Giger: Young prospects spark Bucs
What a breath of fresh air these terrific young prospects have been for the Buccos, and it’s not a coincidence the team has rebounded the past few weeks since they’ve arrived.
Josh Bell’s pinch-hit grand slam Saturday night was a thing of beauty, one of the Pirates’ biggest highlights of the season so far and perhaps a glimpse of what might be to come for much of the next decade.
Did you see Bell’s huge smile as he rounded third base in the win over the Cubs? That kind of infectious excitement rubs off on everyone on the club.
Since June 26, the following players who were with the Curve just last year have been promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis to make their big league debuts for the Bucs: pitchers Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Adam Frazier and Bell, the sweet-swinging first baseman who, along with Frazier, has hit everywhere he’s been.
When the Curve arrived in 1999, baseball fans here all talked about how we’d get an up-close look at guys who someday would be big contributors for the Pirates. We’ve seen a bunch of them over the years, and while it used to be really, really cool to watch one make his MLB debut with the Bucs, honestly, it kind of lost some luster as time went on.
Some of it was the caliber of players getting called up to the majors. Yeah, there were the occasional likes of Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte who were eagerly awaited in Pittsburgh, but there also have been many former Curve guys who were unheralded and merely filled depth roles for the big league team.
There’s something very different about the current crop of prospects.
Several of these guys – Glasnow, Bell and pitcher Jameson Taillon, who debuted June 8 – have superstar potential, and the others could be key parts of the Pirates’ foundation for years to come.
Consider what they’ve done since the call-ups began:
n Kuhl beat Clayton Kershaw in his debut.
n Brault helped the Pirates win a game at St. Louis in his debut.
n Frazier had seven hits in his first 14 at-bats.
n Bell hit the first pitch he saw in the majors for a single off Jake Arrieta on Friday, then destroyed a ball for a grand slam and his first MLB homer Saturday.
n Taillon won two games before suffering some arm fatigue.
n Glasnow, who has as much upside as any of these guys, was really good for most of his debut in St. Louis before giving up four runs and taking the loss.
Glasnow and Brault have since gone back to Triple-A, and Taillon is on the disabled list.
Still, when you take a look at the excitement surrounding these highly touted guys and the energy they’ve brought to what had been a struggling club, it’s impossible to discount the impact they’ve had collectively.
The Pirates were on a sinking ship before Taillon provided the first boost of energy. When Kuhl made an athletic play to tag a Dodgers runner out at the plate in the win over Kershaw, it served as the type of exciting play that can spark everyone on the club.
The Pirates have now won 12 of their last 15 games, and while the veterans have done a lot of the heavy lifting during that stretch, we can’t overlook the intangible of how much the overall team dynamic has changed having these young, exciting, enthusiastic guys around to help boost morale.
These youngsters will have some struggles at times – Kuhl didn’t look sharp Saturday night, for instance – but for now they’ve done exactly what they were needed to do.
They’ve helped rejuvenate this team and this season.
And the fact that we got to see most of these guys in Altoona just last year is really cool.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.