Should the Pirates already be looking to lock up Josh Bell long-term?

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 03: Josh Bell
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 03: Josh Bell /
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After a strong start to his Major League career in 2016 and 2017, should the Pirates be looking to sign Josh Bell long-term?

Keeping homegrown talent around for the long-term is key to the success of small market baseball teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the best young pieces to the Pirates’ core is first baseman Josh Bell.

Josh Bell made his Major League debut in July of 2016. By August of 2016, Bell was an everyday player for the Pirates. Then in 2017, Bell was the team’s everyday first baseman for the entirety of the season.

The former top-50 prospect now has 772 career plate appearances. He owns an 11.3 percent walk rate, 17.6 percent strikeout rate, a .341 on-base percentage, .196 ISO, a slugging percentage of .455, a .338 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 109.

After being largely an on-base percentage player in 2016, Josh Bell’s power exploded in 2017. Bell hit 26 home runs which tied Jason Bay for the Pirate rookie home run record, while also setting a new National League record for home runs by a switch-hitting rookie.

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If Josh Bell can combine his on-base ability of 2016 (13.8 percent walk rate, .368 on-base percentage) with his 2017 power surge (.211 ISO, .466 slugging percentage) then Bell has the ability to be an elite hitter.

In the minor leagues, Bell always had great on-base skills while flashing power that scouts always assumed would one day come. That power has arrived for Josh Bell and now it is time to ask, should the Pirates be looking to sign Bell long-term?

The short easy answer is yes. Not only has Bell flashed the tools to be an elite hitter in this league, he has always grown leaps and bounds defensively. After fumbling his way to a .983 fielding percentage, -3 defensive runs saved (DRS), and -32.8 UZR/150 at first base in 2016, Bell improved drastically in 2017 when he posted a .992 fielding percentage, +6 DRS, and a -2.9 UZR/150.

While Josh Bell still needs to improve his throws at first base, everything else has already grown leaps and bounds. There is also no reason to believe he will not continue to improve defensively at the position.

When you combine the way Josh Bell’s defense is trending, with the fact he has the tools to be an elite hitter the Pittsburgh Pirates should be ready to talk long-term contract with Bell. Also, as it always important with the Pirates, the sooner they would look to reach a long-term deal with Bell the less it would cost.

Next: Breaking down Josh Bell's 2017 rookie campaign

A top priority for the Pirates this offseason should be looking to reach a long-term contract extension with Josh Bell. Right now Bell is slated to become a free agent following the 2022 season. A contract that is something along the lines of a seven-year contract with an option year or two would buy out at least of Bell’s free agent seasons.

Regardless of what the offer is, it is time for the Pirates and Josh Bell to begin discussing a long-term contract extension.