This is the one in a series of stories looking at members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 40-man roster.
Ji Hwan Bae made his major league debut on Sept. 23, giving him time to appear in just 10 games to finish last season. However, the infielder/outfielder packed a lot into that small sample size.
The South Korean native hit .333/.404/.424 with three doubles, six RBIs, and three stolen bases in 37 plate appearances. The effervescent 23-year-old dazzled with his speed and charisma.
Bae made an immediate impact, going 1 for 3 with a single off the Chicago Cubs’ Erich Uelman with two stolen bases in his first game. Bae also had two hits in the same inning on Oct. 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals and had an RBI in four of his last five games.
Bae showed versatility with four starts each at second base and center field and one in left field. That versatility was also part of Bae’s appeal during a fine season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Ji Hwan Bae had a .289/.362/.430 slash line with eight home runs and 30 stolen bases for the Indians. The left-handed hitter was eighth in the International League in hitting and stole the most bases by an Indianapolis player since Alen Hanson had 36 in 2016.
Second base was Bae’s most-frequent position as he made 57 appearances at the keystone. He also played 24 games at shortstop, 20 in center field, eight in left field, and one at third base.
Bae is not a lock to be on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ opening-day roster but stands a good chance of making the club out of spring training.
For openers, Bae seemingly has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues following a strong season at Indianapolis. Secondly, he could potentially fill four different roles for the Pirates.
The most likely scenario would be Bae serving as a super utility player where he would likely get a decent number of at-bats.
However, with the way the roster is currently constituted, there are also pathways for Bae to be a starter.
Bae could beat out Rodolfo Castro for the second baseman’s job. Bae might also edge out Jack Suwinski or Cal Mitchell for one of the corner outfield spots.
Though it is a bit of a reach after being primarily an infielder during his professional career, perhaps Ji Hwan Bae could begin the 2023 season as the starting center fielder with Bryan Reynolds moving to one of the outfield corners.
Add in that Bae hits from the left side and has outstanding speed and it makes him a very intriguing player.