It’s unclear at this point how long Bell will be in the majors — Felix Pie (back) will soon be activated from the DL, and the Orioles claim there’s no connection between Bell’s promotion and a transaction involving Ty Wigginton or Miguel Tejada. Whether this is a cup of coffee or something more substantive, Bell’s the best position prospect in the system not named Manny Machado. The 23-year-old was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers (along with RHP Steve Johnson) last July for LHP George Sherrill.
A 6-foot-3 switch-hitter, Bell was originally a fourth-round selection out of Florida in the 2005 draft. At the time he was drafted, Baseball America commended his plus power and strong arm, while noting disappointment amongst scouts that he didn’t firm up his soft frame. Bell bashed in rookie ball in ’05 and 2006 (a combined .312/.380/.486 in 454 plate appearances). In 2007, he hit .271/.331/.444 in 517 PA taken mostly in the Low-A Midwest League (he got a late-season promotion to the High-A California League). Bell walked 8.1% of the time, punched out 27.1% and had a .173 Isolated Power.
Prior to the 2008 season, Bell shed 30 pounds from his burly build. He got off to a .273/.373/.455 start in 220 PA in the Cal League, drawing ball four 14.1%, whiffing 25.6% and posting a .182 ISO in a favorable offensive environment. Unfortunately, Bell suffered a right knee injury that required surgery, ending his season in late May. He returned to the field and raked in 2008, however — in 518 PA split between the Double-A Southern League (Dodgers) and Eastern League (O’s), Bell batted .295/.376/.516, with a 11.8 BB%, 21.9 K% and a .221 ISO.
Heading into 2010, Baseball America rated Bell as the second-best prospect in the Baltimore system. So did Marc Hulet, noting that former Dodgers pick possessed “an intriguing mix of power and patience.” John Sickels rated Bell fourth in the Orioles’ organization, regarding him “more as a solid regular than a future star.”
At Norfolk this season, Bell hit .266/.311/.455 in 309 PA. His plate discipline was off-kilter, as he has walked just 5.8% while striking out 26.2%. Bell still hit for power, however, with a .189 ISO. Before the season began, ZiPS projected that he’d bat .242/.316/.396 in the majors. CHONE’s updated July projections predict Bell will put up a .244/.301/.398 triple-slash as an Oriole.
Bell’s low Triple-A walk rate is worth watching, though he does have a track record of working the count well. Setting that aside for the moment, two questions remain regarding his prospect status. First, can he play third base capably? Bell’s TotalZone defensive ratings have ranged from poor to brutal, while Baseball America’s scouting reports indicate that he’s now passable after being a butcher in years past. Second, is he really a switch-hitter? According to Minor League Splits, Bell holds a career .300/.366/.509 line batting from the left side, but just a .243/.322/.365 triple-slash as a righty batter. Some have suggested that Bell should give up switch-hitting, with the thinking being that his weak right-handed stroke hurts him to the extent that he’s worse off even if he has the platoon advantage.
Assuming he hasn’t suddenly become a hacker, Bell has the profile of an eventual quality big league hitter. He’s worth a pickup in AL-only leagues, but I wouldn’t recommend him strongly in mixed formats. We don’t know how long he’ll be in the majors, and Bell’s jumpy Triple-A line suggests that he could have some problems getting acclimated to facing big league pitching.
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