INDIANAPOLIS — Since earning his promotion to Triple-A at the beginning of the month, it has not taken Josh Bell long to develop into a strong hitter at the level.
After a slow start where he went 1-for-17 in his first four games, Bell hit his stride in the past 13 games at the level. In those contests, Bell has a hit in 11 games, with six multi-hit efforts. The power has also followed, as in the span, he has added five doubles, a triple, and a home run.
Bell credits the success to sticking to his approach in games and the hard work that he has put in with Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar.
“I just feel like I am trying to put the ball in play when I can, as hard as I can in each at-bat,” Bell said. “I giving myself a good chance to do that by trusting my two strike approach. I continue to work with [Indianapolis hitting coach] Butch [Wynegar] every day and it is working right now.”
Along with this work with Wynegar, the two found an adjustment to be made with the leg kick that he recently added in Altoona to his swing from each side of the plate.
“We made an adjustment to his leg kick,” Wynegar said. “It is something that he started doing in Altoona and I didn’t like it when he first got here. I talked to our hitting coordinator and I didn’t like the way that he was going about doing it. I was told that they wanted him to keep the leg kick.”
Wynegar said that after explaining his side, they were able to make some minor adjustments and the results have followed.
“He was getting beat and he was struggling in BP and everything,” Wynegar said. “He wanted to can it and go back. I explained to him that they wanted him to keep it, but we can work on doing it another way. He is such a great kid, that I can tell him to stand on his head and he would try it. He has made those adjustments and is giving himself a really good chance to hit now.”
As for the adjustment itself, Wynegar said that it comes down to timing. He said that giving examples of other big league hitters with a similar look allowed Bell to get a visual of what he needs to do.
“It was more of a shortening thing,” Wynegar said. “He was really lifting it high and getting way back over his back leg. I explained to him, that when you watch Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, or a guy who has a leg kick, they don’t get back over their back leg, they get back into it. It is an up and a drive into the ball now. When he first got here, he was up and hanging there, struggling to get back down. It was a real timing issue.”
Wynegar said that he explained to Bell why a big league hitter digs in. He said that when they do this, in addition to getting a better traction, they also step on the back side of the hole to keep their knee inside their back leg. With this, Wynegar and Bell have been working with an object under his back foot to simulate this. This showed Bell the importance of not getting back over his back leg.
Bell also uses the leg kick on each side of the plate, being a switch hitter. While he clearly has more power on the left side of the plate, the hits have come from the right side as well in the small Triple-A sample size.
Though there is a huge split in OPS from the left to right side of the plate, the average is not as separated. From the right side, he is hitting a solid .286 in 21 at-bats. From the left side, he is hitting .326 in 43 at-bats.
The contact is coming from both sides of the plate, it is just more firm from the left side. However, Bell said that the work put in has him comfortable both ways.
“I feel good [from both sides of the plate],” Bell said. “It is just a work in progress every day. I need to get reps in to be prepared for the starters and the relievers. If I can get some solid work in, I feel comfortable from both sides.”
Another season-long adjustment that Bell is looking to continue in Indianapolis is his position change to first base.
Bell still has some minor hiccups, like Tuesday night when he got caught in between going to the bag and making a throw to try to start a double play. Bell made the right decision not to throw to second, but the delay also cost the out at first on a speedy runner.
These mistakes have been few and far between. He has also made several strong pickups and his footwork appears to have improved tremendously over there. Bell has seen the drastic developments to his defense as well.
“I feel great [at first base],” Bell said. “Compared to the start last year, I have made some serious strides. The game is coming to me over there. I still have a lot of work to do, as we all do, but I continue to work hard every day and I am seeing those results.”
Bell also said that he is excited to be on a first place team and to get some playoff experience under his belt. The playoff experience and making the adjustments so quickly to Indianapolis are huge going into next season for Bell.
It is hard to envision Bell getting the call before June of 2016, based on the fact that he is still so raw at this point. However, he is clearly advanced well beyond his years with his approach, and is starting to show some positive signs in a small sample size in Triple-A. Bell has the look of a potential special player as a hitter, and the best way to reach his upside is the hard work and experience that he is getting working with Wynegar in Indianapolis.