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Morning Report: Josh Bell’s Defense and Steven Brault’s Performance Last Night

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I wanted to mention Steven Brault’s start from last night first, then move on to a question that has come up often. Brault seemed to rely heavily on his fastball on Monday, which wasn’t the case in either of his last two starts. In the previous two games, he mixed his pitches well and kept hitters guessing and off-balance, leading to a lot more swing and misses than you normally see, especially from Brault. Last night his change-up and slider weren’t working early on, so it seemed like he decided to lean on the fastball and it cost him four runs over four innings.

Another thing I noticed is that he seemed to be working quickly to a fault. He wasn’t like what you see from Chad Kuhl, when he is totally focused on the mound. Right from the start Brault looked like he was uncomfortable out there, somewhere between looking nervous and looking like he had too much caffeine right before first pitch. It wasn’t anything like his last two starts, especially not the game from last Wednesday, which was the best pitched game I’ve seen this season in a year already full of strong performances.

One thing I’ve noticed with Brault is that he has moved away from the sinker as his primary pitch. A couple people have asked about his ground ball rate and Monday’s game was really telling as to why you aren’t seeing the grounders from him. I saw a few sinkers in there later in the outing, but he was mostly sitting 91-93 MPH in this game, which is the four-seam fastball he was working on in the Arizona Fall League. The good part about that pitch is that he was touching 93 in the shorter outings in the AFL, but as a starter, he seems to be hitting that top end more often. That pitch was very successful in his previous two games, but it also helped that his other pitchers were working as well.

**I mentioned on Twitter that Josh Bell has reached base at least once in 50 of his last 52 games. One of those games he failed to reach base was during a doubleheader, which means seven innings and he only batted three times. That brought up the most obvious question right away when you think about how great of a stretch that is over a long period of time. That question was, and I’m quoting here, “but hows that defense”.

That is actually a normal response to any Bell news about his offense and I’m beginning to think that most people are sold on the fact that he will hit in the majors. It’s hard to argue that, and it’s what helped him win the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month award. Perhaps the most important part of his offense is that he is hitting well from the right side, which hasn’t always been the case. Getting back to the question though, it seems like his glove is what will be the final deciding factor for when he comes up, so how about that defense…

Bell has looked better at first base this year than last year. He had a rough game on Monday, committing his fourth error, while also failing to scoop a tough short hop. On top of those plays, he made the mental error he seems to make the most. Whenever a ball is hit to his right, he goes after it. That’s not a problem if it’s an easy play that the second baseman might not have made. The problem comes up when he cuts in front of Alen Hanson and either makes the catch or doesn’t, in either case, it leaves the pitcher in a foot race and either he or Hanson is trying to hit a moving target. The play has come up multiple times and it’s really something that just comes with experience. You don’t want to assume Hanson will catch it, but you also have to know where he is positioned and realize that he has a ton of range for a second baseman.

So while the defense is better overall, it’s still a work in progress. No one outworks Josh Bell, so I believe that he will eventually be an average defender at the position, but it’s going to take time. That will ultimately decide when he comes up to the majors. If his bat is needed in early June, then they might say he’s close enough and call him up. If there’s no rush, then they can take their time and let him make mistakes in the minors where it won’t hurt the big team.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 7-2 to the Cubs on Monday night. Jon Niese gets the start tonight, his sixth of the season. He has allowed ten hits in each of his last two games, while giving up nine earned runs over 10.1 innings. The Cubs will counter with Jake Arrieta, who has won all five of his starts. He has a 1.00 ERA, an 0.78 WHIP and a .151 BAA.

In the minors, Jameson Taillon makes his fifth start of the season. His strikeout total has matched his innings pitched in each game. Taillon has an 0.86 WHIP, a .207 BAA and a 1.47 GO/AO ratio. He has allowed one run over 13 innings in his last two starts.

West Virginia was rained out on Monday. They don’t play Asheville again in the first half of the season, so the game has been canceled. Mitch Keller was supposed to start, but his game now gets pushed back two days, as the Power have a scheduled off-day today. Alex McRae goes for Bradenton, while David Whitehead gets the ball for Altoona.

MLB: Pittsburgh (15-11) vs Cubs (18-6) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Jon Niese (5.08 ERA, 9:22 BB/SO, 28.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (12-11) vs Durham (12-14) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (1.54 ERA, 2:23 BB/SO, 23.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (10-14) @ Erie (10-13) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: David Whitehead (4.08 ERA, 19:12 BB/SO, 17.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (11-14) vs St Lucie (14-11) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (2.88 ERA, 11:9 BB/SO, 25.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (15-9) @ Charleston (17-7) 7:05 PM 5/4 (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (0.86 ERA, 1:28 BB/SO, 21.0 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is the last strikeout from Tyler Glasnow’s five shutout inning performance on Sunday.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

4/30: Jared Hughes activated from the disabled list. Rob Scahill sent to Indianapolis.

4/27: Sam Street placed on the temporary inactive list. Jose Regalado added to Bradenton.

4/25: Pedro Florimon added to Indianapolis roster. Antoan Richardson released.

4/25: Austin Meadows added to Altoona roster. Justin Maffei assigned to Morgantown.

4/25: Jake Burnette placed on disabled list. Logan Ratledge assigned to West Virginia.

4/22: Pirates recall Jason Rogers. Cole Figueroa optioned to Indianapolis.

4/21: Pirates release Michael Morse.

4/21: Jhondaniel Medina assigned to Altoona.

4/21: Cory Luebke assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/20: Jared Hughes assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/19: Julio Vivas added to West Virginia roster. Logan Ratledge assigned to Morgantown.

4/18: Jung-ho Kang assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/16: Trevor Williams placed on disabled list. Jhondaniel Medina promoted to Indianapolis.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one trade of note that would seem backwards based on today’s standards. On this date in 1947, the Pirates traded outfielder Al Gionfriddo to the Brooklyn Dodgers for five players. The odd part of the deal is the fact the Pirates paid out at least $100,000 (possibly $125k) to the Dodgers as part of the deal. By the 1949 season, only one of the players was left in a Pirates uniform, pitcher Kirby Higbe. One of the players made his name in baseball as a manager years later, infielder Gene Mauch.

Five years after that deal, the Pirates traded pitcher Bill Werle to the St Louis Cardinals for veteran pitcher Red Munger. The trade didn’t do much for one of the worst teams in franchise history, as that 1952 club finished with a 42-112 record. Munger was 0-3, 7.18 in four starts and one relief appearance for the Pirates.

The two players born on this date are first baseman Ivan Cruz (1999-2000) and catcher Chris Cannizzaro (1968). You can read a mini bio for each player in the link above.

On this date in 1882, second baseman George Strief hit the first home run in franchise history. It was the first of five homers he hit during his five-year career. It came off pitcher Will White, who would win 40 games that season and he allowed just three homers all year. White is the brother of Deacon White, who played for Pittsburgh in 1889 and was elected to the Hall of Fame three years ago.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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