BRADENTON, Fla. – The big story so far this year on Josh Bell has been his knee surgery. Bell underwent minor knee surgery at the end of January, and is currently on a 2-4 week recovery period. He took the field yesterday for his first day of full practice, and didn’t seem to have any issues with his mobility on defense or his hitting.
We seem to be moving beyond the injury and the surgery, which allows us to focus on Bell’s game, which took a big step forward last year.
I wrote about Bell around this time last year, noting that his swing was to a point where we could start seeing some power from him. He had a .174 ISO in 2013 in Low-A, and a .166 ISO in High-A the next year. But he dropped down to a .120 ISO in Altoona in 2015, and didn’t see a jump in his production until the end of the year with Indianapolis, when he made some adjustments to his leg kick.
Bell saw his power increase in 2016. He had a .157 ISO in 2015 at the end of the year, and that jumped to .173 in 2016 in Indianapolis. He dropped down a bit in his jump to the majors, but I don’t think we’ve had a chance to see the power fully translate over to the top level.
Bell saw some improvements from the right side last year, seeing his ISO go to .140. That was shy of his .173 ISO from the left side, but a big improvement from previous years, when he had absolutely no power from the right side.
“He’s really worked hard to bring his game together more from the right side,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s a higher ceiling OPS history wise from the left side. The swing gets off now. There’s force behind the swing. There’s intent behind the swing against left-handed pitching.”
Hurdle noted that some switch hitters have different swings from each side, and some look the same. Bell used to look different, but has moved to being a guy who has the same swing from each side of the plate, which Hurdle has noticed.
“I think he’s continuing to develop as a switch hitter that’s going to be one of those switch hitters from back in the day — Eddie Murray was able to hit the ball from both sides and stay in one spot. Some guys you almost have to hit them one spot left-handed and one spot right-handed. I don’t think Josh is going to be that guy.”
The Murray comparison doesn’t mean Bell will have the same results as Murray, just that Bell could be a guy with a similar swing, who has similar production and a similar spot in the lineup, regardless of whether he’s hitting right-handed or left-handed. I think there’s a lot more that we haven’t seen from Bell, from both sides of the plate. That is based on his progress in the last year and a half with his swing, and his growing comfort in the new approach.
Managing Jameson Taillon’s Workload
The Pirates did a lot of work last year to limit Jameson Taillon’s workload and make sure he could pitch through the end of the season, and beyond the season if they made the playoffs. He ended up pitching 165.2 innings, which was a career high. Hurdle was asked about how they will factor in a limit with him pitching a full season in the majors this year.
“I could run up in an office right now with Dan Fox and our analytics guys, and we’ve already got that documented. Conversations will be had appropriately,” Hurdle said. “There’s already a built-in model of what we believe they can do, based on what they’ve been able to show as well. His number is never written in pen, but we do try to engage, based on our model and experience we have.”
So no hard number, which they didn’t even have last year. I don’t anticipate any issues, as Taillon should be able to see a normal progression up to 180-190 innings this year without seeing an extreme increase in his workload.
The Pirates will play their first Spring Training games on Saturday with a split-squad day against the Orioles (home) and Rays (road). Hurdle announced the pitchers for both of those games yesterday.
Steven Brault will be starting the home game against the Orioles, pitching one inning. He will be followed for one inning each by Trevor Williams, Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, A.J. Schugel, and Pat Light.
Josh Lindblom will start on the road against the Rays, also pitching one inning. He will be followed for one inning each by Tyler Eppler, Dan Runzler, Edgar Santana, Jared Lakind, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Cody Dickson. There will also be a few players coming over from minor league camp to pitch some innings in that game.
The site got some free advertising from Hurdle in Monday’s media session after practice. Hurdle was asked who could factor in as second base options this year, beyond Josh Harrison.
“We’ve got like seven of them. Hanson, we’ve got Frazier. Gosselin has been over there. Moroff has been over there at the Major League level,” Hurdle said, starting to draw a blank with no rosters to work off of. “Those guys in particular.”
Hurdle thought for a second, and I offered up Chris Bostick.
“Bostick has played there, thank you.”
After a few more seconds of thought, and a joke about Bill Mazeroski, I mentioned the final guy, Erich Weiss.
“Weiss has actually played a little second base,” Hurdle said. He then decided to defer to me. “He’s all over the Pirates prospects. He’s your guy.”
**Hurdle was asked what makes Ray Searage such a good pitching coach, and responded that it was all about his ability to develop relationships.
“The development of the relationship. For there to be a good relationship in any walk of life, you’ve got to be a great listener. Most people think you’ve got to have a lot of information. I look at it the other way. You’ve got to be a great listener. Ray is a great listener. Ray lets them paint the picture. He lets them tell him about themselves. And then he starts to watch. And he slowly shares with them what he sees, and as that relationship develops, there will come a point in time where the player decides to trust what Ray is sharing with him. No player is going to allow you to coach him up unless he trusts you.”
**Tom Prince is the new bench coach for the Pirates, after spending years in the organization as a player, manager, supervisor, catching coordinator, and many other roles. He’s been working with Prince to show him the ropes, and discussed what he’s seen so far.
“The resume. The street cred here in the organization is fantastic. Just helping him with some of the symmetry of the Major League game. These grown men, what they need, what do you think they need. Here’s what I thought they need, here’s what I found out they needed, and establish the conversations and start the relationship building right now. That’s what is going to make everything work. He actually was able to implement some programs over the winter, with some of our catchers reaching out. Passion for our game is real. I think he is going to be able to impact our [catching running game]. Guy who spent double-digit seasons in the Major Leagues catching. The touch and feel is there. I need to develop that relationship with him. He’s shadowing me in everything I do. I believe there is a day that Tom Prince will be a Major League manager.”