Powerful Bell could add some pop to Pirates' outfield
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected switch-hitting Dallas Jesuit College Prep graduate Josh Bell with their second-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. That was surprising, because most analysts and scouts felt he would be playing baseball at the University of Texas at Austin, where his mom is on the faculty. Instead, Bell chose to accept the generous bonus offer made by the Pirates, and he became a professional baseball player right out of high school.
While at Dallas Jesuit, Bell hit .548 his senior year. He hit 13 home runs and drove in 54 runs, while also scoring 54 times that season.
Bell's debut was delayed a bit due to his late contract agreement. He began his rookie season at Class A West Virginia in 2012. But Bell's season ended after only 15 games when he tore the meniscus in his left knee while running the bases, requiring surgery. However, in that brief beginning to his career, he stroked five doubles in his 66 plate appearances and knocked in 11 runs.
Bell had a bit of a lengthy recovery, because he was facing swelling and a buildup of fluids. He is credited with working very hard in his rehabilitation and remaining focused on returning to the field.
Following his recovery and rehab, Bell returned to West Virginia last season and hit .279 with 13 home runs and 76 RBIs. He had 37 doubles and two triples among his 128 hits. Showing a keen eye at the plate, Bell walked 52 times. He struck out 90 times in his 519 plate appearances. Bell is currently hitting very well for both average and power at Class A Advanced Bradenton.
Bell has a wide stance from both sides of the plate. He can hit well from either side, and it doesn't appear that he prefers one. However, Bell looks more natural hitting left-handed. To date, that's the side where he has shown more power, but he's also had more opportunities. Either way, Bell is a formidable hitter.
Bell's approach from the left-handed batter's box looks to have changed since his high school days. His timing mechanism now includes dragging his right foot back during his load. Bell cocks the bat close to his ear from both sides of the plate.
Bell should be a welcome source of power for the Bucs. He's big and strong at 6-foot-3, 213 pounds. Only 21, Bell could grow a bit more and add more strength and muscle to both his upper body and torso.
Bell's raw power will continue to develop. He projects to be a middle-of-the-order type power hitter.
Like many young power hitters, as Bell advances in Pittsburgh's system, he might have some trouble recognizing and handling good breaking balls and offspeed pitches. However, with a fairly short swing for a power hitter, he makes good contact and should continue along that path. A gap-doubles hitter now with enough backspin and loft to hit homers, Bell could be a 20-25 home run hitter in time. He could have a career with a good batting average, high home run totals and lots of RBIs.
Defensively, Bell projects as a solid corner outfielder. I like him best in left, but he could certainly succeed in right field as well. Bell has average speed and enough arm strength to play either corner. The knee injury may impact his first-step quickness, especially if he has that issue in the back of his mind while he's playing.
The Pirates have a very solid outfield on their current club and projecting to the future. Of course, Andrew McCutchen is the focal point of the outfield. Starling Marte is a fixture and prospect Gregory Polanco is nearing completion of his development. That will give Bell time to further hone his skills and continue to strengthen his knee. But he is a player who will really add a power dimension to the club at a time when power is sorely needed in the game.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.