Triolo embracing utility role amidst second base battle

February 26th, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Whenever a player in recent years has shown an ability to play multiple positions at a high level, the comparison is always inevitable.

“He’s the next Ben Zobrist.”

has drawn such comparisons by some people around the game, but Pirates manager Derek Shelton isn’t ready to anoint the 26-year-old as the second-coming of anybody.

“That's high praise, because Ben Zobrist was a really good player -- and I'm very partial to Ben Zobrist, having been in Tampa with him,” Shelton said before the Pirates’ 8-4 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. “Zo had the ability to be an everyday player at multiple positions and be a utility guy. I think [Triolo] is going to have the ability to be an everyday player in multiple positions also, but he could functionally go to utility. I think that's high praise, because we're talking about probably one of the best utility guys to play the game in the last 25 to 30 years.”

Triolo, who is part of the Pirates’ second base competition along with Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero and Ji Hwan Bae, did his part in Monday’s loss against Toronto. He launched a double against Yusei Kikuchi in the first inning, then drilled a single against Chris Bassitt in the third. The latter came off the bat at 98.4 mph, a sign that Triolo is carrying his hard-hitting ways from last September into this spring.

“I feel pretty good,” Triolo said. “It’s good to see pitchers again and face a different team, see a different guy on the mound, try to read a report, just figure out what he's going to throw you and have some success doing it.”

During his first stint with the Pirates last summer, Triolo hit .273 with one home run and a .664 OPS. He registered a 31.3% hard-hit rate during those 36 games, but after being sent down in mid-August, he returned on Sept. 9 and had a 38.5% hard-hit rate in his final 18 games to close the season, hitting .350 with two homers and a 1.025 OPS.

“The big league game showed him the adjustments that he needed to make; to his credit, he went down and made those adjustments in the Minor Leagues,” Shelton said. “The most important thing for young players when they go home in the offseason is can they come back and replicate that feel?”

Triolo credits his work with hitting coach Andy Haines, who encouraged him to stand taller in his batting stance while freeing up his hands, two minor adjustments that have helped him impact the baseball with more authority.

“I didn't like that it was at the end of season,” Triolo said. “But it was good that it was at the end of season because I felt like I could go home, get more comfortable in that stance and see how I have to get to different pitches from that stance. It was good for me, I think. I definitely tried to carry it over in the offseason and this season.”

Whether Triolo wins the second base job or finds himself in a Swiss Army knife role, he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to help the Pirates this season. A third baseman by trade, Triolo got a taste of both first and second base last year after Ke’Bryan Hayes returned at the hot corner. That proved to be an audition of sorts, giving the Pirates the confidence that he could emerge as a super-utility type.

“I took a lot of time in the offseason just kind of working at the different positions that I played last season,” said Triolo, who can also play shortstop. “I took a lot of pride in it this offseason and I’m trying to continue that in the spring, for sure.”

Triolo currently has six gloves in his locker, four of which he’s breaking in this spring to make sure he has the tools for whatever job is presented to him.

“Last season, it was kind of sprung on me to play first and second,” Triolo said. “I have gloves that actually work this year and I can mold myself.”

If Triolo winds up in a utility role, the comparisons to Zobrist are sure to continue as long as he keeps hitting.

“Zo started at short and then started to bounce,” Shelton said. “If we get him in there, we're going to be in a pretty good spot.”