By John Perrotto
Josh Bell has told anyone who will listen that he is not yet ready to begin playing professional baseball. He went as far as to write a letter to each of the 30 major-league teams earlier this year telling them not to draft him because he planned to honor his letter of intent to play at the University of Texas.
While the Pirates don’t believe Bell was, uh, joshing, they very much would like to bring the 6-foot-3, 195-pound switch-hitter from Dallas Jesuit High School into their organization. Thus, they gambled the first pick of the second round to select him Tuesday on the second day of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
So, do the Pirates know something that nobody else does?
“No,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We feel we can sign him. We feel we can convince him to play for us. We wouldn’t have drafted him if we didn’t think we could sign him.”
The Pirates will receive a compensatory pick at the start of the second round in next year’s draft if they fail to reach an agreement with Bell. However, Huntington said that had only a “minor role” in selecting Bell.
“We feel he has a chance to be an outstanding big-league player,” Huntington said.
Bell was rated as the 15th-best prospect in the draft by Baseball America. He hit .548 with 13 home runs, 54 RBIs, 54 runs scored and a1.054 slugging percentage in 139 at-bats this spring while striking out just five times in leading Jesuit to the Texas state Class 5A semifinals.
Bell has been switch-hitting since he was 5 years old and has outstanding power and the ability to hit for average from both sides of the plate. He figures to be limited to a corner outfield spot in professional baseball but his arm could be good enough to play right field rather than relegating him strictly to left.
Bell is being advised by Scott Boras, the hard-negotiating agent who also represents Gerrit Cole, the UCLA right-hander selected first overall by the Pirates on Monday. Thus, negotiations figure to be difficult.
Indiana first baseman Alex Dickerson was the Pirates’ third-round pick after he hit .367 with nine home runs and 49 RBIs in 54 games for the Hoosiers this year. He won the Big Ten Triple Crown as a sophomore with .419-24-75 numbers.
The Pirates then started a run of selecting five high school right-handers in the next six rounds, taking Colton Brewer from Canton, Texas in the fourth and Tyler Glasnow from Hart High in Santa Clarita, Calif., in the fifth.
Brewer was 8-4 with a 1.77 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 56 innings and relies almost exclusively on a 93-mph sinker. He has committed to play at Weatherford (Texas) Junior College.
Glasnow went 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 67 innings. The 6-foot-7 Portland recruit comes from an athletic family as his mother is the gymnastics coach at Cal State Northridge and his brother is a decathlete at Notre Dame.
In the sixth round, the Pirates tabbed Auburn third baseman Daniel Gamache. He had his season end early because of hand surgery after hitting .299 with five home runs and 29 RBIs.
The Pirates then went with three more prep righties: Jake Burnette of Buford, Ga., in the seventh round; Clayton, N.C.’s Jason Creasy in the eighth; and Clay Holmes of Slocomb, Ala., in the ninth. Burnette was 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 57 innings and Holmes went 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings.
Burnette throws 88 mph with a good soft curveball and is expected to add velocity as his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame fills out. Creasy also pitches in the upper 80s while Holmes showed a marked increase in velocity this spring, topping out at 93. Burnette is a Georgia Tech recruit while Creasy has signed with UNC-Wilmington and Holmes has committed to Auburn.
Holmes was rated as the 140th-best player in the draft by Baseball America.
Rounding out the Pirates’ top 10 picks was Maine outfielder Taylor Lewis. He was the Black Bears’ team captain this year, hitting .287 with 20 stolen bases. He is a left-handed hitter who impressed scouts by running the 60-yard dash in just 6.5 seconds.
The following players, listed by round, were also drafted by the Pirates on Tuesday:
11. Jo-El Bennett, OF, Dothan (Ala.) Houston Academy
12. Candon Myles, OF, South Grand Prairie (Texas) High School
13. Brandon Platts, RHP, Mason City (Iowa) High School
14. Jordan Dunatov, OF, Scottsdale Horizon (Ariz.) High School
15. Kody Watts, RHP, Vancouver Skyview (Wash.) High School
16. Eric Skoglund, LHP, Sarasota (Fla.) High School
17. Aaron Brown, OF, Chatsworth (Calif.) High School
18. Josh Poytress, LHP, Fresno State
19. Mike Nunez, RHP, Slidell Salmen (La.) High School
20. Treo Turner, SS, Lake Worth (Fla.) Park Vista High School
21. Alex Fuselier, OF, Louisiana Lafayette
22. Michael Jefferson, LHP, Louisiana Tech
23. Jordan Cooper, RHP, Kentucky
24. Brian Sharp, SS, California Baptist
25. Josh Martin, RHP, Stanford
26. Nicholas Flair, SS, Belle Chasse (La.) High School
27. Ryan Hornback, C, San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College
28. Jeffrey Zajac, LHP, Walker Valley (Tenn.) High School
29. Kirk Singer, SS, Long Beach State
30. Matthew Benedict, RHP, Western Carolina