BRADENTON, Fla. – If you saw my videos of Josh Bell hitting and fielding the other day, you might have thought he looks a bit slimmer this year. You wouldn’t be wrong. Bell is currently around the 230 mark, which is a big change from a year ago when he came into Spring Training just shy of 250 pounds. His plan this year is to try and stay in the 220-230 range during the season.

There are a few factors that led to this change, and the weight range. Bell had conversations with coaches about his weight, especially after gaining a lot prior to the 2016 season. That weight gain was intentional, as Bell was focused on adding power by adding strength.

“We want guys to gain strength naturally, and to add to their frame in the right way,” Neal Huntington said. “In Josh’s case, he felt like he probably put on too much. Working off his words, that he wanted to lean out a little bit. The ability to hit the ball really hard and really far still exists. For him to be a little bit more athletic, whether it’s in the outfield or first base, is certainly not a bad thing for him. In the batter’s box, we want him to focus on being a really good hitter that is going to hit home runs. We want to continue to work with him defensively at first base, to work with him becoming as good as he can be there.”

Bell noticed during the 2016 season that when he leaned down, he was actually finding it easier to hit for power, and that led to a change in his approach.

“I came into last Spring Training maybe at 248, so I bulked up and thought that strength and overall muscle mass would equate to power,” Bell said. “It just didn’t. When I got down to 235 during the season, like early June and going into July was when I felt the best, body-wise, and that’s when I had the best power production. If I can keep it around there, that’s probably what’s going to be best for me.”

Bell also had a discussion with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto about his weight. After Bell told Votto he was thinking about losing weight, Votto mentioned that he got up to 245 pounds, but is down to 220 now and feels great, while also noting how it’s easier to hit for power at the lower weight. Bell has also been doing yoga to increase flexibility, which seems to be a growing trend, as fellow top prospect Austin Meadows is doing the same.

“With the yoga that I’ve been doing, I feel like it’s just overall body control,” Bell said. “I have a better feel for the overall weight that I’m moving around. When it comes to defense and getting to balls, I feel like I’m one step ahead of where I was last year. When it comes to hitting, too, I’ve mostly been doing machine work in the cage. Come Spring Training when I see some live arms, we’ll see if it correlates.”

I think there’s more to Bell’s offense than we’ve seen so far. His swing looks to be in the best place it has been from both sides during his professional career, showing good improvements over the last few years. In previous years, Bell would make small adjustments to tweak the swing. After seeing a good year at the plate last year, he’s gotten a bit more comfortable with the swing, and isn’t making as many adjustments.

“I feel like I’m where I need to be going into Spring Training,” Bell said of his swing. “In years past, I’ve always searched for more in the offseason. This offseason, I had such a good year last year, I can work to take strides forward, and not necessarily look for a drastic change. Just working with the swing I had last year, trying to get a little more narrow. I got, in my opinion and the coaches’ opinions, a little too wide to be able to extend and get my barrel out in front for fastballs inside.”

The offense should continue to improve as Bell adjusts to the majors. The big question is whether the defense will improve, how much it will improve, and whether it can improve enough to not be a liability. The slimmer frame should help him in this regard, although we won’t know the extent of it until we see him in games.

“I feel really good,” Bell said. “I’m excited to throw and work on my footwork with the throw. I feel like, for the most part, the fielding wasn’t my problem last year. It was getting the ball out, and getting that four seam grip, and firing the ball as quickly as possible. So I’ve been working on my footwork, and fielding the ball at a position that I can get my momentum going towards second base, and getting a good backspun ball over to second base, and getting back to first base.”

Bell said he plans on showing up to Spring Training early to work on his throwing and defense. I wouldn’t project him for massive improvements, or for anything notable right now. Part of that is because he still has a long way to go defensively, and projecting him to provide positive value at the position right away seems unrealistic. The other part of this is that the move from the outfield to first base is very difficult, and it will take Bell a long time to make those strides, if he ever does it at all.

“The work is never going to be an issue with Josh,” Huntington said on the defense. “He is going to work. It is hard to move from very far away from the baseball to very close to the baseball, and to do it at the highest level. He’s working on doing that. It’s one thing to move across the diamond, or even out from behind home plate. … It is a tougher move than most people probably give it credit for, to come from only playing the outfield to the infield. We are seeing him gain more comfort. We’re seeing him gain ability to react to the speed of the game, and an ability to be in the right spot at the right time, and to make the right plays, and to make the right decisions. We look forward to him continuing to grow.”

Bell equates it to hitting, where the more you practice it, the easier it gets.

“Very similar to hitting, you start doing it more and more. You start trusting your motions. You start trusting your mechanics. And you start making minor tweaks,” Bell said. “The overall body control, the overall physiological part of the game at first base, I’m starting to understand more. Just talking to Joey Cora and getting some work in with [Kevin Young] and Joey and [Euclides Rojas] in Miami has allowed me to take a step back and see myself [on video] outside of my body.”

Bell said he feels he’s taking strides in the right direction, and is excited about the year coming up. Time will tell how much he can improve with his defense. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll improve offensively, since we haven’t come close to seeing the best of his game. I think the defense will be a bigger question mark. But slimming down and becoming more flexible certainly doesn’t hurt his chances of improving.

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  1. Tim, the move from OF to 1B isn’t a difficult one for most players. All that changes is learning the footwork and positioning, that’s about it. I can see if he had never played in the infield where it may take a little more time, but he’s been transitioning since 2015. He needs to be able to show at this point that he can handle the position.

    • As had been mentioned numerous times – the game is a lot faster – i.e. the batted ball reaches an infielder so much more quickly than an outfielder that defensively it is a very different experience. Thus the difficulty.

    • The move from middle infield to corner infield is difficult. Life long outfield to infield is night and day.

  2. Did Votto also tell him to just stand on top of the plate and then get mad when a pitcher throws an inside corner pitch for a strike? Every single AB, I’d just put one into his ribs and be done with it. Sorry…I just freaking hate Votto

  3. When you follow a team as closely as everyone here does, you tend to over analyze every detail about these players and forget they are human as well. They have up’s and down’s every year, the part that matters most is the end result. We’re talking about young players that are learning and honing their craft. Consistency is what they are striving for.

  4. We simply CANNOT trade this guy, especially for a pitcher whose logged >800 innings in the past four years.

    This guy has the makings of another Joey Votto at 1B, except he is a switch hitter with touch more speed.

    IOW, priceless.

    • When a pitcher doesn’t get hurt and pitches at an all-star level throwing ~200 innings/year, fans are scared of him due to falling apart. If a pitcher never threw 200 innings/year then fans don’t want him b/c he’s not good enough. There is no way to win here.

  5. One thing this whole Bell to 1b thing has me confused on. Back when he was debuting it was noted by many that 1b was his likely position and everyone organizationally said there was plenty of time to make the change blah blah… here we are and it seems to me that working at 1b way back would have been prudent and if there was a need to switch- moving from infield to out would have been much easier.
    A lesson that shouldn’t be lost although not exactly the same with Last years pick. Get his butt over to 1st where the reps will matter the most.

    • Every athlete is different – Stargell was not a great firsbaseman but moved from OF to first without all of this drama. Al Oliver ditto…

      Bell is going into his third year of playing the position. Hopefully Yoga helps.

      • That is interesting about Stargell. I was just wondering how he was at 1B after moving from the OF. I knew he was no Keith Hernandez and certainly had a big body. Bobby Bonilla is another one he bounced around OF 3B 1B anyone remember how his D was?

        • Stargell played 1B his entire first year (1959) in the minor leagues (which suggests he probably played there in high school). He also played there sporadically in the majors until becoming a full-time 1B at the age of 35 in 1975. Al Oliver was primarily a first baseman in the minor leagues and probably would have remained there in the major leagues–except that would have meant continuing to share 1B time with Bob Robertson. So. they’re not a very good comparison to Bell.

        • Bonilla is probably the most accurate comp to Bell at this point, as both are big body type players and quite honestly are going to be less than stellar wherever they’re put on the diamond. The bat typically made up for that in Bonilla’s case, hopefully it will for Bell.

          Stargell was pretty much an average 1B for his time, not great but could make the routine plays and wouldn’t kill you defensively. The worst 1B I ever saw wear a Pirate uniform was Dr. Strangeglove, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to have a comparison to him.

      • Ok point taken there. Can we say Craig though should begin to work on his defense at 1st asap? Why waste years of opportunity to improve?

        • Who is the future at 3B right now? That’s not a similar situation, as no one has stepped up for beyond 2019, and Bell is still here. If Bell is traded, it would make sense. For now, you need Craig at 3B more than 1B.

  6. I’m bought in on Josh Bell. I get the sense he has a tendency to “try too hard”, but maybe a small taste of success and reassurance in the MLB will help him be more confidence. He’s athletic, has a strong work ethic and seems to have the right mentality. I think he might surprise us with his defense and continue to grow offensively. He’s probably going to be a fan favorite and solid teammate. He’s to a hopefully very successful 2017 for Josh Bell!

  7. Tim, what would be the Pirates prospects comps for what Seattle gave up in the Smyly trade? As a 6’3″ lefty with good Ks numbers, he’ll be an interesting addition to Seattle’s rotation.

  8. After stepping on the scale this morning perhaps I need to talk to Joey Votto as well. Are they planning on putting Bell in the 2 hole?

  9. Since Joey Votto is the best case outcome for Josh Bell, I think, I’m glad he’s talked to him. Of course, he hopefully never become as unhinged as Joey seems to be sometimes. But stylistically, Votto is a good comp for Bell at the plate, and while I don’t think Bell will ever be the defender Votto is, it’s possible he gets close with the bat someday.

    I just hope that day is soon.

    • I think the final 109 at-bats in AAA were an example of a guy pressing too hard to get back to the majors. Either way, he made it back up after those 109 at-bats, and had better results in the majors. So it’s not like his skill should be called into question for that small sample size that was sandwiched in between two MLB trips.

          • No – I just want some honest reporting of facts and less “didn’t” Bell look really good taking batting practice the other day irrelevant crap.

            Just read the comments on this site when the idea of trading a good prospect – who has a lot of work to do to be an adequate ML player – as part of a deal that could solidify the starting rotation and provide insurance against Cole being more like he was last year and not like he was in 2015.

            You would think we would be losing the next Joey Votto when he might turn out to be the next Ike Davis.

            Balance and perspective are missing at times both in articles and comments.

            • This is a prospect website that is not associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. So basically Tim can say whatever he wants. I am not sure articles nit picking every flaw a prospect has would draw much interest or traffic to his site.

              • We have those. This article points out Bell’s flaws. I got crap all year last year for constantly writing about Glasnow’s flaws. I just talk about what I see.

            • One more thing. We pay same as you do to come here. You are a salty old soul that wears me out. If you did not post anymore ever, id appreciate it. You serve no purpose.

            • “No – I just want some honest reporting of facts”

              The facts are that Bell had an .850 OPS in AAA and a .757 OPS in MLB as a rookie, and you’re choosing a very specific stretch without context to try and show his value.

              As for balance and perspective, if you don’t see the balance in this article, then it’s not our scales that are tipped.

              • I love when you hit that man with the truth, then all you get from his end is crickets; it’s like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, only slightly more insane.

                  • First off, as soon as you say “ALWAYS”, you lose me. Absolutes rarely apply to anything. Tons of players tinker with their swing throughout their careers – Mike Schmidt is an extreme case, but a good one also – so your argument there is invalid. Oh my, he went through a…a slump??? Oh dear. That’s never happened to anyone into the history of the game.

                  • Baseball is a game of failure. He who fails less makes the HOF. The Pirates have NO power in the minors and you want to trade the ONLY player to that has some HR power. Hitters are more predictable than pitchers.

                  • I’m not worried about tinkering. Some guys are tinkerers, and it works for them. If he was tinkering at 24 and not being a productive hitter at the same time, there would be a concern, but he’s tinkering to improve on an already good thing. I don’t think that’s a major cause of concern.

                    Didn’t McCutchen “tinker” in the offseason before his pwoer surge season? Changed his stance drastically, and it added both power and average. He went from a good hitter to one of the best. That’s what Bell’s trying to do.

              • And he slumped badly to close out the Indy season and did not do well in his September recall. Ignore those if you want.

                Funny though, Osuna gets off to a slow start this year in winter ball and every article PP posts suggests – “see we told you he sucked – now he’s proving it”

                • “Funny though, Osuna gets off to a slow start this year in winter ball and every article PP posts suggests – “see we told you he sucked – now he’s proving it””

                  We have literally never said anything close to this.

            • Well as it is winter camps why not report on what is happening today. If you want to live in the past maybe you can watch some videos of the 79 WS.

        • That’s a pretty shitty accusation to levy at a man who, since being drafted, has always gone about his business the right way and done everything the organization has asked of him (including shuffling back and forth between first base and RF). You think he was pouting? You think he, a professional baseball player who is well aware of the workings of baseball teams regarding treatment of prospects, was pouting when he was sent down? How dare you? This guy works his ass off to improve his game; he at least deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding his slump. You know, a slump? Something every player experiences at one time or another. I can’t imagine what sorts of things shape your outlook on life, but your endless negativity is truly disgusting.

            • Well, your “opinion” stating he was pouting is totally without merit and a byproduct of how jaded you are. He’s done nothing to deserve that accusation. Shame on you.

            • No one is concerned about these “slumps” because it’s baseball and slumps happen. Quite literally every single person who’s ever played baseball for an extended period has had them. Even Joey Votto.

        • I think it probably had more to do with him being up for a series, and the excitement he felt when he hit the ball out of PNC park and the stadium almost exploding. It is hard to come down from a high like that. I think he will hit just fine, probably not .300/30 anytime soon, but much better than what we have had perched at 1B over the last couple decades.

        • Bell was red hot for a month or more before he was called up. Seems that any player who is that torrid is gonna cool off in a big way, and not just back to their mean.

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