July 14, 2017: The ball flew off his bat, and Josh Bell was sure it was gone. He swatted Seung Hwan Oh's fastball toward the left-field seats, finished his powerful swing, hopped out of the batter's box and flipped his bat behind him as the crowd of 24,988 began to roar.
The ball landed 376 feet away, according to Statcast™, a few rows beyond the fence in PNC Park's left-field corner. Bell rounded the bases and met his raucous teammates at home plate to celebrate his first career walk-off hit, a three-run homer that gave the Pirates a 5-2 win over the Cardinals to open the second half of the season.
"It's unlike any other experience. It's like walking on a cloud," Bell said. "It's cool when the [ballpark] lights go off and come back on, and you're rounding third and seeing all your teammates there at home. I haven't had that feeling since Double-A. The stadium here is a little bit louder than that. Hopefully more to come."
Bell has shown a flair for the dramatic since his first weekend in Pittsburgh. He singled against the Cubs in his first Major League at-bat, and then for an encore, he crushed a pinch-hit grand slam the next day. Still, this was a first. The 24-year-old rookie celebrated his first game-ending hit in the big leagues. "I'm not terribly surprised that he has a lot of success," starter Gerrit Cole said, "because he's a really good player."
"We've talked about him being dangerous. We've talked about him learning as the season continues to grow on him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "[It's] fun to watch him grow. He's growing up right in front of our eyes." In the middle of the ninth inning, Gregory Polanco approached Bell in the dugout and said, "Hey, bro, I want to go home." As soon as Bell flipped his bat, Polanco knew he wouldn't have to worry about extra innings. So did Bell. "I thought so, and then it didn't go as far as I thought it was going to go," Bell said. "I hit it pretty good." "Wow," Polanco added. "That's how you know you've got power." (A Berry - MLB.om - July 15, 2017)
|DOB:||8/14/1992||Agent:||Scott Boras Corp.|
|Birth City:||Irvin, TX|
|Draft:||Pirates #2 - 2011 - Out of high school (TX)|
- Bell grew up a fan of the Texas Rangers.
Josh started playing baseball when he was four years old. And he started switch-hitting when he was five, at the behest of his father, Earnest.
His mother, Myrtle, was a Pirates fan, connecting with Roberto Clemente despite the fact she grew up in Baton Rouge, La.
"His father has worked with him all his life and trained him such that he would be ready for the next [level]," Myrtle Bell said, pointing out that her son played against older competition as well as against his father throughout his childhood. "That kind of helped him understand there's a lot to learn, but then, 'I can learn it, yes I can.' That's what you're seeing in him."
- His family is very big on education. Bell's mother is a professor at the University of Texas-Arlington, while his father is well-educated and considers education very important.
In 2011, Bell's senior year at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, he committed to the University of Texas on a baseball scholarship.
But in June Josh was the Pirates second round pick in the draft. And he signed with scout Mike Leuzinger on the August 15 deadline for a bonus worth $5 million.
In 2012, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Bell as the third-best prospect. They had him at #6 in the winter before 2013 spring training, and at #7 in the spring of 2014 and at #4 in 2015.
In 2016, he was ranked as the third-best prospect in the Pirates organization; and he was at #4 again in the spring of 2017.
- Josh is a great kid, a hard worker and a good guy.
Bell gained over 30 pounds during the offseason before 2013 Spring Training. He worked out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida with Pirates 2B Neil Walker and 3B Pedro Alvarez.
Josh has continued to work out every off-season. He reported to 2015 spring training at an imposing 245 pounds, after a power-lifting program.
"I want to be one of those guys who puts a little fear in the other team’s pitcher when he looks at me from across the field,” Bell said during the 2015 season.
In 2014, Bell was dubbed the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year after he led the Florida State League (and was MVP) in average (.335) and slugging (.502) before a late-July promotion to Double-A Altoona. His .325 average topped the Pirates organization.
Josh was selected to play for the US in the 2015 Futures Game.
July 8, 2016: (MLB debut) In the first pitch of his first Major League at-bat, Bell ripped a single to right field off reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, so his joy was well-earned.
- October 2016: Bell was recognized by MLBPipeline.com as the Pirates' 2016 minor league Player of the Year.
Bell impressed throughout the past few years in the Pirates minor league system and developed into one of the organization’s best young stars in the process.
His MLB debut was highly anticipated by fans and he didn’t disappoint after dressing in a Pirates uniform for the first time on July 8.
Bell showed an incredible amount of poise for a 23-year old getting a taste of his first major league action, reaching base in his first four plate appearances as a Pirate. In that span, Bell drew two walks and compiled two hits including a pinch-hit grand slam in only his second career at-bat.
Bell, the Pirates No. 3 ranked prospect at the time, was sent back down to Triple-A Indianapolis on July 16 to make room for Cole who was coming off of the disabled list. However, that wasn’t his only taste of the big leagues in 2016.The first baseman was recalled on Aug. 20 after Jung Ho Kang was placed on the DL with a left shoulder injury and continued to have an impact for the Bucs.
With his return back to the Major League roster, Bell finally got an opportunity to start on a few occasions and thrived in the role. He hit .273 with one home run and four RBIs in 33 at-bats in the month of August and hit .258 with one home run and 11 RBIs in 89 September at-bats.
Bell finished the year by hitting at a .273/.368/.775 clip with three home runs and 19 RBIs. When looking at basic statistics, it’s easy to like what Bell did in his first glimpse of MLB action. He’s a top talent and a big part of the Pirates future. He didn’t necessarily play like a rookie, showing exceptional prowess at the plate; however, there is still room for improvement as his career progresses.
Impressive Plate Discipline: Bell’s ability to hit for power and drive in runs is undeniable. The kid is good. But the biggest surprise to those that tuned in to his at-bats is his tremendous plate discipline and composure especially for someone his age. In 152 plate appearances, Bell compiled an impressive walk rate of 13.8 percent and struck out at a 12.5 percent rate. He finished the year with 21 walks and 19 strikeouts, which is uncanny for a young player.It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Bell showed so much patience at the plate. He did display stellar plate discipline throughout 487 career minor league games, but his transition from the minors to the majors was a pleasant sight for Pirates fans and those within the organization.
Strong Left-Handed Hitter: What makes Bell unique within the Pirates lineup is that he has the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. This season, Bell only had 19 major league at-bats from the right side of the plate, but he also only compiled four hits for a .211 average and walked and struck out three times each.Bell had 131 at-bats from the right side while playing at Indianapolis in 2016, compiling a .267 average. He had more success in Indy from the left side of the batters box, sporting a .307 average with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs in 290 at-bats. The same success as a lefty that Bell had in the minors translated to his time in Pittsburgh. Bell saw more opportunities from the left side of the plate, 109 to be exact, and hit .284 with all three of his home runs and 18 of his 19 RBIs coming as a left handed hitter. Despite not having a ton of success as a right handed hitter at the major league level, Bell does have the talent to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. However, his work in the minors and in Pittsburgh shows that his strength is from the left side of the plate and that he will need to show consistency from the right side in the future.
Improvements Needed on Defense: With Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco occupying the outfield for the Pirates, Bell, who was drafted as an outfielder, began the transition to first base at the end of 2014. The move was made in order to give the young prospect a more direct path to the majors but there have been some obstacles. Bell has had struggles defensively during his transition as he committed 30 errors in 212 career minor league games at the position.
At the Major League level, Bell has received playing time both in the outfield and at first base. Bell committed only one error in over 100 innings played in right field, while committing three errors in over 150 innings at first base.Bell’s up and down transformation from outfielder to first baseman hasn’t affected his ability at the plate, but it is an aspect of his game that he has and must improve on moving forward.The Pirates 2014 Minor League Player of the Year had some instances in 2016 where he showed his inexperience at first base, but he indeed has the talent to become a solid option at the position for the Pirates in the near future.
Conclusion and Final Grade: The Pirates got a glimpse of what Bell brings to the table in 2016 and it was a pleasant first look.
Despite a few struggles on defense, Bell held his own at first base for the most part and showed rare maturity at the plate. Because of this, he earned a B+ grade. I went back and forth about whether or not to give him a B or an A, but I feel as if we didn’t see enough of him for an A to be given out.Bell is a huge part of the Pirates future plans and though 2016 didn’t end well, this 23-year old first baseman is definitely a reason to hold onto hope when it comes to 2017 and the years beyond that. (October 17, 2016 by Jose Negron)
Dec 26, 2016: Since the Pirates drafted him in 2011, but especially over the last few years, Josh Bell set his sights on reaching the Major Leagues. That was the end point, he thought, the ultimate goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. He made it this year, but it wasn't the finish line he'd built up in his mind.
"You realize you're just getting out of the starting blocks," Bell said.
This time last year, Bell was preparing to dazzle Pirates brass with Spring Training home runs and web gems, thinking that would get him to Pittsburgh. Now, the 24-year-old switch-hitter said, he is thinking about "longevity," how he can stay effective in the big leagues as long as possible. The 6-foot-2 slugger has cut his weight to around 233 pounds, he said during PirateFest, down from 240-245 during the season. He's taken up yoga and spin classes. "Just focusing on my body and not how hard I can swing a bat," Bell said. "Trying to focus on the complete package."
Bell is taking hacks in his garage, swatting at heavy bags to keep a feel for his swing without worrying about results. He's been doing that after seeking out offseason advice from veteran infielder David Freese, who told Bell,
"You don't want to get in a slump in the offseason."
Bell has already spent time working on his defense with special assistant Kevin Young in Dallas and infield coach Joey Cora in Miami. He spent time at first and moved back to right field halfway through this past season, but most of his work this winter has been at first base.
"First base is more of a focus. I know the kid is always going to have the ability to run in the outfield," manager Clint Hurdle said at the 2016 Winter Meetings. "We asked him to do that last year based on need. That's a position he grew up playing."
"Just taking the pressure off and realizing that you're there to get the cobwebs off and get ready to go for the season, it's going to be fun," Bell said. (A Berry - MLB.com - Dec 26, 2016)
Josh and his father shared a daily routine. Almost every afternoon, Josh and his father, Earnest Bell, played baseball together in their backyard in Coppell, Texas. During these sessions, Josh tried to hit as many home runs as possible, with homers being balls that landed over the backyard fence. If he hit five or six home runs that day, his father rewarded him by taking him out to eat.
"When I think back about it, a lot of people were like, 'Oh my gosh, you spent so many hours. That must have been hard work,'" Josh said. "For me, it was always like, No. 1, I get to hang out with my pops … It was always in good spirits."
All those hours in the backyard paid off. Years later, Josh is still hitting home runs. He's just doing it in a different setting. Bell traces his development as a baseball player back to all those hours spent playing in the backyard, and more specifically, to his father.
"I mean especially in regards to baseball, he is my first connection with the game, which is pretty cool," Josh said. "All the time that he devoted is pretty cool and I am really thankful for."
Earnest Bell did everything in his power to help his son succeed. He and Josh spent hours in the car driving across the country for baseball tournaments. He trained to Josh to switch-hit at age 5 so he could be a more dangerous hitter. And he bought Josh a Wiffle ball pitching machine when Josh was about 10 or 12 to help him perfect his swing.
Earnest also didn't allow his son to play football because he thought there was too great a risk of injury, so Josh only played baseball and basketball as a kid. But Josh made sure to emphasize that his father was never demanding. While Earnest wanted to see Josh succeed, he never pressured him to be a great baseball player.
"It was never forced or anything like that, because there are some parents out there who go about it the wrong way," Josh said. "It was never, 'You are going to have to!' It was always like, 'You get to go in the backyard and do what you got to do to get better.' "
Earnest still remains involved with Josh's career. The two talk on the phone every other day about baseball and other things going on in Josh's life, with Earnest offering support.
"He knows what I need to do to get to the next level," Bell said. "He also knows in certain areas where I can get better to. It's cool to have like a coach there, but also a father figure who can still lead me."
Earnest and his own father traveled with the the Pirates to Atlanta on their annual dads road trip to watch their four-game series against the Braves. Earnest watched his son smash an RBI double off right-hander R.A. Dickey on May 23. It was a moment that Josh won't forget.
"That was a cool scenario," Josh said. "Getting an RBI in front of my pops there and my grandfather. You can't ask for much more." (Toye - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
Bell is a switch-hitter with a wiry strong physique who displays power from both sides of the plate. With his bat speed, strike-zone discipline and mature approach, he also should hit for average as well. He has learned to better get to his power.
He has a 60 grade for his hit tool, along with 50 power, on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Josh has been switch-hitting since he was 5 years old. And now, he is equally efficient from either side. Scouts report his righthanded swing is geared more toward contact with a flatter swing plane. He doesn't use his legs enough from the right side, but adding a leg kick in July 2015 helped him drive the ball more consistently.
Josh turns it loose and has more leverage from the left side, where he displays a better swing. He works counts to get to a pitch he can hammer, making hard contact, especially from the left side of the plate.
Both his swing and results are consistently better when he's hitting lefthanded. Bell is more productive batting lefthanded, but he does a good job of sticking with his mature approach from both sides. His righthanded swing is more unorthodox, but he added a toe tap back in 2015 to improve his timing. (Spring 2017)
He has quick hands that provide power and a good batting average. He should add more power when he gets more balanced and incorporates his legs more in his swing.
Josh has a knack for barreling the ball and it jumps off his bat when he does barrel it up, which he does consistently.
The question is: Will Bell hit with enough power to be a difference maker at first base? The 6-foot-3, 235 pounder certainly has the strength to drive the ball over the fence.
“Josh has been able to hit the ball out of basically any ballpark since he was 15,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said before 2016 spring training. “The raw power has never been a question, and he does some things in the batter’s box, the barrel to the ball, the feel for an at-bat. He is that 1970s, 1980s guy where the power comes as he matures, and he begins to understand hitting in counts and begins to understand how to leverage and how to pull.”
Bell has a mature approach and repeatedly makes sweet-spot contact.
- Josh Bell has the makings of a No. 3 or 4 hitter in a contender's lineup. But, while his power is apparent in batting practice, it doesn't really show up in games very often, at all. Scouts love his bat-to-ball skills, but note that he does it with an inside-out stroke that doesn’t allow him to hit the ball out of the park. (Oct. 2015)
Late in the 2014 season, Bradenton manager Tom Prince compared him to Prince’s former Pirates teammate, Bobby Bonilla, for his size, switch-hitting ability and potential pop.
Most scouts consider Bell’s hitting ability better than his power presently, but he has the potential to hit 20-25 homers annually as he matures.
Josh has become more patient in his approach at the plate.
"I like working counts," said Bell, who endeavors to walk more than he strikes out. "I like drawing walks when I can. Right now it's working out for me and hopefully I can keep going with it."
His stature screams slugger, but his composure has led to only one home run thus far, and that doesn't bother Bell, who has come to realize that he was pushed too hard for the long ball early in his career. The results have allowed him to collect 60 hits, tied for the league lead, while smacking seven doubles and a career-high five triples.
"A couple of more feet and it's a home run, but I'll take a triple as well," Bell joked. "As I get older I know that they're just going to come. In my younger years I tried to press and hit home runs -- that's where the swings and misses come. As I pick my swings more maturely, I feel that I can pick my spots."
2014 Season: Bell enjoyed a career year at the plate, reaching Double-A and leading the Pirates' organization with a .325 average. The 22-year-old added additional feathers to his cap after Major League Baseball recognized him as the Florida State League leader for batting average (.335) and slugging percentage (.502).
April 22, 2016: Bell officially broke out of his early-season funk with a tremendous performance as he hit for the cycle for the Indianapolis Indians (PCL-Pirates).
May 5, 2017: Josh Bell spent most of a 2 1/2-hour rain delay in the Pirates' game room, where he and his teammates cracked jokes and played a big-game hunter arcade game.
"Doing what you can to pass the time," as Bell put it. Before that, though, there were six swings off a tee and a conversation with Gregory Polanco in the batting cage. When the game finally resumed, Bell grabbed a bigger bat and put it to work. The rookie first baseman doubled in the fourth inning and blasted a solo home run into the Allegheny River in the fifth, sparking the Pirates' offense in a 4-0 win over the Brewers.
"It's a work in progress," Bell said. "This game shows that I'm taking steps in the right direction."
There's a reason Bell's nickname in the Minor Leagues was "Tinker Bell." He is known for constantly tweaking his swing. Bell recently eliminated the stride from his swing and focused on getting his foot down extremely early, searching for the midpoint between lunging toward the ball and staying too far back in his stance.
He moved away from that and talked about it again with hitting coach Jeff Branson before the game. He wanted to get back to doing the things that made him successful last season. After making the switch to a slightly longer and heavier bat, 35 inches and 32 ounces, Bell swung at a pair of pitches outside the zone and struck out in his first at-bat. Then came the rain. When he went into the cage with Polanco, Bell thought about Branson's repeated advice: Get your foot down before you make a move with your hands. Six swings and one conversation later, it clicked.
It carried over into the game, too, even after the break for big-game hunting. During his next two trips to the plate, Bell started his swing on time, got his foot down and drove the ball.
"The swings he took early were different swings than the ones he took later. It was good to see an adjustment made, barrel to ball, and he's shown the ability to hit some stuff hard," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's been fun to watch him continue to develop."
"I found myself with my back against the wall," Bell said. "The game's a lot simpler when I'm not fighting myself in the box, not forcing my body into a position to hit. It's more of a free swing." (A Berry - MLB.com - May 5, 2017)
Josh has enough range for center field, and his bat has enough power to enable Bell to move to a corner outfield spot or first base, where he profiles better. His arm is strong enough for right field.
Bell also can play first base, a position he learned a lot about in the Arizona Fall League after the 2014 season.
Josh has a 50 grade for both his fielding and his arm, in the outfield.
Josh has really worked hard to improve his defense at first base. But he lacks range and has stiff hands. Right field may be more comfortable. There, his lack of range can be hidden somewhat.
Bell needs to work to maintain his athleticism if he wants to stay on an outfield corner—a crowded position in Pittsburgh—long-term.
But the Pirates moved Josh to first base for the 2015. And he had rarely ever played there until the Arizona Fall League after the 2014 season.
Josh has trouble making backhand plays at first base. He is still adjusting to the quicker reaction times, the different spins and directions that a ball can take and the range needed at first base, but feels that each pitch is an opportunity to improve.
Bell is also quick to credit sure-handed Curve shortstop Gift Ngoepe for providing him with needed knowledge about infield play.
"I try to take what I can from Gift," said Bell on how his teammate has helped him adjust. "He's taught me a lot with footwork and how the glove works toward the ball, and I try to really apply that. The ball just gets on you like that. You've got to be quick on your toes, got to be balanced in a ready position as the pitch crosses the plate. It's just reading that ball off the bat and getting that first good step in before I move the glove toward the ball." Josh is improving at all facets.
"I feel tons better than I did in the fall league, tons better than I did in Spring Training," said Bell, who had only previously played the position on occasion at the age of 12. "It's slowly but surely getting there. I want to be one of those players that the pitchers trust over there and people enjoy playing around. Infield and outfield are two completely different positions. So it's re-learning the game, re-learning where I need to be. I'm trying to be on my toes for every pitch that's thrown."
Bell is still learning to shorten his arm stroke from the one he utilized in right field to one more acceptable for a spot on the infield. He has worked hard with Pirates infield instructor Kevin Young to hone his skills in the field. (Oct. 2015)
- Josh lost 15 pounds in the offseason before 2017 spring training. He wanted to get lighter so that his agility and footwork around the bag would improve.
Josh had average speed before he got hurt, but he lost a step after his knee injury: a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Now, Bell is a below-average runner under way, with a 40 grade.
- Summer 2010: Bell missed a couple of months of action following his junior year of high school after he cracked and bruised his kneecap while sliding into a base.
April 26, 2012: Josh was on the D.L., undergoing left knee surgery to repair his meniscus in his left knee, which he tore while running the bases. He was slow to recover from the surgery and missed the rest of the season.
In November, 2012, Bell received platelet-rich plasma injections in his knee in an effort to spur healing. He has been slow to recover from the surgery.
August 15, 2014: Josh was on the D.L. with a left knee contusion.
February 1, 2017: Bell underwent arhtroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. He was back by Opening Day.
He was injured while striking the fire hydrant pose during a yoga class in his hometown of Dallas.
Baseball is full of weird injury stories and Bell’s is one of the latest.
“I started feeling discomfort, and then I couldn’t fully extend my leg,” said Bell. “Next thing you know, I’m under the knife.”