Every Friday I will be taking a look at a prospect in the lower levels of the minors who is a strong candidate to move toward the top of prospect lists, if they are not already near the top. This week's player missed nearly all of last year due to injury, and has fallen on many top prospect lists as a result. Today's prospect: outfielder Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 2011 draft was widely expected to be a very deep draft, and with the expectation of some sort of spending cap for the 2012 season, many teams were expected to spend like the money would rot if they didn't. The Pirates had the top pick in the draft that year, and selected UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole. However, this post isn't about Cole, but rather their second pick in that draft. At pick #61 (the first in the second round), the Pirates took a player that was widely expected to attend college in Josh Bell, so much so that he sent letters to the teams telling them not to draft him due to his commitment to the University of Texas. In a move that would be essentially impossible under the new draft rules, the Pirates were able to get Bell signed for a $5 million bonus, a cost which was more in line with his talent level but not his draft spot.
Bell signed too late to debut in 2011, but was sent to full-season Low-A in West Virginia to start the 2012 season. However, he suffered a knee injury after appearing in 15 games last year, and missed the remainder of the season. The stats are only a little bit helpful due to the sample size, but he did hit .274/.288/.403 with one home run, 11 runs batted in, and a stolen base in 66 plate appearances. He has gotten off to a mixed start this year at the same level, hitting .254/.302/.441 with eight doubles, one home run, and 16 runs batted in over 59 plate appearances.
When you start to look at Bell from a scouting perspective, you see a switch-hitting corner outfield profile with the potential for both plus power and possibly a plus hit tool as well. He is expected to be a middle of the order bat who can also be at least an average defender in a corner outfield spot. It doesn't sound like he is expected to provide stolen bases, but there is still more than enough value from home runs and batting average expected down the road to make him very interesting for fantasy owners.
Taking a look for myself, Bell has appeared in three games for West Virginia that have been on MILB.tv. In addition, Mike Newman of Rotoscouting.com just posted some video (which, as it turns out, was of the same games) over at Youtube of Bell. Overall, I saw a player who would show flashes of what he could be (a double to the right-center alley that was crushed, solid base running, excellent bat speed), but was extremely raw. His swing stood out to me as having excellent potential, but needing improved consistency. He would lay off of good breaking balls in the dirt, but then chase after high fastballs. He is a bit of what you would expect from a player with just over 100 professional plate appearances: high potential, inconsistent in approach, but with signs that it is definitely in there.
Overall, it is clear that there is a ton of upside for Bell long-term, but it could be some slow going of it. We ranked him as our #24 outfield prospect coming into the season, as there is the upside of a 25-30 home run bat in him, but it could be a few years before we see him arrive in Pittsburgh.