Neal Huntington on Josh Bell, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows

PITTSBURGH – The Pirates have an interesting situation coming up with their schedule. They can send Chad Kuhl back down to Triple-A, and roll with a four-man rotation until July 5th, next Tuesday. In the mean time, they can call up an extra position player for their upcoming five games on the road in American League parks.

And I really hope that if they take this route, Josh Bell would be the one to get the call.

Bell is currently being held back by a few things. The primary thing is John Jaso. Expecting Bell to perform better than Jaso right now is expecting a lot from a rookie. He also has some things to work on, such as his defense and continued improvements with his hitting. Without Jaso on the team, Bell would be open to working on those in the majors. But the Pirates can allow him more work in Triple-A, as Neal Huntington mentioned on Sunday in his weekly press conference with the media, including our own Alan Saunders.

“As we’ve talked many times, it’s a good spot to be in an organization, where you’ve got guys banging on the door, trying to bang the door down,” Huntington said. “Because that means you’ve got depth, it means you’ve got options, and Josh continues to put himself in a position that we anticipated he would be ready to go at some point this year or next. And he’s certainly putting himself in that position. It’s not a bad thing that we’ve got a pretty solid player ahead of him. It won’t hurt Josh’s development to continue to get at-bats and to get defensive innings down there, and he’ll be that much more ready to go when he gets up here.”

The thing about my idea above is that Bell wouldn’t be blocked as the designated hitter. True, there are some options on the team already, like Matt Joyce and David Freese, who are both having fantastic seasons. It’s partly selfish to suggest Bell coming up, since the primary reason for the suggestion is to see Bell in the majors. Once again, it might be expecting a lot from a rookie to hope he would hit better than Joyce or Freese right away.

Huntington didn’t talk about the DH or Bell coming up, but he did talk about what Bell has been working on.

“Defensively, [he] continues to be a work in progress. He’s getting better; there’s still work to go with the position. Jaso has shown us that the transition can be relatively smooth. In Josh’s case, we’re still talking about an outfielder turning into an infielder, and that tends to be a little bit more challenging than a catcher or an infielder moving across the diamond.”

Huntington went on to say that Bell’s work is mostly about game situations, meaning he needs to play in more games to get experience, rather than needing to work on things in drills. This is similar to what I observed and wrote about back in May. I also wrote that his power was starting to show up better, and his numbers were improving against lefties. This is another thing Huntington discussed.

“Offensively, the power’s beginning to show, as we’ve talked about. As he continues to be a very good hitter, he’ll learn how to get into good counts, he’ll learn when not to try to do too much with a mistake and just be a good hitter and let that power that he has in there, that he had at 17, the natural raw power, play as he matures as a hitter.”

Huntington discussed a lot of other prospects aside from Bell. Here is a rundown of the rest of the interview.

Will Chad Kuhl Stay in the Rotation?

Chad Kuhl made his MLB debut last night, which Alan Saunders and Ed Giles broke down here. Prior to the game, Huntington was asked if he would stay in the rotation. He didn’t give a direct answer, but referenced the situation with Jameson Taillon.

“The rotation, when we went with Jameson, the attempt was to have it be a spot start. Obviously, Gerrit’s injury changed that. We’re working through were Gerrit is in his return. We’d hoped that it would be the 16th day, and we’re going to be beyond that. Now it’s just a matter of how far beyond that we are. So, Chad, we’ve left it open-ended with him. Not to put extra pressure on him, going up against Kershaw’s probably putting enough pressure on him. Our hope is that he’s going to come up here, let them beat the ball into the ground, give us the chance to win this game, and put himself in a position to continue to make starts for us.”

In Taillon’s case, the fact that Juan Nicasio has moved to the bullpen shows that he’s here to stay, since there wouldn’t need to be a rotation spot opened when Cole returns. In Kuhl’s case, as I noted above, they don’t need a starter for over a week. That could be enough time for Cole to return. If it isn’t, the Pirates would have to find a spot starter for that game on July 5th, assuming they sent Kuhl down. So I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a spot start for now, but I’d also expect Kuhl to return at some point this year.

Tyler Glasnow’s Control Problems

The only reason Tyler Glasnow isn’t in the majors right now is due to his control issues. He hasn’t been giving up many hits, and in his last two outings he hasn’t given up any hits. But he’s still walking guys at an alarming rate, which would only get worse in the majors. His last outing was strong, both in terms of stats and his stuff.

“The last outing, we challenged Tyler to be aggressive again,” Huntington said. “Rather than trying to locate his pitches and backing off, falling behind, and having to center some fastball, we challenged him to be aggressive with the breaking ball and aggressive with the fastball. The fastball has life at the top of the zone, it has life at the bottom of the zone. When it’s in the zone, it’s really hard to hit. When it’s out of the zone and he gets behind in the count, it’s easier to hit, especially when it’s 92 [MPH]. Tyler, in his last start, was very aggressive with it.”

Glasnow’s strong outing did come with some walks, which Huntington addressed.

“Interestingly enough, he still walked more than you’d like, but there was a sequence where he backed off to try to throw strikes and that was where the walks came in a hurry. When he was aggressive and attacked the zone and attacked hitters, he was really good. We’re looking to build upon that last outing, be aggressive. It seems a little bit counter-intuitive: hunt it, rather than try to paint it. There are guys that need to back off to locate. Tyler is a guy that locates better when he’s aggressive with it and gets hitters in swing mode, because it’s hard to hit 96 and it’s hard to hit a hammer when it’s in the zone. We were pleased with his last outing, hopefully we’ll build upon it and keep moving forward.”

John Dreker broke down the outing in the Prospect Watch that night, and based on the report, if Glasnow continues with starts like that, he could be ready for the majors. There are a lot of Pirates fans who want him up now, and who are willing to over-look the walks. However, Huntington said that Glasnow isn’t being impatient in Triple-A.

“[Glasnow is] a very aware young man that knows the best thing for him would be to get to the Major Leagues when he’s ready to get major-league hitters out and he’s ready to help a major league team win games that’s hunting for a playoff spot. He’s very open about that. We have a great relationship with Tyler. He understands that he might be able to out-stuff guys at the major-league level, but he might not. He’d much rather be able to locate his fastball in the zone. He may not paint with it, but if he can located his fastball in the zone, he can work ahead, he’s got three pitches that he can get major-league hitters out with. He knows he’ll be very successful. Like every pitcher, like every position player, when they get the call, they don’t want to go back. Tyler right now understands right now that this work that we’re doing should put him in a position to never go back. Every start that he gets, every growth that we get, every development that we get down there, puts us in a better situation to have him be a big-leaguer for the rest of his career.”

What Led to the Aggressive Promotion For Austin Meadows?

Austin Meadows got promoted to Indianapolis recently, seeing the most aggressive promotion from Double-A of any top position player under Neal Huntington. The Pirates’ GM discussed what led to that promotion, and what they’ve seen from Meadows this year.

“When he’s been healthy, and he’s missed a little bit of time here and there — for the hamstring last year and for the orbital fracture this year — he’s shown us that he’s an advanced young man, an advanced hitter, capable of playing really good defense, the guy that our scouts were so thrilled to get in the draft, and that he does just about everything well on the field, and it was just time, and innings, and at-bats, and experience. We felt like he was ready to take the next step to Triple-A.”

Huntington also acknowledged how aggressive the move was, and why they took that approach.

“It’s an aggressive push for a young man coming out of the draft not too long ago, that hasn’t had two full seasons, and we felt like from a maturity standpoint, from an intelligence standpoint, from an ability standpoint, he was ready for that. It’s challenged him a little bit here early, but the small samples are small samples. He had shown us that he was absolutely ready to take the next step to Triple-A when we moved him, and we knew it would be challenging. We knew there was a chance that he could get off to a rough start. At the same time, this young man can do some good things on a baseball field, and we’re looking forward to his continued growth and development.”

After praising Meadows for being a hitter who can control his emotions at the plate, Huntington discussed the challenges that Meadows would see at the new level.

“He was just simply better than Double-A and he’d shown us that. At Triple-A, it brings that veteran guy than may not have a 94 MPH fastball, but he can move his fastball around, he can read your swing, he’s going to add and subtract [velocity], he’s going to move it up, he’s going to move it down, he’s going to find your hole. That’s — in our minds — the next phase of a hitter’s development is to go get those mature pitchers that can exploit weaknesses … There are going to be guys that have more stuff that do that to you at the major-league level, whereas Double-A, it’s usually all about stuff. It’s prospects, it’s velocity, and they make mistakes. Austin had shown that he was ready to hit those guys. The next step in his development was making adjustments, closing holes, recognizing what a pitcher was doing to him, and not simply getting through on pure ability.”

  • I don’t see Adam going back down as long as he keeps producing. They can use him in the infield, outfield, PH, PR. He has the speed and put the fear of God in the Dodgers when he was on the bag. He is what the Pirates need an aggressive base runner who knows what he is doing. Plus being a lefty makes him be better. The issue with Bell is that he will stay at 1st and with Jaso and Friese I don’t see Bell coming up unless there is an injury. As for Tyler his issue is he struggles when someone gets on base. Hopefully he can settle down and limit his walks. I would like to see Kuhl move to Bullpen, Jared Hughes is struggling bigtime, and Chad would be a nice fit.

  • just curious-when Bell does become starting 1b, who bats leadoff vs RHP?

  • I think Joyce and Freese are swinging too well right now to give their ABs to someone else who is unproven when we’re starting to play well and still chasing playoffs. If we fall out of the race, sure. Bring him up and roll the dice. The stakes are too high right now. BEST case scenario, he’s equal to Matt Joyce.

  • Looks like Kazmir is gonna have a short outing this afternoon.

  • Two things:
    1. The Pirates are on a streak so the guy they call up should be solely focused on winning now. If Polanco and/or Marte aren’t healthy, that means Joyce will be playing a lot of OF. I still would go with Freese and probably Frazier over Bell as DH.
    2. I think the promotion of Meadows so early will cause them Rule V issues next year – so cudos to NH! The kid only has less than 900 plate appearances between all of the full season leagues (LA, HA, and AA). I thought he would wait at least until August 1 to promote him.

    • Not sure I’m following the second point…what potential Rule 5 issues are you thinking of?

      • Not a current issue but if he starts tearing it up in AAA by the end of the year, he could be our 4th best OF. At that time, we could run afoul of the players’ union if we hold him in AAA until Rule V in mid-June

        • You’re saying Rule 5 and I’m thinking Rule 5 draft. Do you mean Super Two?

          If so, he can be the 4th best all day long…I think a team is pretty much in the clear so long as they never admit it.

          • Yes I’m being a moron… Super 2. Isn’t Bryant suing the Cubs for this?

            • No…Bryant was different. The Cubs held down for a week and a half at the start of ’15 to keep his service time at a point where they would control him through 2021. If he’d made the majors a couple of days sooner, they would have only his rights through ’20.

              Super Two is dealing with arbitration only. And Bryant, since he was brought up well before the S2 deadline, will get four years of arbitration.

              The PA/Bryant filed a grievance. There’s really nowhere for it to go, though…the language of the CBA is pretty clear and so long a baseball executive isn’t stupid and says: “yeah, we’re intentionally keeping him down because the system rewards us for doing so…” it’s going to be pretty darned hard for him to win.

              The CBA is up at the end of the season and service time may be something the PA fights for, but, I think, it’ll be one of the first things they cave on. The established players tend to care more about they established players than they do rookies. If there’s any big rule change this off-season, I’d expect it to be a change/elimination of the QO process.

  • If I read between the lines, is NH pretty much saying to TG, “quit being cute and throw the d**n thing down the middle….they still won’t hit it”?

    • I read it more as “when you try to get cute and place the ball, you suck at placing the ball. Just throw it and you locate it better.”

      • HartHighPirate
        June 27, 2016 2:36 pm

        leefoo & Luke S cute comments you two.
        Subjectively and Objectively bet you two never played baseball. 🙁

        • HartHigh…I hate condescending comments like yours.

          I played HS and college baseball (albeit branch campus).

          Btw, what was the bet for, because I just won the bet.

          • Nothing wrong with branch campuses. I did that myself. Faced some very good talent. Hell, Erik Bedard came out of Norwalk Community College, one of our regular opponents.

        • Basically it’s the same issue they’ve had with Locke. Stop painting, be aggressive. Only difference is Glasnow packs significantly more heat, making it harder on batters.

        • 4 years in HS, 2 years in college, and the last 2 coaching college freshmen after injury.

          But keep being that guy who acts like playing=being better than others who havent. Im sure that’ll endear you to many people.

  • I’m guessing that if Jody’s injury last night is in any way going to keep him out of action then Florimon will get the call instead of Bell. I can’t imagine the FO will run S-Rod as the starting SS and Frazier as the potential backup.

  • On the subject of prospects, I’d love to see Frazier get some starts at 2b. I am a JHay fan, but I had no idea his OPS was plummeting. He is at a .523 OPS for June.

  • Among 1B in the National
    League, Jaso is 7th in BA, 18th in HR, 15th in RBI, 9th in BB, 9th in OPS,10th
    in WAR ( at .09 on ESPN). I’m not a sabermetric guy but he is around 9th
    and 10th in a lot of those statistics. His OPS by month, .845/.775/.634,
    trending downward. The more AB he gets, the more he is exposed as a part time
    player at best.

    This is not the type of player that should hold back a potential middle of the
    order guy. If Josh Bell were to take over the majority of playing time at 1B I
    would expect him to be

    the better ball player by the end of the year. Plus he could play some as a 4th
    Outfield to keep giving Freese playing time at 1b. As much as I dislike Joe
    Maddon, he has no problem playing guys at different positions. Contreras was
    playing the outfield yesterday

    having virtually no experience out there.

    The problem with Bell coming up is Jaso becomes a 4 million dollar bench player. It was a bad signing, especially when
    a guy like Freese is more versatile and a better offensive player for less
    money.
    Most teams would move a player like Jaso to get a player like Bell into the
    lineup. It would not surprise me if Bell does not get called up until the super
    2 next year.

    • I do agree that he is getting too many ABs and is “wearing out”.

      $4 mil for a bench player is not bad in this day and age.

      If Bell does come up, who goes off of the bench or do you trade Jaso?

      • Unfortunately I don’t think Jaso has any trade value, he isn’t an upgrade for most teams, especially those in the playoff picture

        • And we just can’t release him.

          I wonder if this is part of the dilemma for NH?

          • sammykhalifa
            June 27, 2016 11:33 am

            If they’re going to move anybody I’d send Matt Joyce, who some team will be eyeballing as a full time starter.

            I like him on the Pirates, but that’s the point. He is valuable.

        • I disagree. As a starter, no…but he’d be a capable, cheap bench piece for a contender. I wouldn’t think the Pirates could get much for him…but he’d definitely have value.

          • Nickrodomus
            June 27, 2016 7:00 pm

            Think of what we got for Snyder. Joyce offers sooooooooooo much more. I think we could get a pretty decent piece. Atleast a legit prospect who looks to be a mlb starter. Like a Dilson Herrera type trade.

            • I think Joyce and Snyder are two different animals.

              Joyce is about to turn 32…and he’s been puttering around for a few seasons now and has probably earned the tag ‘journeyman’.

              Snider was a 26 year old former first-rounder who looked like he was finally tapping into his talent.

              I’m not saying Snider is better than Joyce…but that’s what had to be Baltimore’s mindset when they traded for him. In fact…dig through the archives here…if you can find the Snider trade articles…A LOT of commenters thought the Pirates got fleeced when that trade was made (I think I may have been one of them 🙂 )…Snider did really look like he was on the cusp of being a 3-5 WAR player.

              And, had he panned out, the price they paid wouldn’t have been great at the time. They gave up two pitchers…one in A+ who was projected to be a middle reliever and one in A- whose ceiling was around a #4 starter.

              With Joyce and his track record…I don’t know that there will be a lot of GMs that will give up a Snider-type haul …even though he’s having a good season. If he’s dealt, my guess is, he’s probably going to be exactly what he is with the Pirates…a bench piece and adequate spot-starter.

              It will be the trading deadline, so crazy things can happen. I like him and appreciate what he’s done for the team…but I’m thinking he could net one Brault/Tarpley type and maybe a slap-hitting, defense first middle infielder.

      • Here’s where I am… $4M for a bench guy isn’t terrible but then you start adding it up…our bench and off season bullpen additions have cost us enough to have Happ. Is that really the best allocation of minimal resources for a small market team?

    • sammykhalifa
      June 27, 2016 11:30 am

      There was no reason to believe Freese would be available at the time they signed Jaso.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 27, 2016 10:47 am

    If the Pirates send Kuhl down, and start Niese, I will scream! I would include Locke in that statement as well, as his overall performance this year has been maddeningly inconsistent – and for a veteran pitcher, that is unacceptable. But, he’s pitched great the last two outings, so you have to send him out again.

  • I love the idea of calling Bell up to DH. I just think the Pirates will take this time to have Kang DH. Keeps his bat in lineup while resting him in field.

    • I was thinking that each of the outfielders could take one day at DH too since each of them have been slightly banged up lately

      • Darkstone42
        June 27, 2016 4:28 pm

        Or a combination of the two. I do expect them to get Kang’s bat in the lineup an extra day or two using him as the DH, and I also expect Cutch at the least to DH once. Really, we don’t need to call anyone up to fill that role. We can start Freese at first and DH Jaso, Joyce can DH or play an outfield spot.

        If Bell comes up to DH it won’t be because we need him. It’ll be seizing an opportunity to get Major League at bats in a controlled setting. I like that idea, of course, so we’ll see if they do it. But he won’t be coming up to fill a need.

  • Question Tim: When you say:

    “The primary thing is John Jaso. Expecting Bell to perform better than Jaso right now is expecting a lot from a rookie”

    I really have to ask why. A strictly platoon player who has a 119 WRC+ vs righties and is completely worthless against lefties and has some of worst soft contact in all of MLB(4th worst among qualified starters) and hits almost everything on the ground.

    If it is unreasonable to think Bell may be able to approach this level of production even as a rookie how good of a prospect is he?

    • I’ve been making a similar argument. The only thing that should be keeping Bell down is himself. Jaso shouldn’t be blocking him.

    • Jaso is middle of the pack when it comes to 1b performance.

      He gets on base at a .350+ pace. His SPct is only .405, but we knew he wasn’t a power hitter.

      I want Bell up, too, but I trust NH.

      • Personally I’d like to see Bell come up and Jaso get some reps in the OF, rather than SeanRod right now. Mainly because I’d like to see Jaso transition to 4th OF/backup 1b next year. Maybe that’s just me.

        • I don’t like SeanRod in the OF either.

          But, if you bring Bell up, Frazier goes down? And with JHay being horrible in June (.523 OPS), I’d like to see Frazier get some starts at 2b.

        • No, ginbear, it is not just you. I like Jaso and want him on the team next year too. He can do a lot of things, makes contact, and is just a solid player.

    • The assumption that great prospects=great rookie seasons is flawed itself.

      Even terrific prospects have a learning curve and thus a non elite rookie season, but that doesnt mean they werent great prospects.

      I think Bell is ready and would be a solid bench option, but the idea that his success in AAA=better ML results than Jaso seems flawed to me. It also means Freese sees less at bats, which sucks as well.

      • Eric Marshall
        June 27, 2016 12:31 pm

        Think we need to bring him up for DH role to see what we got. Then if good results you trade Joyce and/or Freese depending on returns.

        • No!! You are not going to make a determination on Bell’s readiness and long term value based on a hand full of games. This team needs pitching it they are going to have a winning season and can stay in the wild card hunt. Bell needs to stay at Indy and continue to work on the weaknesses in his game.

        • That I 100% agree with. Id even have him on the bench in general, but im not handing him that starting spot because we assume he’ll be above average from day 1.

      • who is expecting great rookie season? He could approach jaso numbers without being great.

        • No, that’s not the value of the pound after the Brexit vote, it’s Jaso’s wOBA from Game 1 to now. He’s been below replacement level over the past two months.

          The only baseball reason that Bell is still in AAA is defense, and it does worry me a bit that Bell is still where he is. Not many complementary reports lately. A platoon hitter with Jaso’s offensive production this year should in no way be holding back of prospect of Bell’s caliber. Will there be struggles? Almost certainly. But Bell has to break in at some point, and a platoon bat with an 81 wRC+ over the last month shouldn’t be blocking that progress.

          Jaso has done his job and held down the position until Bell is ready for his next challenge. Time to see what they have.

          • Someone once posted a comparison of 2014 ike Davis and jaso. It was scary similar

        • As respectfully as possible, thats stupid.

          You dont just easily pop out 115-120 wRC+. Its not elite, but its also not below average. Josh Bell would have to, from day 1, be average or above average and not have a bad 2-4 weeks.

          People love to look at stats and go “he’ll be better than X ML player” without caring to think about how big a jump it is from AAA to MLB. Josh Bell can be a great prospect and throw out a 100 wRC+ in his first 200 at bats.

          • LOL thanks for qualifying your insult, but your analysis isn’t especially erudite. Bell doesn’t have to “pop out” 115-120 WRC+. If he “pops out” only 100 it’s really not that far off from what you are getting with Jaso. Keep in mind Jaso’s batted profile hints towards some aging decline. Very high ground ball percentage and a lot of soft contact.

            If Josh Bell even approximates Jaso’s production it’s a win because he will be learning stuff HE CAN”T learn in Triple A. If he puts up 120-125 WRC_+ all the better. If he is horrible, give Jaso more at bats.

            • If he puts up less than Jaso, you punt this season.

              And thats fine, but thats the reality of the idea that Bell is the guy right now. If he struggles, as many many rookies do, and throws out 105-110 wRC+, its a non upgrade and we punt this year.

              Many fans arent ready to write off this year and just act like 2005 PGH where its rookie tryouts from July+. Not yet.

              • If Josh Bell puts up 100-105 WRC+ we “punt” our season? Talk about a hot take. I have a question for you. Do you have anything empirical to back up your intimation that Bell will put up less than a 100 WRC+ as a rookie besides vague generalities like “many rookies struggle?” More specifically do you know what a REASONABLE MLE would be for a guy Bell’s age who near nearly 500 PAs with about 170 WRC+?

                We all know there are no guarantees in baseball. But how bout starting with a reasonable framework of what would be a reasonable MLE for Bell?

          • You also realize John Jaso has never taken more than 361 PA’s since 2011. Some of that injury. But call me crazy but I’m just a bit concerned that Jaso seems to be getting worse as the season progresses. On pace for 530 PAs or more with a WRC+ near 80 this month and over 35% soft contact. Almost 60% of his stuff on the ground.

            You’re right it’s STUPID to think a guy in Triple A putting up near 170 WRC+ could approximate such performance.

    • Typical PBC bullpucky answer, covering up any rational reason.

      It’s the equivalent of a very imprecise, “He has an upper body injury!”

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