Editor’s Note: This post originally ran on June 22nd, and is being republished now that Bell has been called up by the Pirates.
As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 34-37, and sit four games back in the Wild Card race. They are 5-15 in June, largely due to the fact that they have averaged just 3.25 R/G this month. One of the worst offenders over this stretch is first baseman John Jaso, who has hit .204/.306/.278 this month (and .216/.301/.270 over the last 30 days). Luckily for the Pirates, they have a versatile in-house replacement sitting in Triple-A.
Enter Josh Bell.
I have been a fan of Bell for quite some time - and I laid out most of the reasons for that a bit under five month ago. The short version is that the 23-year-old has a plus to plus-plus hit tool, plus raw power, and an excellent approach at the plate. Bell is also a solid defender at first base, as well as the outfield corners, which increases his value to both the Pirates and fantasy owners. And he seems poised to capitalize on that potential value sooner rather than later.
Bell earned his first promotion to Triple-A last Summer, and he performed quite well in just over a month at the level. That strong performance has carried over to 2016; he has now spent 103 games and 444 PA at Triple-A, where he has batted .327/.419/.517 with 23 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, and 62 RBI. He has taken another step forward of late, batting .351/.425/.662 with 6 HR in June (87 PA). The raw power that scouts have raved about has begun to translate into in-game power, without coming at the expense of his tremendous bat-to-ball skills (he has struck out just 8 times this month).
The Super Two deadline has passed, meaning that the Pirates can call Bell up at any point without risking an extra year of arbitration, or losing that precious extra year of team control. While they are not in a strong position right now, they are not terribly far removed from being in the thick of the race - and their talent at the MLB-level is considerable (and let’s not forget that Tyler Glasnow is merely biding his time, either). The Pirates have plenty of time to right the ship, particularly if Andrew McCutchen busts out of his slump. And Bell likely gives them a better chance to do that than Jaso.
At the very least, it may make sense for the Pirates to bring Bell along as a part-time player, allowing Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Jaso to get more rest (and spelling the latter two against tough left-handed pitching). That would not be ideal for fantasy purposes - but he is as ready as he is going to be, and it is in his team’s best interests to get his bat in the lineup.