Prospect Ratings and the Curious Case of Josh Bell


Yesterday Dan Farnsworth at Fangraphs released his list of top Pirates Prospects.

The list isn’t terribly surprising in that it just like every list that everyone else releases.

Be it Pirates Prospects (you’ll need to buy the book) or Baseball America or John Sickels or whatever other list is being released they all appear to be very similar. But looks can be deceiving.

All four outlets referenced above rate Josh Bell as a top five prospect in the system.

Here is what Sickels had to say about Bell:

"Josh Bell, 1B, Grade B+: Age 23, hit .317/.393/.446 with seven homers, 65 walks, 65 strikeouts in 489 at-bats in Double-A/Triple-A, switch-hitter with extremely polished approach, power output does not match 6-2, 235 pound body but as with Meadows I think more homers will come eventually. Doesn’t have Meadows’ defensive value so a notch lower on the grade."

Sickels notes two key things of note. Bell’s surprising lack of power and his belief that “more homers will come”.

Now for Farnsworth on Bell:

"Defensively limited to first base, he still has enough offensive value with his hard contact and excellent plate discipline to profile as an above-average regular. The only knock against his offense is his relative lack of power from the right side, but it’s not enough to warrant abandoning switch-hitting."

A little more detail is provided here (and to be fair his full description on Bell has much more information about how he makes contact).

It’s also important to note that the Pirates moved Bell from the outfield to first base because he was blocked in the outfield by McCutchen, Marte and Polanco.  That position change was back in March of last year.  We also have to remember that Bell, at this point in his career has racked up 1400 minor league at bats. His batting average is .305.  Last year in Indianapolis it was .347 in 35 games there.

Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell (55) during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell (55) during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Did we mention that the Pirates are most likely starting the season with a platoon at first base of John Jaso and Michael Morse? And that platoon will most likely switch to Jaso and David Freese when Jung ho Kang returns?  Neither Jaso nor Freese have much first base experience so their defensive abilities are fairly unknown and most likely not that good. This is the same Pirates management that was so concerned about defense that Pedro Alvarez rode the bench for the start of last year’s wild card game.  Let’s not even talk about the possibility that Matt Joyce – a has-been player – that batted .174 last season for the Angels might make this team as a fourth outfielder? Joyce literally forgot to show up to play last year at one game.

Does it feel like this isn’t adding up?

But let’s continue with the prospect pundit roundup.

Here is an excerpt of what Tim Williams had to say:

"The move to first base wasn’t pretty, which could be expected for a career outfielder. He looked like a beerleague first baseman at the start of the year, with poor positioning and footwork. The defense improved as the year went on, but was still well below average. The footwork problems remained, and he some trouble setting up and doing basic things like catching throws."

To read Williams’ full Bell review, you’ll need to read his book. It’s worth every penny.

Why should I give Williams such a plug?

Because he’s clearly a prospect writer that is actually watching the prospects.  Williams thinks Bell has a ton of offensive upside – hence a Pirates Prospects high ranking for him, while acknowledging the defensive disaster that is his failed transition so far.

Again, Williams is watching these guys. I don’t think that can be said of either Sickels or Farnsworth. Farnsworth goes so far as to make it sound like Bell is “defensively limited” to first base.  Well, no – it seems that Bell is defensively limited to the outfield?!

Sickels isn’t any better: Bell doesn’t have the “defensive value” that Austin Meadows has.  This doesn’t even make sense. Bell has zero defensive value at this point. Any one want to look at some tape from Altoona last year? How could two prospects writers miss the call so badly on Bell?

But I digress.

On a side note, Bell’s star is falling. At least until I see evidence otherwise. We’ll see what more time in the minors does for him. But I think the signals are clear – he was never seriously in contention for a 1B job in Pittsburgh this year because of his horrible defense nor has the missing power developed. My prospect rating for Bell is that he has upside still because of his work at the plate but that his future role and value to the Pittsburgh organization is rapidly diminishing.