Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #4 – Josh Bell

The Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2015 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF
10. Elias Diaz, C
9. Cole Tucker, SS
8. Mitch Keller, RHP
7. Alen Hanson, 2B
6. Nick Kingham, RHP
5. Reese McGuire, C

We continue the countdown with the number 4 prospect, Josh Bell.

4. Josh Bell, 1B

Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)
Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

The Pirates gave Josh Bell a record-shattering bonus in 2011, paying him $5 M as a second round pick in order to break his commitment to the University of Texas. They paid that amount because Bell projected to eventually be an impact hitter, with the potential to hit for average and hit for power from both sides of the plate. The 2014 season finally saw Bell show his potential at the plate.

Bell went to West Virginia in 2012 for his pro debut, but the debut was short-lived. He injured his knee early in the season, and missed the rest of the year due to swelling issues and slow draining liquid in his knee. He returned to West Virginia in 2013, and had decent numbers, but nothing that lived up to expectations. He moved up to Bradenton in 2014, and that’s when he broke out at the plate.

One issue for Bell in his career has been his swing from the right side. The left side swing looks smooth, and has been effective. The right side has looked awkward, off-balanced, and hasn’t produced results during the first two years. Bell likes to start with an open stance to see the ball better, but the Pirates want him getting squared up earlier, rather than later. This leads to a two-part swing, and it’s not always smooth. He did show improvements against lefties as the 2014 season went on, picking up his production around the end of May, and continuing his strong hitting until his promotion.

Bell struggled once he reached Altoona, mostly from the power standpoint. He hit for average, and had good plate patience, but the power didn’t show up. This was a small sample size, although it became more concerning that he didn’t hit for power in the AFL at the end of the season. Considering Bell’s track record of hitting for power throughout his career, this could be chalked up to a slow adjustment to the upper levels, rather than a sign that he won’t hit for power.

The 2015 season should see Bell return to Altoona, and likely spend most of the season at the level. Due to the current outfield options in Pittsburgh, the Pirates are having Bell learn first base. He should get a full season to learn the position, plus try and adjust to upper level pitching. That would put him on pace to go to Indianapolis for half a season in 2016, after which he would take over as the starting first baseman in Pittsburgh. He’s got a bat you can dream on, with the rare combination of the ability to hit for average, get on base, hit for power, and all while limiting strikeouts.

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  • As much success as the pirates have had in developing pitchers the development of hitters is still a work in progress, it is getting better just not at the same level as pitchng yet.

  • Since Bell’s knees, lack of speed, and lack of defensive value will tie him to 1B, his bat will provide essentially all of his value. He hit a grand total of 9 HR last year. His success was based (in part) on his unsustainable .364 BABIP in high-A. He is almost 23 and has played only 24 games at the AA level, during which time he did not hit… at all (zero HR, wRC+ of 86). He seems likely to need a full year at AA, so he can hope to graduate to AAA as a 24 year old.
    I love the Bucs and I hope Bell becomes the superstar people seem to expect. But I am not sure where the optimism comes from.

    • He’ll play most of this year at 22, since his birthday is in August. And he lost most of his 19 year old season. He’s on pace with college hitters age wise (Colin Moran has 28 games in AA, and is 2 months younger; Kris Bryant is 7 months older, didn’t lose a year, and is starting in AAA, basically a year ahead of Bell; Hunter Renfroe is 7 months older, and has 60 games in AA; Aaron Judge, who didn’t play in 2013, will start in AA, and he’s only 4 months older). I know there are others moving faster (Russell, Lindor, and Seagar to name a few), but I don’t think he’s behind any major timeline, especially since he lost most of a year of development.

      In Tim’s scenario, which is very likely, he’d come up as a 23 year old, which would be the same as Marte and Pedro, and a year behind McCutchen.

      In general, I think the optimism just comes from hope. We can over analyze all of these guys, but in the end we have no idea. No one saw the Jay Hay explosion coming. I didn’t follow prospects back in the day, but did anyone see McCutchen as a perennial MVP candidate when he came up? Prospect lists I can find have him as 12th – 18th, behind Travis Snider and Colby Rasmus.

      So as a Pirates fan, and hanging onto hope as I had to until now, I’m going to keep the optimism and the hope on every prospect. Especially a guy with his tools.

    • OT – the wife and I just returned from 2 weeks in Kauai. Nice.

  • I’m not worried about the total lack of power at AA yet. It was a very small sample and after a extremely slow start he made excellent contact and hit for a high average at AA too. I see Bell as similar to a switch-hitting version of Garret Anderson at the plate. Anderson’s power developed as the years went on and Anderson was a low strikeout high average guy. Anderson wasn’t very patient though and Bell looks like he should walk at least 50 times a year. He might be a lot like Neil Walker offensively early in his career.

  • 2016 is ambitious for Bell to reach PNC. He will get at least 500 abs at AAA per usual Pirate history. 2017 looks good

    • I don’t know what history you are talking about. Polanco received under 300 plate appearances in Triple-A before coming up last year. He has a little over 300 total and will be the starter in 2015.

      • cuthh walker alvarez…in short everybody but Polanco. Neil said he brought Polanco up too early and had to send him back. No way we see Bell until 2017 as he will never come up with 250 AAA abs

        • Tim, I also think you’re being way too optimistic that Bell will be the starting 1B by the 2016 All-Star Break. I heard an interview with Huntington saying he regrets promoting Polanco too soon due to Walker’s injury and that he listened to public pressure too much. I say there’s a 10% or less chance Bell is up for good by mid-2016 and that will only happen if he plays lights-out at AA this year and AAA in the first half next year. I predict he will be up after the Super Two target date in 2017.

          • “I heard an interview with Huntington saying he regrets promoting Polanco too soon due to Walker’s injury and that he listened to public pressure too much.”

            Then why did he call him back up later in the year, and why is Polanco the starting RF in 2015 with barely any additional experience in AAA?

        • Alvarez had 278 PA in AAA before he came up.

          The reason Walker had so many was because he struggled in his first run through AAA, hitting for a .242/.280/.414 line in 550 PA.

          McCutchen is a similar story. He wasn’t hitting for power, with a .283/.372/.398 line in his first full season. The power came the following year.

          Marte came up after 431 PA, and that was after inconsistent play the first two months. He turned it on in mid-June, and was called up by the end of July.

          As for Polanco, they’re going with him as the starting RF next year, and it’s not even up for debate. He only has 314 PA in AAA in his career, including when he was sent back down. So that’s not supporting the argument that the Pirates give guys 500 PA in AAA before promoting people.

          The only trend with the 500+ PA guys (McCutchen and Walker) is that they struggled in their initial run through the level.

          • Tim, you can believe what you want, but I heard the interview and that was what Huntington said about Polanco when addressing why he struggled from July onward. We’ll see on Bell, but I’ll happily post a comment admitting I was wrong on your site if he’s the starting 1B for half of the 2016 season. I hope you will also admit you were wrong if he’s sitting in AAA all of next year.

            • Actions speak louder than words. We all know what Huntington said, the point is, Polanco was called back up and now he is the starting right fielder. We really don’t know what exactly Huntington was referring to with his comments, maybe he thought Polanco needed more time to adjust to right field but it doesn’t matter now since he’s had time to adjust in the majors instead of the minors..

        • Hmm. Was looking forward to bells call up but I think I agree with this

  • Is it possible that Bell’s relative power outage is linked to his continued left knee issues? Didn’t he miss time at the end of the year because of a bone bruise?

    I like Bell but there is a little more risk when a prospect’s value is completely dependent upon his bat.

    • Reading scouting reports, Bell’s lack of game power sounds more approach-driven than physical. Don’t hear many questioning the raw power, just how much will show up in games if he continues to settle on spraying the ball.

      I agree with you. Still a lot of risk with Bell, given that he’ll have to provide almost all his value through the bat.

      • I haven’t read all the scouting reports and yes there is a huge sample size cavet but Bell had OBP > SLB in both AA and the Arizona Fall League. Not sure that is a great approach.

        • Not at all.

          I also question how quickly – if at all – his switch hitting ability actually becomes an asset. Rare to see a guy succeed with two very different swings from either side.

          • I’m not overly concerned, personally I though Bell’s rankings and reports would fall based on the move to first and relative power struggles, but scouting wise I guess the project-able traits are all still there.

    • I think it’s his swing, it keeps pretty level from what I have seen.

  • When I dream up the future Pirates team Josh Bell , a switch hitting power 1st basemen is positively part of it.. Hope he turns into the 25 Hr guy we hoped he would be
    1. Hansen 2B
    2. McCutchen CF
    3. Polanco RF
    4. Marte LF
    5. Bell 1B
    6. Walker 3B
    7. McGuire C
    8. Mercer SS
    9. Cole,Glasnow,Taillon,Kingham,Sampson P

    • I don’t think walker will be around when McGuire or even Glasnow come up.

      • That’s the way it’s looking. You would think if they are going to an do an extension with him it would be before opening day . Not looking good.

    • Here is how I see the 2017 lineup:
      Harrison 3B
      Polanco RF
      McCutchen CF
      Marte LF
      Bell 1B
      Kang 2B
      Mercer SS
      Diaz C
      Cole, Liriano, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham/Worley
      2018 we might see McGuire and maybe Meadows plays LF with Marte in CF after McCutchen is traded (yeah I know, scary thought).

  • Let’s hope he’s the real deal. I have heard Bonilla-like comparisons. That would work for me!

  • When Josh bell is your number four prospect, you’re doing a few things right! Can’t wait to see this guy in the big leagues

  • When I really started following the Pirates hardcore again in 2011, Josh Bell and the crazy amount of money it took to get him was part of the reason why. I’m so excited for this kid to get up to the show I can barely stand it.

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