Josh Bell has an unclear path to the majors with Pittsburgh Pirates


With one of the most talented outfield trios in all of Major League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates are heading into the 2015 season with high hopes. Anchored by Andrew McCutchen, the likes of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have blossomed early on in their careers. However, a potential downside to that depth is that the team’s number three overall prospect, Josh Bell, seemingly lacks a roster spot moving forward.

Bell, who, according to, will hit the Steel City in 2017, spent last season with High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, with whom he batted .287/.343/.309 in 24 games – a respectable mark. Prior to his promotion to the Curve, he showcased a rare combination of speed and power – as well as a solid approach at the plate – batting .335/.384/.502 across 84 contests to go along with nine home runs, four triples and five stolen bases.

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After the Pirates defied the odds and signed Bell in the second round of the 2011 draft, injuries slowed his rise – a torn meniscus to be more exact – but in 2013, he proved the doubters wrong, giving Pittsburgh reason to believe that he could be the next big thing to break onto the scene at PNC Park.

That year, which marked his first full season in professional baseball, Bell appeared in 119 games with Class-A West Virginia – and he did not disappoint at the dish. Combined with a .279/.353/.453 slash-line, the now-22-year-old cracked 37 doubles, while clubbing 13 home runs and driving in 76 runs in 119 games. Heading into last season, Bell was ranked as the 74th-best prospect in Major League Baseball by; in this year’s rankings, he appeared at number 34 – a major jump on the list.

So, with expectations on the rise for Bell – most have begun to think about what role he could – and likely will – have in Pittsburgh as early as next season.

First, let’s take a look at the current lay of the land in the outfield. McCutchen, the face of the franchise, is signed through the 2018 season thanks to a team option on the back end of his team-friendly six-year, $51 million deal. Rumors have swirled about the team locking him up through the end of his career – as he will be 31 at the end of the contract – but nothing has materialized, despite racking up multiple top-three NL MVP finishes in recent years.

Marte, meanwhile, is signed through the 2021 season under his six-year, $31 million deal. Last season with Pittsburgh, the young outfielder batted .291/.356/.453 as the Pirates made a second-straight postseason appearance. Showcasing a rare combination of big league-ready speed and talent, the team will no-doubt count on him heavily this season once more.

Rounding out the top three in the Steel City is standout prospect Gregory Polanco, who made his big league debut last season – to mixed results. The first month of his campaign was stellar; he posted a .288/.374/.375 slash-line before dropping off and batting .214, .225 and .179 in the final three months. However, during his minor league career, the former top prospect has shown remarkable consistency – culminating in a robust .328/.390/.504 line with Indianapolis before he was promoted to the big time last year.

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He’ll be a major part of the Pirates’ future plans regardless and appears poised to be a lock for a starting gig this spring. When you combine the overall youth of the Bucs’ starting outfield with the cost-controlled years to come, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Bell lands a gig next year.

Now, that was with Bell as an outfielder. It’s worth delving into given the fact he’s played there almost exclusively throughout his professional career. That being said, the road the Pirates seem to envision is one that has him suceeding Pedro Alvarez at first base. Alvarez, who is just two years removed from a career season, is under team control through next season and may very well be on his way out regardless.

If the team holds onto Alvarez post-2016, the future agains become murky for Bell, who was ranked as the best first base prospect in all of Major League Baseball, per – despite the fact he’s never played a regular season game at the position in his professional career.

But Bell at first would allow the club to pencil him into the lineup with the likes of the aforementioned trio of outfielders, breakout third baseman Josh Harrison and some combination of Jordy Mercer, Jung-ho Kang and Neil Walker. That – without a doubt – is an awe-inspiring thought amongst Bucs fans.

But with a system loaded with pitching and outfield talent, a trade doesn’t make much sense. It’s not to say that Bell will be trade bait, but Neal Huntington and the Pirates’ front office have a task at-hand: find a spot for their up-and-coming outfielder – and soon.

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