In late March I had lunch with a scout friend and the topic of Pittsburgh Pirates first base prospect Josh Bell came up. My friend, who has been watching Bell play since he was a high school star in Texas, has become a skeptic about Bell's chances to hit for power. We eventually ended up discussing Bell in comparison to Tampa Bay Rays first base prospect Jake Bauers (we'll be writing an article about Bauers shortly), with my friend having more faith in Bauers' ability to develop his power than Bell's.
Through 11 games with Triple-A Indianapolis, Bell is hitting .243/.391/.459 with two homers, nine walks, and eight strikeouts in 37 at-bats. On the surface this seems considerably weaker than the .347/.441/.504 line Bell put up in 35 games for Indianapolis last year but it really isn't. Sample size considerations should lead us to ignore the batting average at this point in the season. More important are his wRC+ (151, not as good as last year's 174 but still excellent), and his Isolated Power of .216 compared to .157 last year.
He's actually hitting for more distance power this year, not less. Of course, that's just 11 games, which means very little. A spate of cold games (or hot ones) would alter those numbers quickly.
Here is my pre-season take on Bell.
Josh Bell, 1B-OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bats: S Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 235 DOB: August 14, 1992
2012: Grade B+; 2013: Grade B; 2014: Grade B; 2015: Grade B+
Josh Bell continues to show excellent strike zone judgment; he’s hit well over. 300 two years in a row in the high minors. He’ll be ready for a major league trial in 2016. The main question remains home run power. Bell is certainly strong enough to mash the ball over the fence more often than he does, but his swing mechanics result in more line drives than long bombs. He’s made some adjustments to get to the power more frequently but without significant results as yet. It is possible that his productive game power may never be more than average, but if he continues to hit for average and draw walks he’ll still be a positive contributor. Limited range moved Bell from the outfield to first base but his infield glove needs a lot more polish. I remain very enamored with Bell’s pure hitting and on-base ability and will remain patient with the power. Grade B+.
Looking back at it, perhaps a straight Grade B would be more appropriate. My friend knows a lot more about swing mechanics than I do and his skepticism about Bell's ability to tap his raw power more often carries some weight with me, albeit not enough to dash my patience entirely.
That said, what do you guys think? Can Bell hit for more significant home run power? Should he even try? Will his OBP skills make up for any lack if ISO?