Our top 1B prospect this off-season is the Pittsburgh Pirates' former 2nd Round draft pick, Josh Bell. Drafted in 2011 out of Dallas Jesuit College Prep, Bell would have easily gone in the 1st round if it weren't for signability concerns. Prior to the draft, Bell wrote a letter to every team telling them not to draft him because he planned on attending the University of Texas. The Pirates took him anyways in the second round and was able to convince him to sign with a $5 million bonus, a record for post-first round draft pick. The Josh Bell signing ended up being one of the driving factors for the recent changes in draft spending, with teams forced to adhere to spending cap.
Josh Bell has the prototypical sluggers build standing 6'2" and 235 lbs. His offensive approach has always been lauded since his high school days and he's the type of player that gets a large bump in fantasy-oriented rankings. Bell is a switch-hitter, a right-handed fielder, and has spent the entirety of his career playing RF for the Pirates organization until this fall. The Pirates moved Bell to 1B in the Arizona Fall League to see if he could handle the infield and clear a path for his bat to the major leagues. With Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte presumably holding down the three outfield spots for the foreseeable future, opportunity had to be found elsewhere for Bell. The Pirates current 1B platoon of Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart provided that very opportunity and if Bell can pick up the position, he should have no problem out-producing either incumbent.
The Pirates will likely send Josh Bell to AA to start the 2015 season after playing 24 games at that level to end 2014. Learning 1B will be a priority and I'm hoping to see the raw power that Bell shows in batting practice translate to in-game at bats. Across 108 games in Hi-A and AA, Bell hit 9 HRs with 9 SBs with a .325/.375/.459 slash line. He did hit 22 doubles so there is definitely pop in his bat, and hopefully as he grows out and learns fully tap into his power he'll start putting up bigger power numbers. I've seen some others say Bell could be ready for a late 2015 call up, so he should be on the radars of all fantasy owners. Personally, I feel the position switch and the Pirates likely contending roster, Bell won't get that opportunity this year, but even in that case he's a great candidate for breaking camp with the Pirates in 2016.
When considering what Bell's peak fantasy line will look like, the question marks come with the power utility. He has an average hit tool and could hit for a .275-.280 AVG due to his natural ability to square up pitches, but there's a chance he sells out the batting average for more power. A .260 AVG and 25 HR guy is a pretty safe projection in my opinion, with the chance for more in both categories. He won't do much for you in steals, but if the Pirates current lineup stays in tact, the counting stats could be near elite hitting behind Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen. Bell will be 22 years old to start next season so there isn't much projection left on the body, it's more a matter of him fine tuning the swing and learning to stay back on pitches. Bell is one of the few guys whose bat can handle a move to 1B, but his fantasy value is clearly hurt by the move off the outfield.