INDIANAPOLIS — Josh Bell had a very successful run after his promotion to Indianapolis at the beginning of August. He reached base in nearly half his at-bats, saw an increase in his power, and was our Player of the Month for August, not to mention our Player of the Year for the Pirates’ minor league system.
He carried his success over to the first round of the playoffs, going 3-for-11 with three runs knocked in. He played a big role last night by going 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, and helping to lead to a big inning in the fourth that saw Indianapolis score three runs to get back in the game.
Bell credits his success in Triple-A to the game plans that are set with Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar.
“I feel like [Wynegar] and I have come up with a game plan,” Bell said. “He sets up a pretty good game plan pregame for the hitters. I like to stick to that.”
Bell did have some early struggles when moving up to the new level, but Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor is pleased with the progress he has made since then.
“Bell has made some really good adjustments,” Treanor said. “He has been pretty consistent. He struggled a little bit when he first got here, and then he figured some stuff out.”
Bell echoed Treanor and also credit Wynegar with the adjustments.
“I did struggle for my first series or two,” Bell said. “I was just getting my feet wet and whatnot. I made some adjustments with [Wynegar] in the cage. It has been working out and I have been trying to do my best ever since.”
While Bell struck out 15 times in 28 games in August, many of those came in the first two series he played. Eight of those 15 strikeouts came in his first eight games at the Triple-A level. Though he has fanned six times in the six playoff games, Bell did not strikeout at all in the final seven games of the regular season. He said that much of that is due to his working of the count.
“When it comes to having two strikes, I like to just battle up there and make sure that I get the ball in play,” Bell said. “It has been working so far.”
He also walked six times over the final seven games of the regular season to go with the limited strikeouts, as he continued to work the count to get a hittable pitch. In August, Bell had an even 1:1 K/BB rate. He’s drawn a walk in each of his last three playoff games, including a big bases loaded walk in the bottom of the 9th on Wednesday, bringing Indianapolis to within one run with two outs.
Treanor said that much of this is due to his approach at the plate and his knowledge of the strike zone beyond his years.
“[Bell’s] approach at the plate is very, very good,” Treanor said. “He has very good recognition and a very good idea of the strike zone. He sees spin well and is able to lay off pitches. I just can’t say enough about him. I’m not sure that we know what his ceiling is.”
As reported late last month, Bell has been working on a reduced leg kick on his swing on both sides of the plate. He has also made some adjustments on the leg kick based on the count, further aiding his on base percentage.
“I feel like [the leg kick] varies from count to count,” Bell said. “I like to start a little bit earlier with two strikes. I try to barrel up the ball as best as I can before that. It is all a timing thing and is something that I work on every day. It will also be something that I work on during the off-season, but right now, it is working, so I am trying not to change too much.”
In August and September, Bell posted a .425 and .520 OBP. Correspondingly, he also posted a .930 and 1.020 OPS during the span. Bell has a recognition of the strike zone and approach that is polished beyond his years.
There are still things to work on defensively, as he showed in Wednesday’s playoff game when he had two errors on routine plays, plus dropped an easy catch that wasn’t ruled an error because it was the back-end of a double play. Bell has only played first base since last fall and has improved at the position over the season, but still has some work to do to be ready for the majors. If the latest offensive success and the adjustment to his leg kick are for real, then he will have shown the offense needed to get to the majors. He isn’t likely to be up before June of 2016, but once he’s up, the only question about whether he will see success in the majors is “when” it will happen, rather than “if” it will happen.