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Dunlap: Time For Josh Bell To Prove It

April 02, 2019 - 2:06 pm

Related: Cardinals beat Pirates 6-5 in 11 innings

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - Josh Bell is perplexing. 

Josh Bell --- at times --- has shown power off the bat that intoxicates.

Josh Bell --- at other times --- has shown deep dry spells where it looks like he is overmatched at the plate.

Josh Bell is also this for the Pittsburgh Pirates: Someone who has to play well if they want to have any chance of making even the least little semblance of noise in 2019. And not just play well, play very well. Yeah, I’m OK putting that amount of pressure on him and also stating his importance as such to this version of the Pirates. 

They won’t necessarily go as he goes, but if he doesn’t have a big-time season at the plate, I don’t see the Pirates flirting with many games above .500 when it is all over. 

Here is why … 

I have seen Bell (now for over 300 games) attempt to play first base. The best that the Pirates can hope for is that he grows into an average first baseman. To me, that’s his ceiling.

He struggles mightily with his footwork, his throwing motion is choppy and he generally stabs at the baseball when fielding it rather than vacuuming it up cleanly. 

At this point, it kind of is what it is. 

No one ever thought Bell would grow into Todd Helton or Don Mattingly or someone really silky in the field, but I think many of us thought he would have a firmer grasp and confidence in the position by now. In short, it is to the point (still) where I kind of hold my breath when he needs to be involved in the play --- and that’s a lot of breath-holding as the first baseman is involved in a ton of plays. 

But the reality is you can live with it with one gigantic, enormous, gargantuan and colossal if --- if he hits the baseball out of the park (or at least drives in a lot of runs) when the Pirates are on offense. You can be OK with butchering the field some if you can swing a mighty stick. 

The 12 home runs and 62 RBIs that Bell had last season isn’t going to cut it again this year. I understand that his average was .261 and he also had 31 doubles.

I get that he also spiked his walk total up to 77 in 148 games but the reality is that this brawny and strapping specimen needs to hit the ball over the wall with regularity. 

That must happen or manager Clint Hurdle can’t justify keeping him in the lineup all season and, certainly, the Pirates can’t lean on Bell to bolster their win total. 

Bell is ultra-easy to root for. He works tirelessly both on offense and defense and his struggles haven’t come about through laziness --- nothing could be further from the truth. The young man gets after it and gets after it hard. 

The only rub is that he isn’t getting better. 

The fear here is that he doesn’t get better. That’s a very real fear and something the Pirates have to keep an eye on. 

If Bell’s production at the plate doesn’t see a sharp rise through the first part of this season, do you tinker with making him a bench guy and having Kang play third each day and Moran play first? That’s a possibility. 

What’s the threshold where his offensive production can dip and still justify being in the lineup because, as it appears to be at this point, he won’t remain in any lineups because of his glove? This is an important question for the men making the pronouncements for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

I know this: The Pirates have a really big decision with Josh Bell and playing time this season. He could make it very easy if he starts to hit the heck out of the ball, as then his defense matters little. But if he doesn’t swing a mighty stick? Then they have decisions to make. And big, big decisions to make. 

Another question is: Will they have the boldness to pull him from the lineup and at what point? ​

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