The Situation: The Pirates sit on the periphery of the playoff picture and 8.5 games out of the division but might be smelling fresh hope, as the Cubs stumble (a relative term, here). In recent days they’ve turned to Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and now to Bell to jump-start their rotation and lineup.
Background: The 31st-overall prospect entered the (larger) public consciousness slightly prior to the 2011, when the talented prepster asked not to be drafted, as he intended to honor his college commitment. With his signability already in doubt, many wrote Bell off as undraftable, but the Pirates took him with the first pick in the second round, offering a seductive $5 million signing bonus to get him into their organization. A switch-hitter, Bell has routinely hit for high averages as he’s climbed the organizational ladder, showing impressive contact rates and a willingness to take a walk. He was shifted from right field to first base during the 2014 Arizona Fall League season, due in part to the logjam of talent the Pirates boast at the major-league level and throughout the system. Cue the Ron Washington “it’s incredibly hard” gif, because the transition was anything but smooth in the early going. Bell’s power was on the fritz through much of last season, but it has returned with a vengeance in his first full season at Triple-A, helping force the Pirates' hand as he swatted 13 home runs to go with his .327/.410/.540 slash line, walking nearly as often as he strikes out.
Scouting Report: Bell makes tons of contact from both sides of the plate. He shows better balance from the left side, leading to better control of the barrel and harder contact as a result. He does get a bit more loft from this side as well, as is often the case with switch-hitters. Bell replicates his set-up on the right side, but the swing features more inconsistency from this side of the plate. He has the potential to be a plus hitter, and should be average or better in the early going.
He has above-average raw power thanks to plus bat speed, as his hands explode through the zone, generating impressive carry. There’s more power as a lefty, as he features a bit of loft from that side of the plate that doesn’t carry over as a righty. His in-game power is more average than above right now, with 20-homer power in sight and some doubles to go with it. He’s not an impressive runner, taking a while to get in gear but moving better once under way, so he’ll have to earn the base knocks he does get. He’s got an above-average arm that doesn’t see the light of day enough at first, but it is there if he needs it. Defensively, Bell is a good hitter. He is a hard worker at first base and should be fine in the long-term, with recent reports indicating some fluidity around the bag, but he is still learning the nuances of the position.
Immediate Big-League Future: Bell's not here to start, and he's not here to stay, according to Travis Sawchik. He's not (yet) the middle-of-the-order masher that they drafted him to be, but he should do well to lengthen the bench, make contact and provide a splash of power. —Craig Goldstein
Fantasy Take: Bell doesn’t rank as high on fantasy prospect lists as you might expect given his raw counting stats. He was 22nd overall on Baseball Prospectus’ Midseason Top 50 Dynasty Update, despite owning the second-highest OPS in the International League this season (minimum 150 plate appearances). This is a great example where a dynasty ranking and a redraft ranking diverge significantly, and with good reason. If you are in a keeper league, playing for the future, and looking for a centerpiece around which to build your next championship team, Bell isn’t your man. However, if you are only concerned about your team in the here and now, Bell could be a solid addition.
The main question surrounding Bell throughout his minor-league career has been whether or not his power would be legitimate enough to provide viable fantasy value as a first baseman. This is a valid concern, but is also a glass-half-empty way of looking at what Bell can offer. His 13 home runs in 356 plate appearances at Triple-A won’t automatically translate to the majors, but a .280-.290 hitter in a decent Pirates lineup with 15-20 home run power plays in most formats, even with power up across the board.
It is extremely unlikely that the Pirates called Bell up to job share with John Jaso. Bell is an automatic add in deep leagues where major league reserves are manning a corner spot. Unlike some of the high profile prospects covered in this space, Bell is available in a significant number of leagues. He is unowned in LABR Mixed, and both Tout Wars mixed leagues, which are all 15-team leagues that use six-man reserve lists. Bell doesn’t generate the buzz that prospects like Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi do, but for 2016 alone he has a chance to produce more value than either one of those players. The lack of high profile rookies capable of making a short-term impact makes an aggressive bid for Bell a must in deep mixed. He is a borderline add in 12-team mixed leagues but is a better risk and has more upside than many of the hitters occupying the last slot or two on a roster. UPDATE: Or, according to reports, not. —Mike Gianella
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