Pirates cut 10 from camp, including Josh Bell, Alen Hanson
March 18, 2016 11:17 PM
The Pirates' Josh Bell during workouts at Pirate City Bradenton Fla., last month.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Early Friday morning, Josh Bell, the Pirates’ first-base prospect on the verge of the majors, stood before a mural of PNC Park that stretches the length of a wall outside the clubhouse at McKechnie Field. He dreamed aloud about the day he reaches Pittsburgh.
When he was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis in August, Bell said, that’s when it hit him:
“I’m one phone call away.”
For now, Bell is on hold. As expected, he was one of 10 prospects optioned or reassigned to minor league camp Friday as the Pirates trimmed the number of players in big league camp to 45.
Optioned to Indianapolis were Bell, second baseman Alen Hanson, shortstop Gift Ngoepe, outfielder Willy Garcia, infielder Max Moroff and right-handers John Holdzkom and Nick Kingham, who is rehabbing from offseason Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.
Infielders Adam Frazier, Dan Gamache and Juan Diaz were reassigned to minor league camp.
Ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the system, Bell “isn’t far” from being part of the equation in Pittsburgh, general manager Neal Huntington said. Bell likely will be a candidate for a mid- or late-season promotion, but at the moment the Pirates still have five potential first basemen in camp, led by John Jaso, who is signed through 2017.
“Having too many good players is a wonderful problem to have,” Huntington said. “We’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.”
Last spring, Bell was stuck at the team’s minor-league facility learning how to play first base. A natural outfielder, Bell made 16 errors in 116 games last season. He said his comfort level at first base now is “night and day” different from a year ago.
“When you realize he’s a 16-month-old first baseman, to be where he is right now? That’s a lot of fun,” Huntington said. “We’ve still got work left to do there, but [he’s made] huge steps forward.”
Hanson entered spring training with a shot at making the opening-day roster, but once the Pirates signed David Freese — a “now” player, Huntington said — Hanson again was destined for the minors. He’ll bounce around the infield rather than stay at second.
Hanson was 7 for 11 at the plate this spring and added three steals.
“In Alen’s case, he’s closer than he’s ever been,” Huntington said. “We toyed for a long time with the idea of letting Alen have this opportunity out of spring training. We just got to a point in time where we felt the right move was with David Freese.”
Ngoepe, the slick-fielding shortstop hoping to one day become the first black South African to make the majors, is an elite defender and a reformed switch-hitter. Now working only from the right side, Ngoepe will focus on becoming a gap-to-gap hitter at Indianapolis.
“[I’ll] wait for my cell phone to ring and for them to say, ‘Hey, Gift, you made it to the big leagues,’ ” Ngoepe said, smiling. “And then we can all celebrate, here and in South Africa.”
The biggest surprise Friday was Holdzkom being sent down. The right-hander, who ascended from independent-league ball to the majors in 2014, struggled with shoulder problems at Indianapolis last season and might again be injured.
Huntington explained Holdzkom has lost velocity this spring, his fastball sitting between 89 and 91 mph rather than in the high 90s, and the ball “isn’t coming out of his hand like it did in the past.”
Friday also marked the final day for the Pirates to option a player who is injured and didn’t have major league service time the previous year. Had the Pirates not optioned Holdzkom — or Kingham — and he started the year on the disabled list, it would’ve by rule been the major league DL.
Holdzkom gave up three runs in 4⅔ innings this spring. The question now, Huntington said, is “how do we get this guy back to what he was in 2014, back to that guy who can help us? Because that guy can really help us.
“Unfortunately, the guy we’ve seen so far this spring doesn’t help us.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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