Infield duo keeping bromance strong amid roster battle

February 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf’s Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- On the diamond at Pirate City this week, and decided to have a friendly competition. Both players were taking ground balls at second base, and they began to track how many double plays each of them would have based on their throws to the bag.

There was no winner that day. The duo finished in a tie, and they went on to do the rest of their work after a jovial moment together.

It isn’t going to be their only competition of the spring, though. Every day this spring is going to be an unspoken contest between the two friends. The Pirates’ second-base job is up for grabs. The loser could wind up in the Minors.

“We both know about it, but we don’t talk about it,” Peguero said. “We’re just competing out there, giving the best we’ve got.”

The second-base competition is perhaps the most intriguing one for the Pirates this spring, and that’s because of Gonzales and Peguero. But they aren’t the only contenders in the running. Manager Derek Shelton has made it clear that Jared Triolo is in the mix, and it’s safe to assume that Ji Hwan Bae will get a look there as well. However, Bae and Triolo are both more defensively flexible and may become utility players more easily if they don’t win the second-base job.

As for Peguero and Gonzales, the Pirates could potentially option one of them in order to get regular at-bats if the other won the job. Regarded as two of the team’s top prospects for years, they looked like they could be the double-play duo of the future, but with Oneil Cruz at shortstop, that just leaves the spot on the right side of the bag open.

In January 2020, the Pirates acquired Peguero in a trade that sent Starling Marte to the D-backs -- Ben Cherington’s first major move as the team’s general manager. In June of that year, Gonzales was Cherington’s first Draft pick. The infielders met at the alternate training site in Altoona, Pa., in 2020 and became quick friends. As two of the youngest guys in that camp, they clicked.

The friendship grew into a full bromance from there. In 2021, Gonzales brought in cowboy hats and the two dressed up as cowboys in the clubhouse for the day. In '22, Peguero kept a photo of Gonzales in his Spring Training locker. This camp, the two are locker neighbors again, and if there is laughter in the Pirate City clubhouse, it is usually around that area -- with each other and fellow teammates.

That’s what makes this positional battle a bit bittersweet. The Pirates have been open for years about wanting to inspire competition at the highest level for jobs like this, and when those players come up through the Minors together, brothers are going to have to technically fight against one another.

“It’s probably a little bit of a challenge for them, because they are competing,” Shelton said. “But the one thing I will say about those two specifically is their biggest fan is probably the other guy, and they’re going to continue to push each other.”

The duo isn’t talking about it. At least not to each other. They both want what’s best for the team, and they know the friendship is going to survive.

“He’s a very genuine person,” Peguero said. “He’s the type of person that keeps pushing me on the hard moments and the good moments, too. It just makes you feel like you have a brother.”

Added Gonzales: “At the end of the day, I love this guy like a brother. If one of us is in front of the other, I don’t think we’ll be mad. We care for each other. Me being at my best is helping him be at his best, and vice versa.”

Both players showed flashes in the Majors last year, albeit with inconsistent results. This offseason, Peguero did more reflecting on how to handle his emotions in games, something he felt he greatly improved on last year, though there is more room to grow. Gonzales dove into his swing, trying to get back to what he was doing mechanically a few years ago.

Finding success with either strategy could be the difference between an Opening Day spot or not. Each player is hoping that the other’s offseason work pays off.

“I want the best for that guy, and he wants the best for me,” said Gonzales.