Josh Bell Named Top First Base Prospect

MLB Pipeline continued their top ten rankings today with first baseman and Josh Bell grabbed the top spot among all prospects at the position. Bell just switched to the position in the Fall Instructional League in 2014, then got some in-game action during the Arizona Fall League. He didn’t make the list for his glove though, Bell’s bat got him the top ranking. He led the Florida State League last year in OPS and hit .287/.343/.309 after being promoted to Altoona following the All-Star break.

Bell will start at first base in Altoona this year and should see Pittsburgh by mid-2016 at the latest. In the video posted in the link above, the switch-hitting Bell is praised for his approach at the plate, which will allow him to hit for average and power from both sides.

In previous rankings, Reese McGuire came in seventh among catchers and Tyler Glasnow was named the third best right-handed pitcher.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Bell is good, and I am glad the Bucs have him. But most future 1Bmen are currently in the minors at other positions (e.g. Miguel Sano and DJ Peterson at 3B). Until such time as players show they can’t handle more demanding positions, they tend to be played elsewhere.


Great pick and signing by NH when everyone else assumed he was college-bound.


i’ll be interested to see where he falls on the OF list


I’ve heard this before and it is a silly statement. His value of an outfielder is only relevant as trade bait. If we are not going to trade him (which I think was decided when he wasn’t dealt at the deadline) we have moved to have him fill in the position of need at the major league level. Everyone always argues with me that “you don’t fill holes in the draft, you draft the best players” well when you do that, irrespective of depth in your organization, you end up losing value by having to switch players which are a surplus, to a position of need if you aren’t able to trade value for value, even if its at a position of lesser value. Here in proves my point for about the hundredth time! All that being said, Bell’s knees are not going to allow him longterm to be an asset in the outfield, at least not to the point where he would be missed. His greatest VALUE to the team, is as a firstbaseman as of now. He isn’t going to forget to play outfield if a future need arises


So trade away Marte’s outstanding outfield defense so as not to waste Bell’s decent outfield defense? You don’t see anything kind of silly about that?


“Waste” is far, far too strong of a word to describe using Josh Bell as a cheap, productive 1B.


i totally agree. lower down in the comments, i definitely didn’t want to use that word and threw in a “for lack of a better word.”

instead of using the word waste, i’ll just say that not using Bell in the OF wouldn’t be operating at 100% efficiency of use of assets, which isn’t usually the Pirates’ style.


Well said, jay. Very much agree.

I wonder just how much being used at 1B would actually hurt his value to other clubs, though. Say the Pirates get three free years of decent production from him at 1B…do you think teams would assume he couldn’t make it back to the outfield? Trying to think of examples either way.


John, I think you are right, and I personally think he needs 2 full years still if we expect him to come up with any power and not hit .285 with an OPS of under .700 due to the power shortage. They need to let him catch up a little. I think september 2016 is the earliest anyone sees Bell, unless he suddenly starts hitting for power this year, which i don’t expect


Thanks for the replies, John.

I think I can say I’ve always been lower on Bell than most fans and prospect guys. I think the swing needs enough work that it’ll take having a really, reallly good hit tool to avoid big league pitching eating him up, and I still think there’s at least some part of his perceived value coming from being a $5m bonus kid out of HS. Never seemed terribly athletic in the outfield.

I’ll be happy if he progresses enough to earn a September callup in 2016, but have a hard time seeing more right now.


My guess is that Bell doesn’t arrive in Pittsburgh until 2017. The Pirates could just let Pedro play out his contract, then turn to Bell. Or if they trade Pedro next winter they could play Neil Walker at 1B for a season before letting Neil walk and then turning to Bell, who hopefully would be the answer at 1B for at least 6 seasons.


Joey Votto has a career .220 ISO in over 4000 big league PA.

Josh Bell has not posted an ISO above .175 at *any* minor league level.


Well, perhaps since power increases with age a more fair comparison would be to compare Bell’s first three years with Votto’s first three minor league seasons. Votto checks in at an ISO of 0.177 while Bell produced ISO of 0.153. But if you are willing to cut Bell a break and ignore his first injury shortened season at WV (69 AB) and his initial go at Altoona (94 AB) Bell’s ISO for his full seasons at WV and Bradenton rises to 0.171. So perhaps the comparison of the two is not as “apples and oranges” as you imply. But of course Votto has demonstrated an All Star MLB career while Bell has yet to demonstrate that he’ll rise above AA. You are always at a disadvantage trying to compare a rising MiLB player to a MLB star.

Anyway the point I was trying to make was that Bell may emulate Votto in that he may always hit significantly more doubles than HRs rather than a 1:1 double to HR ratio that is typical of the classic home run hitter.


that’s definitely possible. If Bell is better than any 1b they can reasonably acquire, then sign me up.


That projection doesn’t say a lot for the other 1B prospects out there. I guess a GM looking for a 1B prospect needs to look at OFers and 3Bmen.


i’m fine with the projection for a 1b as long as he keeps the OBP up and smacks doubles. you can have a .270 BA, hit 20 homers, and still be a monster if you do other things well. sure beats the likely Alvarez outcome this year. My only point was just that it might be a shame to – for lack of a better word – waste the fact that Bell might play an okay outfield.

If he’s awful in the outfield, by all means, throw him in at 1b.


I think we are hoping for for .300 hitter with 20 homers and 40 doubles every year


Except that by the time Bell comes up, Pedro is gone or almost gone. So, putting Bell in the OF and trading an OFer leaves a hole at 1B that this trade or another move still has to fill. If an opportunity along those lines (e.g. Marte+ for Rizzo/Goldie) comes up, I’m sure he could move back to the OF.


i guess part of my thinking is that decent offense at 1b shouldn’t be all that expensive to buy on the FA market.

Even as recently as 2 years ago, the Garrett Jones/ Gaby Sanchez platoon would have been super awesome if Jones would have just done what we all thought he could.
or marte for a stud 1b is an option too. or trade something else for a big, fat 1b prospect from that top 10 1b prospects list who absolutely cannot play outfield.


Love the idea of moving marte to open a spot for bell.. i don’t see the need to waist resources on 1b.. if we could get an equal value 3b or tor for marte that would be awesome


Looking back to 2000, there were a ton of huge powerful (steroid injecting) first baseman out there. Look around now…….take a really deep look. The lack of quality in terms of power and defense at first base has gotten truly pathetic recently


Decent offense at 1B is *incredibly* expensive to buy on the free agent market.


ya maybe i was too focused on a few specific instances of cheap effective platoons instead of what might be the norm for 1b.


Much as I like Marte, I agree with you if Rizzo/Goldie were available for Marte, I would have to make that deal and worry about the LF after the deal.


It would take a package centered around Marte and Gerrit Cole, with some high end prospects to get a guy like Goldy. He is an elite talent signed to a team-friendly contract. Just ask yourself, what would it take in a package for the Pirates to give up McCutchen? Goldy would take almost as much. FWIW, fangraphs rated Cutch the #2 best trade value in MLB, with Goldy as #3 .


I think Marte and Cole’s value together is about the reasonable trade value of Golschimdt. I wouldn’t make that trade in huntington’s seat.


Marte could very well be a season away from being as good of an overall player of Goldie all by himself, and Cole could be that close as well

Andy Prough

Marte had higher WAR last year than Goldy or Rizzo, and he may be due for a serious breakthrough year in his 3rd full season, like McCutchen had in 2012. Something to consider.


Totally agree. I expect Marte and Mercer both to have breakout seasons this year, considering both played like hot garbage from March – May last year.


I don’t think the Pirates would trade McCutchen for anyone and I don’t think Goldy is available for anyone either. I of course would trade anyone, good thing I am not a GM. Rizzo on the other hand, because of the glut in talent that the Cubs have IMO can be had, but it would take a lot to get him, before the Cubs got Fowler, they might have made a deal with Marte in it for Rizzo, but apparently the two clubs were not talking.


oooh….yeah they would. The thing is, their needs at this point are low, since equal players would cost a fortune in payroll most of the time, there is little value in trading superstars for superstars unless we are talking about Trout. Nearly every player or 2 players you’d trade Cutch for, would come with double the price based on the team friendly contract


Rizzo would look great as our clean-up hitter; he of course is also probably not available. I wonder if the Braves would trade Freddy Freeman? Not quite on the Goldy level but that’s a guy I’d love to see at PNC park.


That would be a great player to have. I’d be in on that, and willing to deal some high prospects for that. Deal them Bell and Kingham and I think the deal is done.


I am with you, Freddy would be just fine with me.

Johnny Delancey

Bell has natural loft in his swing from the left side, but he is a line drive hitter from the right side. He will hit homeruns in the big leagues against all the right handed pitching he sees in the NL Central.


Hitting line drives into PNC’s LF and left-center isn’t a bad thing since a lot of lofted FBs would end up as outs. Sounds like a perfect combo for PNC. Hoping for a healthy 2015 for the young man.


Average and power, c’mon say it with me once again, average and power. Has a nice ring to it, don’t it.


I was checking for 1st base prospects and only came up with 2 in the top 100, it would seem to me that the competition that Bell has for top spot as a 1st base prospect is quite limited, that being said, IMO he has a chance to see AAA this year.


leadoff: I think sometime after Andy Pettitte decided to retire after 2013, I recommended a trade of Francisco Liriano to the Yankees for Bird and Ian Clarkin who did almost nothing after being drafted first by the Yankees in the 2013 Draft. I was unaware that the Yankees could not trade Clarkin until after the 2014 Draft. I like Bird, and as it turns out, Clarkin had an excellent 2014, and will become a big LHSP Prospect very soon. Not sure, but I do not think Bird had near the stats of Bell at Hi A, and I remember he struggled at AA, but then did very well in the AFL.

Regardless, I will be very happy with Josh Bell as opposed to Greg Bird, and look forward to him getting a full year under his belt as a 1B at AA/AAA, and I hope he gets a call-up in September.


Why would you trade Bell for Bird straight up? Bird is an OF, with no position to play in our outfield with cutch, Marte, Polanco so he’d be a bench player. On top of that, at most we’d have Bird for a couple of years and he’s Prob on the downside of his career. Bell would be retained for 6 years or more and he’s young. Bird would be a nice bench piece but he’s not worth trading for.

Lee Foo Young

lfhlaw…I believe you’re thinking of Marlon Byrd, not Andrew Bird who Leadoff is referring to.


Awwe okay yea I screwed the pooch there then lol.


You are almost correct, Greg Bird is who I am referring to.


He’ll I thought we were talking Larry Bird!! That a lot of Birds!! Lol

Johnny Delancey

First base prospects generally do not get ranked in the top 100 because of their limited defensive contributions. Top 100 lists are heavily weighted on the defensive value that a young player provides.


I do not agree with this at all. Guys who write top 100 lists generally know the importance of defense at each position. Sure, a SS or C is going to be highly graded on their defense…but they should be. 1B’s are not as highly penalized for defense, for the obvious reasons that defense is less important there…the main reason why there are less 1B’s for the minors are because a lot of guys don’t become 1B’s until it is the last resort. Players are kept at positions of higher value as long as they can until they prove they can’t play elsewhere. So the top 1Bs of tomorrow most likely are playing 3B, a corner OF spot, or even catcher in the minors right now.

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