Pirates Josh Bell: 2017 Fantasy Breakout Imminent?

Josh Bell is one of the best prospects in the Pirates system, and showed flashes last season that he can stick in the majors. But, is 2017 the year he breaks out?

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2016 season was a rough one, as they struggled to stay over .500 for most of the season, before eventually ending five games below the mark. Their star players did not produce, leaving the team looking for answers. Could top prospect,Josh Bell, be one in 2017?

Josh Bell was selected by the Pirates in the 2nd round in the 2011 draft. Since entering their system he has ranked among the best prospects in baseball, routinely ranking within the top-70. Even though he looks the part and has the talent, he is also one of the most highly debated top prospects in baseball.

The main question is: what exactly is his ceiling? While some think that the power will continue to develop, others see his contact oriented approach hindering his growth. The Pirates certainly need him to take the next step, as Andrew McCutchen seems to be slowing down, and they need Bell to to become a force fast.

Bell is a natural OF that was transitioned to first base in 2014. The Pirates still have a ton of talent in the OF, meaning that if Bell is going to stick, it will have to be at first. He defense still needs to come along, but he is athletic enough to eventually be decent at first. But, if he is going to qualify as a rosterable 1B in fantasy, he has to be a run producer.

John Jaso played 108 games at first base for the Buccos in 2016, and did not exactly light it up this season with a, .268/8 HR/42 RBI/.766 OPS line. Bell does not face a ton of competition, so the job is there for him to take. Plus, there was the interesting development this week that Jaso planned to learn third base this offseason, further opening the door for Bell to become the every day guy.

Assuming that Bell has the job by the start of the 2017 season, can fantasy owners believe in him though? It would be remiss not to mention that the sheer depth at first probably takes Bell out of fantasy starter discussion. But, there is enough here to like in terms of making him a CI or UTIL pick.

Bell made his much-anticipated debut in July, playing 45 games this season. He posted a, .273/3 HR/19 RBI/.775 OPS line, over 128 at-bats. He had 35 H, but only 11 were for XBH. He continued to show his great eye at the plate as well, drawing 21 walks compared to only 19 K.

His plate control is already a polished skill, and one that keeps his fantasy floor steady. People will see only 3 HR/8 2B, and immediately think that he will continue his single hitting ways, but there is a reason for optimism. Between MLB and AAA in 2016, he posted a career high 17 HR.

This uptick was in large part to Bell adding a leg kick into his swing mechanics, allowing him to generate more power. Bell is not a small dude by any standards, 6’2/235 lbs., so there is certainly room for him to take learn how to take advantage of his size. He will have to shed some of his 50% GB rate, but his 21% LD and 33% Hard contact rates are encouraging.

He should elevate more balls this season with his newly installed leg kick, further allowing his power numbers to rise. The AVG will continue to be solid, he has not hit below .279 over one season since 2012. It will be interesting to see where the Pirates slot him in the lineup though, as he would lose some RBI opportunities if he continues to bat near the top of the order, but he is polished enough at the plate to post solid counting stats.

Josh Bell is only 23-years-old, and is just starting to tap into his raw talent. Next season may not be a career best season, but fantasy owners should believe that a breakout is coming. Like most young lefties, he was shielded from facing LHP, so owners will have to make sure that the Pirates do not bring in a righty masher, thus creating a platoon situation. Look to pick Bell in the later rounds as a quality CI add, with a steady floor,and a 20 HR/80 RBI ceiling. He is a guy to monitor heading into 2017.