BRADENTON, Fla. -- Lined up at first base on Tuesday morning, Josh Bell tracked a soft grounder off a coach’s bat into his gloved left hand, pulled the ball out of his glove and fired a sidearm, chest-high throw directly to JT Riddle at second base. Then he did it
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Lined up at first base on Tuesday morning, Josh Bell tracked a soft grounder off a coach’s bat into his gloved left hand, pulled the ball out of his glove and fired a sidearm, chest-high throw directly to JT Riddle at second base. Then he did it again, and again, and again.
It was the kind of defensive work you might take for granted during Spring Training. For Bell, who’s been plagued by throwing issues since moving to first base, it was a truly welcome sight. The All-Star first baseman overhauled his throwing mechanics during the offseason, hoping to address one of the only remaining flaws in his game.
“It was definitely a problem,” Bell said, “so I’m glad to finally make steps in the right direction.”
Bell started using this new throwing motion in practice drills late last year, hoping to implement it at some point during the season. But it was so different, so foreign for his body, that his arm was too sore the following day to try it out in games. When his winter workouts began, however, Bell decided he was going to make the change.
“It was something that I knew I had to do from Day 1,” Bell said. “Even before I started throwing with guys in the [Scott Boras] agency, I was working on it -- in Pittsburgh, at least, in the cages, just trying to feel it out. It’s kind of just a me thing.”
During the first two full-squad workouts, Bell has looked natural and comfortable throwing the ball – far more so than in previous years, when he was searching for the right arm action and footwork after growing up as an outfielder.
General manager Ben Cherington noted that Bell’s decision to address his throwing is a sign of him “trying to become a complete player,” something the Pirates want to encourage even for someone who’s already arguably their most complete hitter.
“I think it’s great compared to where I felt in the past. It’s right where I want to be the first couple days of camp,” Bell said. “Excited to continue working on it, continue to make different plays I haven’t made in the past and keep growing.”
Craig comfortable at first
Another first baseman’s defense stood out during the early workouts. While Bell worked alongside José Osuna on Field 1 on Monday, prospect Will Craig was stationed alone at first on Field 4.
Fielding throws from all over the infield, Craig consistently made impressive picks and scoops – a part of the job that he said finally felt like second nature for him midway through the 2018 season.
“I feel like it’s gone great. Over the last two years, especially last year, I really grilled myself on being really good over there because you never know what’s going to happen,” said Craig, who was drafted as a third baseman in 2016. “Guys are making great plays in the hole, trying to get the ball out quick, so I’m trying to do my part to secure the ball and make the play. I wanted to come in ready to go from Day 1, not be rusty and not having balls bouncing off my glove. I feel really good over there. That’s one thing I really wanted to work on, for sure.”
Craig also noticed a difference in the way he felt physically after the first workout. The 25-year-old lost 25 pounds over the offseason to improve his athleticism, and it was on display as he essentially didn’t have a single play off during the Pirates’ infield work.
“I was tired afterward, but it wasn’t like it was anything I couldn’t handle,” Craig said. “I wasn’t on my knees dying. I felt like I was in good shape, moving really well.”
Around the horn
• Closer Keone Kela, who was scheduled to pitch during live batting practice, did not participate in Tuesday’s workout due to a viral infection, the Pirates announced.
• The new coaching staff altered the Pirates’ approach to live batting practice by removing the turtle-shell cages around home plate. Grounds crew members arranged protective screens behind the plate and behind the mound, where coaches and staff monitored data from Rapsodo tracking devices and video feeds from Edgertronic cameras. Otherwise, live BP was out in the open on Fields 1 and 4.
Manager Derek Shelton said the idea, which the Rays used during his stint as Tampa Bay’s hitting coach, is “to make it more real” for pitchers, hitters and catchers.
• Starter Trevor Williams and relievers Michael Feliz and Geoff Hartlieb were among the pitchers who took the mound on Tuesday. But the headliner might have been hard-throwing relief prospect Blake Cederlind, who captured onlookers’ attention by pounding the zone with high-octane fastballs.
“The ball jumps out of his hand,” Shelton said. “You get the blonde hair flowing and you get the sinker going, yeah, that was cool to see.”
• There were several Pirates alumni in attendance on Tuesday, including Manny Sanguillen, John Candelaria and Omar Moreno. Shelton said he encouraged the Pirates’ current players to speak with their predecessors, and he even facilitated a meeting between Sanguillen and coach Glenn Sherlock during the workout.
“To have those guys here, and the fact that they’re taking the time to be around our guys, I think it’s really cool,” Shelton said. “We have a very strong tradition and history here.”
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.