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Morning Report: Thoughts on Josh Bell’s Defense

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Josh Bell had a great day at the plate on Sunday. He hit a single, a double, and a rare home run from the right side of the plate. He has been hitting well lately, batting .444 in his last ten games. Bell would have had a great overall day on Sunday if it wasn’t for the defensive side of the game. We have mentioned numerous times that his defense has improved a lot over last year. Tim Williams noted that he’s even putting in extra work to get better. Sunday was an example of why he still has a lot of work to do, but his areas of concern are skills you acquire over time and game experience.

Before I get into the issues he had, which keep creeping up, I’ll mention the areas that look the most improved. Bell had a lot of issues with throws last year. I’ve seen a few throws this season to other bases and they were good throws. He looked more comfortable/confident making them. Whenever he had to make a throw to another base last year, you were just waiting to see what would go wrong. That is not the case this year.

His footwork around the bag is a lot better. He’s reacting quicker, getting in a better position to receive throws, and he has made a lot of scoops on short hops. That last part was something I rarely saw last year, yet this season he has looked great.

All of those things I’ve mentioned are drastically improved over last year, making him a much better fielder. Someone asked me late last season if I thought he was a better defensive first baseman than Pedro Alvarez and I said no. If I was asked to make that same comparison of current day Bell and what we saw from Alvarez last year, I would say without hesitation that Bell is better.

So here are the things that hold him back from being an average fielding first baseman right now, and last night had examples of each problem. Bell was credited with an error last night, booting a ground ball to his right that he tried to backhand. That was just a normal error. Playing more first base will allow him to get better in that area. He has looked good on grounders hit right too him and glove side plays.

Early in the game, Jameson Taillon gave up a double, which was followed by a sacrifice bunt attempt. This wasn’t a mistake by Bell, but it’s a play that has got him in trouble before. The batter reached on a single because Max Moroff couldn’t get there in time to cover the bag. Bell has had trouble deciding when to go for balls hit between him and the pitcher. A lot of times it ends up being an easy play for the pitcher, but no one is there to cover the bag. Other times Bell and the pitcher get in each other’s way, or they both stop. That’s a play that if you’ve decided to make it, you have to take charge and call the pitcher off.

A little later in the game, a ball was hit to his right and he tried to make a diving stop. The problem was, it was a routine grounder right at Moroff, who didn’t have to move for it. That left Bell away from the bag and it required a strong play from Taillon and a nice lead throw from Moroff to get the out. This is a play that comes up a lot it seems and I haven’t seen the instincts yet to allow the second baseman to make the easy play with Bell’s first move being to cover the bag. Most of the time, it hasn’t resulted in an out.

Getting better at fielding grounders to his right is just something that he will get better at over time with practice. I’ve already seen improvements in that area. The instinct plays of when to go for a ball and when to cover first base, that’s a skill that is acquired over time.

Coming into the season, most people (myself included) figured we would be waiting for Super Two to pass before Bell joins the majors. I have an entire closet full of #FreeBell hashtags waiting to use. His bat is waking up at the right time for that, but the Pirates don’t currently have a need for him at first base. That’s obviously not a bad thing, because it means the position looks good in the majors and it gives Bell more time in the minors to work on his defense everyday. With the improvements he has already shown, I think he can be an average defender at first base and then his bat will get all the attention once he’s up in Pittsburgh.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Bradenton is 7-3 in their last ten games. They are in first place in their division, 2.5 games ahead. The first half of the FSL season ends on June 22nd.

West Virginia is 6-4 in their last ten games. They are in fourth place in their division, trailing first place by four games. The first half of the SAL season ends on June 19th.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 6-2 to the Rangers on Sunday. They now travel to Miami for four games, starting tonight with Jeff Locke on the mound. He went 6.1 innings against Arizona in his last start, allowing four runs on seven hits, one walk and one strikeout. Locke has a 6.15 ERA on the road and 3.96 ERA at home. The Marlins will counter with Justin Nicolino, who has a 4.37 ERA in 35 innings this season, with just 12 strikeouts and a 1.34 WHIP. In his last start, he allowed three runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings against the Rays.

In the minors, Frank Duncan makes his fourth start for Indianapolis, extending what was supposed to be a 1-2 game stint by pitching well in all three games. Between Altoona and Triple-A, he has a 1.91 ERA in 37.2 innings, with 34 strikeouts, a .213 BAA, an 0.96 WHIP and a 2.26 GO/AO ratio.

Tyler Eppler starts for Altoona and his 4.13 ERA looks bad, but it was actually at 2.74 before getting shelled in his last start. In each of his first eight starts, he allowed three earned runs or less. In seven of those starts, he went at least six innings.

Dario Agrazal started the season with three scoreless outings and two games in which he allowed a total of nine runs. In his last four games combined, he has given up five earned runs over 25 innings.

Bradenton is off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (28-21) @ Marlins (26-24) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (5.08 ERA, 24:32 BB/SO, 51.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (25-23) vs Rochester (28-22) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Frank Duncan (2.65 ERA, 1:14 BB/SO, 17.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (27-21) @ Bowie (19-29) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (4.13 ERA, 10:34 BB/SO, 52.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (27-22) vs Palm Beach (24-27) 6:30 PM 5/31 (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (2.45 ERA, 14:25 BB/SO, 55.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (26-23) vs Lakewood (19-30) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (2.80 ERA, 6:28 BB/SO, 45.0 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is Gift Ngoepe, showing why he could make it to the majors someday.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/29: Justin Masterson assigned to Bradenton.

5/29: Jhondaniel Medina assigned to Altoona.

5/28: Cole Tucker promoted to Bradenton. Jess Amedee added to West Virginia roster.

5/27: Trevor Williams and Jim Fuller assigned to Indianapolis.

5/27: Kevin Newman placed on disabled list. Colten Brewer added to Bradenton roster.

5/27: Logan Sendelbach added to West Virginia roster. Jess Amedee assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/26: Jhondaniel Medina promoted to Indianapolis.

5/25: Pirates place Tony Watson on paternity list. Recall Rob Scahill.

5/25: Pirates place Arquimedes Caminero on disabled list. Recall Kyle Lobstein.

5/24: Pirates place Ryan Vogelsong on disabled list. A.J. Schugel recalled from Indianapolis.

5/23: Logan Sendelbach assigned to Extended Spring Training. Jess Amedee added to West Virginia.

5/22: Trevor Williams assigned to Bradenton. Colten Brewer sent to Extended Spring Training.

5/22: Trace Tam Sing added to Bradenton roster.

5/21: West Virginia assigns Ty Moore and Casey Hughston to Extended Spring Training. Logan Ratledge and Sean Keselica added to West Virginia roster.

5/21: Logan Hill demoted from Bradenton to West Virginia.

5/21: Pirates release Eric Karch.

5/21: Juan Diaz assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/20: John Kuchno assigned to Indianapolis. Guido Knudson assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/19: Starling Marte activated from paternity list. Alen Hanson optioned to Indianapolis.

5/19: Elias Diaz placed on 60-day disabled list.

5/19: Wilfredo Boscan added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Cory Luebke optioned to Indianapolis.

5/17: John Kuchno assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/16: Starling Marte placed on paternity list. Alen Hanson recalled.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades of note. The two players born on this date were pitcher Al Mamaux (1913-17) and 1912 outfielder Mike Donlin. Mamaux was a highly touted pitcher out of college and by his third year in the big leagues, he won 21 games for the 1915 Pirates and threw eight shutouts. By 1917 he had fallen out of favor with the team due to condition and off-field issues and was traded to Brooklyn before the 1918 season. Donlin was one of the best hitters of his day, but he cared more about money than playing baseball, so when his acting career began to pay more, he quit the game. He was a .333 career hitter in 1,049 games.

The two trades the Pirates made on this date occurred in 1912 and 1925. The first one saw the Pirates deal away long-time star Tommy Leach and pitcher Lefty Leifield to the Cubs for pitcher King Cole and outfielder Solly Hofman. It ended up being a one-sided win for the Cubs, as the Pirates got little from either player they acquired. The 1925 trade saw first baseman Al Niehaus being dealt for pitcher Tom Sheehan. This deal was made possible by the signing of veteran Stuffy McInnis, which was covered in yesterday’s Morning Report. McInnis outhit Niehaus and Sheehan was a valuable reliever for the Pirates team that went on to win the World Series.

On this date in 1925, the Pittsburgh Pirates collected 32 hits during a doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals. In the second game, the Pirates set a Major League record with eight triples in one game. You can read more about these games in the link above. The boxscores can be found here: Game one Game two

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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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