Liover Peguero broke into a big smile.
The Pittsburgh Pirates infielder was making an appearance at PiratesFest last month when a reporter – OK, it was me — mentioned that Peguero had sneakily hit 20 home runs last season. He homered 11 times in 69 games for Double-A Altoona, twice in seven games at Triple-A Indianapolis then seven times in 59 games with the Pirates.
“You noticed that!” Peguero said.
The 20 homers were a surprise after Peguero had gone deep just 23 times in his first four minor-league seasons. However, Peguero does not think the power surge was an aberration and believes the longball can be a larger part of his game.
“I did know I had that in me,” Peguero said. “I’m a big believer that I am one of those (players) that can hit 30.”
The 23-year-old might get the chance to shoot for 30 homers in the major leagues this upcoming season. The Pirates could use the longballs after finishing 28th among the 30 major-league teams in home runs last season.
The Pirates say it will be an open competition for the starting second baseman job in spring training. Peguero will be part of a field that will likely include Ji Hwan Bae, Nick Gonzales, Jared Triolo, Alika Williams and non-roster invitee Sergio Alcantara.
However, when you listen to how Pirates management talks about Peguero, it seems clear that he is the frontrunner. The Pirates have been enamored with Peguero’s potential since acquiring him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade for Starling Marte in 2020, just before the start of spring training.
Peguero played one game in the major leagues in 2022 when he was called up from Altoona for two days. Peguero went 1 for 3 with a walk in his debut and was sent back to Double-A.
Last season, Peguero hit .237/.280/.374 with the Pirates while striking out 67 times and drawing just 11 walks. Yet the seven homers and six stolen bases give the Pirates hope that Peguero can become a potentially dynamic offensive player.
Peguero says he is ready to win the starting second base job during Grapefruit League play.
“That’s always been my mindset. Compete and never stop,” he said. “I’ve been working since Nov. 1. I feel like the grind’s been there, the work’ been there. Baseball has always been my competition thing and my love for the sport. I feel like the competition is always there, the same mindset.”
Peguero said the biggest lesson he learned during his time in the big leagues last season was dealing with failure at the highest level of baseball.
“How to not stick on the bad things,” Peguero said. “We, as baseball players, we think about the bad things too much. I feel a big takeaway was to think about how I was doing and just let it go and keep moving forward.”
Now Peguero looks to build on that experience. He knows his hitting needs to improve, and his defense needs work after he had minus-4 defensive runs saved as a second baseman in 2023.
“How can I keep improving? How can I be more consistent?” Peguero said. “I think how to maintain my defensive and also my offensive, how to separate those things and not to think about the offense on the defense or the opposite thing. I feel like being able to separate and be able to maintain my mind and mentality on one thing at a time.”
It might be difficult for Peguero to keep a clear mind in spring training with how many players will be in the running to be the regular second baseman. However, he plans on doing his best to keep things simple.
“Just help the team as much as I can,” he said. “That’s my main goal. It’s always been. Just give my best. Those are my main things right now.”
Peguero possesses the raw talent to help the Pirates a lot if he takes the potential he showed last year – especially the home runs – and turns it into more production this year.