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Three Black MLB Prospects To Watch in 2017

Contrary to misinformed popular belief, MLB has elite African-American talent in their farm systems.

Contrary to misinformed popular belief, MLB has elite African-American talent in their farm systems. We got a glimpse of some of these shooting stars at the end of last season, but three names in particular should assert themselves as future MLB studs this season in some way, shape or form.

There are a nice amount of African-American prospects who are ready to snatch their piece of the MLB stardom pie and most of them are outfielders. These guys play positions in which African-American pros are nearly non-existent. So I wish them the best of luck in diversifying the game and making it truly representative of America again. 

Josh Bell,1B, Pirates: The Pirates showed what they thought of Bell early in his career by drafting him in in the second round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft out of Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and then giving him a $5 million signing bonus — a record for a player outside of the first round — to bypass his college baseball scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin.

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Bell spent 2012-2015 ripping up the minors and  began the 2016 season with Indianapolis. After batting .324 with a .407 on-base percentage in 83 games for the Indians, the Pirates promoted Bell to the major leagues on July 8, where he made he made a pinch hit appearance. The next day Bell introduced himself to the city of Pittsburgh as its newest Black Knight by hitting a grand slam in his second MLB at-bat on July 9.


In 45 games for the Pirates last year, Bell hit .273 with 3 home runs and 19 RBI while splitting time between first base and the outfield.


Bell was expected to be the starting first baseman this season. However, he’s had chronic problems with his left knee for a few seasons and underwent surgery in February. His status for Spring Training is still up in the air, but when Bell returns expect his presence to boost the Pirates offense and strengthen the squad.

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Jharel Cotton, RHP, Athletics: Cotton is one of three talented  pitchers acquired from a loaded Dodgers farm system in the deadline trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to L.A.

Cotton, whose brother, Jamaine Cotton, pitched in the Houston Astros organization from 2010 to 2014, made a serious impression on the organization by posting a 2.15 ERA in five starts with Oakland. A native of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cotton is just 5-foot-11 but his fastball gets up at about 95 mph, which makes his nasty changeup even more formidable.


With the 25 year old’s rapid progress taken into account, the As expect Cotton to lock down a spot in their inexperienced rotation this spring and be a cornerstone of the teams rebuilding process.

A’s assistant GM and director of player personnel Billy Owens is high on Cotton, but doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the young gem. 


J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies:  We wrote about Crawford, the cousin of MLB star Carl Crawford, when he was drafted by the Phillies back in 2013.

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At the time, Derek Jeter was retiring soon and Jimmy Rollins was the only other black shortstop in baseball. Crawfords arrival was filled with encouragement and the articles title basically says it all; Is J.P. Crawford The Next Great Black Shortstop? 

Fast Forward about four years and Crawford, 22, is one of the best defensive shortstop prospects in the game and he still has that rifle arm. He hasnt adjusted offensively to minor league pitching as fast as the Phillies had hoped but they are looking for him to bounce back this year in AAA and earn a late-season call up or sooner if anything happens to projected starter Freddy Galvis.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The Deputy Editor and Senior Writer is in his 23rd year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, magazines and national TV.

His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.