Pirates’ Bell wants fast start after slow rookie finish
By JOHN PERROTTO
BRADENTON, Fla. — Overall, Josh Bell had a fine rookie season in 2017.
The Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind unanimous winner Cody Bellinger of the Los Angles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul DeJong.
Bell’s 26 home runs established an NL rookie record for a switch-hitter. He also had a .255 batting average and a team-high 90 RBIs in 159 games.
However, the 25-year-old Bell is looking for more consistency after a slow start and cold finish last year. He arrived at spring training nearly a full month before the reporting day.
“I felt it was important to shake the cobwebs off earlier this year,” Bell said. “Some guys can roll out of bed and be ready to play in a game. I’m not that way. I need more time to prepare and the more prepared I am the more confident I am that I’ll perform well.”
Bell hit just .214 with two homers in his first 20 games last season after arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies from his left knee two weeks before spring training opened. However, the Pirates gave no thought of sending him back to Triple-A Indianapolis.
“Josh was still trying to literally get his legs under him,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was a little frustrating for him and we had to pump the air breaks a few times.”
Bell was hitting .262 with 23 home runs at the end of August. But he hit just .221 with three homers in his last 27 games.
The poor finish caused Bell to change his offseason itinerary.
He originally planned to drive the length of the Pacific Coast Highway to take in some breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Instead, he stayed home in Dallas and spent extra time in the weight room and batting cage.
“You always want to finish the season strong and go into the offseason with a good feeling,” Bell said. “I was very disappointed with the way last season ended. I don’t want that to happen again this year. I tried to take safeguards to avoid that from happening.”
The Pirates, though, were pleased with Bell’s performance.
“There were some ups and downs but you’re going to have that with young players,” Hurdle said. “I like what Josh Bell did last season and I like what he can do us going forward. I like Josh Bell a lot.”
The Pirates also appreciated Bell’s defense graded well in advanced metrics. He was shifted to first base from outfield in instructional league following the 2014 season.
“I’ve put a lot of time into learning the position and it felt like everything started really coming together last year,” Bell said.
The Pirates have had high hopes for Bell since selecting him with the first pick of the second round of the 2011 amateur draft.
“Josh is one of the young, potential leaders of this group,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. “He had a great rookie season, and instead of taking a deep breath and saying, ‘I’ve got this thing figure out,’ he wants to go to the next level. He wants to be a good player for a very long time.”