What Does Top Ranking Mean for Pirates First Base Prospect Joshua Bell?
Moving to first base full time
With the Pirates outfield of the future in place, they decided to move top outfield prospect Joshua Bell to first base. This transition was made in the Arizona Fall League, where Josh Bell was able to learn the new defensive position and play there in live action for the first time. Since Josh Bell played centerfield in high school, this was quite a transition that required him to put in plenty of work in order to complete the defensive position change. After completing the switch to first base, Bell was ranked as the top first base prospect in baseball by the analysts who determine the position rankings for mlb.com. This is a very significant honor for first base prospects, and all the recent top overall first base prospects are now in the big leagues producing in some capacity for their MLB teams. A look at some of the recent top ranked first base prospects will help to determine the significance of this ranking as an indicator for Josh Bell's career as a Pirates first basemen.
Recent top ranked first base prospects
The top first base prospect according to mlb.com's prospect rankings each of the past two years, and is now in the big leagues as Houston's starting first basemen. As a left handed hitter with power, Singleton was able to hit 13 homeruns and 13 doubles last season in 310 at bats with the Astros. He was also able to draw 50 walks in the 95 games he played in last season. Other than the extra base hit totals and the walk totals, there were not many other highlights to Singleton's first stint in the big leagues. After his full season career high in strikeouts in the minor leagues was 131, Singleton struck out 134 times in his 95 games played with Houston last season. His lack of contact resulted in a .168 batting average that in turn kept his on base percentage and slugging percentage to a minimum. His final line through 95 games was .168/.285/.335 to give him a well below average .620 OPS for his 2014 big league campaign. On an Astros team where strikeouts were common all throughout the lineup, it became easy for Singleton to develop bad habits in his approach at the plate as a rookie. In order for Singleton to continue his development, he will need to refine his approach as one of the key players leading the way in Houston's rebuilding efforts.
The 2012 top ranked first base prospect in mlb.com's rankings, faced a similar transition period to Singleton after making his MLB debut with the Padres just before his 22nd birthday. In 49 games as a rookie, Rizzo produce a triple slash line of .141/.281/.242 with only one homerun over 128 at bats in 2011. After being traded to the Cubs the following offseason, Rizzo was able to put together his first season in his rise to his current status as a National League MVP candidate. In 2012 Rizzo produced a triple slash line of .285/.342/.463 in 87 games played for the Cubs, in which he was able to hit 15 homeruns and 15 doubles. Most recently Rizzo is coming off a 2014 campaign where he hit .286 with the second leading homerun total in the National League at 32. After an early transition period as a youngster, Rizzo has been able to overcome an early struggle with strikeouts to maintain a strong walk to strikeout rate recently. His efforts have led to significant success to put him among the best first basemen in baseball, along with having the expectation of being an MVP candidate going into the upcoming season. Rizzo's career path suggests that life is tough early on in the big leagues for top ranked power hitting first base prospects, but the future is bright for them after their age 22 season.
The 2011 top ranked first base prospect has gone on to carve out a solid career for himself with the Royals after making his MLB debut with them as a 21 year old in 2011. After hitting a career high in homeruns in his rookie season with 19, Hosmer has since faced an uphill battle in his efforts to hit the ball out of the yard at spacious Kauffman Stadium. Hosmer has followed up each of his best seasons with somewhat of a down season throughout his four year career, but overall he has lived up to the expectations by holding down the first base job for the Royals. The last two seasons Hosmer has produced 34 or more doubles in each season, to put his power on display even though he has yet to hit more than 20 homeruns in a season throughout his young career. Hosmer's defensive excellence, low strikeout rates and base running ability, add multiple dimensions to his game. All of which he is able to use in order to add wins to his team. Hosmer's athleticism as a big left handed hitter with power, allows him to offer his team exactly the versatility they need out of the first base position. Hosmer still has room to improve heading into his 25 year old season, but as a former top ranked first base prospect he has shown the ability to play at an all star level.
The future is bright for Bell
With players such as San Francisco's Brandon Belt and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt being among the top ranked first base prospects in the game recently, the future looks bright for the Pirates Josh Bell if he is able to follow this trend. As a switch hitter, Josh Bell has the homerun power from the left side of the plate to produce power numbers like Anthony Rizzo, and the line drive hitting ability from the right side to produce doubles totals similar to Eric Hosmer. Bell's hit tool grades out as good as the hit tools were graded out for any of the players listed above, when they were still prospects. Bell's power grades out as well above average and he has the athleticism to be at least an average base runner as a former outfielder. Bell's defense at first base will continue to be a work in progress, but he showed enough during his stint in the Arizona Fall League for scouts to believe that he is an above average defender. Bell's status as mlb.com's top ranked first base prospect shows that the future is bright for him, however there is some uncertainty as to what this actually means.
What does this mean for Josh Bell?
The first expectation that this top ranking carries with it for Josh Bell, is that he will become the Pirates first basemen of the future. Not everyone lives up to the expectations created by their status as prospects, but the guys who perform in the upper levels of the farm system generally meet expectations at the MLB level. The well above average hit tool for Josh Bell suggests that he could hit .300 or better in multiple seasons throughout his career. The well above average power tool for Josh Bell suggests that he is likely to produce 20 or more homeruns in almost every full season that he plays. With Josh Bell turning 23 in August of 2015, this could mean that he is in position to display the maturity needed to avoid the early transition periods that both Jon Singleton and Anthony Rizzo experienced as youngsters in their first stint at the MLB level. Bell's current timeline in the Pirates farm system puts him on pace for a midseason debut in 2016, just couple months before his 24th birthday. Josh Bell's status as the top ranked first base prospect this offseason, means that he is likely to carve out a career as an all star level player in the big leagues along with being an MVP candidate in more than one season throughout his career.