Flavell: Bell, Taillon must right the Pirates’ ship

Posted on Jan 17 2018 - 1:10pm by Cody Flavell
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Pittsburgh Pirates’ Josh Bell round second after hitting a two-run home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia during the second inning in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Salary dump. Rebuild. Retool. Pittsburgh Pirates fans have heard and spoken all of these words over the past four or five days.

Regardless of what you consider in this trade, Andrew McCutchen is a San Francisco Giant and Gerrit Cole is a Houston Astro.

That much is fact.

Through these trades, the Pirates acquired five players, three of which are all but locks to make the Opening Day roster.

When two players of the caliber of McCutchen and Cole are traded off to other organizations, the search begins for the new face and the new ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates: Enter Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon.

Bell is a humble, 25-year old kid who has long been touted as the first baseman of the future. Bell was drafted as a right fielder and played a lot of his minor league ball there. When he hit Triple-A ball, it became pretty clear the Pirates had viewed Gregory Polanco as their long-term fixture in right.

Thus, Bell began playing first base. He was called up in 2016 and played some first base down the stretch. Manager Clint Hurdle finally committed to Bell being the team’s first baseman.

In the first month of the season, Bell would be pulled late in the game for a defensive replacement as he wasn’t trusted enough to finish the game there. As the season wore on, Bell became really sound at first and ended up playing 159 games on the year. He batted .255 with 26 home runs and batted in 90. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

Taillon, now 26-years old, endured the toughest challenge of his life this past season. After a rookie season that seemed as promising as any, Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer early on in the season. He began the year dominantly and seemed destined to continue until this derailment.

He missed about five weeks and returned to the mound. He wasn’t as dominant but made it through the season and had the entire offseason to completely recover.

Taillon previously has been through Tommy John surgery, a hernia surgery and this past season cancer. He has faced a lot of adversity previously in his career and endured, even more, this past season.

Yet, here we are, only a few weeks out of Spring Training.

McCutchen is gone. Cole is gone. Josh Harrison could be gone before the season begins. More players could be shipped out mid-season if the team really wants a complete retool.

Soon, the likes of Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Mitch Keller, among others will make their Pirates debuts. Bell and Taillon were the youngsters of the core. Soon they might be the experienced part of a core.

Bell is the perfect person to replace McCutchen as the face. He may never reach the height of McCutchen in terms of his impact on everyone. But Bell is a good kid, he plays hard, he proved he’s willing to learn a new position for the betterment of him and his team.

Oh, and he’s pretty good on the field, too.

Taillon has seen one of the roughest paths to the major league. He could’ve been up two or three years ago because he’s that good. Even when he got to the MLB, the tough path didn’t stop. He faced cancer, looked it in the eye and returned five-weeks later.

Two embattled young players are being handed the keys to the franchise.

They will have the same manager for the next four years. McCutchen and Cole were able to lead the Pirates to three consecutive playoff appearances. Bell and Taillon have the talent to do leaps and bounds more.

Let’s hope that management’s “retooling” youth movement gives them enough complementary pieces to push Pittsburgh back to the glory days.

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