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?
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Tsung-Che Cheng

Tsung-Che Cheng has become a dark horse candidate for the job after his outstanding start to Spring Training. Cheng is ranked as one of the Pirates’ top prospects. After a solid 2023 season, the Pirates added Cheng to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He currently has five hits, including two home runs in Spring Training. It’s a small sample size, but he has a 98 MPH exit velocity and 14.8% barrel rate thus far.

Cheng got off to a phenomenal start to the year at Greensboro, batting .308/.406/.575 with a 433 wOBA and 163 wRC+. Cheng had an ISO of just .148 the year prior but saw that jump to .266 with Greensboro. He maintained a walk rate of 13.8% at both Bradenton and High-A but cut his K% down from 20.7% to 18.5%. Cheng’s start to the year earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Altoona, but his numbers came crashing down.

Over his next 281 plate appearances, Cheng batted a a sub-par .251/.304/.352 with a .299 wOBA, and 80 wRC+. Cheng’s strikeout rate stayed about the same at 18.9% and he went 13-16 in stolen base attempts, however this is about the only positives from his time at Altoona. His walk rate plummeted to just 6%, with his ISO also falling dramatically to just .101. Although his overall production went down, keep in mind that Cheng was only in his age-21 season.

Cheng is an aggressive base runner. He stole 26 bags last year and 33 in 2022. But in total, he’s attempted 77 stolen bases. He’s a fast runner and can cover a lot of ground at either second base or shortstop. Cheng will have to hit for a decent average and draw enough walks to make his OBP viable, as the 5’7”, 175-pound infielder is not known for his power potential.

Cheng has the most outside shot of any of the team’s options at second base. He’s only 22 and hasn’t played at all above Double-A, and when he did play at Altoona last year, he struggled. Now, that doesn’t mean his Spring Training isn’t promising. But I don’t think it’s promising enough for him to surpass the four options currently on the roster who have already played in the Major Leagues.

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