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Pirates Prospect Watch: Ji Hwan Bae Gives Glimpse of Rookies’ Importance in ’23

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Ji Hwan Bae, Pittsburgh Pirates

Ji Hwan Bae was one of the key reasons as to why the Pittsburgh Pirates won their season opener against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.

Getting the start at second base, Bae went 2 for 3 with a double, two steals and he scored the game-winning run.

Even his stat line doesn’t paint the whole picture. Bae showcased his elite speed on multiple occasions. He legged out a bunt-single for his first hit of the year and swiped third for one of his two stolen bases.

Bae’s big game helped propel the Pirates to victory and it paints a picture of what kind of role Pirates’ prospects will have on the big league club in 2023.

The easy answer? A key role.

Sure, the Pirates brought in a handful of veterans this offseason including Andrew McCutchen, Rich Hill, Ji-Man Choi, Carlos Santana and others. But how successful the Pirates are this season will largely be determined by how the younger players develop and perform at the big league level throughout the year.

In addition to Bae, there are two other rookies on the roster who figure to have prominent roles for the club as the regular season gets underway.

Canaan Smith-Njigba was the Pirates’ starter in right field on Thursday and went 1 for 5. Coming off of a strong spring, the Pirates’ prospect should get plenty of opportunities in the corner outfield spots.

Rule-5 pick Jose Hernandez is one of two left-handed relievers on the roster and will be counted on to not only face lefty batters, but to be able to survive that three-batter minimum role when needed and get outs against righties.

As the season progresses, other Pirates’ prospects will work their way to the big league level to try and help the team win while getting acclimated to the big league lifestyle.

One Pirates’ prospect who could have a role fairly early on in the season is outfielder Travis Swaggerty. The 2018 first-round pick is also coming off of a strong spring and he could be one of the first guys called up as a replacement if needed.

Then there are some of the bigger-hyped prospects who are on track to possibly make their big league debuts at some point in 2023. One of those players is Endy Rodriguez, who is arguably the team’s top prospect. He almost certainly will be promoted to the Pirates at some point this season.

Former first-rounders Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis and Quinn Priester all could reach Pittsburgh at various points throughout the season.

There are even more prospects whom the Pirates will be relying on to contribute and help the team improve upon three-straight difficult seasons. Considering where the Pirates are sitting in their rebuild, it’s time to start seeing some of the young talent starting to impact the big league club in a positive way.

After a long and grueling rebuild, there could be multiple opportunities to see some significant light at the end of the tunnel this season, and Bae may have shown the first glimpse of the year on Thursday. 

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