fill both of them well.

Bae could play left field, or the Pittsburgh Pirates could move Reynolds back to left field where he is better suited defensively and put Bae in center field, while batting leadoff. Bae’s speed, walk rate, and ability to get on base is a trio that can create a very successful MLB leadoff hitter.

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There is no reason for Bae to not open the 2023 season on the Pirate active roster. Bae is one of the most intriguing prospects in the farm system and is one of the best pure hitters anywhere in the Pirate organization. Ben Cherington, Derek Shelton, and the Pirate brass need to give Bae every opportunity in 2023 to put together that potential breakout campaign.

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