By Jason Shetler
Following the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates received some criticism by selecting Josh Bell as a second round pick, this after Bell had informed all MLB teams not to select him, because he was choosing to go to college. Despite all that, the Pirates to their credit were able to ink Bell for a signing bonus of $5 million, at a time when draft signing bonuses were unlimited.
Because of the quality depth the Pirates had in their system with outfielders, a decision was made to have Bell transition from the outfield to first base, which began in 2014 during the Arizona Fall League.
Entering 2016, Bell was ranked the Pirates #3 prospect. Prior to his call up to Pittsburgh in July, he had the fifth best OPS in the International League. Bell rejoined the Pirates in late August, and got most of the playing time at first base. In 152 plate appearances with the Pirates, he put up a .368 on base percentage, which was seventh best among MLB rookies with at least 150 plate appearances. Defense was a struggle for Bell, as he posted a -2.2 UZR along with a dWAR of -1.0.
The offensive figures from Bell’s rookie season were certainly intriguing, showing a terrific ability to draw walks (13.8 BB%), while also not striking out much (12.5 K%). His BABIP was at .294, so there really wasn’t any luck involved. Bell also showed the ability to hit the ball to the opposite field, and he did so 42.9% of the time, which is very encouraging to see from a young hitter. While there were struggles defensively, he still has plenty of time to show improvements. Knowing that an extension for Bell would obviously be of the team-friendly variety, the numbers he’s capable of putting up offensively would more than match the value of whatever deal he receives. I understand the defense for Bell is a work in progress, but the potential he could provide on offense I think is enough for the Pirates to have for years to come.