How Josh Bell can Bounce Back for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019

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PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a solo home run in the first inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 21, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a solo home run in the first inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 21, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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After struggling at times in 2018, how can Josh Bell bounce back for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019?

After a stellar 2017 campaign, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell looked to be a future star. He finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting, clubbing 26 home runs, 90 RBI and a .800 OPS. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old took a step back in 2018 as he suffered from a large drop-off in power.

Bell’s 26 home runs came as a bit of a surprise in 2017. He wasn’t known as a home run slugger at any level of his career, as he was touted more as a gap-to-gap hitter. Bell launched just 44 homers in over 2,100 minor-league plate appearances but already has 41 at the MLB level with nearly 800 fewer plate appearances.

The biggest key for Bell to bounce back this season will be finding his power stroke once again. While he may not hit 25 or more home runs on a yearly basis, he has to improve on the 12 he totaled last season. He’s shown the signs for it, though, as he increased his walk percentage (10.6 to 13.2) and lowered his strikeout rate (18.9 to 17.8) between the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. Overall, his plate discipline numbers are nearly better across the board than the league average.

The 6-foot-4 first baseman looks to primarily bat in the middle of the order for the Pirates this season, likely starting out as the cleanup man. Of course, lineups will change based on pitching match ups, but Bell should be batting somewhere around Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Starling Marte. These batters should help Bell increase his runs scored and RBI numbers as well.

Unfortunately, things haven’t been clicking for Bell so far in 2019. Spring training performances should always be taken with a grain of salt, but his .172/.200/.310 slash line in 26 plate appearances entering play on Friday is pretty rough. On top of that, Bell has an 8:1 K:BB ratio and just two extra-base hits. However, he did blast his second home run of Grapefruit League play on Friday night.

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Despite the early struggles this spring, Bell is still primed to have a wonderful season, or at least one better than 2018. He’ll turn 27 in August, so conventional wisdom suggests that he should be turning the corner and entering his prime, especially considering that this will be his third full MLB campaign. He may not be a classic, big-fly first baseman, but Bell will be a staple on this Pirates team for years to come.

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