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For Whom Josh Bell Tolls

Puns aside, Josh Bell is ready for a shot at the Major League level.

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Josh Bell leapt into Major League Baseball's consciousness a few weeks prior to the 2011 amateur draft, as he sent a letter to the Major League Scouting Bureau indicating that he did not wish to be drafted. Many viewed it as a ploy to squeeze more money out of the team that selected him - after all, he was a top-15 talent in the draft 'consulting' with Scott Boras. And, if that was the case, it paid serious dividends as Bell garnered a $5 MM signing bonus as the 61st overall pick (still a record for a non-first rounder).

That does not tell the whole story of his draft stock, either. Bell was widely viewed as one of the best offensive prospects in the draft, and likely the best high school hitter. He projected as a plus hitter with plus or better power, with an advanced approach at the plate and superb bat speed. A balky left knee couple with average-ish speed and athleticism cast some doubt on his ability to stay in the outfield, but few questioned his potential as an elite middle of the order bat. With a bat as good as Bell's projected to be at the time, his future position may well have been a non-issue.

Thus far, Bell has mostly delivered on those projections, batting .305/.371/.450 in 1622 PA across four levels. The middling power was disappointing to many, and his knee issues cropped in 2012 as he suffered a torn meniscus that would cost him the vast majority of the season. Despite this, Bell continually showcased a refined approach at the plate and exceptional bat to ball skills, keeping his top prospect stock afloat even as he shifted from the outfield to first base.

Despite his consistently strong production, many viewed 2015 as a breakout of sorts for Bell. It may not have been readily apparent from his numbers (though a .317/.393/.446 line between Double-A and Triple-A as a 22-year-old is pretty darn good), Bell tweaked his swing quite a bit last year. Keith LawKiley McDaniel, and Jeff Moore all noted that he set-up with a narrower, stronger base which, in time, should help him tap into his plus raw power more frequently even if it hasn't shown up just yet. Bell will be 23 for the majority of the 2016 season, so he still has plenty of time to balance his raw power with his contact skills.

Pittsburgh essentially laid the groundwork for Bell to make his big league debut sooner rather than later by non-tendering Pedro Alvarez, and heading into the season with a platoon of John Jaso and Mike Morse. That may not be an awful duo, particularly given their positional flexibility - but Bell's ability to switch hit and (according to some) play some corner outfield makes him a far more ideal candidate for the roster. The Pirates are clearly believers, and you should be, too.

A compelling argument can be made that Bell is the best first base prospect in baseball (or at least the best pure hitter of the bunch). He's also the 49th best prospect in the game, as per both Baseball Prospectus and The in-game power may be something of a question mark, but he seems a relatively safe bet to hit .275-plus with double-digit home runs (and the potential for 25-plus as he matures). And he's ready for the show.