2017 Pittsburgh Pirates Breakout Candidate: Josh Bell
First baseman Josh Bell could bust onto the scene as a huge offensive threat this season.
Every Major League Baseball seasons there are breakout players. Each team will have breakout players this season. One breakout candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017 is first baseman Josh Bell.
Calling Josh Bell a breakout candidate may sound a bit odd. Normally a breakout candidate is a player that is not expected to produce. However, that is not the case with Bell.
Throughout his Minor League career Josh Bell was a great hitter. He then made his Major League debut in June of 2016 and he continued to hit well. In 152 plate appearances he posted a .339 wOBA, 113 wRC+, a 21:19 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and a 13.8 percent walk rate.
Josh Bell always had a great walk rate throughout the Minor Leagues. At the Major League level he owned an elite walk rate. This combined with his power potential should make Bell a great hitter for years to come.
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While Bell may never become a 30+ home run player he will still have the ability to make an impact with his power. I believe Bell will become a perennial 50+ extra base hit player. Combine this with what I expect to be a .360+ on-base percentage, and Bell can be a major offensive threat for a long time.
In 2016 Josh Bell’s 21.4 percent line drive rate and 33.0 percent hard contact rate were both above league average. Bell also did a fantastic job of hitting to all fields. Unlike a lot of young hitters, Bell was not a pull hitter.
The switch hitting Bell hit 34.8 percent of the balls he put in play to center field. An additional 42.9 percent of the balls he put in play were hit to the opposite field. A sign of a truly great hitter is the ability to hit the ball up the middle and the other way, and this is something Bell did on more than 75 percent of the balls he put in play in 2016.
While he has yet to flash it in the Major Leagues, Josh Bell also possesses power to all fields.
As evident by his walk-to-strikeout ratio last year, Bell has great plate patience. In 2016 he swung and missed at just 7.6 percent of 617 pitches he faced. He also saw an average of 4.1 pitches per plate appearance last season. For comparison sake, Mike Trout led the all qualified hitters in pitches per plate appearance with 4.4.
What is also incredible is that Bell is just 24-years old. In my lifetime, dating back to August of 1992, Josh Bell is the most polished young hitter the Pittsburgh Pirates have had. And this includes a young Andrew McCutchen. It is due to this that I am very happy that Neal Huntington made Bell un-touchable in trade talks this past offseason, and in trade deadlines/offseasons before this past one.
ZiPS projects a productive season for Bell in 2017. He is projected to post a .332 wOBA, a 110 OPS+, and 10.5 percent walk rate. His projected 14.5 percent strikeout rate is also very strong.
In 2017 I believe Josh Bell will take a step toward becoming an elite hitter. By the end of the 2017 season Bell could be one of the most feared first basemen in the National League. For that reason he is a 2017 breakout candidate.