Pirates have tight second-base race heading into camp

January 31st, 2024

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We are two weeks away from spring camp opening up. Buckle up.

There will be a few competitions for starting positions on the Pirates’ roster, but none more complex and wide open than the second-base spot. There are a handful of players who could claim their stake here, or the Pirates could mix and match for much of the season, depending on the opposing starter.

Let’s look at the pros, the cons and the likelihood of each second-base option earning a starting job come April.

Pro: Bae is the fastest player the Pirates have right now and one of the quickest league-wide. His average home-to-first time of 4.05 seconds was the best mark in MLB in 2023, and his 29.7 feet/second sprint speed was tied for the 16th fastest in MLB.

Con: Bae doesn’t get on base enough to really let his speed set up runs. He had a .296 OBP in 2023, and it was worse in the second half (.288). He also doesn’t provide much of a power threat and tends to create doubles through speed on gap-to-gap base hits, notching only two homers last season and posting the sixth-lowest barrel per plate appearance rate (1.3%) out of 258 MLB batters.

Likelihood: It’s unlikely Bae will get the majority of the reps, as his bat doesn’t have much staying power. On the other hand, if he can build on his experience from last season, he could have some use as a fourth outfielder who can contribute in center field, given his speed.

Nick Gonzales
Pro: Gonzales also has above-average speed, so he’s a threat when he’s on base. He has hit at every level of the Minors, batting .288 across three levels in his career. Plus, he showed he has a touch of power with 14 homers in 99 games at Triple-A despite being seen as a contact-over-power hitter by some evaluators.

Con: That didn’t show up in Gonzales’ first month of Major League action. He only hit .209, and he in turn saw his on-base percentage fall off sharply to .268.

Likelihood: I still think there’s hope here for the Pirates given his track record, but I don’t see him as the starter unless he has a Kevin Newman-level spring.

Pro: Peguero has arguably the best power potential of this group. His EV50 -- which is a measure of exit velocity on the top 50% of a batter’s batted balls in play that helps filter out some clear mis-hits -- is 100.2 mph. Every other candidate’s EV50 is under 100 mph, and some by a healthy margin. He’s also the second-fastest player on the team behind Bae.

Con: Despite that, Peguero still got on base at only a .280 clip last season, so he was able to attempt only eight stolen bases. He also had a meager .374 slugging percentage with an even lower .328 expected slugging percentage due to inconsistent contact and more than half of his balls in play being grounders.

Likelihood: I see Peguero as the likeliest candidate to see a majority of reps at second base thanks to his power-speed combo potential.

Jared Triolo
Pro: Triolo had the best debut you could ask for. In 54 big league games, his batting average (.298) and on-base percentage (.388) were higher than his average and OBP in the Minor Leagues (.284 and .370, respectively). He’s also a Minor League Gold Glove defender at third base and can play virtually any position on the infield dirt.

Con: It’s not a con yet, but one must consider how tough a sophomore season can go once the league adjusts to your successes. And this is not a con, but it is a deterrent for his playing time at second: The fact that Triolo carries four gloves because of his utility defensively makes it seem less likely he sticks at second vs. bounces around.

Likelihood: I think Triolo sees the most playing time generally of anyone here, but his versatility may keep him from being the “everyday” second baseman.

Pro: Whatever the Pirates told Williams to focus on after he was acquired in the Robert Stephenson trade worked immediately at Triple-A. He put up a .915 OPS with eight doubles and seven homers in 36 games with Indianapolis. His 28.2 feet per second sprint speed is better than the average second baseman’s velocity, and he has a decent glove.

Con: It didn’t translate in the Major Leagues in his debut 2023 season, and he doesn’t strike the ball hard enough to give much hope that his offense will be more than just average at best. His average exit velocity of 83.3 mph and hard-hit rate of 25.8% are very low compared to the MLB averages for those numbers.

Likelihood: I see Williams needing the strongest spring just to get playing time, much less the starting job.