Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing the Team's Infield

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals
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The opening day catching situation does not look great, at least offensively. The Pirates signed Austin Hedges to a one-year deal, and he's coming off a historically terrible season at the plate. In 338 plate appearances, Hedges slashed just .163/.241/.248 with a .225 wOBA, adding up to a wRC+ of just 42. Since the year of the pitcher in 1968, Hedges' '22 is the 14th worst hitting season per wRC+ for a catcher (min. 300 plate appearances). He also owns the 11th worst offensive catching season with a 40 wRC+ in '21. His backup option is currently projected to be Tyler Heineman, who had just a 57 wRC+ last year. Another potential option is Jason Delay, who also had a poor 53 wRC+ in '22.

However, Hedges isn't here for his offense. Defensively, the Pirates are set behind the plate. He's an outstanding defender with +75 career defensive runs saved and +64.7 framing runs. Last year was actually a down year for him, but he still registered +8 DRS and +4.4 framing runs. Heineman was also strong defensively, with +5 DRS and +4.8 framing runs in less than 500 innings caught, and Delay had +2 DRS/+3.5 FRM in just 436 frames. Plus, Hedges only projects as the Bucs' primary catcher for part of the season.

He and Heineman are only here to keep the seat warm from Endy Rodriguez, who has done nothing but hit since arriving to the Bucs. Last year, the switch-hitting catcher batted .323/.407/.590 with a .434 wOBA and 166 wRC+. Rodriguez has always been praised for his plate discipline and posted yet another quality 11.3% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate, marking the fourth season in a row he's walked more than 10% of the time and struck out in less than 20% of his plate appearances. Rodriguez also had video game-like numbers in the second half of the year, with a 1.228 OPS, .516 wOBA, and 221 wRC+ after the all-star break.

On top of that, Rodriguez does fine behind the dish. He can play first base and left field, and he even started to see some games at second base. But catcher is his home, at least until Henry Davis arrives. That could cause some questions down the line, but that's only a good problem to have. Davis batted .264/.380/.472 last year with a 136 wRC+. Known for his power, Davis had a healthy .208 isolated slugging percentage last season. It was an extremely odd season for the former number-one overall pick, as he was plunked 20 times in just 255 plate appearances. Those HBPs caused the injuries that limited Davis to less than 300 plate appearances.

Davis will likely get a call later in the year, given he only made it to Double-A last year and struggled in only the 31 games he played there. Rodriguez, on the other hand, made it to Triple-A. While he only played six games there, he had ten hits, including a home run, in 23 plate appearances. He's only gotten better as well, as his wRC+ at each level since arriving at the Pirates goes as follows: 140 (Bradenton), 151 (Greensboro), 199 (Altoona), and 208 (Indianapolis).