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Pirates Planning to Use Ji Hwan Bae More in New Position

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Ji Hwan Bae, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Ji Hwan Bae played 111 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season with the majority of those starts coming at second base or in center field.

Bae played in 64 games at second base last season, 62 in center and three games at shortstop. Though he played only one game in left field during the 2022 season, the expectation is that Bae will spend more time there this year.

The Pirates recalled Bae from Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday after a torrid start at the plate. However, when asked if he wanted to prove anything with his latest opportunity in the big leagues, Bae didn’t talk about his offense.

“We’ve been talking about me playing left field, so I just want to quickly get used to that.” he said through interpreter Daniel Park.

Bae logged 33 innings across six games (three starts) in left field with Indianapolis during his time with the Indians this year. Though the sample size is small, Bae registered a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage and recorded one outfield assist.

The reasoning behind Bae patrolling left field at PNC Park is similar to why the Pirates used him more in center last season. There is plenty of real estate in the outfield between left and center at the Pirates’ home yard and Bae’s speed will be beneficial.

Alongside Gold Glove contender Michael A. Taylor, the Pirates figure that plenty of ground will be covered between the two.

“The fact that Michael Taylor’s really good in center field. I don’t know, metrically, if there’s a better center fielder in baseball than Michael Taylor right now,” Shelton said on the plan to use Bae more in left. “We have to make sure that our versatility stays. He can pay center, he can play second. We needed him to play left, and I think the other thing about PNC Park is it’s really nice to have two guys who can cover a ton of ground in those two positions.”

While Bae returns to the majors hoping to prove he can be a competent left fielder, the Pirates will have their fingers crossed that his offense translates from Triple-A.

At the time of his promotion, Bae led the International league with a .367 batting average and a .479 on-base percentage to go along with a 1.030 OPS.

With his performance at the plate, Bae more or less forced the Pirates’ hand in promoting him. Left field is simply an avenue to get him into the lineup.

“The adjustments that he made,” Shelton said on what led to Bae’s promotion. “There’s been adjustments made to the setup, load, things the we talked about in spring training but just weren’t able to do because he didn’t play very much. Then he went down to Triple-A, I mean, he’s leading the International League in hitting, and proving that he deserved an opportunity to be up here.”

Bae is playing his more-usual center field and batting ninth in the Pirates’ lineup against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday in his season debut.

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