AFL: Should Josh Bell’s Lack of Power Worry Pirates Fans?

The Scottsdale Scorpions played Monday afternoon with just one Pittsburgh Pirates player in the starting lineup. Josh Bell got the start at first base, as Scottsdale won 6-2 over Surprise, moving them to 9-9 on the season with 14 games left.

Shortly before the game started, Bell was named to the Arizona Fall Leagues Fall-Stars game. Catcher Elias Diaz and pitcher Adrian Sampson will also represent the Pirates in the game. It will be shown on MLB Network at 8PM EST on Saturday.

In Monday’s game, Bell came up in the first inning with two men on and one out. He struck out swinging on three pitches. In the third inning, Bell drew a two-out walk. In the sixth, he led off the inning with a ground out to first base. In the eighth inning, Bell popped out to second base, leaving him 0-for-3 with a walk. In the field, he handled all 12 chances cleanly, including a ground ball and a bunt play in the fourth inning.

Bell has really struggled on offense in the AFL and that could be due to playing a new position. He is concentrating on learning the nuances of first base and has committed four errors in the process, plus he’s had a tough time on some other plays. There is also some concern that he won’t be the power-hitter the Pirates hoped for in the middle of their lineup.

His lack of home runs, which extends back into the regular season, might be due to his hitting style. Right now, Bell is more of a line drive hitter that uses the middle of the field. He is a player that people expect 30-35 home run seasons from due to his size and ability to square pitches up, but he could end up being a high average player with plenty of doubles and a lower home run total if he doesn’t add loft to his swing. That wouldn’t exactly be a bad thing, just not what was expected. Counting his time in the AFL, he has gone 256 plate appearances without a home run, which dates back to his time in Bradenton.

As for his time in the AFL, I wouldn’t be worried about the low average/power numbers. Besides learning the new position, he has made consistent contact, with just six strikeouts. It’s also a very small sample size and if a couple extra hits dropped in, his numbers would look fine. Bell is still on track to be a solid hitter in the middle of the Pirates lineup for years to come. Due to the new position, he isn’t on a fast track to the majors, so a mid-2016 estimate seems like a safe bet.

Thomas Harlan gets the start Tuesday afternoon on the road. He gave up five runs in one inning during his last start.

  • JimBibbySweat
    October 29, 2014 1:09 am

    John, how has Bell moved around with his knee injury in the AFL? Thanks

  • If you think that Bell is any way similar to Tabata, then you must not have seen him play.

    He is fast…. Really fast. I think in a 90 foot race between him and Polonco, Bell wins.

    There are probably teams in the NFL who would love to have both of them.

    • I’m not sure when you’ve seen Bell run, but scouts timing him at multiple games I attended had him below average to first base and I didn’t see anything different. He runs like a power hitter. He isn’t the slowest guy out there, but I’d say Tabata is a great comp for foot speed. I’m not sure who mentioned him eventually playing first base first, but I said it last June after watching his range in right field. Before seeing him, we were still going with the initial scouting reports from HS that said he could play center field. Those were obviously wrong, but I think it was a case of he outgrew the position.

    • ResistanceIsUseless
      October 28, 2014 10:30 am

      Are you sure you were watching Bell? When I saw him I thought he was slow. Others have agreed.

      I’ll grant that he seems to have slowed down, but when I saw Tabata in the minors I thought he had pretty good speed. (Remember how going into 2011 the talk was about the fastest outfield in MLB with Tabata, McCutchen, and Presley) However, he (Tabata) seems to have bulked up and lost speed.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    October 28, 2014 9:28 am

    Sounds like all the same speculation I read about Andrew McCutchen here. “Oh, he’ll maybe hit 10-15 homers at the max”

    • McCutchen got that from scouts from the start, while Bell was the exact opposite. He got 30+ homer predictions from the start. Bell is a big kid, broad shoulders. When you look at him, or stand next to him, you think power hitter. It’s not that he doesn’t hit the ball hard, it’s that he hits line drives and uses the middle of the field a lot. I’ve watched him numerous times in batting practice and that is his approach then as well. He’s looking to make solid contact and he does that well, which is why I think you don’t worry.

      • The real question is whether the bat speed is there?

        As for the comp with McCutchen, look at Cutch in 2006 and 2007:
        2006 A+: .291/.356/.446/.802 in 453 AB
        AA: .308/.379/.474/.854 in 78 AB
        2007 AA: .258/.327/.383/.710 in 443 AB
        AAA: .313/.347/.418/.765 in 67 AB

        versus Bell in 2014:
        2014 A+: .335/.384/.502/.886 in 331 AB
        AA: .287/.343/.309/.652 in 94 AB

        Bell’s average SLG for 2014 of .449 compares favorably with Cutch’s average SLG at a similar age and level to Bell in 2006 and 2007 of .420. Cutch has adequate MLB power, even if he were at 1B. So I don’t think there is much to worry about Bell’s power, even though he is presently in a “power slump”. Bell has a different approach than Tabata so I don’t think he’ll fall into Tabata’s lack of power problem.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    October 28, 2014 9:26 am

    If he’s hitting a lot of doubles than he isn’t lacking in power. He’s hit a lot of doubles at every level.

    • He has gone 256 plate appearances without a homer. That is lack of power

      • ResistanceIsUseless
        October 28, 2014 11:29 am

        Which encompasses his promotion to AA and injury time. Also, he’s changed positions and seems to be focused on defense more than offense right now. Maybe the power expectations are too high in view of the adjustments Bell needs to make, (presumed) lack of batting practice time, and the adversity he’s dealing with.

        • I was the one that pointed out not to be worried. That doesn’t change the fact that 256 plate appearances = lack of power for half a season, which also includes his last 22 games at Bradenton. He got injured in early August and was healthy for the Fall Instructional League and playing regularly, so he was never injured or rusty during this streak. It’s a legit 256 plate appearances in a row without putting one over the fence. Heck, if you wanted to, you could even throw in his PA’s from the Future Game and FSL All-Star game, which happened during this streak.

          Bell puts in a ton of time in the cages because he is a switch-hitter. No one has ever accused him on lack of batting practice time. If anything, he might actually do too much of it. We have footage of him in the cage from the first day of Instructs and no one took more swings than him.

          • John. I hear what your saying. He has a good approach if, in fact, he is using the biggest part of the field middle away. All good hitters have solid approach and maintain a hard headed approach. After all, good hitters are looking to take advantage of mistake pitches. If your looking to pull a ball- not a good approach. Probably one of the toughest things to to teach a young hitter- stay true to a solid approach and know yourself as a hitter. I am asked all the time,how do you hit a good breaking ball? Don’t miss the FAST BALL! Ha-ha! But,good hitters don’t hit the good breaking ball- they hit the mistake! You can hit home runs with a solid approach.

  • William Wallace
    October 28, 2014 7:07 am

    I guess we can extend Ike Davis for 6 years.

  • If Willy Garcia wasn’t doing so well I’d be against the move to 1B for Bell. He seems like such a nice fit for RF in PNC. I guess we do have a ton of OFs in the pipeline though.

    • Willy Garcia is doing well? When did that start? He refuses to draw walks, and relied on BABIPS over .350 each of the past 2 years just to get his OBP over .290. Garcia strikes out more than 30% of the time. Completely unsustainable.

      • I and the scouts at Baseball America disagree with you.

        • If you haven’t seen Garcia hit in person for an extended period of time, do NOT wager too much with Kauai on Willy’s future in MLB.

          • A platoon OF who plays plus defense in RF and crushes LHP for $400k is a win. I know he’s not going to be Andrew McCutchen.

  • Said the same thing about Bonilla.

  • Does anyone remember the last Pirates first baseman who started for more at least 2 full years who came up in our organization and came up as a first baseman? And No, Garrett Jones doesn’t qualify. Jeff King and Kevin Young also don’t qualify as they came up as 3rd baseman. I ask because its been a dead zone for so many years, its actually ridiculous

    • ResistanceIsUseless
      October 28, 2014 10:22 am

      Bob Robertson?

      • Actually, Robertson played a lot of third base in the minors, and played some for Pittsburgh as well. Not well, mind you, but quite a bit.

    • ResistanceIsUseless
      October 28, 2014 10:41 am

      Okay, my Robertson comment above was meant as a joke, although it may be right (I don’t have time to research it). Folks in their 40’s and 50’s remember Stargell at first base, but, of course, he came up as an outfielder.

      That fact (Stargell came up in the OF) supports the point that first base is a position that doesn’t have to be filled with prospects. It’s a position that a player can move to if he’s good enough to play and other positions are already occupied or the player can’t play other positions due to injury or slowing down due to age.

    • The idea that a team not having a guy play 1st for multiple years into the minors and “come up” as a 1Bmen means its a dead zone doesnt really make sense to me. Its the easiest position for a team to fill with guys that havent been longtime starters at that spot, and as such wont be a high priority when drafting/scouting. I see it as far more wise to have a guy playing a more demanding position and, due to having more quality players at that position, move him to 1B. Guys like Matt Carpenter provide more value than pure 1st basemen. For a team that clearly loves versatility, it makes sense they draft and develop OFers and 3Bmen and move them to 1st when they have to.

  • sweet guys. A switch hitting player with a weird right handed swing, ability for a high average who plays first base and outfield and who can hit the ball a mile but rarely does. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Orlando Merced!!!!!!!!!!

  • Yes – his power matters and Allie’s stock is rising. Without power, Bell is not much different than Barnes or Harold Ramirez or Tabata

    • If Bell can get to an .850 OPS without 25-30 HRs, no problem. If he has Josh Harrison’s limited power with maybe 15-18 HRs, but ability to hit gaps in either RC or LC, no problem. If his ceiling is James Loney, then we have a problem.

    • PiratesForever
      October 27, 2014 10:25 pm

      I have to disagree, Bell will eventually pan out and be a great hitter with at least 10-15 homer power he will also be able to hit the ball in the gap if he has a line drive strock so you are probably looking at a .315 average with around 10-15 homers and the homers should increase as he gets older and adjusts to the pitching. I would go as far as saying he could be like a McCutchen if he puts it all together but only time will tell if he does.

    • Yeah thats dumb. Allie’s stock doesnt rise thanks to dingers if he continues to K at a high rate. Its the overall offensive situation and skills that makes Bell clearly better than Allie. Allie has plenty to work on to be a quality option at 1B. Bell is seeing a lack of power, which would still put him at a 20 HR type with his current skills.

      • You do not understand how a major league first base profiles obviously- POWER, HITTING ABILITY, FIELDING ABILITY, ARM STRENGTH, SPEED. The (5) grading tools of ALL professional prospects. Allie grades out higher in all those tool grades other then,HITTING ABILITY right now- process is in development . With power hitters that K stuff is most of the time over looked if, power numbers are there- (2B and HR). Bell is in the same development process but, Allie is clearly the front runner in tool grade outs/path. All that present/future grade stuff in my opinion is purely a guess on the scouting side. Baseball is a tough game to predict. Do you know how many times scouts and upper elevators have missed on a prospect? Lets just say, a lot of guys have lost their baseball jobs because of it! In Mexico, Allie is hitting with a higher average, solid OBP but, walks/k still needs work. I follow All prospects pretty close and Allie has had A LOT of DEEP COUNT strike outs (3-2 count) which is a positive. Plate patience but, needs to execute his two strike approach- just another facet to player development. All I heard from the pirate fans over the past season- needs to hit for better average, well! It is ALL a process- patience pirate fans. This kid is on track just needs polish!

        • ResistanceIsUseless
          October 28, 2014 10:19 am

          You’re probably right about how MLB grades its prospects. However, it’s my observation that high average hitters/low power hitters are more likely to learn to hit with power than high power/low average hitters are to learn to hit for average.

          Also, I’ve saw Allie play a few games this year. At the plate he looks like a right handed Alvarez: Lots of K’s and an occasional HR, and not enough of the latter to make up for the former, IMO.

        • Allie does not profile as having more speed than Bell, not sure where that comes from. So really at this point you have Allie with more raw power, Bell with more hitting ability, Allie having more time at the position that translates to fielding ability, arm strength being the least important due to both have more than enough for 1B, and speed for Bell. You clearly favor Allie even though anyone that scouts for a living will admit at this point in time, Allie is so raw in his tools that he isnt near close to the major while Bell is far more polished and may simply need familiarity with 1B before getting called up. Stetson can make it a close race to the bigs if he continues to improve, but doesnt have enough power currently to make his K/BB issue worth a ML roster spot.

          • Speed and arm strength mean ZERO at first base profile. Way more power! Never said BELL has a higher grade even in HITTING ABILITY. Both have process development in that area. Polished where? Familiarity! He needs a LOT of work at that position, period. Is (8) power not good enough, Lukas? He (ALLIE) has (8) power! He has to develop a more consistent HITTING ABILITY approach IMO! That can ALL be developed during this process. He is NOT your typical prospect at 1B, he is a conversion to 1B. Name a prospect in the Pirate organization that is closer? Don’t want to here Lambo- seen it! As I said in previous emails, scouts are nothing more than messenger pigeons- they get it wrong just as much as the others- it is a tough sport to predict the future in prospects. I did it for a few years myself- I knew my role though. Got it wrong a few times as well. TIME WILL TELL with these prospects.

            • Speed doesnt mean zero at 1B, its just significantly less. Bell will hit, and thus get on base allowing him to make speed a factor. Neither profiles to have plus speed, but Bell has a clear advantage in speed as it pertains to baserunning. You can type in caps a bunch and act like that proves a point, or you can look at any scout that does this for a living and realize Bell is closer to the bigs. 8 power is great but isnt anything without significant increases in the ability to hit. Acting like a guy switching from OF to 1B means he needs a ton of time there is clearly biased. 1B is the easiest position to learn to play at an average level and Bell has all winter and all of next year at 1B. Josh Bell will be in the majors before Stetson Allie. Not really even a stretch considering all it’ll take for Bell to manage that is continuing to hit as he has at lower levels and play 1B at an average clip. Where as Allie has to improve his plate patience and hitting ability. You made learning to play 1B sound way harder than developing a consistent hitting ability, which is laughable. Bell is closer than Allie, Lambo is ready but blocked by Pedro. You say ya cant trust scouts but yet claim to have done it and use that to solidify some comments. Uhhhh

              • No speed does not factor in a present/future grade out. Most of the time it can be eliminated in the grading process to get a higher number on prospect- depends on the organization. Lukas no point needed with caps. Just tell me what speed has to do with being a good base runner- I’ll takes instincts. He is showing progress in the hitting ability process- leads the organization in walks over the past two season- patience, willing to take walks, better feel for strike zone etc. Home run production at AA level was not too bad either. You obviously have never played the position- first base. There is a lot situational mechanics that go along with that position. As you say, “easiest position” there is NO (caps) Lukas easy position at the professional level. Lukas there is no comparison to hitting at the lower levels and hitting at the AA level/above. Pitchers are so much more polished and have a better feel and pitchability at the upper levels AA. You find out a little bit about hitters in those upper levels- big adjustment. “Average clip”- you act like this is college baseball- there is no such thing as “average clip” in professional baseball. “average clip” guys are playing independent baseball. Laughable is your take on how easy it is to play first base at a high level. Lambo needs to stay healthy and he was not ready for first base at the big league level. Proved that in spring training struggles. No, I simple said they at messenger pigeons.Have a great evening!

                • Heh, way to insert a bunch of personal jabs into the discussion. You know it all man, its impressive. Next year Josh Bell will play in the bigs at some point and Allie will be in AAA with good power and a high K rate. Nothing wrong with that. I am glad i learned speed has little to do with being a good baserunner (Martin must be on the same level as Marte then), Allie is a patient hitter (which no one who covers the team agrees with), and that 1B isnt the easiest position to learn (even though a ton of current 1Bmen were moved there from other spots).

                • No personal jabs. Just engaging in a baseball discussion with a Pirate fan. I will say though you are way off base with Bell and his big league entry- next season. No chance of him being near ready to compete at that level. He will be assigned to AA where he probably belongs. Will be a big challenge for him. Wish the best for him.

    • Well, considering Allie’s stock was equal to zero not that long ago…. It had only one direction to go.

  • I guess power is something that you do want from a Corner Infielder. Does it concern me a bit? Yes, But I’d prefer a good average with power to the alleys. If he continues to hit for doubles, I would think that eventually the power may show up. He could end up being a Marte-like Player except at 1B. Yes we’re looking for that next Alvarez(except with better avg And ability to hit Lefties) and Yea it’s great if he can hit 30-40 HR but I hate strikeouts which is something the Pirates over the past 2 years have excelled at. But if he can hit in the upper teens, HR wise, have a decent average and play a good 1B, I’d take that after the past several years of no 1B. Finding a Albert Pujols/Mike Trout type of player is far and few between and there is a bit of luck involved too.

    • We already have a Pujols-Trout quality player in McCutchen. My hope for Bell is for him to become Eddie Murray-lite.

      • Even a Mark Grace or Sean Casey ( in his prime ) wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it ?

        • I expect more.

          • I think anyone would expect more, but the point being even if he falls below what should be high expectations he should be counted on to be a valuable contributor like a Mark Grace and that would not be a bad thing. Bell could underperform “expectations” and still be very useful.

            • About 3 years out of HS, converting to a corner infield position from the outfieldwhile stepping up in a higher competitive class in the AFL, and he is making contact – just about 1-1 W/K. Nice comment today about hitting from the new hitting coach for Atlanta – up the middle and better quality contact will eventually result in more HR’s – remember Todd Helton? Al Oliver?

              • Helton would be sweet. If he can land somewhere between Grace and Helton it’ll be all smiles for Pirate fans.

          • I HOPE for more Steve, but after watching prospects for as long as I have been watching them, I have tempered my expectations. Baseball can be one weird game.

  • How come Glasnow didn’t make the allstar team,

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