Ji-Hwan Bae: Sudden Power Surge a Welcome Development For Curve Second baseman
Through the trades made this past week, the Pittsburgh Pirates have added even more depth to their middle infield prospect pool. While a lot of the talk and focus is on some of the newer names, we can't forget about one of the more promising players in the system - Ji-Hwan Bae.
Originally signed out of South Korea for $1.2 million during the international signing bonus, Bae didn't take long to make his presence known in the Pirates system. In his first full professional season in 2019, Bae led the South Atlantic League in batting average, with a .323 mark.
A great hitter with elite speed, the only thing that has kept Bae from being one of the top prospects in the game was him lacking the power tool. Even without that though, the 22-year old presents potentially four at least average tool sets, and Fangraphs rates his future value hitting at a 70.
A tiny snippet of Bae's scouting report on Fangraphs, "It's possible his lack of power hurts his on-base skills as the climbs the minors and pitchers attack him without fear of him doing extra-base damage".
It's a legitimate concern, and entering the 2020 season Bae had yet to hit a home run in his professional career.
Still even with concerns over his power output, the same report says some have spoken up that he very well may be worth a spot among the league's top 100 prospects (Bae is the Pirates 11th ranked prospect. Their ninth ranked - Travis Swaggerty - is listed as the 118th overall prospect in the game). They saw enough of David Fletcher in Bae that he could still make an impact in the majors at the top of a lineup.
That's what makes this past week in Altoona such an interesting development for Bae, and the Pirates. Bae is starting to show signs of life in the power department, as not only is he slugging over .500 for the month - he has gone deep three times this month (four if you want to count his home run in the FCL), including in back-to-back games this week.
Bae hammered a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning of Wednesday's game to give Altoona the lead in a contest they would end up winning. He follow that up with a two-run shot on Thursday, he has also doubled this week giving him three-extra base hits in as many days.
Looking at his splits for the season, this isn't a lightning in the bottle thing, as this may have been brewing slowly.
Before getting injured in June, Bae was starting to show signs of raking. While it was a small sample size (23 at-bats), Bae was still slugging .696% with four extra base hits. It was coming, and all it took was for him to get settled in from returning from injury.
Combining Bae's start of the season compared to July will truly show the improvements he's taken in his game, not just from a power perspective.
May/June (25 games)
July (16 games)
Before his injury, Bae had played in 25 games, and in 16 in the month of July. As you can see he's already matched his extra-base output, and exceeded both his stolen bases and RBIs. He's also walking more, drawing eight free passes this month compared to seven in May and June.
Bae will be an interesting player to watch the rest of the season. There is a logjam at the middle infield positions, but he may have an out to stand out from the rest as some scouts are really intrigued in seeing how is speed would play in center field.
It will also be interesting to see how much an all-around hitter he remains if the power continues to play into games. Bae currently has nearly identical marks in his pull and opposite field hit rates (37.4% pull, 36.6% opposite field).
No matter what, Bae is making it hard to forget about him through all the influx of prospects at his position and still looks to very much be a part of the Pirates future.
What has been your thoughts on Bae? Do you feel like this month has just been a fluke? Or is he starting to tap into that raw power and convert it to during games? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, subscribe to the site with the link at the top of the page and follow us on Twitter @SportBlogMurphy.
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