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Pirates infield solid but not without some question marks

The infield for Pittsburgh has some marquee players, but maybe too many question marks ahead of 2023.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Pittsburgh Pirates
Oneil Cruz will need to improve defensively to help sure up Pittsburgh’s infield.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding out Bucs Dugout’s Spring Training review is an overlook on the infielders invited to Pirate City in Bradenton. The infield possesses two of the teams biggest stars, along with two of its biggest question marks.

Undoubtedly, the marquee player in this squad is third-baseman-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. 2022 saw Hayes as a lockdown defender once again, as he was a top contender for the Golden Glove award. Since his debut in 2020, very few have been as consistent as he has making plays in the field and saving runs.

2022 was however another year where we saw Hayes’ batting numbers slip. Fundamentally he’s a great hitter, but the box score shows his average dipping to .244 with only seven home runs. Hayes was battling injury throughout the season, so hopefully a full healthy campaign sees those numbers improve.

Complimenting Hayes’ defensive abilities is phenom Oneil Cruz at shortstop. The 6’7’’ monster athlete is just getting started in his big league career, but has already made an impression with StatCast, regularly blowing up the lab with his incredible exit velocity and arm speed. Cruz finished 2022 with 77 hits, tallying 17 home runs and 54 RBIs across just 87 games. A full season under his belt certainly has him looking like a 30 home run type of player.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz will look to lead the infield in 2023.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Patience is needed at the plate however, as Cruz needs to be seeing more pitches and striking out less. Prior to Spring Training, Cruz did compete in the Dominican Republic’s baseball league, further fine tuning his game. Defensively Cruz has fallen short but is doing everything in his power to sure that up and remain at shortstop.

The other half of the infield was largely forgettable last year, as second and first never found great consistency or production. Guys like Kevin Newman and Michael Chavis will not be suiting up in black and gold this year.

At second will likely be Rodolfo Castro who played at second in 32 contests last season and actually put together an ok stat sheet. Despite his struggles, Castro did hit 11 homers in just 71 games to go along with a .233 average and 27 RBI, which in a full season could be promising.

Castro is likely not the Pirates’ second baseman of the future, but he will definitely be occupying that spot until prospect Termarr Johnson is ready for Major League ball. Unfortunately, Johnson will be out of camp for about two weeks with a hamstring injury, which will limit his time in his first big league Spring Training, though he wasn’t going to play in Pittsburgh in 2023.

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates Workouts
Second-baseman Rodolfo Castro is likely going to have a bigger role at second base this year.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

First base again is a position that has temporary role players in place, but nothing super solid. Carlos Santana was signed in the offseason after finishing with Seattle. Santana will provide a presence at first base, which is all the Pirates can really ask of him at this point, as the 36-year old’s best days are behind him.

Ji-Man Choi could also see some time at first this year as he and Santana could be splitting time there and as the designated hitters on the team.

The infield is far from set for the Pittsburgh Pirates but there are certainly pieces in place that look to have breakout years in 2023. Hayes and Cruz will lead the way for this unit, as Castro grows into his role and Santana avoids the old folks home.