Nick Gonzales is the Second Baseman of the Future. Liover Pegeuro is the Shortstop of the Future. Declarations like these, or at least ones that are somewhat similar, abound day in and day out on almost every single Pittsburgh Pirates Fan Social Media Group, Account and Thread, or wherever you get your amateur insight on all things Pittsburgh Pirates. These statements are made with such certainty, and are often accompanied by Prospect List Rankings, statistics over the past week, month or the entire season and individual awards to back up their claim(s).
This is not to say that these proclamations are not rooted in facts or actual performance, and that these beliefs will never come to fruition. It’s just that by now we all know that success in the lower Minors, such as High-A Greensboro, or even Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis for that matter, doesn’t always equate to a successful Major League Baseball Player; and most notably, one with a prosperous long term career. It also doesn’t guarantee, that even if they are the future anything, they will also be good.
I have seen more than a few future sure fire superstars, that turned out to be perennial Minor Leaguers, Replacement Level Major Leaguers, Journeyman, etc.; with other, and often less notable players, actually becoming the ones that lock down certain positions.
This practice of declaring that certain players will appear in the lineup, at each position, a couple of years or more into the future is one that I will never understand; and is one that myself and Gary have written about on more than one occasion.
It pigeonholes you into a certain preconceived outcome, doesn’t really allow for any deviation and often causes you to overlook any potential player that could fit into, and possibly be successful in, a given position.
An example of this is the Pittsburgh Pirates Own Ji-hwan Bae, who has gotten little to no attention from anyone outside of the Altoona Curve, in spite of his #22 rank on MLB Pipeline and near top ten spot, #11 on Fangraphs; as well as his .281/.363/.411 slash line with 6 homers in Double-A this season.
Initially signed by the Atlanta Braves for a reported $300,000 bonus, and compared by scouts to Trae Turner as far as potential was concerned, Bae reentered the international free agent talent pool as part of the sanctions filed against Atlanta for bypassing the rules during three consecutive international signing periods. With Bae back on the market and an additional $500,000 in bonus pool space acquired during the Pirates trade of Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants, then General Manager signed Bae to a bonus of $1.2 million on March 26th, 2018.
He would begin his professional career in the Gulf Coast League (renamed the Florida Complex League currently), playing in 35 games and accumulating 129 at bats. At only 18 years of age he would bat .271 with a 104 wRC+ and an almost equal K (10.5%) to BB (9.9%) rate.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Bae would find himself in trouble after only five games with the Low-A Greensboro Grasshoppers in the following year as he was suspended 30 games for violating the Minor League Baseball Player Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. This infraction stemmed from an incident on New Year’s Eve in 2017 in Bae’s native South Korea, which resulted in him being found guilty in October 2019 of assaulting his then-girlfriend Seul-Gi Kim, who said Bae choked and kicked her that night. Prior to the suspension, Bae participated in and successfully completed a treatment program; resulting in his reinstatement on May 22nd, 2019.
Upon his his return, Bae proceeded to hit .323, win the South Atlantic Batting Title and get in some extra work in the Australian Baseball League in the off-season; where he would hit his first two professional homers, and catch the eye of the Pirates new General Manager Ben Cherington. So much so, that when Minor League Baseball was shutdown in 2020, Bae would be added to the Alternate Site Roster in Altoona; which is where he would stay for the current season as well.
For the Curve, Bae started off slow; batting only .200 in the month of May. He would eventually get back on track in the beginning of June as he was hitting .478. That was until he collided with left fielder Cal Mitchell; resulting in nearly a month on the shelf with an MCL sprain.
Once Bae did return, it didn’t take long for him to get back on track, even bringing a little bit of power along with him.
After having only three homers in his entire professional career-one in the Pirates Farm System-covering 722 plate appearances, Bae has hit six in 239 since returning to Altoona; while batting .284 and playing multiple positions, including centerfield, due to the injection of Oneil Cruz and Rodolfo Castro back into the Curve lineup. This change in position(s) falls right in line with the Pirates Organization-wide philosophy on versatility, although you can’t really make an argument that he doesn’t play a very solid middle infield when given the opportunity.
So, why has Bae been given much attention as far as the big picture is concerned? Well, two reasons , one of them very large at 6’7”, stick out right away in Altoona’s infield. Another could be the two prospects mentioned at the beginning of this article. Whereas, the final one might be the fact that he still has a full year before he is Rule 5 eligible, which seems to be a hot button topic nowadays.
Whatever the reason(s), Bae will continue to force the issue, and the conversation, if he continues to play like he has at every level in the Pirates Farm System thus far.