By Jason Shetler
In 2010, the Pirates finished with the worst record in baseball, as they lost 105 games, which marked the first time since 1985 that they compiled at least 100 losses in a season. Obviously, they had the #1 overall pick for the 2011 MLB Draft, and selected Gerrit Cole out of UCLA.
Another highly touted draft prospect that year was switch-hitting outfielder Josh Bell, who had a strong commitment to the University of Texas, and even informed teams before the draft not to take him, because he wanted to honor that commitment. The Pirates decided to roll the dice and took a chance on Bell with their second round pick. What many considered a very difficult sign, both sides worked out a signing bonus of $5 million, by far the most draft money ever given to a non-first round selection.
Because of the Pirates improved outfield depth in the system, they decided to make a switch with Bell from outfielder to first baseman, which began in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. As expected, he had some growing pains at first base last season, committing a combined 16 errors with AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis. Bell’s offensive numbers remained solid, as he posted an .838 OPS.
The defense at first base with Bell in 2016 is still a work in progress, but he’s been making some improvements. Offensively, he’s putting up an OPS of .860 for Indianapolis, which is currently sixth best in the International League. Even with the impressive offense, will the Pirates keep Bell in AAA all season? – John Jaso has been productive as their first baseman whenever he’s in the lineup against a right-handed starter. It should be noted that Bell has a .940 OPS versus lefty pitching this year, so perhaps the Pirates could entertain the idea of calling up Bell, once the Super 2 deadline passes, and have a Jaso/Bell platoon at first base. Ultimately, I think it’s going to hinge on whether or not his defense is Major League ready. If it’s not, then the Pirates may just have him stay in Indianapolis for more seasoning. At the very least, Bell should find himself in Pittsburgh as a September call up, especially if Indianapolis fails to reach the playoffs.