2 players who could improve the Pirates' lineup more than you think

While these two players don't standout as prime sparkplugs for the line-up, they might add more thump than you think.
Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates
Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages
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The Pittsburgh Pirates offense still needs help. While the Pirates might make a trade or two to improve their hitting, they’re still expecting some internal options to take hold and give them some production. Regardless of additions, it's worth noting they do have some promising players at Triple-A who could help give the offense the much-needed boost it requires right now.

While neither of these two players stands out as prime lineup jump-starters, they have some encouraging numbers, especially under the hood, that could make them stand out this year if they are recalled.

Two Players Pirates Should Recall to Boost Lineup

Joshua Palacios

There was a false alarm that the Pirates would be recalling Joshua Palacios on Tuesday. Regardless of the reconsideration, this is something the Pirates should still do. Palacios has been hitting well lately and could provide much more of a spark to the lineup than most fans think.

Since returning to action at the start of June, Palacios is batting .333/.385/.567 with a .393 wOBA and 134 wRC+, albeit in a small sample size of 65 plate appearances. But he’s only struck out 23.1% of the time with a 7.7% walk rate. Palacios has been hitting the ball hard with a 90.3 MPH exit velo this year, but more importantly, he’s not getting fooled all that often in the box. His whiff rate is only 20.3%.

Those are some promising numbers, but what other reasons are there to believe that Palacios can bring some thunder to what has been a disappointing lineup? It’s not like Palacios didn’t show some talent last year. His 91.3 MPH exit velocity and 9.8% barrel rate were both well above average. He only batted .239/.279/.413 with a .297 wOBA, but he ended the year with a .259 expected batting average, .438 expected slugging percentage, and .318 expected weighted on-base average. If he were to hit to all three numbers, he’d be an above-average hitter this year.

According to Baseball Savant, he compared favorably to a lot of solid hitters in 2023, including Michael Harris II, Eloy Jimenez, Ryan O’Hearn, and Freddy Fermin, based on his batted ball tendencies. He compared most favorably to Harris, both of whom shared nearly identical exit velocities (91.3 MPH for Palacios, 90.9 MPH for Harris), launch angles (7.7 degrees for Palacios, 7.6 degrees for Harris), and pull/up the middle/opposite field rates.

Palacios ended the year on a very high note. Throughout the final month of 2023, Palacios batted .318/.338/.530 with a 131 wRC+. His 2.9% walk rate, 27.9% strikeout rate, and .395 batting average on balls in play weren’t promising, but he consistently made great contact. His exit velo throughout September upped to 93.7 MPH, and his barrel rate jumped to 14.9%. Both were just a shade under Juan Soto’s 94 MPH exit velo and 15.7% barrel rate in the same month. Hitting the ball that hard in such a small sample size is going to create a high BABIP.

Though the Pirates pivoted away Tuesday night, Joshua Palacios is, eventually, going to be a more significant addition to the roster than many think. Even before the season started, I predicted him as a sleeper player to watch, as well as the Pirates’ best breakout position player for many of the same reasons I stated above. Here’s to hoping that becomes a reality, but there’s certainly evidence to believe it’s possible and that he’ll provide a bat to a struggling lineup.

Ji Hwan Bae

The Pirates called Ji Hwan Bae back to the bigs earlier this year, but he only appeared in eight games before getting injured. In those eight games, he stepped to the plate 26 times, collected just five singles, struck out seven times, and only drew two walks. But while he didn’t do much in this small sample size, there were some promising signs of life, and he’s continued to hit well at Triple-A.

The first sign is that Bae was hitting the ball much harder. He had an 89.8 MPH exit velocity and a 5.9% barrel rate in those 26 plate appearances. Compared to last year, those are big improvements. He had just an 88.1 MPH exit velo and a 2% barrel rate throughout 334 plate appearances in 2023. Of course, his 2024 exit velocity and barrel rate are taken from a 26-plate appearance, 17-batted ball sample size.

Luckily, he's performed similarly throughout the minor leagues this year as well. Bae has a 91.5 MPH exit velo and a 10 degree launch angle. To put that in perspective, Carlos Correa has a 91.2 MPH exit velo and 10.3 degree launch angle this year. Obviously, you can’t expect Bae's skills to have a one-for-one translation to the major leagues if/when he is recalled, but recording such numbers represents a big step for the center fielder. Even having a league-average exit velocity and launch angle would be huge for Bae.

His upped exit velo and launch angle have worked well in the minor leagues this year. Through 170 plate appearances, Bae is slashing .361/.446/.507. Bae is walking at a 12.9% clip, but he is striking out at a career-high rate of 24.7%. He is swinging and missing at just over a quarter of pitches, though he has looked better recently. Since getting activated off the injured list, Bae only has a 17.8% K%.

Even if Bae only has an 89-90 MPH exit velocity and a 6-8 degree launch angle, he’ll rack up a lot more hits than he did last year. A .270 batter with a league-average OBP is valuable, especially given how fast Bae is. He doesn’t need a one-for-one translation to be productive. Even a partial translation of his exit velocity and launch angle will do.