Josh Bell's Breakout Season in Pirates Farm System Leads to Switch to First Base
Putting a breakout hitter at first base
After the recent debut of Gregory Polanco, the Pirates have pieced together what they believe is their outfield of the future. With Starling Marte in left field, Andrew McCutchen in centerfield and Gregory Polanco in right field, the Pirates have all their starting outfield positions filled for the foreseeable future. This could have presented a problem for Pirates top outfield prospect Joshua Bell, but as a versatile athlete with experience all over the baseball diamond, he is willing to show Pirates management that he can make a defensive position change effectively. With Bell recently being named the Florida State League hitter of the year, his name has come up in some interesting conversations after his promotion to double-A Altoona, signaled that he is approaching the point where he will be big league ready. After receiving a significant signing bonus after being drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, Joshua Bell figures to be a very valuable asset to the Pirates organization in the near future.
What earned him the Florida State League award
Josh Bell missed a year of development on the field in his first year with the Pirates organization when he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss most of the season. After putting together a solid season as a 20 year old at class-A West Virginia in 2013, Josh Bell had his breakout season while playing with the class-A advanced Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. His breakout season consisted of batting .335 over 331 at bats for Bradenton, with nine homeruns, 20 doubles, four triples and 53 runs batted in. Bell also had 25 walks to just 43 strikeouts at the class-A advanced level, which gave him a .384 on base percentage to complement his .502 slugging percentage. He was promoted to double-A to finish out his season, where he finished with 27 hits in 94 at bats, with eight walks and 12 strikeouts. The jump to double-A was a transition for Bell, as he batted .287 there this season, but only notched two extra base hits in those 94 at bats. Both of them being doubles, and the homerun power he had put on display for Bradenton, was absent with Altoona early on as he tried to find his way at a more advanced level. As a former draft pick out of high school, it was his performance at the class-A advanced level that was what allowed Bell to move quickly in his development to finish out his 2014 regular season.
Headed to the Arizona Fall League
Josh Bell's breakout season has earned him the opportunity to represent the Pirates organization in the Arizona Fall League. Each fall, every Major League Baseball organization sends some of their top prospects who are nearly big league ready, to the Arizona Fall League to complete some of the final stages of their development. It is in the Arizona Fall League that Josh Bell plans to play first base full time for the first time in his professional career, which is a big step in creating a spot for his abilities on the Pirates 25 man roster in the future. After having a bone bruise on his knee, cut his season short for double-A Altoona, Bell gets the opportunity to continue playing baseball into the offseason against advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League. This type of opportunity, along with the opportunity to play first base, goes a long way towards giving Bell and the Pirates a bright future at the first base position in the Major Leagues. In the Arizona Fall League, Josh Bell will look to drive the ball from both sides of the plate as he tries to prove to the Pirates that he belongs as their first basemen of the future.
After years of having project players at the first base position, the Pirates finally have the depth that allows them to put one of their top prospects at the first base position. With the struggles at first base for the Pirates in recent years, came the lack of run production from key hitters asked to bat in the middle of the lineup. Various first base platoons have not worked out very well for the Pirates in recent years, since both the right handed and left handed platoon options were often slotted into the cleanup spot in the Pirates lineup. Josh Bell may be the answer to all of these issues, as a hitter who is growing into a power hitter's frame, and is a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate. After a rough start to his professional career, Bell is finally living up to the draft status that earned him a five million dollar signing bonus as a second round pick. This potential should present the Pirates with an excellent opportunity to fill the first base position that has not produced for the Pirates franchise in so many years.