Going into the 2016 season, the first base position was one of great uncertainty for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Less than one month into the season, that uncertainty has given way to a new unknown.
Has the team’s production at first changed prized prospect Josh Bell’s timeline?
Bell has been not-so-quietly faring well against International League pitching for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, culminating in his being named IL Hitter Of The Week yesterday. On the season, Bell is slashing .321/.424/.589 with a strikeout rate of 19.1 percent. Having also drawn 11 walks for a walk rate at 16.4 percent, Bell has shown that he has fully adjusted to the Triple-A level of pitching. Defensively, Bell has shown to be adequate, with three errors thus far this season, a far cry from when he initially switched to first base.
With John Jaso and Jason Rogers in tow, the Pirates have plenty of options at first base. The two fit perfectly as a platoon, and each brings something different to the batting order.
In addition to pronounced on-base skills and a knack for dictating how his at-bats unfold, Jaso has shown a newfound ability to put balls in play to the opposite field, something he had not done throughout his career. Rogers provides a different look – one based a bit more on traditional power. Still, Rogers too has bought into the team’s approach thus far by way of some quality at bats.
All of this is presented to try to answer the question posed at the beginning of this piece. Will Josh Bell’s debut in MLB be pushed back by the team’s current first base options?
With the way this current Pirates run-production is humming along, it’s hard to imagine the answer to be anything but yes.
Going into the season, the main impetus behind the speculation on Bell’s call up was the questions surrounding the position. Those questions have firmly been answered, and the result can be skewed a number of different ways.
First, the absence of any real need, barring injuries, to bring Bell up can allow the team time to let their investment mature. Bell has not spent a full season at a stationary level during his entire development. Spending a full year at Indianapolis could do wonders with the huge uptick in pitching quality between Double-A and Triple-A clubs.
On the other hand, the Pirates might want to see what exactly they have in Bell and may not wish to waste a “prime year” of Bell’s career. Bell is still only 23, which would put him right around the same age as Gregory Polanco’s and Starling Marte’s debuts. This Pirates team does not like to change proven track with their top-tier prospects, and they may not be entirely comfortable with deviating from that timeline with Bell.
Regardless, Bell will make his debut by September. Until then, Bell might be unexpectedly blocked by some surprising returns on questionable investments.