The group of infielders that the Pirates saw in 2023 were constantly being rotated in and out, but there may be some pieces worthy of a more permanent role come next season.
When looking at the team in Spring Training and at the beginning of this campaign, I thought it was pretty clear that one side of the infield was solid, while the other was going to see some turnover. With injuries and inconsistent play a constant factor, it was by no means as cut and dry as many thought it should’ve been.
Let’s break down Pittsburgh’s 2023 infielders, and what next year’s platoon could look like.
I remember clear as day thinking that first base was going to be one of the biggest question marks heading into the season, however, the veteran presence of Carlos Santana proved to be solid to start the season. “Slamtana” throughout the season was ranked very highly amongst first baseman for his defensive prowess and consistency at the position. Undoubtedly past his prime, but the 37-year old was solid with Pittsburgh, posting a .235 batting average with 12 homers in 94 contests. I can’t leave out that he also had surreal .412 slugging percentage during his time with the Pirates before being traded to Milwaukee.
Ji-man Choi would also see a decent chunk of time at first this season before being dealt to San Diego, officially cleaning the entire roster of players that actually play first base. Seeing time in only 23 contests, Choi’s time in the Steel City was brief as he mostly played in relief of Santana.
On the Pirates’ depth chart, there is only actually one player listed as a first baseman in Alfonso Rivas, with guys like Jared Triolo, Connor Joe, and Miguel Andujar all naturally set at other positions. Endy Rodriguez is listed as the team's last option at first, and while he is more than capable of playing the position, he is too good at catcher to move him. For me this is the biggest question mark in the team moving forward, as there doesn’t seem to be a definite piece at first base.
Though first base was as one of the biggest question marks at the end of the season, I certainly thought that second base was going to be the biggest at the beginning of the season with once again, no clear starter.
Termarr Johnson is still one of the Buccos brightest prospects, but is obviously not in a position yet to make a jump to the majors. Rodolfo Castro was the starter at the beginning of the season, and it maybe could not have been worse. Castro played 78 games this year for Pittsburgh, but was more often than not an anchor at the end of the lineup, with Philadelphia picking him up in August.
Liover Peguero was one of the many players called up in the Pirates youth movement in the middle of the season, and played well before settling in at short stop, and having guys like Nick Gonzales and Ji-Hwan Bae see more time at the position. Bae is super quick and super athletic, and serves as a good utility player with an OBP of .296 and tallying 77 hits.
If no one saw this yesterday.. Liover Peguero is gonna be a problem pic.twitter.com/0gMDCfiREl— Fuzzy (@fuzzyfromyt) August 30, 2023
Nick Gonzales played in only 35 contests and clearly did not have the time to adjust to to big league pitchers, with an abysmal .209 batting average. That being said, Gonzales was once a top prospect for the team, and could return to that form with a more complete season under his belt.
The group of guys at second base weren't exactly solid, but made leaps and bounds from where they have been in previous seasons, and from where they started 2023. With that being said, it’s pretty clear that Liover Peguero should be starting at second in 2024.
The complicated part of story that is the Pirates’ shortstops of 2023 starts when after just nine games into the season, potential superstar Oneil Cruz goes down with a nasty leg injury that effectively ended his season. Tucupita Marcano would be the next man up and was playing decent baseball until he also suffered a season ending injury in late July.
Hopefully we see the return of Cruz in 2024, as when healthy, he has so much potential to be an absolute world wrecker. If not, the emergence of Liover Peguero could continue to fulfill that role until Cruz is 100 percent. Peguero, while not producing All-Star caliber stats, was a capable call up for Pittsburgh this season, providing some life at the dormant shortstop and second base positions.
So many people were wanting the next big thing in Elly De La Cruz when Oneil Cruz was right there in front of us the whole time.— Ethan Fisher (@efisher330) September 28, 2023
This isn't a slight on Elly. He is electric. But let's appreciate the greatness of Oneil Cruz. https://t.co/KU9DX30Qi3 pic.twitter.com/qyOZArtFYY
Short stop is supposed to be a solid position for the Pirates, although the popular theory ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh was that Cruz would move to the outfield. At shortstop, I think he provides the kind of size and velocity that you don't see everyday, and it’ll be worth it to keep him at his natural position. I compared Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes to Ghostface Killah and Raekwon the Chef at the beginning of the season, and I will continue to hold them to that standard as their potential, while still raw, is sky high.
Finally! Some consistency in the Pirates infield as third base was predominantly played by Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes signed an eight-year, $70 million extension last year, as the Pirates’ are committing to him as the man at third for the future, and boy is it starting to pay off. The beginning of the season saw Hayes struggle offensively as many were wondering if he’d actually live up to his superstar pay day. A mid season resurgence, however, saw Hayes compile perhaps his best offensive season so far in his big league career.
Hayes ended the season with 15 home runs (career high), 61 RBIs (career high), 134 hits (career high), with a .271 batting average. Not to mention he was just as solid defensively as he always is, with very few at his position being as dominant as him.
In Hayes’ absence we saw a lot of Jared Triolo, who in my opinion played well enough to continue to play that role, if and when Hayes is going to be absent from action.
Once again, third base was probably the most consistent part of the Pirates infield, with Hayes clearly taking a huge step in his career.
As with the beginning of 2023, 2024 should bring plenty of excitement along with a couple of questions still to be answered as the Pirates try to build upon the success of this season and put forth a steel wall for their infield come next Spring.