PITTSBURGH – It’s the age-old baseball question – who’s on first?
The question surrounded the Pittsburgh Pirates going into spring training after the offseason acquisitions of Carlos Santana and Ji Man Choi. The duo was supposed to split first base and designated hitter duties in some until Choi made the decision clear cut when he strained his left Achilles on April 14 and missed almost three months.
Santana wound up as the regular first baseman and did a solid job. He batted .235/.321/.412 with 12 home runs and six stolen bases in 94 games to go with six defensive runs saved.
However, Santana is gone now after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday for infield prospect Jhonny Severino as the Pirates seemingly perpetual rebuilding process continues.
So, now who’s on first for the Pirates? Manager Derek Shelton says Choi and Connor Joe will get the majority of starts at the position. However, third baseman Jared Triolo and catcher Endy Rodriguez could factor in at the position.
Choi made the first start in the post-Santana era Friday night and drove in the Pirates’ only run with a double in their 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park.
Since returning from the injured list July 7, Choi has the funky slash line of .250/.282/.639 with four home runs in 12 games. The jovial native of South Korea jokingly credits good eating and rest for his post-IL power surge.
“I do think it’s more than that,” Shelton said with a smile. “Just him getting healthy. Early in the year we saw glimpses of consistent at bats. We’ve seen him over the course of time have consistent at bats. That’s why we went out and got him. Since he’s come back, he’s done a really nice job.”
However, Choi may not be the answer to who’s on first for the Pirates for very long. The 32-year-old can become a free agent at the end of this season and could be on the move before Major League Baseball’s trade deadline on Tuesday.
That would again make who’s on first an open-ended question and Joe isn’t an overly appealing option.
Since hitting .298/.392/.595 in his first 25 games of the season after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in a December trade, Joe has slashed .211/.300/.331 in 64 games. He also hasn’t homered since May 30, a span of 123 plate appearances.
The Pirates don’t have a clear-cut first baseman of the future in their farm system. While Mason Martin’s 16 home runs at Double-A Altoona are intriguing, he is repeating the level as a 24-year-old and his batting average is just .212.
One player Shelton didn’t mention for possible playing time at first base is someone who should be put into the mix. That would be Henry Davis, a man seemingly without a position.
With each passing day, it is becoming abundantly clear that the Pirates don’t feel Davis can play his natural position of catcher. The 23-year-old has logged exactly one inning behind the plate in his first 33 major-league games.
Davis has made 30 starts in right field, committing three errors with minus-3 defensive runs saved. Though he shows off a strong arm in the outfield, his range is limited, and he looks very unsure of himself. It is hard to watch him play and envision right field being his long-term position.
Thus, Davis is starting to project as a designated hitter at the tender age of 23. That is a disheartening development considering the Pirates used the first overall pick in the 2021 amateur draft on Davis and gave him a $6.5 million signing bonus.
So, the Pirates might as well give Davis a shot and see if he can become who’s on first.