'No fear' Peguero brings energy to camp

March 27th, 2021

When Liover Peguero was 7 years old, he remembers watching footage of Ozzie Smith play. Beyond the incredible defense and sure bat, Peguero remembers watching the Wizard be free and easy, particularly how he regularly came out of the dugout with a backflip on Opening Day.

“I used to be like, ‘Oh my God. I want to be like him,’” Peguero said.

The Pirates’ 20-year-old shortstop prospect admits he can’t do a backflip like Smith, but the energy he brings to the field each day for the Pirates parallels that of the Hall of Fame shortstop.

It’s evident in a video shared by the Pirates’ Young Bucs account. On the backfields at Pirate City, he’s shouting to himself taking batting practice. He’s dancing to the stadium music. He’s trying to keep things loose with his teammates as they wait by the batting cage, joking and doing imitations.

“This is what amazing looks like,” Peguero says, walking forward slowly with his chest puffed out.

“He’s got a really unbelievable personality,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “If you spend any time around him, you realize it.”

The same way Peguero, the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, never takes a shift off on the field, he never loses the high-energy edge around his teammates, and they feed off it.

“Every practice, he’s the same way,” Bucs prospect Nick Gonzales said. “Even if it’s 8 a.m. or 2 p.m., he’s the same guy. That’s what’s huge for me. I love seeing that.”

It’s hard for Shelton to forget the first impression Peguero made on him. While visiting the Pirates’ instructional league after the 2020 season ended, the skipper was making his way around the fields to meet the next wave of prospects he will be seeing in Pittsburgh.

Many of the conversations were formal and short. But when Shelton approached Peguero with a simple, “Hey man, how are you doing?” the young infielder flashed his big grin and said, “I’m great! How are you doing today?”

Shelton knew there was something different about this guy.

“There’s no fear there, which I love,” Shelton said.

Peguero was delayed with travel issues at the outset of camp, but once he arrived, he fit in like a regular. There were no nerves. He was the same way with the Major League squad as he was with the Minor League camp.

So naturally, Peguero is making an impression early, but not just with his bubbly demeanor. He’s only played five games in Spring Training, but Shelton has been blown away by the little things Peguero does. When he was taken out of the game on Thursday night, Shelton noticed the shortstop chatting with third-base coach Joey Cora for an inning about different defensive situations and how to take the best step toward the ball.

Not to mention the offense he showed that night. Peguero cranked a hard-hit double in the second to score Tony Wolters, then followed it up with a game-tying single in the third, scoring Brian Goodwin, before flying out deep to Orioles right fielder Austin Hays to end the fifth.

“There were a lot of good things we did last night,” Shelton said on Friday. “His at-bats were the highlight of my night.”

The Pirates have also gotten a chance to see their potential double-play combo of the future in Peguero and Gonzales, the club’s No. 2 prospect and the No. 43 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. In fact, Gonzales said he plans to live with Peguero in the coming weeks as the two work at Minor League camp once the MLB regular season begins.

There are definitely similarities to their games, such as solid fielding ability and advanced bat-to-ball skills. But the more reserved Gonzales paired with the gregarious Peguero is quite a duo.

“That is an interesting pair. That’s right,” Shelton said. “They’re a very talented, odd couple.”

Even if it weren’t the more quiet Gonzales to his left, Shelton thinks Peguero would still appear to be the same vocal leader.

“I mean, this kid’s 20, and when he gets on the field, he’s running what’s going on in the infield,” Shelton said.

Remember that this is a guy who has not played above Class A Short-Season ball, and that came when he was just 18 years old. Peguero is not expected to reach the Majors this year, especially with the logjam at shortstop in the short term, and who knows if he’ll have a chance to crack the roster in 2022. MLB Pipeline projected his ETA in Pittsburgh as ‘23.

But Peguero is staying ready -- and motivated -- for whenever that day comes.

“I was talking to Ke’Bryan [Hayes] about that a couple days ago,” Peguero said. “He was just like, ‘Be patient. I’m gonna be right here waiting for you.’ That makes me feel so happy.”

Can we expect the same ball of energy when it happens?

“Oh, hell yeah!” Peguero said. “I’m not going to change. Never.”