First off, I’m pleased that in this time of great uncertainty in the world, baseball, for all its flaws, is back. Pirate City is populated again, and the optimism that greets every new baseball season—yes, even for the Pittsburgh Pirates—is in the air.
Now, let’s talk about what kind of infielders Bucs fans will see in 2022.
The only absolute sure thing is this: Ke’Bryan Hayes owns the hot corner. He won’t be looking over his shoulder at spring training fearing for his job.
After that, we’ve got some competition.
When Ben Cherington gave Yoshi Tsutsugo $4 million this season and axed Colin Moran shortly thereafter, it was thought to be a given that Yoshi would be the Pirates’ everyday first baseman. But then there was the lockout, and out of the lockout came the designated hitter coming to the National League. With Yoshi being able to hit for power, he immediately moved into probable DH territory. That changed on March 15 with the signing of former Brewer Daniel Vogelbach, who hit 30 home runs in 2019. Then there’s Michael Chavis, who also flashed a bit of power when he wasn’t injured.
In all likelihood, Yoshi will play first and hit against right-handers, while Chavis will man the bag against lefties.
Adam Frazier was the Bucs’ primary second baseman last year. He’s gone. Wilmer Difo came in second. He’s gone too. That leaves Rodolfo Castro, Kevin Newman, and Cole Tucker. Yeah, that doesn’t fill me with hope either. My colleague Jake Slebodnick thinks Tucker is the most likely pick to start at second in 2022. I’m leaning towards Castro. I know Tucker has the (slightly) better bat, but I see him as more of a plug-in rather than a set position player. As far as Newman goes, I’ve written previously that I like his glove, but his bat or lack thereof may be what dooms his tenure as a Pirate. He’s coming up in the next section as well.
I can see Derek Shelton doing the Castro/Tucker/Newman rotation until one of them establishes dominance or gets traded. Place your bets.
Oh, hey, Kevin. Yeah, I know, this was your main spot last season. Your leatherwork was solid, we appreciate it, bro. Your bat ... not so much. And we know you’re hearing Oneil Cruz’s footsteps behind you, but he only played two games last year. Are you going to have to fight for your job in spring training? Maybe a little, but as far as I’m concerned, not very hard unless Cruz has a spectacular ST showing. As far as getting traded goes, I think Ben Cherington is watching and waiting to see if 2021 was a blip as far as your batting average goes. I still believe you’re valued as a veteran presence in the clubhouse, and that the starters are glad to have you in the basepaths. The job is yours to lose, but you’re going to have to really suck defensively—and historically, you don’t do that. Pick it up a bit offensively, and at worst you’ll have a starting job somewhere other than Pittsburgh.
TL; DR: Kevin Newman is your 2022 Pirates starting shortstop.