Prospect Notebook: Can Josh Bell Be a Future Power Hitter in the Majors?

The West Virginia Power played a total of 12 games in Lakewood this year, so I got to see a little more of the team than usual. Early in the season, it was the power display by Stetson Allie and the pitching of Tyler Glasnow that impressed me the most. As the season went on, I noticed improvements each start from Clay Holmes and better hitting from Josh Bell, particularly in this last series for both of them. Below I’ll give my thoughts on the hitters that I saw, spending more time on the top prospects. Tomorrow I will take a look at the West Virginia pitching staff.

Josh Bell Looks Better As Season Progresses 

Josh Bell has 35 doubles and ten homers this year

Josh Bell has 35 doubles and ten homers this year

Starting with the hitters, the obvious point to begin is Josh Bell, the top hitting prospect at the level this year and a top ten prospect in the system. Early on, with the help of a scout who pointed it out, I noticed just how much movement was in the swing for Bell from the left side. I didn’t get to see him bat righty until the last series and those results weren’t good as you will see below. From the left side, Bell had a swing that involved him holding his back elbow up high for too long into the pitcher’s delivery. He also had a leg kick and stride towards the pitcher, so not only was his swing long and loopy at times, he has had head movement and a dip. That led to some poor swings in the first two series.

This last series, he had more of a toe tap as the pitch came in, no head movement and he looked much more comfortable and selective at the plate. It was definitely a good sign to see and his power numbers recently have been better, though they have been almost all doubles. In batting practice, he showed a nice line drive stroke and he used the middle of the field. Bell also hit a homer in the last series, a line drive shot to right-center field.

So from the left side of the plate, things seem to be getting better for Bell. The right side was a different story and the opinion of his swing was pretty universal among those I talked to: it wasn’t pretty. I heard it described as brutal, awkward and someone said he looks like a pitcher hitting. The four at-bats from the right side all had awkward looking swings, which makes it hard to believe he is hitting .318 from that side, though it should be noted he has only one homer in 85 at-bats.

The one thing Bell has going for him, is that he is in great shape and everyone seems to think he will eventually hit for more power. To be honest, ten homers and 35 doubles isn’t bad for someone who missed most of last season, and this is really his first full season in pro ball. I think people just expected more from him in the homers category and they should eventually come. That will need to be his calling card, because his defense and running are average at best and I (and others) called them both slightly below average. If he can hit .280 with power from a corner spot, possibly first base in the future, he will still be a valuable player. Something has to be done with his swing from the right side and Bell needs to stay healthy to get to that level of player.

Herrera and Others Show Some Good Signs

While the opinions were mostly down on Bell, everyone really seems to like Dilson Herrera. He had some strong at-bats during the 12 games and showed some gap power for a smaller player. I don’t expect him ever to be a twenty home run player in the majors, but from the looks of things, he is definitely a future major leaguer. Herrera plays the game right, makes things happen at the plate, in the field and on the bases.

Watching him, it is easy to forget that he is just 19-years-old. His defense is above average, with strong range and he turns double plays quick. He was signed as a shortstop and played third base in the past, so his arm plays well at second. Herrera has slightly above average speed and he is aggressive, but also smart on the bases. People might not be so high on him due to the lower average and high K rate. It should be remembered that not only is he young, he was basically skipped over Jamestown, playing just seven games at the level late last year. What Alen Hanson did with that jump last year was special and may have put unfair expectations on Herrera making the similar move.

Josh Bell and Herrera are the top two prospects on offense at this level for the Power. There were others there all season that look like interesting players, possible future major leaguers to some extent, though they might not be regulars. Max Moroff had an aggressive push to low-A this season following a strong showing in the GCL after being drafted last year. He is hitting .239 and has had some trouble in the field at shortstop. I liked some things about him, specifically the plate patience he showed in the lead-off spot. He also drove the ball well in the gaps. He looks better than the numbers indicate and again, with an aggressive move this season, it is tough to put too many expectations on him. His defense looks like it could be solid with more seasoning. One scout, who has seen him each time they came to Lakewood, told me that Moroff looks like he has improved significantly enough that he changed his report on him to a possible future major league player. I agree with that assessment, but don’t expect him to move more than one level per season, so he will take time.

Moroff wasn’t the only one who got a better scouting report as the season went on and the second one was a bigger jump according to the scout. Early in the year, Walker Gourley wasn’t highly thought of by anyone and the one scout I talked to during the first series wasn’t impressed. I was split on him, he looked like a good player, but he is also 22-years-old and in his fifth season of pro ball. Gourley drives the ball well, makes solid contact and he is a smart base runner, with plus speed. There are obvious flaws besides the age/experience and that is his low walk rate and lack of real power. He is someone you want to see succeed at the next level before you get too high on him. He plays the corner spots, but doesn’t have the power bat so he will have to make it on his versatility.

Eric Wood had his moments, looking bad sometimes, good others, both in the field and at the plate. I think his overall numbers really tell you what you should expect from him, unlike some other players where they don’t tell the whole story. He is also 20-years-old, so there is always room for improvements, though other than a strong arm, I don’t see any tools that stand out. I liked the way Raul Fortunato played and he seems to have some potential at the plate, whether he reaches it or not is another story. He is a toolsy player that may eventually put it all together if they are patient with him.

Luis Urena showed up for this last series and the one thing you can say about him is that he looks like a baseball player. He’s got some pop in his bat and some potential tools. Until he recognizes an off-speed pitch though, he is going to have a hard time moving up the system. Chris Diaz played two games in the final series and looked good at the plate and in the field. He was injured during the first two times the Power played in Lakewood. While it’s hard to get a good opinion in two games, Diaz looked confident in the field, didn’t rush anything and he was patient at the plate.

Finally, two other players that I only saw once. Up top, you can see the thoughts on Stetson Allie in the recap from the first series. He has tremendous power, as good as anyone you can name. He makes solid contact that should get him some extra base hits based solely on how hard he hit the ball and I saw that happen a couple times on some ground balls he smoked through the infield. The downside is that I got a recent report on him from down in Bradenton, from a scout who just saw him and he said the advanced breaking balls in High-A were really fooling Allie. The fact he made it to High-A this year is a feat in itself, so skipping to an advanced level and struggling shouldn’t be seen as a sign that he won’t succeed.

Barrett Barnes only played the middle series, missing time with hamstring injuries in the other two meetings. I really liked the way he played on defense, his base running and he had strong at-bats. He is an aggressive player with plenty of tools. Right now the Pirates are holding him back, getting him ready so he is 100% during the Instructional League. Barnes was with the team and working out pre-games, but likely won’t play again during the regular season.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • CalipariFan506

    The Pirates wasted an entire year with Barnes. He should have been placed in Bradenton to start the season. Even with his injuries, a trip to the fall league would have him ready for AA next season. Now he is going to be two years old for High A as a top 50 draft pick.

    Dilson Herrera on the other hand is a guy i couldn’t be more excited for.

  • Kevin_Young

    I wish I could get BABIP and batted ball types for Bell from both sides. I’m curious how he has such a good average from the right side given the reports.

    • John Dreker

      I’d love to know how he does so well from that side too. He strikes out less as a righty, but that could be due to his swing being simple, like he is just trying to put the ball in play. I was warned ahead of time by someone who watched him hit in the cages before the game. It’s a hard to describe swing, it is all arms doing the work, for instance the same swing you see when you watch a pitcher that looks like he never hit before. Basically, it doesn’t look natural for him.

      • John Dreker

        His BABIP from the right side is .342…it’s .320 from the left side

        • Kevin_Young

          Oh awesome thanks, where’d you find that? Also, i don’t like the “not natural” part, but if he can hit for a higher average from the right and more power from the left then that would certainly fit ok into PNC Park.

          • John Dreker

            Got it from Tim. I believe he said Fangraphs has it. If I HAD to guess a future for him right now, I’d say 1B, .280 with 30 homers in majors. Not much loft to his swing, so he might hit 25 homers and a lot of doubles. He isn’t a real pull hitter, uses the middle of the field more.

  • benh444

    is it at all possible that the pirates consider converting him to being a lh hitter only?

    • John Dreker

      Right now I’d say no since he is hitting .318 from that side and at least making contact regularly, only 11 K’s in 85 AB’s. Like I said, I have no idea how he did that though, two of the people who gave me opinions about his swing, did it without me asking, it was just a comment on what they saw, what everyone saw actually.

  • TNBucs

    I got to see Bell face a pretty tough lefty (Jayson Aquino0 back on July 13 and he had two doubles, the first going the opposite way down the line, the second crushed high off the center field wall (would have been a HR in many parks).

    I don’t want to be a “victimized” by what I saw (to paraphrase Billy Beane), but I came away impressed.

    I was also impressed by John Kuchno who seems to be an under-the-radar guy but looked like the prototypical Pirates pitching prospect–tall with the ability to pitch down in the zone and get a lot of groundballs. I’d be curious to hear more about what scouts think about him. Given the rest of that staff it’s not surprising that he doesn’t get much attention, but I could see back-of-the-rotation potential (and of course not all of those guys will pan out but I think Glasnow-Heredia-Holmes-Creasy-Kuchno project as an entire MLB rotation).

    • John Dreker

      I got absolutely nothing on Kuchno, even the one day he threw a bullpen, I got there just after it ended. The scout I talked to the most, hasn’t seen him at all this season either. I didn’t ask any of the others.

  • BostonsCommon

    “That will need to be his calling card, because his defense and running are average at best and I (and others) called them both slightly below average.”

    Thought this kid was an athlete? Is he really going to be relegated to 1B? Not that it would be the worst thing, I just say that because I really thought he was in the same mold as Dom Brown and Jason Hayward.

    1B is reserved for hitters that can’t do anything else and if that’s what he is than fine. I would just like to think the Pirates aren’t funneling him in that direction already.

    • John Dreker

      That is where I see him in the future, but he hasn’t even played a game at first base or took ground balls, so I wouldn’t say they are funneling him in that direction. Scouts had him as a below average runner and that is what I saw too. Not a lot of range in the outfield and his arm is nothing special. He is a big kid in great shape, but that doesn’t always make someone athletic or fast. He will hit his way to the majors, whether it is as a 1B or RF.

      • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

        The Pirates appear to have enough outfield prospects that moving Bell to firstbase would only happen if they wanted his bat in the lineup. In the outfield, he has Polanco ahead of him and Meadows, Ramirez and Escobar behind him. At first, he has only Dickerson, Allie and, maybe, Osuna ahead of him.

        Bell was considered a first round pick in a strong draft class. He was always considered a bat-first player. How anyone could have missed his flawed righthanded stroke is beyond me.

        Anyway, Bell may need to spend the off-season in a batting cage hitting mostly righthanded. If my memory is correct, I believe he is a natural righthander. So, reps may be one problem here.