Pirates: What to expect from Josh Bell heading into 2018?

Josh Bell was solid for the Pirates in his debut season. But, what should fantasy owners expect from the youngster heading into 2018?

The Pirates struggled this season, failing to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. That was no fault of Josh Bell though, who found success, but in a different manner than many had thought.

But, what should fantasy owners expect in 2018?

Josh Bell logged over 600 plate appearances for the Pirates this season and ended the season with a .255/26 HR/90 RBI/75 R/.800 OPS line. If the casual fan were to look at that line, they would be impressed and rightfully so.

But everything that made Bell shine and what built his reputation throughout the minors, he seemingly showed the opposite in the majors.

In the minors, Bell showed an advanced eye at the plate while the ability to split gaps with ease. His career best in HR during his minor leagues was 14. His highest K total was 90, and his career best BB output was 65. He notched at least 22 doubles and 124 hits per season, while also batting no less than .279.

He seemed to flip the script in 2017 in the majors. He mashed 26 HR and struck out a career-high 18%. He still split gaps, 26 2B this season, but his batted profile shifted noticeably.

Throughout the minors, Bell showed the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field, routinely posting at least 30% clips across the board.

In the majors though, he turned pull happy. He posted a 42% Pull rate, a huge difference from his minor league pedigree. Digging deeper, he also posted 17% LD, 51% GB, 31% FB, 47% Med and 33% Hard contact rates.

The GB rate is certainly high, and it clearly affects his LD rate. If he were to simply knock 5-10% off his GB rate, and if it would disperse to his LD or FB rate, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he is a 30 HR threat.

Another area where he could improve is against lefties. Being a switch hitter is hard enough as it is, but being a rookie switch-hitter, is all the more daunting. He posted a .242 AVG/8 HR/21 RBI/.758 OPS line versus LHP, as opposed to .259/18 HR/69 RBI/.813 OPS versus RHP.

The damage came versus righties, predictably so as that is where he sees most of his at-bats, but it was not as though he was getting the bat knocked out of his hands in the right-handed batter’s box. These are not areas to worry fantasy owners, but rather areas that he can improve and can continue to propel his success.

Fantasy owners will have to make a choice. Do they believe that Bell is a newfound power hitter? Or is he more of the high average player that was on display in the minors?

The safest way to approach Bell is to expect the AVG to rise some, maybe around the .260-.270 range, while the power could slide more into the 20 HR range as opposed to 30.

There is a ton of optimism in Bell’s game though. Even with the AVG drop,  he still made contact at an 80% rate. The XBH ability has always been there, and it is not going away. First basemen are traditionally supposed to be mashers, but Bell could be an across the board producer.

Just because Josh Bell’s profile does not speak to the track record of a masher, he has shown at the major league level that he can drive the ball. With a slight improvement versus LHP and with a dip in his GB rate, Bell looks poised to post an even more polished line in 2018.

Fantasy owners should be expecting big things from the Pirates’ Josh Bell in 2018.