Be Patient with Josh Bell
The Pirates have made headlines throughout the 2016 offseason and into 2017, but one contant that remains is the crop of prospects that have developed throughout Neal Huntington’s tenure.
The Pirates have worked to build a deeper farm system since exhausting the talents of the mid-2000s teams that did not result in much to remember. Since Neal Huntington entered the organization in 2007, the club has seen a motley of draft talent make an impact on the Big League level, one way or another.
Take the 2008 Draft, Huntington’s first, for example. The Pirates first six selections all made the Major Leagues at some point:
Round 1, Pick 2: 3B Pedro Alvarez
Round 2, Pick 48: RHP Tanner Scheppers (did not sign with PIT)
Round 3, Pick 79: SS Jordy Mercer
Round 4, Pick 114: SS Chase D’Arnaud
Round 5, Pick 144: LHP Justin Wilson
Round 6, Pick 174: OF Robert (Robbie) Grossman
While it took a while for picks like D’Arnaud and Grossman to hit their respective strides, the organization still proved early that they could draft talent under Huntington.
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What You See is What You Get…
Fast forward three years from that point, the Pirates selected two current mainstays with their first two selections. RHP Gerrit Cole went first overall, and the Pirates used their second round pick (61st overall) on 1B Josh Bell. Cole was a fast mover throughout the organization, and that came largely in part to the organization’s timing of reaching contention in 2013, but Bell took a little longer to marinate in the Minors.
Bell was drafted as a plus hitter with the potential to use his 6’2”, 230 pound frame to develop a power stroke. He hit 44 home runs in his five Minor League seasons, about one every 48 plate appearances. So while the stroke did not develop wholly throughout the Minors, the “late-bloomer” tag on this trait could still be applied. What is to like about Bell is he slashed .303/.373/.454 in his Minor League career, and he had a fair 1.46 K/BB ratio. The organization got exactly what they drafted: a big frame who hits to all fields and gets on base at a high clip. He also excels while playing the field. He committed 29 errors in his five Minor League seasons, and has committed only three through his first 64 Major League games. Keep in mind, he is in his age-24 season and has less than half of a season worth of experience under his belt.
The Pirates organization is under an odd reconstruction with the buzz off the 2013-2015 postseason runs wearing down, the division rival Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, and with expiring contracts of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen looming in the near future. Once again, one prevalent status the Pirates organization has retained throughout Neal Huntington’s tenure is hitting on certain drafted prospects. The same figures to carry on with recently drafted prospects like Will Craig, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, and even Austin Meadows. If the Pirates do want to move on from either or both Cole and McCutchen, the depth to build behind Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco long-term is still there.
The Future Remains Bright
Josh Bell will be a cornerstone for this franchise for the next decade, and even if the power stroke does not fully develop, the organization already knows what it has. He is a first baseman that most teams in the league would be thrilled to build off of, but in time Bell figures to step into a mentor’s role for the next crop of prospects. Now through 64 games, Bell has slashed .260/.354/.398 with five home runs and 10 doubles, but his K/BB ratio still remains very solid (30:28) and he has lived up to his pre-draft report of hitting the ball to all fields.
Next: Cole Is Rounding Back Into Ace Form
One thing that can be certain is the organization has done an exceptional job of drafting since Neal Huntington’s tenure began. With prospects like Austin Meadows and Elias Diaz brewing in AAA, the immediate future looks to be bright.
Prospects at lower levels like Will Craig, Kevin Newman, and Kevin Kramer will factor in at some point, but look for Josh Bell to develop not only as a top of the line first baseman in this league, but look for him to work as a mentor to these young guys in a couple of years, as well. If these types of prospects hit, while Bell, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco emerge as leaders for this club, the future looks to be bright for Pirates baseball.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.