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Bucs in good shape with Bell manning first

MLB.com @adamdberry

With Spring Training approaching, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' roster. This is the second part of a series checking in on their current and future options at each position. Next up: first base.

Big question: Can Josh Bell take the next step?

With Spring Training approaching, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' roster. This is the second part of a series checking in on their current and future options at each position. Next up: first base.

Big question: Can Josh Bell take the next step?

Bell already answered questions about his power (by hitting 26 home runs) and defense (by recording six Defensive Runs Saved) in 2017, but he's not a finished product heading into his second full season. That power surge surprised Bell. So did his .255 average.

"I definitely didn't think I was going to hit 20-plus homers," Bell said at the end of the season, "but I also thought I was going to hit .300. We'll see what I can do next year."

He believes he'll improve through experience, but he'll also shoulder more responsibility without Andrew McCutchen batting in front of him. Is the switch-hitting slugger ready to anchor Pittsburgh's lineup?

Video: Josh Bell finishes third for NL Rookie of the Year

The starter: Bell

There was a lot to like about Bell's rookie campaign. He finished with an .800 OPS and 90 RBIs in 159 games, good enough to place third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. The Bucs' cleanup hitter also emerged as a reliable defender, and manager Clint Hurdle eventually trusted him to play without a defensive replacement.

For all his success, Bell had a rough May (.198/.265/.415) and final month (.221/.302/.337) as he was challenged by Major League pitching and worked through mechanical tweaks. Bell expects to upgrade his average, his consistency and his throwing -- one flaw still apparent in his fielding -- by altering his arm angle.

"I know what I need to do to have success for next year," Bell said, "so I'm excited about that."

Backing up: David Freese, Sean Rodriguez

Bell started 139 games at first last year, so this won't be a committee. But with Colin Moran set to start at third, the Pirates can use Freese as a backup corner infielder -- the role they had in mind when they signed (and extended) him in 2016. The veteran barely played first last season due to third baseman Jung Ho Kang's absence.

Rodriguez is probably the Pirates' most capable defender at first, but his role could change depending on what the club does with trade candidate Josh Harrison and the outfield spot opened by trading McCutchen.

Video: Rodriguez discusses playing hurt last season

Depth: Jose Osuna, Eric Wood

Osuna, a more natural first baseman than corner outfielder, is redundant with Freese given his defensive profile and right-handed bat. He could open the year on the bench or with Triple-A Indianapolis. Osuna had 24 extra-base hits in 227 plate appearances in 2017, but that power came with a .269 on-base percentage.

Wood, 25, will be back in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. He slashed .238/.311/.438 with 16 homers for Indianapolis last year while playing first, third and both corner-outfield spots.

In the pipeline: Bell is the Pirates' long-term (and long-awaited) answer at first, so this shouldn't be an issue for a few years.

Will Craig, the Pirates' No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is now a full-time first baseman after being selected as a third baseman in the first round of the 2016 Draft. Craig, 23 years old and likely to play for Double-A Altoona this year, will have to show more power to succeed as a first baseman. A little closer to the Majors is Jerrick Suiter, a first baseman/corner outfielder who put up a .285/.372/.447 line in his age-24 season for Altoona.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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