You might not be watching the Pittsburgh Pirates at this point of the season, and I don’t blame you to a certain extent, but fantasy baseball managers should be taking note of the 23-year-old Ji Hwan Bae. Per MLB.com, Bae is the No. 11 prospect in Pittsburgh’s system, and while he has experience at second base, shortstop, and outfield during his time in the minors, three of his starts have come at second base, with the other being out in center field. More notably perhaps, he’s leadoff in half of his starts, and hit ninth in the other two starts. You won’t mistake Bae for Aaron Judge in terms of stature, but Pittsburgh is going to let him play down the stretch, so the question is, of course, should fantasy baseball managers in ESPN fantasy baseball leagues be running to the waiver wire to make him a late season pickup? What about managers in Yahoo or CBS fantasy baseball leagues? Does Bae have any fantasy value for 2023, and beyond? Just where might we see him in 2023 preseason fantasy baseball rankings?
Outside of the most deep leagues, Bae is likely available in your leagues. Here are his ownership marks across various sites:
- ESPN: 0.4%
- Yahoo: 2%
- CBS: 3%
So, he is likely available for you, and there are two things that Bae has done well in the minors, and should do right away in the bigs: Hit for contact, and run.
All things considered, he moved through the Pittsburgh system relatively quickly. He was in Rookie ball in 2018, made it to Double-A in 2021, performed well in Triple-A this year, and then got the call to join the Pirates in an effort to win some more games down the stretch. Here were Bae’s numbers at various levels in the minors:
Courtesy of FanGraphs
He was the team MVP at the Triple-A level, and when you watch the montage below, there was one quote that stuck in particular about Bae: “They call Ji Hwan Bae the hardest out in the international league.”
Through a handful of games with the Pirates, it’s pretty much status quo for Bae, in that he’s slashed .286/.375/.429 with two stolen bases and only an 18.8 percent strikeout rate. In fact, he became the first Pittsburgh Pirate to steal two or more bases in their Major League debut! A lot of times, we can look at someone’s expected batting average to almost go against them, and while he’s hitting .286 through four games, his xBA currently sits at .166. When you don’t make a lot of hard contact, and have a below average exit velocity, your xBA might be a bit lower, but his furious speed will make up for that. Based on his makeup and player profile, he seems like a guy that will perennially outperform their expected batting average.
Bae is a guy that should be added in deeper fantasy baseball leagues, and those in shallower leagues can consider Bae, though my assumption is that there could be some better players available. Bae has legit speed to be a difference maker down the stretch in the stolen base department, but beyond the rest of 2022, what lies ahead for Bae? His versatility should play well in his favor at the big league, and he should be given every opportunity to win a position outright, whether it be a corner outfield spot, second base, or maybe even shortstop, depending on what Pittsburgh wants to do with Oneil Cruz in the field. With everyday at bats, Bae will be a batting average and stolen base machine, and those in OBP formats will love his double-digit walk rate alongside a .275+ batting average. If he doesn’t win a job outright, he’ll likely be a super utility guy off the bench, and be an injury away from an everyday role.
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