The one player the Pittsburgh Pirates have stated they are looking into extending is Josh Bell. Bell’s career has been an up and down roller coaster up through this point. After showing good power in his rookie season and improved plate discipline at the cost of some power in his sophomore season, Bell had a career year in 2019. Through 613 plate appearances, the switch hitter put up a .277/.367/.569 line, blasted 37 home runs and put up a .378 wOBA and 135 wRC+.
Still, 2019 was a tale of three Bells. Bell looked like an MVP-level bat in his first two months hitting .343/.405/.704 with a 178 wRC+ in 242 plate appearances. Then during the first two summer months, Bell slumped big time posting a .213/.318/.448 with a 94 wRC+ in 217 plate appearances. He did rebound in August and September to hit for a strong .258/.377/.516 line and 126 wRC+.
This past season was more of the same. He started off hitting just .190/.245/.270 line with a 41 wRC+ in his first 110 plate appearances but then heated up to hit .267/.360/.450 with a 115 wRC+ in 120 plate appearances.
Through all of this inconsistency, one thing that Bell manages to do consistently is make hard contact. In the past two years he has an exit velocity of 92.2 MPH. Bell was in the top 95th percentile of hard hit rate in 2019 and top 87th percentile in 2020. Though his hard hit rate went from 47.2% to 42.9% in between the two years, both are still well above average marks.
Out of all the players the Pittsburgh Pirates have, it’s odd that they want to extend Bell. Through 2191 plate appearances, the slugger has a fWAR of just 3.5, mainly due to his defensive limitations.
2021 will be a huge make or break year for Bell with the Pirates, although his future may hinge on what happens with the National League and the desiganted hitter. His 2020 season doesn’t tell you much since the season was so short and he was a good batter more often than not in 2019 given his strong start and strong finish that year. However, a hot start to 2021 could make him more valuable in a trade than extending him would be.
Bell is controlled through 2022 and if the Pittsburgh Pirates extend him they could have a power bat for a handful of years. The universal DH could return in 2021 and will likely be here to stay after CBA negotiations next offseason. Mason Martin looks like the first baseman of the future right now and Alexander Mojica could eventually be a notable prospect, but the latter is only 18 and 2020 would have been his age 17 season.