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Bell still has plenty to prove

Strong rookie campaign has arrow pointing up for talented first baseman
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- During the final weekend of his rookie season, Josh Bell pondered his offseason plans. He thought about driving up the California coast, finding places to hike and quietly looking out at the Pacific Ocean.

When the time came and he went home for the winter, Bell didn't travel as much as he had planned. For the most part, he went back to work.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- During the final weekend of his rookie season, Josh Bell pondered his offseason plans. He thought about driving up the California coast, finding places to hike and quietly looking out at the Pacific Ocean.

When the time came and he went home for the winter, Bell didn't travel as much as he had planned. For the most part, he went back to work.

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"I really didn't finish the way I wanted to," Bell said. "Kind of caught my stride and kind of faded off a little bit. I still had some fuel and unanswered questions."

Bell spent most of last season answering the questions that followed him to the Majors. Would he hit for power? Yes, he hit 26 home runs. Could he handle first base? Yes, he recorded six Defensive Runs Saved. Would he be healthy after February knee surgery? Yes, he played 159 games.

What's left to prove? Plenty.

"It's easy to get into the weight room and figure out your body and try to find gains," Bell said. "I feel like I did that, so I'm excited to show it."

For one, Bell's final slash line of .255/.334/.466 yielded a 108 OPS+ and wRC+, meaning he was graded out just 8 percent better than the league-average offensive production. As good as he was in the summer, he struggled through May (.198/.265/.415, 21.4 percent strikeout rate) and slowed down in the season's final month (.221/.302/.337, 24.5 percent strikeout rate).

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

So Bell focused on what he called "overall coordination, overall body control." Unlike the previous offseason, he did not attempt to achieve that through daily yoga classes. The goal of his routine, he said, was to create a stable "trunk" that should bring about more powerful, baseball-specific movements.

It's already improved his throwing, which had been a flaw. Bell said having a more stable lower half, from the abdominal muscles down, has allowed him to naturally drop his arm angle when necessary. He feels like he can whip the ball through his target, he said, instead of "guiding" it there.

"He's been working at it. It looks cleaner. It looks accurate," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It looks fresh. He's having some fun out there doing it."

There was another benefit. From his home in Dallas, Bell followed a training program out of a complex in Jupiter, Fla., where it just so happens Colin Moran began working the prior offseason. Bell met Moran through the program, so he had known him for a few months before the Pirates acquired Moran. The 25-year-old corner infielders have become fast friends inside the Pirates' clubhouse.

Video: Moran on getting improving his game with the Pirates

"It's cool to know he's on a similar workout plan," Bell said. "He's doing the same things."

The early returns have been positive. At the advice of special assistant Kevin Young, Bell said he avoided taking swings this offseason for about as long as he ever has. The time away didn't create any noticeable rust when he picked up a bat again, though.

"I feel the best in the first couple weeks of camp that I ever have," Bell said. "When I pull the trigger, I'm at least putting the ball in play, which was kind of a tough spot last year. … I'm definitely excited for what's to come this year."

As for those offseason travel plans? Check back in October.

"Hopefully, if things go as planned, I can kind of celebrate and unwind at the end of this year," he said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell