Pirates prospect Josh Bell has been off a hot start in Double-A Altoona so far, hitting .395/.452/.568 and coming off a game in which he recorded two triples against the Erie SeaWolves. The 22-year old is currently riding a 7-game hit streak in which he has connected for 18 hits in 31 at bats, also drawing three walks. This would mark his first full season in Double-A ball, after appearing in 24 games last season (stats per milb.com).
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Given his size, it would be appropriate to assume that Bell is a power hitter. However, home runs have yet to become a part of the switch-hitter’s game, instead relying on a high contact game in which he drives balls to all fields. Mlb.com’s 34th overall prospect for 2015 is more of a doubles hitter, and will even hit a handful of triples due to his tendency to drive the ball into the gap. As he matures and gets even stronger, the home runs will come, but he’ll never likely be a guy who hits 30 homers in the big leagues. Bell also excels at limiting his strikeouts, and taking a walk when he’s pitched around.
The former outfielder was moved to first base last season in preparation for the Arizona Fall League, in an effort to try to give him a more realistic path to the big leagues. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco seem like they are going to be fixtures in the Pirates outfield for years to come, so the move made a lot of sense. However, Bell’s best asset in the outfield was his plus throwing arm, something that was lost playing first base. Some believe he has the athleticism to play third base, but the Pirates have used him exclusively at first this season. The move is a way to get his bat to the Majors, which is the most attractive thing about his game.
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Seeing as he is definitely more of a fit for right field, it makes sense for the team to think about trading him for a piece that adds more positional value. If he can continue to hit like he has been in Double-A, he will be knocking on the door in Pittsburgh by the end of the season. He would undoubtedly be a useful bench bat, at the very least, for a team that figures to be in the playoff mix down the stretch. Promoting him towards the end of the season also gives him exposure so that other teams can take a look at the young hitter. This would present a scenario where the Pirates could potentially trade him to a team in the off-season, and upgrade another position or their rotation.
There is no doubting that Bell can hit, but his spot in the Pirates’ defensive alignment could ultimately decide whether he’s a long term fit in Pittsburgh. He should be fun to watch for the rest of this season in Double-A, as he pushes closer to the big leagues.