PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates made a number of notable acquisitions in what was an active offseason in preparation for 2023.
The Pirates signed a couple players with lengthy résumés including veteran left-handed pitcher Rich Hill and first baseman Carlos Santana. They also acquired designated hitter Ji-Man Choi from the Tampa Bay Rays in a November trade.
Of course, the most noteworthy addition this winter was Andrew McCutchen, who returned to his original organization for a 10th season after five years away.
McCutchen, however, was not the only homecoming for the Pirates in the offseason.
A week before Christmas, the Pirates acquired utility man Connor Joe from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for minor league pitcher Nick Garcia.
Joe was originally selected by the Pirates with the 39th pick of the 2014 MLB Draft. Though the Pirates drafted him, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves three years later for Sean Rodriguez before making it to the big leagues.
The under-the-radar acquisition has turned into a savvy pickup by the Pirates as Joe has become a key contributor on offense.
As the calendar is about to flip to September, Joe is currently leading the Pirates in OPS with his .785 mark (113 wRC+). The 31-year-old has hit 27 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and has driven in 33 runs.
At the time of the trade, Joe looked like he would be a capable bench bat for the Pirates, but he’s given them much more than that.
“I think so (Joe exceeding expectations). I think a lot of that credit goes to him and Andy [Haines] even going back to the offseason,” said manager Derek Shelton. When we acquired him, he and Andy started right away in terms of some of the things that they had seen going back to 2021 that he had gotten away from. So, yeah, I think so. But, I think it’s a credit to those guys because of the adjustments they made for him to be able to do that.”
Joe’s August has been a particularly good month. Perhaps it’s because after the trade deadline, he has seen his playing time increase with more reps coming at first base.
During the current month, Joe has slashed .297/.418/.516 with eight doubles and a pair of homers in 19 games.
Joe is still getting on base, but he’s also seeing his base hit totals increase, too, and there’s a reason for that.
“The quality of the at-bat is really always good. He controls the zone and does a really nice job there,” Shelton said. “I do think he’s gotten a little more aggressive to pitches he can hit earlier in counts and we’re seeing more aggressive swings…So, I would just say the overall aggressiveness is something that kind of stands out.”
It helps, too, that Joe offers versatility for the Pirates. Though he may not be an elite defender, he’s a capable glove at multiple spots.
So far this season, he’s spent 48 games in right, 31 games in left and has played 38 games at first base. He’s also been the team’s designated hitter a couple times.
“I think it definitely helps his cause,” Shelton said on Joe’s versatility. “The more positions that you can play and play effectively, there’s only nine spots in the lineup and when you swing the bat, you give yourself the opportunity to really get a lot more at-bats. His versatility is important.”
Though he may not have been the most notable offseason acquisition by general manager Ben Cherington, Joe has a strong case for being the most impactful addition.
He’s certainly been a big part of the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates, and he very well may have already cemented a spot on next year’s roster.