Bell's unconventional road to a big league uniform

January 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When the Astros set their Major League coaching staff for the upcoming season, Jason Bell’s name probably wasn’t familiar to most fans. Bell will join the staff in 2024 as a quality assurance coach, and his path to a big league uniform is about as unconventional as it gets.

Bell, 33, has been with the organization since 2017, serving as a development coach at Class A Quad Cities in ‘17, managing Class A Short-Season Tri-City in ‘18 and spending the past five years as the team’s Minor League field coordinator, where he oversaw Minor League Spring Training. He’ll continue to be a jack-of-all-trades on Houston’s Major League staff in ‘24.

“I think sometimes, as members of a baseball team and an organization, we kind of forget that coaches have dreams, too,” Bell said. “We obviously would never put them in front of what’s best for the players. This is something I’ve wanted my entire life. I wasn’t good enough as a player, but I’m excited to be able to share these experiences with many of the players and coaches I’ve been around the last seven or eight years in the Minor Leagues. It does feel surreal.”

Especially when you consider Bell, as part of his Master’s thesis, wrote a roughly 20-page paper as an intern with Baseball Info Solutions in 2013 about why the 111-loss Astros were going to soon win a World Series. Bell sent in the paper as part of his job application with the Astros to be a development coach, which he eventually landed a year after initially applying.

As fate would have it, Bell joined the Astros in 2017 -- the year they won their first World Series -- after spending one season as the pitching coach at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. Bell was a pitcher at Saint Louis University and the University of Central Missouri, but his career was cut short by a Tommy John surgery.

“Even though [the Astros] were the worst team, when I was working at Sports Info Solutions, a lot of my job was to dig through the numbers, watch video and things of that nature,” Bell said. “Even though the team had a lot of losses, there was a lot of good things happening in the background that people weren’t paying attention to.”

Bell was curious about how the Astros were training their players in the Minor Leagues and what made them so good at preventing runs in the Majors. Of course, he saw a lot of young talent on the horizon, too. That included some prospects who made up the core of the 2017 team -- George Springer, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., etc.

“As the talent comes up and as they train players a little differently, it seemed like they were making a lot of very educated decisions that maybe the rest of the industry was maybe on the right track, but maybe not quite there,” Bell said. “I was very much believing in the vision.”

Prior to his time at Maryland-Eastern Shore, Bell was the director of baseball operations at Ohio University in 2015 and helped the baseball program to the second-best season in school history, which included a MAC Tournament Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. He also coached at Heartland Community College in Pontiac, Ill.

At a couple of those stops, Bell said he made less than $2,000 a year. While at Heartland, he had to open the recreation center at 6 a.m., teach two classes, coach the baseball team and then do lessons at night to make ends meet. He wondered how realistic it was to continue to pursue his coaching dream, but the experiences paid off.

“I think some of that aspect helped me understand maybe how to connect and get some information across to players in a simplified way,” Bell said.

When camp opens next month, Bell will organize the Astros’ day-to-day schedule at Spring Training, along with bench coach Omar López. And he’ll follow the lead of first-year manager Joe Espada, who helped bring Bell aboard his staff.

“I sat next to him for many years and watched him and how he ran it,” Bell said. “I’m excited to do that. I’ve done it a lot in the Minor Leagues. It will be a fun challenge to do it at the highest stage.”