A look at the five candidates for Opening Day second baseman for the Pirates

Which of the Pirates' five second basemen on the 40-man roster could be the team's Opening Day option?

Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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Ji Hwan Bae

South Korean infielder/outfielder Ji Hwan Bae got his first extended look in the Majors last season, but it didn’t go over very well. Although Bae provided elite speed and base running value, along with decent utility, his bat fell well short of expectations. Bae has 16 plate appearances in Spring Training with three hits and four walks. He has also struck out four times.

Last season, Bae batted a mere .231/.296/.311 with a .272 wOBA and 66 wRC+. He had a respectable 8.1% walk rate and 24.4% strikeout rate, but he ranked in the bottom 15 of batters with 350+ plate appearances in wOBA, OPS, and wRC+. The most worrying aspect of his game was his 2% barrel rate and 24.3% sweet spot rate. Both were below the third percentile of batters in 2023. But Bae did use his top 97th percentile speed to swipe 24 bags, hustle out 17 doubles, and rack up +2.9 base running runs.

But Bae was much better throughout the minor leagues. He spent nearly all of 2022 at Triple-A, where he hit .289/.362/.430 with a .353 wOBA and 112 wRC+. He did not strikeout nearly as much as in the major leagues at 16.9%, and he also had a quality 10.1% walk rate. Bae’s power had always been his weakest tool, and a .141 isolated slugging percentage reflects that. But overall, it was a good season for Bae. He then made his MLB debut in September, where he would go on to have 11 hits and only six Ks in 37 plate appearances.

Bae split his time between second base and center field in 2023. His glove in center field was solid with -1 DRS but +1.1 UZR/150 and +3 outs above average. His above-average arm strength also let him make decent throws from the grass, and he also got great jumps on fly balls and line drives hit to the OF. He does need to work on his route running, but 2023 was the first year he played center field frequently, so it could just be a matter of getting used to the angle. But at second base, he had -6 DRS and -2 OAA. He de

Bae’s defense is much better in center field than at second base, and overall, he might be better utilized in a utility role. He did not hit well at all last year, but he was hitting about .270 with a league-average OBP in mid-June. An average OBP with his speed and utility could be extremely valuable.