United States' Josh Bell watches a two-run home run during the fourth inning of the All-Star Futures baseball game against Team World, Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

United States’ Josh Bell watches a two-run home run during the fourth inning of the All-Star Futures baseball game against Team World, Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The year is 2016 and the Pirates are playing the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. 1st baseman Josh Bell was called up from Indianapolis right after the All-Star break and has been terrorizing big league pitchers since his arrival to the big time. And you know what, he has only made 2 errors in more than three months in the big leagues. Pirates manager Clint hurdle does not have to replace him in the seventh inning like he did his predecessor Pedro Alvarez.

Okay this may be playing a bit of fantasy baseball but the MLB website had this to say about Josh Bell.  “Ever since the Pirates drafted and managed to sign, surprisingly, Bell in the second round of the 2011 Draft, few questioned whether he had the bat to get to the big leagues. The questions came when trying to figure out where Bell would fit, given the crowded outfield picture in Pittsburgh.

That began to be answered when Bell moved to first base last fall at instructs and the Arizona Fall League. Bell has completely shaken off a 2012 knee injury that forced him to miss nearly all of his first full season of pro ball, and the switch-hitter made it to Double-A in 2014 before his 21st birthday.

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AUBREY BRUCE

Bell has the ability to consistently barrel up balls from both sides of the plate with a smooth swing and an advanced approach. He is expected to continue growing into his power, and as he matures, his extra-base ability will develop into home run pop. He’s an average runner with a strong throwing arm, tools that were more handy when he was a corner outfielder.

He has a ways to go defensively at his new position, but he’s a solid athlete with outstanding makeup, and the Pirates expect him to adjust to his new surroundings with an eye on the big league job in 2016.”

A Pirates infield with Bell at 1st base possibly sharing time with infielder Sean Rodriguez, may be far more solid than when the “streaky” Pedro Alvarez played that position for Pittsburgh. .

Jung Ho Kang is back patrolling the “hot corner.”  Jordy Mercer is as usual “smooth as glass” at shortstop.  Josh “the fireball” Harrison replaces the almost irreplaceable Neil Walker at second base without missing a beat. Pittsburgh still has the best outfield in baseball.  Starling Marte in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Gregory Polanco in right still gives hitter little or no chance to get on base or advance when one of the “three Amigos” catches the ball on the fly.

One of the question marks is whether the starting rotation will add one or two quality starters in order for Pittsburgh to compete with their NL Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Except for a long reliever or two, the relief corps of Pittsburgh seems to still have a solid core with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes coming out of the bullpen.

Don’t forget The NL Central sent not one, not two, but three teams to the postseason in 2015.  And the Milwaukee Brewers the lone MLB Central team that failed to make the playoffs, had the Pirates number for most of the 2015 season, competing against the Pirates as if every game was a playoff game. In 2016 playing in the ultra-competitive NL Central, the Pirates must play every game as if it were the postseason.

Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412.583.6741

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