Q&A: Josh Bell, Pirates Outfield Prospect

Two years ago, Josh Bell did the unexpected. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs boldly drafted Bell in the second round, despite his proclamation — through a letter to all 30 teams — that he would be attending the University of Texas. The product of Dallas’ Jesuit College Preparatory School was committed to getting an education.

Much to the Pirates delight, he changed his mind. The powerfully built, switch-hitting outfielder was more than a promising student-athlete. He had as much raw talent as any player in the draft. Were it not for signability issues, he likely would  have gone in the top half of the first round.

Last season, Bell learned how to deal with adversity. Just 15 games into his professional career, he tore the meniscus in his left knee and missed the rest of the season.

Bell, who turned 21 earlier this month, is currently getting his schooling in the South Atlantic League. In 498 plate appearances with the West Virginia Power, he is hitting .280/.353/.455, with 37 doubles and 12 home runs.


Bell on how he’d rate his season on a scale of one to 10:
“I guess my No. 1 priority this year was staying healthy, and for the most part I’ve stayed on the field. I’d give that an eight or a nine. Performance-wise, I’m kind of a perfectionist, so maybe I’d give that a five. As far as development, I’d probably give myself a seven.”

On developing as a hitter: “Right now, I’m a gap-to-gap guy. I try to get into good hitters’ counts and drive the ball. I walk when I can and I drive the ball when I can.

“I was the same type of player when I signed, but maybe with more power. I guess that changes with the bats, and in a couple of years I’ll get that power back. But I’m still the same guy. My numbers don’t really mirror what I did in high school [.556 with 14 home runs as a senior], but I’m hitting in the high .200s and driving the ball for some doubles.”

On growing into his power: “I feel my power is going to come, just from maturity. I can’t really change my swing. If I’m trying to hit a home run, that might mess with my mechanics. Putting on a little bit of good weight in the offseason, and working on my bat speed, will be a healthier way of going toward being a power hitter, rather than [adopting] an all-or-nothing swing.”

On his conversations with hitting coach Orlando Merced
: “We talk about attacking pitches in a certain zone. Come this part of the season, guys have faced you a couple of times and know your strengths and weaknesses. You can’t really expect any given pitch in any given situation. But if I can attack a zone, whether it’s a fastball or offspeed, I can do some damage.

“What I’m looking for kind of varies with how I’m feeling — how my swing is feeling — and how the pitcher is throwing. I might look in, or I might look out. I’ll make adjustments that way throughout the game.”

On developing better plate discipline and pitch recognition
: “I think that’s mostly a rep-type thing. Some pitchers’ offspeed looks different than others, but I feel that, over the years, I’ve begun to pick up off-speed better. I’m not sure I’ve cut down on my K-rate, but I’ve cut down on my Ks on bounced off-speed.”

On mechanics and feel:
“When my hitting coordinator came down, we looked at a few of my swings and picked out a few things I can work on. But at the same time, hitting is a feel thing. You go with what’s comfortable, and if your body isn’t feeling right, you do whatever you can to get it feeling right so you can perform that day.

“Swinging lefty, I’ve had a little bit of a problem with coming off my back side. I haven’t been strong back there. What we’ve worked on is powering through my back leg, driving that knee down, so I can get to that inside pitch. Righty, I’m trying to get to an athletic stance before I start my swing. Sometimes I’ll be a little too upright and not in my legs enough. We’ve been fine-tuning a little bit.”

“I haven’t had that many reps righty this year, so I’m more comfortable with my left-handed stance right now. I’ve always been a switch-hitter, and was the same from both side for the longest time, but I guess that’s changed a little bit. I just feel more comfortable upright as a righty, right now, and more comfortable in my legs, lefty. I don’t know if that’s going to change in the offseason, but right now that’s what feels right.”

On timing mechanism and load: “I’d say I have a small load from both sides. There’s no leg kick, or anything like that. I tried that early in the season and it didn’t work out for me. I was hitting the ball well, but didn’t feel as comfortable as I like to be up there. Now it’s more of a simple load from both sides, getting my foot down early and just picking up the pitch.

“I don’t really need to generate power. If I can trust my body to get stronger over the years, that will be enough for me.”

On leadership and learning from the sidelines: “Last year I watched the Gulf Coast League Pirates win their championship [while rehabbing]. I was there for all their meetings and saw what it takes for a team to come together and win it all. Right now, we’re fighting for first place, coming down the stretch. Whether it’s saying things or trying to pick guys up in the clubhouse, or making sure I’m not taking any reps off — those are the little things that help result in a ring at the end of the season.”

On his knee and his future:
“There have been no [lingering effects]. As long as I take care of it… the doctor says my full recovery will come two years after surgery, but I’ve done pretty well for myself this year. I think next year is going to be awesome for me. I’ll be working hard in the offseason and taking care of my body the way I need to.

“I’m trying to stay focused on now. I’m playing on a team that has a chance to finish in first place, and the big-league team is obviously having a great season. It’s awesome to see that and cheer for them. But in my shoes, where I’m at right now, I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m learning. What I’m learning today will help me be stronger tomorrow.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

8 Responses to “Q&A: Josh Bell, Pirates Outfield Prospect”

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  1. srpst23 says:

    Thanks for the info. Josh sounds like he is approaching things the right way. I hope his power does develop in the next couple of years, the Buccos could really use a power bat in the OF. How is he doing age/level wise (I don’t know much about how old you are to be at each level)? Did last year put him behind?

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      This was his age 20 season which he spent in A ball, he’s right on schedule. Next year he will start at 21 in advanced A and hopefully make a midseason jump to AA like Polanco and Hanson did this year.

      The big thing with him has been his improvement in K/BB% as the year has moved on. His walk rate is now up to 10% and his K% is done to 17 and is even lower over the last few months. He K’d 52 times in the season’s 1st two months and only 36 times in the three months since.

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      • RJ3 says:

        They’ll need to take it slowly with him and really keep an eye on him. I doubt it is a coincidence that he had knee surgery and discusses his legs in his swing like that. Plus, he just needs ABs. But when it comes together, he could be ready quickly as well. That contradiction is why I think to keep close tabs.

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      • srpst23 says:

        Thanks for the response.

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  2. BiggioHOF says:

    I don’t blame Josh, and as a matter of fact, I’d have done the exact same thing, but he was the straw that broke the camels back when it came to me following college baseball recruiting.

    I now expect every recruit, no matter what comes out of their “camp”, to sign a pro contract, (Bell, Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain) and if/when they show up on campus, I’m pleasantly surprised. Ex: CJ Hinojosa

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  3. Rock Strongo says:

    This had me confused for a moment… I thought you were referring to the Josh Bell who played 3rd base for the Dodgers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, and Yankees organizations.

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  4. Leo Walter says:

    Competition in the Pirates orginization for outfield spots is going to be fierce in the next 3 to 5 years with guys like McCutchen & Marte’ already there,Polanco close,Rojas in AA, and then then others like Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez not too far behind Bell.I could see a possible position switch to 1st base in his future.

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  5. GordieDougie says:

    Interesting that he’d give his performance a 5/10, when he’s maintaining a 129 wRC+. That’s a bit hard on himself.

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