Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Positional Recap: First Base

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates tried many different players at first base during the 2016 season. A common theme from previous seasons emerged: The team couldn’t find a consistent first baseman to hold down the position and truly make it his own. However, the Pirates seemed to move closer to finding that player in 2016. Here is some analysis on the 2016 first basemen.

I don’t think the Pittsburgh Pirates have had an adequate, consistent first baseman since I was born in 1998. First base has always been a revolving door for the Pirates, with classic names such as Daryle Ward and Randall Simon taking up that mantle from time to time. The Bucs have traded for experienced first basemen at trade deadlines, like Justin Morneau or Derek Lee, and have even tried using castaway third basemen at first, like Pedro Alvarez.

The 2016 off-season saw the Pirates add John Jaso, a catcher from the Oakland Athletics. The plan was apparently to adapt Jaso into a first basemen to try to slam the revolving door shut and see some consistency at first base. Did this work?

The short answer is no. But as the season went on, the Pirates seemed to inch ever closer to finding their man.

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John Jaso

Let’s talk about Jaso first. I was skeptical about the idea of putting Jaso at first base from the beginning. Any position change isn’t easy, and Jaso had only made two appearances at first base before in his career, once with Tampa Bay in 2010 and once with Oakland in 2013.

To me, trying to convert Jaso to first base seemed like a desperate, last-ditch effort to attempt to assemble some sort of dilapidated semblance of stability at first base. And it didn’t work.

Jaso wasn’t terrible at first base. Defensively, Jaso was more than adequate, with a .994 fielding percentage and only five errors in 108 games. These stats place him somewhere in the top ten fielding first basemen in the league.

But it was at the plate where Jaso faltered most. He hit .268 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 132 games. These stats aren’t exactly Earth-shattering, and they are definitely not going to cut it in such an important position if the Buccos want to get back to the playoffs. Luckily, it seems like the team might have found a better option.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell seems to be the future at first base for the Pirates. He came crashing onto the scene when he came to the bigs and hit a curtain call-inducing grand slam against the Chicago Cubs, but as the season went on, he showed that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The 24-year-old was used mainly as a pinch hitter until. Then Clint Hurdle decided he was going to try to ease Bell into playing first base. One thing was made clear: This was going to take some work.

And that’s fine. If it takes a little while for Josh Bell to get used to playing first base, then so be it. His bat will make up for any slight miscues he makes in the field for a little while. However, Bell really has to improve in the field. At points at first base and right field, he looked like a fish out of water trying to make fairly routine plays. Spring Training will be a vital time for Bell’s development at first base.

If Bell can hone some of his natural-born ability into playing first base, it will benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates so much going forward.

David Freese

Freese also made 58 appearances at first base, but these were either in late-game situations, or they were starts during times when Jaso was struggling and Clint Hurdle was desperate for a quality start from a first basemen.


Sean Rodriguez (we’ll miss you Serpico), Jason Rogers, Francisco Cervelli, Mike Morse, Chris Stewart, and Erik Kratz also made appearances at first.  With that, it seems clear to me that Bell should be the player the lean on moving forward.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to get back to winning ways and stay there, finding a consistent first basemen is the first step.