Josh Bell Could Create a Good Problem For the Pirates at First Base This Year

BRADENTON, Fla. – While the cut was expected and inevitable, Josh Bell finally had his name called on Friday, getting optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The first baseman will eventually return in a starting role one day for the Pirates, but still has some development before he’s ready.

Bell showed some strong development at the plate in 2015 with Indianapolis. He hit .345 in 35 games with a .946 OPS. This all came after continued adjustments throughout the year to his leg kick, with the final adjustment in Triple-A leading to the stronger results.

The biggest thing Bell will need to work on in Indianapolis will be his fielding. He is in his second full season as a first baseman, although Bell certainly sees the progression there from where he was a year ago.

“It is night and day difference,” Bell said. “A full year of ground balls and a full year of repetitions. The game reps are really what has helped me, just knowing where I need to be, staying active in my mind, even though the ball might not be hit to me and knowing what I am supposed to do if it is hit to me. I have laid that foundation for myself and I am excited to see how much growth I can have.”

He pointed out that in his exit meeting, that the Pirates were just looking for him to get more game action and more reps at first base. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington sees the same progress.

“When you realize he’s been at first base for 16 months, to be able to be where he is right now, that’s a lot of fun,” Huntington said. “We’ve still got work to do there, but huge steps forward.”

With the work at first base, Bell said that it is all about being more comfortable and athletic at the position.

“Taking every day seriously and taking every work day and repetition as seriously as I can [contributes to the improvement],” Bell said. “Every day, I try to work on my hip flexibility, trying to maintain and get a little more athletic at first base. I try to get lower to the ground when I field and when I pick balls. I am trying to stay more athletic in the throws. That is one thing that I am going to be working on the rest of my career and making sure that I take advantage of each day.”

At the plate in the Spring, Bell was just 3-for-18 with a double. Much of that he attributes to rust and thinks he will be just fine once he shakes that off.

“It is good to get back in the box after five months,” Bell said. “It is kind of tough when you try to do a little bit too early, but I feel like I was able to get those cob webs off of me. I am able to get a couple more weeks in minor league camp and take that into the season and hopefully start like I did last year.”

Huntington was also not concerned, as he saw signs from Bell, despite the tough start to the campaign.

“[We] saw some great signs,” Huntington said. “When he was relaxed and not trying to do too much, you see the strike zone discipline, pitch recognition, incredible barrel of the ball, impact. You see all four of those things, and they’re great signs of the future. The challenge is the consistency of the at-bats, and the age-old not trying to do too much. When Josh stays within himself, he’s got a chance to be a really good Major League hitter for a long time. But we’ve also emphasized to him the power will come, and we don’t need him to go out and try to hit 30 home runs this year.”

As for when Bell could arrive, that might depend on John Jaso. The Pirates signed Jaso over the off-season to a two-year, $8 M deal, with the plan to convert him to first base. Jaso has a strong bat, and is one of the best in the game against right-handed pitching. So the question is whether Bell can take over as the starter at mid-season with Jaso on the team for another year and a half.

“There’s so many variables that will come into [the time being right],” Huntington said. “Josh isn’t far away from being able to help us if the opportunity was there. We’ve signed John Jaso with the idea that he would help us in 2016 and 2017. Having too many good players is a wonderful problem to have, and you cross each of those bridges as you get to them. Our goal is to help Josh be ready when the need is there, and to help John be the best player that he can be, and figure it out when those two roads intersect.”

While Bell said that he is just going to focus on what he can control and improving each day, he also pointed out that he realizes how close that he is to his dream and goal.

“It is incredible just being one phone call away,” Bell said. “When I got called up [to Indianapolis] last year, it hit me that I was just one phone call away from seeing big leaguers on a daily basis. It is a different experience. It is definitely humbling and definitely eye-opening. I am in a different spot this year than I was last year. I was learning first base. I have laid that foundation to continue to grow and am going from there.”

There are still things that Bell needs to work on at the plate to continue his progression from last year. But the main thing he needs to work on in Triple-A is his defense. He could eventually create a really good problem for the Pirates if he’s ready by mid-season, as he’d give an impact bat, and the ability to move Jaso off the position and strengthen the bench.

  • Perhaps Bell should start looking over his shoulder as Osuna is ramping up?

    Nah, thats silly…..

  • I know Bell is a switch hitter but does he have any noticeable platoon splits? A lot has been written on this site about his lefty swing being more natural and fluid than his right swing. I’m thinking it might make the transition to MLB easier if he platoons with Morse or Freese instead of handling everyday duties.

  • Noob question here- why are prospects who are on the brink of making the majors going 5 months without hitting? Is that dictated by the club? Or, does he just mean 5 months since batting against live competition?

    • competition……

      • Thanks, I guess that’s obvious after re-reading it. I just feel like I’ve seen references in the past to guys taking a bunch of time off in the winter, and I have always wondered why prospects don’t try to keep at least somewhat sharp year round to keep the momentum going. So that’s where I was coming from there. But, I’m sure I’m underestimating the toll year-round training would take, and also the need for game competition to really stay “sharp”.

  • I’ll attribute it to regular spring training rust for now, but I was very surprised how poorly sequenced Bell’s swing looked against big leaguers. Often found himself in a position where his incredible hand eye coordination saved him from being fooled, although weak contact is only a marginal improvement on a whiff.

    • I think he’ll be fine as the season starts up. How awesome is it to see so many good young prospects with great attitudes and work ethic be on the cusp of helping the big club? I’ve liked the Bucs since I was seven and I’ll be 46 this year. I can’t remember ever having this many legitimate prospects so close to being able to contribute. I know they’re all not going to make it, but man its nice to see.

  • Hope I am wrong on this – but a corner guy who gets on base a lot and hits less than 10 HRs a year just doesn’t translate into one of the best in the game. Yes he rank in the low 30s in both OBS and wRC+ against RHP – but I guess I am more of a traditionalist – want my corner guys to produce 20+ HRs and 80+ RBIs Hope Jasso proves me wrong…

    • If 20+ homers is what you’re looking for out of the first base position, you’re going to be disappointed in Bell too.

      • Don’t bet on that, he was rated a 5 tool player a few years ago. He is the typical clean up hitter that will be wasted at AAA this year. Plus with him at AAA he will also block players that could advance thru the system.

        • Anyone who ever rated Josh Bell with five tools never had a job in baseball.

          • If what you said is what the Pirates believe [I doubt] and Bell knows the Pirate believe he should walk in Neal’s office and demand a trade. And get away from you and the Pirates views on him. You are wrong. Bell is better than anything the Pirates run out there this year. There is 2 future super stars in the minors right now Bell and KeBryan Hayes, plus a maybe on A. Meadows and 2 international signings.

      • Why would you say that this early in his career? He has tremendous power. It is just beginning to translate into games.

      • Adam LaRoche and his son is available.

      • That is way I am on the Osuna bandwagon – great athlete who could be a 20+ HR guy – but the BMTIBB will park him in Altoona and he will split ABs with Espinal – whoever the hell that guy is…

    • Jaso does a lot with the bat in terms of OBP and extra base hits. He doesn’t have traditional HR numbers, but makes up for that with the rest. Statistically, he has been one of the best in the game vs RHP.

      • We just will have to agree to disagree – Jaso is not what I want in my corner guy – I come from the Earl Weaver school – bloop and a blast is much more fun that small ball. And again – one of the best in baseball suggests top 10 to me – not top 35….

        • This is a bit of misapplication of Earl Weaver’s philosophy. ( a bloop and a blast is a Steve Blass saying)

          Weaver was opposed to giving up outs to advance runners, and making contact just put the ball in play. You only get 27 outs; don’t give any one of them away. As on base is a measure of a players ability to avoid outs, Jaso would be a player Weaver found useful, combine Jaso with a platoon partner that can crush LHP is right out of Weaver’s book.

          The focus on players fitting into some traditional offensive model by position is myopic.

        • I grew up an Orioles fan. Weaver wasn’t a bloop and a blast. He was all about the three run homer. And that requires the first two guys to get on base. So Jaso is part of the Earl Weaver school.

    • Those numbers are what Pedro produced…

      • Pedro disappeared against top flight teams and pitchers. He flourished against second line pitching and was a liability at any position. He did not start against the Chubs in the play off game and when he was inserted into the lineup he struck out 3 times. Pedro my eye !!!

        • I get you…my point was, saying “I want a corner infielder who puts up 20/80 seasons”, isn’t really a solid metric to use in determining whether the guy actually hits….because Pedro did it…and that didn’t seem to work out so well.

  • Improving his right handed stroke will also help push Bell forward.

  • This is admittedly very premature, but I’d love to see the Pirates look into buying out Bell’s arbitration years once he arrives. With his talent, hard work and character, he appears to be a major building block.

  • I think Bell will be helped more if he is a September rather than mid season call up.