Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing the Team's Infield
The Pirates will open the year with a veteran platoon of Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi. Choi has good career splits vs. RHP, while Santana has good career splits when he faces LHP. Both were also two of the most shifted on batters in 2022 and were well above average when it came to hitting for raw power. Choi batted .233/.341/.388 with a .322 wOBA, and 115 wRC+.
Although unimpressive numbers for the South Korean first baseman's standards, he played through a shoulder injury in the second half, as he entered the All-Star break with a 145 wRC+. He had surgery to repair the issue this off-season and seems to be back at full strength and ready to play. He was even ready to gear up for South Korea in the Baseball World Classic, but the Pirates barred him from doing so, and while Choi disagreed with the Pirates' decision, it was an understandable move on the Pirates' part. Either way, Choi is a solid part of a 1B duo.
Santana, on the other hand, had a .202/.316/.376 line, .308 wOBA, and 102 wRC+. Santana continued to hit for decent pop, crushing 19 home runs in 506 plate appearances with a .174 ISO while maintaining his outstanding plate discipline. With a 14% walk rate and 17.4% strikeout rate, it was the 11th season in a row the veteran infielder had a walk rate above 13% and a strikeout rate below 19%. Santana had a .352 xwOBA and was still crushing the baseball. He registered a 90.7 MPH exit velocity, 44.9% hard-hit rate, and 9.3% barrel rate. Given the new shift rules for 2023, you could see him excel as a batter.
Both Santana and Choi were solid defensive first basemen in 2022 as well. Santana has always graded out as a positive defender at first. This year, he had +3 defensive runs saved, a +2.1 UZR/150, and +3 outs above average. Choi meanwhile had a career season with the leather, posting a career-best UZR/150 (+2.8) and outs above average total at +2.
The Pirates will also have Malcom Nunez waiting in the wings at Triple-A. Nunez, who was acquired at the trade deadline, had a very good run with the Pirates' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates at the end of the year. In 143 plate appearances, Nunez batted .280/.385/.475 with a .378 wOBA and 134 wRC+. He had a solid 22.4% strikeout rate, but he excelled at drawing walks with a 14.7% BB%. He also performed well for the St. Louis Cardinals' Double-A affiliate and had a .913 OPS, .396 wOBA, and 136 wRC+ from June onward. There are also some reports that Nunez has worked on his defense, both at first base and third base, and it looks like he could be a capable defender on the infield corners.