As the Pittsburgh Pirates begin the second half of their 2015 season tomorrow in Milwaukee, it’s hard not to reflect on the All-Star celebrations, which featured six members of the Pirates organization, including two top minor league prospects.
The festivities got started on Sunday evening, as the future stars of baseball took the field in the SiriusXM Futures game. Two of the Pirates top prospects represented the organization during the event, and did so in more than a positive way. Altoona Curve first baseman Josh Bell, one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and Indianapolis Indians catcher Elias Diaz opposed each other in the game, with Bell playing for team USA and Diaz playing for the World team. Bell, the No. 28 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, had a huge impact on the contest, belting a two-run home run in the fourth inning that gave the US team a comfortable 5-1 lead, en route to a dominating 10-1 victory.
What fans saw from Bell during the futures game, which was televised nationally on MLB Network, was just a sample of what the young 22-year old has been doing all season long. At Double-A Altoona this season, Bell is hitting .312, with four home runs and 51 RBI in 80 games. The talented first baseman hasn’t shown much power during his minor league career, but he has proved to be a huge weapon in Altoona’s offense, getting on base and having the ability to drive runs in without the long ball. The position that Bell plays every day has also been a change that he has had to deal with this season. With the depth that the organization has in the outfield, both in the minors and in the big leagues, Bell transitioned to first base this past fall, and though it hasn’t been a completely smooth transition, he has made progress in his new role. He is getting better defensively and his prowess at the plate is absolutely uncanny. It’s never easy to change positions, but with the future of Pedro Alvarez being unknown, the door to the Major Leagues may be opening a little bit wider for Josh Bell.
Elias Diaz also saw a good amount of playing time for the World squad, coming in to catch behind the plate in the sixth inning. He was 0-2 in the game with a flyout and a groundout, but his main strength has always been his defensive abilities and his ability to work with a pitching staff. With the Altoona Curve last season, Diaz threw out 33 percent of base runners attempting to swipe the extra bag and, though he’s not much of a power threat, he has the ability to put together some good at-bats. This season, Diaz is hitting .265 with three home runs and 27 RBI in 66 games with the Indianapolis Indians. Odds are that Diaz isn’t going to rely on his offensive skills to get him to the Big leagues, but you never know. His defensive abilities are definitely what make him a top catching prospect in the Pirates organizaion, but there is room to grow when it comes to offense.
Both players were able to get playing time during the game and showcase some of the abilities that make them great pieces when it comes to the future of the Pirates organization. They both represented the club well and were integral parts of the Futures Game.
Though the Pirates did not have a representative compete in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, the Pirates were very well represented in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. With four selections into the Midsummer Classic that included Pitchers Gerrit Cole (First selection), AJ Burnett (First selection), Mark Melancon (Second selection), and Outfielder Andrew McCutchen (Fifth selection), the impact of the team with the second best record in the league was quite clear.
Andrew McCutchen, who got the opportunity to start for the National League for a second consecutive year due to an injury to Giancarlo Stanton, put on a show for the Cincinnati fans, who gave him a lot more love during the pregame introductions than they did for members of the St Louis Cardinals. McCutchen went 1-3 in the National League’s 6-3 loss, with the one hit coming on a solo home run off of Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer. It was the first home run by a Pirates player in an All-Star game since Dave Parker did it back in 1981, and provided a brief spark for a National League squad that I thought was bound to put up some big offensive numbers.
Though some thought that Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole should have started in the Midsummer Classic, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, manager for the NL squad, chose Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke to start in the game. Following two innings in which Greinke struck out four, walked one, and gave up one run on a Mike Trout leadoff home run, Cole got the opportunity to make his All-Star game debut. The young ace did not disappoint. Cole pitched one solid inning in the third, inducing two flyouts to his teammate in center field and striking out Trout, who would go on to win the MVP award, on a curveball that had the Angels star center fielder looking silly. Though Greinke was very much deserving of the starting nod based on his season statistics at the halfway point, Cole made a statement with his performance in his first All-Star game. He proved that he is one of the best young pitchers in the game today, and that he belongs on that field with the best players in baseball.
In my mind, there was not a better story during the All-Star festivities than AJ Burnett making his first All-Star team in his 17th Major League Season. Though he did not play in the game, it was incredible to see him speak to reporters on MLB Network and get to share the festivities with his family. Batman definitely made an impact on the celebration of baseball, just by being there and representing a city that has proved to care for him so deeply. It will be interesting to see if Burnett can continue his All-Star pace in the second half of the season, as his success will only benefit the Pirates as they chase down the Cardinals in the National League Central race.
Reliever Mark Melancon made his second trip to the Midsummer classic and entered the game to pitch in the 8th inning for the NL team. The Pirates closer, who leads the league with 29 saves this season, pitched one inning in relief, striking out two batters and giving up one run on a solo shot from Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. Melancon was deserving of the All-Star selection and proved it on the mound last night. He is bound to be an integral part of the Pirates second half and will be a huge asset in the back end of the bullpen once the calendar turns to October.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are emerging as one of the best organizations in baseball. The All-Star festivities in the last three days proved it. The Pirates showcased their talent at the Minor League and Major League levels, and were well represented by players who proved to be worthy of being amongst the best in baseball. Following their performances, the players will now return back to Altoona, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh to continue doing what they do best, with the hopes of returning to represent the Pittsburgh Pirates in future All-Star Games to come.