The ins and outs of calling up Josh Bell


Josh Bell is one of a few dynamic prospects the Pirates have sitting in wait in their minor league system. When September 1st rolls around, the Pirates will have the opportunity to call up various prospects and other minor leaguers, including Bell. Tyler Glasnow is another name to watch, as is Alen Hanson, but Bell is a very intriguing case. For one, he’s been playing first base in the minors, and that’s one of the few areas of weakness on the major league team (Pedro Alvarez is most certainly not a strength for this team). He is also probably the best position prospect the Pirates have in the minors right now, and another great bat off the bench would help come playoff time.

So, should Bell be called up? We broke down the ins and outs of calling up Glasnow recently, so make sure to check that out here if you haven’t already. In terms of Bell, those that would like to see him in the majors this season will point towards the Pirates still lacking a platoon partner for Pedro at first, as Sean Rodriguez just isn’t cutting it offensively when he plays, and potentially adding a dynamic power bat to the bench. Those on the other side of the fence will point to Bell’s defensive struggles since moving to first base, the short amount of time he’s spent at Triple-A, and, of course, service time implications. Both sides present a valid argument, so let’s break down each side a little further.

Bell should be called up this season

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Trying to make an argument to call Bell up this year is a little harder to do compared to making one for Glasnow. For one, you can never have enough pitching in the playoffs. Pitchers will get hurt or tired, often times more easily than position players. And pitchers arguably have more singular control over the outcome of a game more than any one position player, even in relief. But that’s not to say that Bell can’t make an impact.

For one, the Pirates are still lacking a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Pedro. On nights when a lefty pitches, Sean Rodriguez used to be the go-to starter at first. His line of .233/.264/.326 on the season doesn’t scare anybody, and he’s just as bad against lefties, holding a .225/.262/.363 line against them. Now Michael Morse is that guy, and while he has done well in limited at-bats with the Pirates, his line of .227/.296/.319 overall this season is very poor, as is his .184/.295/.211 line against lefties.

Thus, the Pirates have two bad players opposite Pedro at first. There’s an opening for a platoon guy, and Bell can take it. He’s a switch hitter, and his career line of .304/.367/.451 is very appealing. When the time comes, Bell most likely won’t need a platoon partner. But for now, he can spell Pedro against lefties should he be called up.

And like the argument was made for Glasnow, there shouldn’t be too much concern about hindering Bell’s development if he partakes in some games down the stretch for the Pirates. His service time won’t be affected too much, and as long as the Pirates don’t lose a year of Bell to free agency, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be called up once the minor league season ends. He would add power off the bench, and he could get some good exposure at the major league level by being put on a great team in a playoff race, which could prepare him greatly for the future.

Bell should not be called up this season

There’s a good chance that Bell doesn’t see time in the majors this season, for better or for worse. That’s just the reality of the situation. While Rodriguez isn’t a good offensive player, he’s essentially been replaced as a starter at first against lefties by Morse. And while Morse has done poor this year against lefties and as a whole, his line of .320/.414/.360 with the Pirates, though in limited at-bats, is a good start. The Pirates are also hoping that Morse comes close to returning to his line of .272/.333/.471 against lefties. Morse also has the ability to hit for power, like Bell, and as a veteran with playoff and World Series experience, might be deemed more valuable to the team this season than an untested rookie.

[Bell] is also probably the best position prospect the Pirates have in the minors right now, and another great bat off the bench would help come playoff time.

The biggest flaw in Bell’s game during his minor league career has been his defense. Since being moved from right field to first base last season, he has made 18 errors at first base. Five of those came in the first 14 games he played in in 2014, however. It’s good that Bell is suffering through his struggles early in his career rather than at the major league level like Pedro did, but his defense probably won’t be major league ready this year. It’s also important to note that a transition from the outfield to first base isn’t guaranteed. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

And, of course, his service time would be affected, depending on how many games he appears in. If he comes out of the gate hot if/when he’s called up, the situation might become a double-edged sword. Management might want to use Bell in more games, meaning his service clock would be further affected, potentially helping turn an extra year of team control into a year of arbitration. While it’s easy for us as fans not to care about the difference in cost between a team control year and an arbitration year, it will certainly affect a small market team like the Pirates.


I think it’s more likely that Glasnow gets called up this season than it is that Josh Bell does, and I think that Glasnow’s chances of coming up are slim to none as it is. I do, however, believe that the Pirates should call Bell up. His development wouldn’t be hindered; if anything, it would be helped. The Pirates should give him a try. If he struggles defensively, then just use him as a pinch-hitter, not as a spot starter. I’m sure many people would rather have a power bat at the plate late in the game pinch-hitting like Bell over someone like Rodriguez. He’s proven he can hit for average and for power in the minors, and a special player like this could be a huge advantage for the Pirates come playoff time.

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