Should Jared Triolo get first crack at the second base job with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have some competition at second base. Former top prospect Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, and Ji-Hwan Bae will be candidates for playing time. But another one of their top prospects who also graduated rookie status in 2023, Jared Triolo, is also in the running for the keystone. But in my opinion, Triolo should be given the position heading into 2024.
Triolo batted well in his first MLB appearance, hitting .298/.388/.398 with a .350 wOBA, and 118 wRC+ through 209 plate appearances. Triolo didn’t hit for much power, only having a .099 isolated slugging percentage and he also struck out a decent amount with a 30.1% strikeout rate. But he drew a handful of walks, leading to a walk rate of 11.5%. Triolo struggled in his first promotion to the bigs, however, but seemed to make some improvements in his second go around during September.
Through 72 plate appearances starting on September 9th, Triolo batted .350/.458/.567 with a .440 wOBA, and 178 wRC+. The power started to come around for Triolo as he hit two home runs with seven doubles, leading to an ISO of .217. He made a slight improvement to his strikeout rate from 30.7% to 29.2% but nearly doubled his walk rate from 8.8% to 16.7%. Triolo also got significantly better at hitting the ball hard. His first promotion saw him carry a poor 84.8 MPH exit velocity, a 30% hard-hit rate, and a barrel rate of just 2.5%. But in September, Triolo saw a massive step forward to 90.4 MPH, 38.5%, and 12%, respectively.
Triolo played third, second, and first base in the Majors. His primary position is the hot corner, but he looked just as good, if not better up the middle. In just 87 innings, he already had +1 defensive run saved and +2 outs above average. It’s a small sample size of fewer than 100 innings, but for what it’s worth if you were to pro-rate that to 900 innings, Triolo would have +10 DRS and +21 OAA at the keystone. Triolo was considered the Pirates’ best infield defender throughout the minor leagues. He also has a handful of games played at shortstop.
Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Triolo’s batting average on balls in play. Triolo had a .440 BABIP throughout his first 209 plate appearances in the big leagues. That is the highest single season rate in 200+ plate appearances of all-time. Some of the best contact hitters of all time, like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Ichiro never had a BABIP above .400 in any single season. It gets even more insane once you see his September numbers. Triolo had a .519 batting average on balls in play during the last month of the 2023 season.
It’s a small sample size, and BABIP is notoriously bad to look at in small sample sizes, so take Triolo’s BABIP with some context. But there’s 100% going to be some regression in the BABIP department. The next question is how much. In Triolo’s defense, he is a BABIP merchant. Since the minor leagues returned from COVID in 2021, Triolo’s minor league BABIP is .359. That ranks top 70 in the minors over the last three seasons (min. 800 plate appearances). This isn’t a small sample size, either. This is in 1212 plate appearances. I went more into Triolo's high BABIP in this article here.
Even if/when his BABIP regresses, he still could be a .270 batter with some walks and average or better power. Triolo still had a respectable .324 xwOBA, and while that’s a 26 point drop from his wOBA through 209 plate appearances, would still make him a slightly above league average batter. If he can hit to that degree and continue to show off his outstanding fielding prowess, Triolo will bring plenty of value at second base.