Bell shapes up as Bucs' first baseman for '17

Rookie ready to go at minicamp after offseason work

January 12th, 2017

BRADENTON, Fla. -- All week, Josh Bell has made his best sales pitch. His teammates file in to the Pirate City clubhouse, eat, shower, dress and leave after a morning of minicamp workouts. Bell follows the same routine, but he's added another wrinkle to his offseason work.

Bell has dived into yoga this offseason, dropping weight and increasing his flexibility. As a result, he's down to about 230 pounds. Bell reported to Spring Training last year around 250 pounds after spending the winter packing on muscle. The rookie believes the sessions have helped improve his coordination, which should pay off at the plate and at first base.

"I feel like the best version of myself," Bell said. "I'm all in. I love it."

Spring Training information

Despite Bell's best effort to recruit his teammates into joining him, nobody has taken him up on it. But he has the endorsement of special assistant Kevin Young, who's put in a lot of time working with Bell at first base.

Young recommended hot yoga to Bell last offseason. Bell wanted to add muscle, but he found himself less flexible in the field as a result. He's taken about 75 classes this offseason, sweating bullets as he balances his body in a hot, dark room, and he's aiming for 100 total before Spring Training begins.

Bell is also proud of his improvement at first base. He's worked once per month with a member of the Pirates' staff -- in November with Young, in mid-December with infield coach Joey Cora and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, and now at minicamp with all of the club's coaches and instructors.

"It feels really good. Just making a lot of strides when it comes to the arm slot and overall footwork," Bell said. "Laying that foundation to work with during the year. If I keep up the work I'm doing right now, going into Spring Training, I'll be in a good spot."

Bell will report to Spring Training a little early, giving himself time to shake off whatever rust has accumulated so that he can begin "hopefully balling out come spring," he said.

Brault ready for spring competition

There are only two left-handers currently slated to compete for a spot in the Pirates' rotation: veteran , who's most likely ticketed for the bullpen, and rookie .

Right-handers , and are set in stone. Righty is likely to earn the fourth spot. Barring an external addition, LeBlanc and Brault will compete with right-handers , and .

"It's exciting. It's fun. The way I look at it is that I'm coming in trying to earn a spot, and so are other guys," Brault said. "If nothing else, it's going to help us focus and keep our drive going. We all hope for the best for each other. We just also want to be better than each other. That's the beauty of it."

The 24-year-old left-hander made his Major League debut last season, posting a 4.86 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 17 walks in 33 1/3 innings over eight outings. Brault has found consistent success throughout the Minors, compiling a 2.74 career ERA.

The most important lesson he learned in his first big league season? Be yourself.

"Getting back to what I do. One thing [pitching coach Ray Searage] really instills is that everybody's different," Brault said. "That's a big thing that we talked about at the end of the season and already this year: Getting back to what made me, me, and not trying to do too much.

"That's what I took from last year, that I can compete and don't have to be somebody I'm not."