With the first pick of the second round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected … Josh Bell.
That was June of 2011, one month after Bell emailed all 30 MLB teams to not draft him because he was going to attend and play baseball at the University of Texas.
The Pirates didn’t listen and threw a lot of money at him to talk him into signing. Reportedly, the Pirates initially offered Bell $3.5 million to sign. He turned it down. They upped the bonus offer to $5 million and he signed at the last minute in August of that year.
That was the year the Pirates drafted Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall pick and paid him a $8 million bonus.
Guess what? The Pirates’ spending in that draft helped prompt MLB to adopt a draft system with slot value assigned to picks. Teams have an allotment of money to spend with each draft and are penalized by fines and if they spend too much, they lose picks. No team has gone that far, but yes, the Pirates’ aggressive spending caused change in an ultra-important facet of player development.
So fast-forward to today, eight years ago, Bell is utterly shredding — not counting the past few games going into Tuesday night and yes he needed a game off — leading the National League in doubles with 21 and runs batted in with 53. He has 41 extra-base hits by June 4, which is historical.
So after 58 games, the Pirates were 28-30. Shocked? Kind of, considering that a big handful of players haven’t been around because of injuries. They were a .500 team going into the season with a healthy roster, I thought.
The Pirates are a below-average offense in runs scored and home runs. In pitching, they’ve given up the third-most runs in the majors, even more than the Colorado Rockies. Only two American League teams are ahead of them — Seattle and Baltimore.
The run differential is maddening. Only five teams in MLB have a worse differential than the Buccos’ minus-68, so unless something changes, I don’t like how the future looks for the Pirates.
But, they have Josh Bell. Prior to the year, I wasn’t sure what player on the roster had any excitable qualities. It’s Bell, who remains an awful first baseman defensively.
So at least give the Pirates credit for being aggressive with Bell years ago. He might give us some enjoyment as the season gets away from us.
But please, remember this. The fact that they’re 28-30 after 58 games is not another pathetic chapter of this franchise. It’s slightly surprising.
SPEAKING OF THE DRAFT — Through the first 10 rounds of this week’s MLB Amateur Draft, one local player was picked as Punxsutawney’s John Matthews was selected in the eighth round by the Texas Rangers.
The former Chuck just finished his junior year at Kent State. The 6-foot-1-inch right-hander was 7-6 with a 5.54 earned run average in 16 appearances, 11 of them starts, over 77 2/3 innings. He struck out 91 and walked 25. As a sophomore, he struck out 38 in 28 2/3 innings with a 2.51 ERA and in his freshman year, he saw more action as an infielder and threw just five innings.
IN THE MINORS — Former Johnsonburg standout Cole Peterson is up to Class AA in the Detroit Tigers’ system. The 23-year-old middle infielder who was picked in the 13th round of the 2017 draft started the year at high-A Lakeland where he hit .292 in 45 games. He’s off to a .375 start in his first five games with Erie in the Eastern League.
Peterson is a .264 career hitter in over 800 minor-league at-bats. He’s carving out a niche as a strong defensive player with some speed.
CHUCK DALY AWARD — This year’s Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award in the NBA was given to former Utah Jazz head coach Frank Layden.
Layden was the coach of the upstart Jazz at the beginning of the John Stockton and Karl Malone era from 1982 through 1989 and that’s when I became a huge fan of the Jazz. It was my answer to the tiresome — that was my opinion then — replaying every weekend of the same Celtics, Lakers, 76ers combos of TV coverage.
Layden was the 1984 NBA Coach of the Year after leading the Jazz to a Midwest Division title. The year that pushed me over the top was in 1988 when the Jazz pushed the eventual champion Lakers to seven games in the second round.
He was hilarious. One quote, regarding him vs. fashion icon of a coach Pat Riley: “He buys his clothes. I find mine.”
Awesome. Layden has never taken himself too seriously.
“I don’t really believe I deserve this award,” said the 87-year-old Layden. “But having come from Brooklyn and having reached a high level of mediocrity in the coaching profession, on behalf of all the C students in the world I’m going to take it anyway.”
Rich Rhoades is the sports editor of the Jeffersonian Democrat and Leader-Vindicator in New Bethlehem. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on twitter @TheSkinny1969.