Triolo, Peguero making second base decision a tough one

March 2nd, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- and haven’t had a lot of time together as a middle infield duo, but in the fourth inning of Friday’s 12-8 win over the Rays at LECOM Park, Triolo was the one who took charge on the incoming grounder.

The second baseman Triolo was shaded up the middle a bit, anticipating a ball hit to that spot. He was right. Amed Rosario rolled a Wily Peralta fastball in that direction, and Triolo charged in to snag it and throw a strike onto first, even after crossing over to the shortstop’s half of the bag.

“Seeing him make those kinds of plays, I’m used to it,” Peguero said, half-jokingly brushing off the impressiveness of the play.

Triolo flashed the leather again on the next play, this time stabbing a Jonathan Aranda bouncer to his left to end the inning.

If one didn’t know any better, they could be forgiven for thinking Triolo’s Minor League Gold Glove was at second base, not third.

“My first ground balls I’ve gotten in the spring at second base so it definitely was good to get a couple reads on hops like that,” Triolo said.

Now a utilityman, Triolo is one of several young infielders looking to win the second base competition this spring. He certainly helped his case with the bat as well Friday, launching a three-run homer in the second inning to give the Pirates the lead for good.

While offensive stats are usually what people gravitate to when assessing players in a second base competition, defense is incredibly important in this case as well. The leather has been flashed on multiple occasions, too, like this Peguero play to his left during the Pirates’ spring home opener Sunday.

“It's not a one-faceted thing,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I think as we've talked about before, it's not just that spot. There's utility spots available, too, in terms of how we function and how we use guys. So the fact that guys can play multiple positions -- [Peguero] started at short today and moved to second for an inning -- we're going to see that this spring to get them used to moving around."

There is plenty of defensive versatility with the group of contenders. It’s hard to understate the good impression Triolo has made out of the gate, and his ability to play all over the diamond draws comparisons to Ben Zobrist. Peguero, who appears to be near the front of the pack early for a roster spot alongside Triolo, can obviously play shortstop. Nick Gonzales can bounce between shortstop and third base -- though it’s hard to see him getting much time at the hot corner given that Triolo and Ke’Bryan Hayes are on the team -- and Ji Hwan Bae can slide over to shortstop and center field.

That flexibility is going to be needed given that there isn’t a lot of clear depth in the infield. Oneil Cruz is fully healthy now, but the team saw what happened last year when it didn’t have a set backup for him and he was out for the season.

Given the number of outfielders who should make the opening day team -- Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen Jack Suwinski and Connor Joe all seem like safe bets at the very least, while players like Joshua Palacios, Edward Olivares, Billy McKinney and Canaan Smith-Njigba are fighting for a spot or two -- versatility in the infield is key. And as Shelton hinted, it likely won’t just be one clear winner for the second base job. It seems safe to assume multiple infielders will travel to the team to Miami for Opening Day later this month.

So plays like the ones Triolo made go a long way to proving his work on the right side of the infield this winter was worth it.

“It’s good to get the tough plays out of the way here in spring training,” Triolo said. “Just getting the reps is amazing, just seeing the ball off the bat.”

Back at Pirate City earlier this spring, Triolo said two of the people who helped him the most in that transition to playing shortstop and second base were Gonzales and Peguero. Those were their natural positions and they were willing to help their friend and teammate. They’re pulling for each other.

And they know there’s still plenty of time left for this competition to unfold.

“I think that they’re going to have a hard decision,” Peguero said.