JI-HWAN BAE, SECOND BASEMAN
|Born: July 26, 1999
Signed: Int’l Free Agent, 2017, Atlanta Braves
How Acquired: International Free Agent
Country: South Korea
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Bae originally signed with Atlanta, but was caught up in the Braves’ international signing scandal. In his case, with the team limited to spending no more than $300,000 on any one player, Atlanta tried to give Bae another $600,000 under the table, in addition to the $300,000. MLB refused to approve the contract, which left Bae a free agent. The Pirates stepped in, spending about $1,250,000 to sign him. Bae is considered by some scouts to have all the tools except power, although others think is arm isn’t enough for short. He has good speed and athleticism, and the potential to be a plus defender at short or second.
Bae had a good debut, making good contact and controlling the strike zone well. As expected, he didn’t show much power. Injuries hampered him a little bit, but he showed some base stealing ability. In the field, Bae had issues with errors, committing 15 in 34 games at short, leading to a dismal fielding percentage of .882. Obviously, that will have to improve.
Bae opened 2019 in extended spring training, but the Pirates sent him to Greensboro early in the season. He played a few games and then was hit with a 30-game suspension for assaulting his girlfriend. The Pirates no doubt knew the suspension was coming, as he’d been convicted in South Korea during the off-season. Once the suspension ended, Bae returned to Greensboro. He was having a good season there, considering his age and experience level, until August, when he got hot and put up a 370/458/500 line. That won him the batting title; he also finished third in OBP and tied for fourth in steals despite missing a third of the season. Bae split his time between short and second, due to the presence of Connor Kaiser, who isn’t nearly on his level as a prospect. He had problems with errors at short, but seems to have the athleticism to stay there. The one thing lacking in his game is power, but that could still improve as he already is clearly much stronger than he was when he debuted with the Pirates. He has the ability to provide significant value in every other area.
Bae was one of the younger players they brought to their alternate training site at Altoona, which is probably an indication of how highly the Pirates regard him.
Bae spent the season at Altoona, except for a brief rehab after a knee injury. He started off slowly, which isn’t surprising given the big jump, but he hit .302 after May. The strangest aspect of Bae’s season was that, after hitting no home runs over his first two and a half pro seasons, he hit one during the rehab. Then he came back to Altoona and hit seven more over his last 52 games. He definitely changed his swing to get more loft. It didn’t hurt him otherwise, as he batted .286 after he returned to AA. Bae struggled some with LHPs, putting up a .682 OPS against them compared to .815 against RHPs. He did reasonably well stealing bases, but could stand to improve his efficiency. Bae played nine games in center field and otherwise stayed at second, so it appears he will not be a shortstop. He committed 14 errors in 65 games at second, which is too many. Oddly, in 44 games there in 2019 he had only one error.
Bae played nearly all year with Indianapolis. He had a very good first half. In fact, he hit .322 in May and .324 in June. Considering that the Pirates had saddled themselves with several veterans who were struggling to get within hailing distance of .200, the obvious move was to call Bae up, but for no apparent reason, they didn’t. In late July, Bae went out for several weeks with a knee sprain. After coming back, he slumped a bit in September. The Pirates finally called Bae up for the season’s last week and a half and he hit as well as anybody on the team the rest of the way. Apart from the hitting, Bae was a dangerous base stealer. He had no platoon split. On defense at Indy, Bae played second about half the time. Most of the rest he split between center and short. With the Pirates, he played second and center.
Bae should get a shot not only at making the major league roster in 2023, but at a starting job. He profiles extremely well as a leadoff hitter and his speed, combined with that of Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes, should let the Pirates put more pressure on opposing defenses. Of course, it’s the Pirates, so the priority won’t be winning ballgames. It’ll be on manipulating Bae’s service time to keep the owner’s expenses as low as possible.
|2023: Major League Minimum|
|Signing Bonus: $1,250,000
MiLB Debut: 2018
MLB Debut: 9/23/2022
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2028
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.013
|September 12, 2017: Signed by the Atlanta Braves as an international free agent.
November 21, 2017: Became a free agent.
March 26, 2018: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent.
September 23, 2022: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.