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Pirates 2022 season review: Infield

One side of the infield is set, the other not so much.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This is a position group that holds several of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top young players, including phenom shortstop Oneil Cruz, who is arguably the biggest attaction at PNC Park.

The 6’7”, 22-year-old Cruz regularly set records on exit velocity and throwing speed and finished with a pretty nice line in 2022. Across 87 games, Cruz hit .233 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs. Extrapolate that out to a full season and you have a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy, and he’s barely old enough to legally drink.

He hit 13 doubles, 4 triples and also stole 11 bases, illustrating his athleticism, and the golf shots he regularly smacked over the wall at PNC were a thing of beauty.

Cruz was not without his negatives, however, as he struck out 126 times in 331 at bats, which is obviously way, way too high. He also committed 17 errors in the field, and time will tell if he’s able to remain at shortstop or if he’ll eventually end up in the outfield.

Regardless, Cruz is a major part of the future for the Bucs, and the youngster should only get better, as we saw his average rise over the back half of the season (he was batting under .200 at one point) as he continued to get more comfortable.

Another major young piece in the infield is third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who signed a long-term deal to stay in Pittsburgh.

He’s widely considered one of the best gloves in the league at the hot corner, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue, but he really needs to make some progress with his bat. After hitting .376 in limited opportunities in 2020, Hayes slipped to .257 in 2021 and down to .244 this past season. He also had just 7 homers and 41 RBI this past year, and you’d like to see a guy who is considered a franchise cornerstone raise those numbers considerably.

He also gets nicked up fairly often and, of course, there was the infamous sunflower seeds incident, which was a bad look for the 25-year-old, raising questions about his maturity and leadership capabilities for a guy expected to help lead the charge back to respectability for the Bucs.

At second base, we saw veteran Kevin Newman, who only played in 78 games due to injury, but had a decent year at the plate, hitting .274. Of course, he’s never had power or driven in many runs, and that continued this past season, but he was pretty dang good in the field, committing just one error in 42 games at second base and six total for the entire season. But Newman was on just a one-year deal and is due an arbitration raise if he stays, so his future is up in the air.

The 23-year-old Rodolfo Castro also spent some time at second, playing there in 32 games this season, and he was a mixed bag, though he did hit 11 homers in just 71 games to go along with a .233 average and 27 RBI. We’re likely to see more of him in 2023.

Over at first, Michael Chavis was your main operator, starting 107 games there and finishing with a .229 average, 14 homers and 49 RBI, however, he was released towards the end of the year (sorry, Patricia), and first base remains a question mark heading into next season.

The Bucs also got some time in the infield from Tucupita Marcano, Ji Hwan Bae, Diego Castillo, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Josh VanMeter, with Castillo hitting 11 dingers as a rookie. VanMeter and Tsutsugo are obviously out the door, while the others are not exactly confidence-inspiring long term.

So half the infield is set for next season (Cruz, Hayes), while first and second base are both major question marks moving forward. Tell us in the comments what you think the Buccos should do with both of those spots.