Going into 2016, the first base position was one of great uncertainty for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Less than a month into the season, that uncertainty has given way to a new unknown: Has the team’s production at first changed the timeline of prized prospect Josh Bell?
Bell has been not-so-quietly faring well against International League pitching for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, culminating in Bell, yesterday, being named IL Hitter Of The Week. 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 of 16.4 percent, he’s shown he has fully adjusted to the Triple-A level of pitching. Defensively, Bell has looked good with just three errors so 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. Those two fit perfectly as a platoon, and each brings something different to the batting order.
In addition to Jaso’s on-base skills and knack for dictating how his at-bats unfold, he’s shown a newfound ability to put balls in play to the opposite field, something he hadn’t done earlier in 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 by way of some quality at bats.
So, will Josh Bell’s MLB debut be pushed back by the team’s current first base options?
With the way this current Pirates run-production is humming, 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 were the questions surrounding the position. Now, 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 allows the team time to let its investment mature; Bell hasn’t spent a full season at a stationary level during his entire development. Getting a chance to spend that full year in Indianapolis could do wonders for him, especially with the huge uptick in pitching quality between Double-A and Triple-A clubs.
Still, on the other hand, the Pirates might want to see what exactly they have in Bell and may not want to waste a “prime year” of Bell’s career. He’s still only 23, which puts him around the same age as Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte were when they made their major league debuts. The Pirates don’t like to change their proven track record with top-tier prospects, and they might not be comfortable deviating from that timeline with Bell.
Regardless, Bell will make his debut in September at the latest.
Until then, he might be unexpectedly blocked by some surprising returns on what had previously seemed to be questionable investments.
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