Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Top Prospects: #8 – Josh Bell

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Michael De La Cruz, OF
19. JaCoby Jones, OF
18. Barrett Barnes, OF
17. Cody Dickson, LHP
16. Blake Taylor, LHP
15. Joely Rodriguez, LHP
14. Andrew Lambo, OF
13. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP
12. Clay Holmes, RHP
11. Tony Sanchez, C
10. Harold Ramirez, OF
9. Luis Heredia, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 8 prospect, Josh Bell.

Josh Bell showed a glimpse of his power in 2013. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)
Josh Bell showed a glimpse of his power in 2013. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

8. Josh Bell, OF

Prior to the 2011 draft, Josh Bell sent a letter out to every team, telling them not to draft him and that he intended to honor his commitment to the University of Texas. The Pirates ignored that, taking him in the second round and paying him a post-first round record $5 M to break that commitment. The signing also broke the draft, with MLB coming up with a new system to restrict spending.

Bell made his pro debut in 2012, but the debut was short lived. He went down early in the season with a knee injury, and never returned due to constant swelling. The missed time caused Bell to return to West Virginia for the 2013 season, where he spent the entire 2013 season. The numbers in 2013 were strong, but not as good as some of the breakout players over the last two years like Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and Stetson Allie. Bell’s plate patience and power both showed promise.

When he was drafted, Bell was advertised as a guy who could eventually hit for plus power and plus average from either side of the plate. There were some concerns by scouts this year that his stance from the right side wouldn’t lead to success in the upper levels due to a lot of movement making the swing long and loopy at times. However, the Pirates didn’t share those concerns, and Bell was better against left-handers (.844 OPS) than he was against right-handers (.794).

Bell didn’t have the monster season that was expected of him when he was drafted, although those numbers could still come. He shows impressive raw power in batting practice, especially from the left side. He’s got the potential to eventually hit for a .300 average with 30 home runs per year, although there’s more projection there than with players in the upper levels. His approach and the plate and the strong plate patience do project well for his ability to hit for average.

The Pirates should send Bell to Bradenton in 2014. If he hits well, he could move up to Altoona by the middle of June or July, depending on how quickly he adjusts to High-A ball. Bell did have good power, especially when you factor in the 37 doubles. There’s no reason why he can’t break out offensively in 2014, since all of the tools are there. Long term he doesn’t fit into the Pirates’ outfield plans, since they have better options available. He’s not strong defensively, so he could be a candidate to eventually move to first base, which is a big position of need throughout the Pirates system. To maintain his value, the Pirates should keep him in the outfield until it is absolutely necessary to move him elsewhere.

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  • Didn’t Lambo get some work at 1st base in AA/AAA, or is that just lately in winter ball?

    • Andrew Lambo has part of 41 games of experience at 1B in his 7 year minor league career – 14 games in 2007, 8 games in 2008, 19 games in AA/AAA in 2013

  • piraterican21
    January 22, 2014 5:05 pm

    The Meadows weak arm comment brought back a thought I had before, came to think of in referrance to Alan Hanson, we see a number of 18-19 year old pitchers increase their arm strength, why not position player. The obvious answer if the training they do to prepare to pitch, but we are talking about a 90+, sure less than that would do for an OF, MIF

  • The Pirates got this kid out of high school, he has only played one year of pro ball, I still rate him as one of the top prospects in the Pirate system, but I probably would move him to 1st base sooner rather than later, value at this point does not mean much, it still takes a while to develop as a first basemen. I would hate to see him get to AAA and then the Pirates decide to move him to 1st base. He has the perfect 1st basemen body.

    • I would start getting him reps at 1B. Honestly, I know you’re not supposed to move a guy, especially in A ball for need but unless Polanco, Cutch or Marte loses a limb I don’t see how he’s going to crack the outfield until maybe when Cutch is a FA. I really don’t see one 1B prospect in the system and all the good FA at that position cost 8 figures.

      And worst comes to worst couldn’t you move him back to RF if say Meadows doesn’t work out and Polanco doesn’t work out and Ramirez also doesn’t work out? I think Bell is really the exception to the rule as far as moving a prospects position this early due to a gaping hole at 1st. Unless they keep him in RF and trade him for a 1B Bell equivalent who’s blocked somewhere else.

    • What is a good estimate for the number of seasons it takes for an athlete of MLB caliber to learn to play first base? How long did it take Willie Stargell?

      • I was terrible at first when I wasn’t pitching. Anyone reading switch to first?

        • IMO, it is never too soon to expose a young player to a position of need. These kids want to play and they do not care where, just so they are in that starting lineup. A good example is Neil Walker who moved from Catcher to 3B after getting to AA, and at AAA he played 3B, 2B, and 1B. The position at 2B opened up and he was thrilled to be a MLB second baseman. He may have hoped to play 3B, but there was no future waiting at AAA behind Alvarez. Stargell was exposed to 1B in the 60’s, but he was primarily an OF. After 9 years of dabbling for very minimal exposure at 1B, he played there for 100 games. Then another 2 or 3 years in the OF and finally at age 34 or 35, when his legs started to go, he became a full-time 1B. From Catcher or another infield position, the move to 1B is not that traumatic. Moving from the OF to 1B is very difficult, but an athlete like Bell could be a strong possibility.

    • Why not have him swapping out right field and first base as he comes through the system. With his knees and the mass of talent in the outfield, it seems wise to have a good bat like this have options where you can put him on the field. And with Meadow’s weak arm, why not give him some reps at first? If these guys are really that fragile that they can’t work on first base at the same time they learn how to catch a fly ball, then I don’t know.

  • Re: Bell’s power

    The doubles are definitely a good sign.
    I can see Bell being one of those guys who as he gets older the doubles start turning into HRs, and he develops that true 30+ HR power.

  • This kid can still be a top prospect. It just seems like he has been in the organization for a long time, but last year was pretty good considering it was his first full season playing. I like the thought of him playing 1B with the slew of OF prospects they already have.