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Pirates rookie Bell focused on 'longevity'

Slugger working to improve, wants to be effective in bigs for as long as possible
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Since the Pirates drafted him in 2011, but especially over the last few years, Josh Bell set his sights on reaching the Major Leagues. That was the end point, he thought, the ultimate goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. He made it this year, but it wasn't the finish line he'd built up in his mind.

"You realize you're just getting out of the starting blocks," Bell said.

PITTSBURGH -- Since the Pirates drafted him in 2011, but especially over the last few years, Josh Bell set his sights on reaching the Major Leagues. That was the end point, he thought, the ultimate goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. He made it this year, but it wasn't the finish line he'd built up in his mind.

"You realize you're just getting out of the starting blocks," Bell said.

This time last year, Bell was preparing to dazzle Pirates brass with Spring Training home runs and web gems, thinking that would get him to Pittsburgh. Now, the 24-year-old switch-hitter said, he is thinking about "longevity," how he can stay effective in the big leagues as long as possible.

The 6-foot-2 slugger has cut his weight to around 233 pounds, he said during PirateFest, down from 240-245 during the season. He's taken up yoga and spin classes.

"Just focusing on my body and not how hard I can swing a bat," Bell said. "Trying to focus on the complete package."

Bell is taking hacks in his garage, swatting at heavy bags to keep a feel for his swing without worrying about results. He's been doing that after seeking out offseason advice from veteran infielder David Freese, who told Bell, "You don't want to get in a slump in the offseason."

Bell has already spent time working on his defense with special assistant Kevin Young in Dallas and infield coach Joey Cora in Miami. He spent time at first and moved back to right field halfway through this past season, but most of his work this winter has been at first base.

"First base is more of a focus. I know the kid is always going to have the ability to run in the outfield," manager Clint Hurdle said at the Winter Meetings. "We asked him to do that last year based on need. That's a position he grew up playing."

Bell will technically be a rookie next season, but he gained valuable experience in his first 45 big league games. A full season of his bat could benefit the Bucs, if his debut was any indication.

The No. 3 prospect in the Pirates' system and the 20th-ranked prospect overall, according to MLBPipeline.com, Bell hit .273 with a .368 on-base percentage this past season. Displaying an advanced sense of the strike zone, Bell recorded more walks (21) than strikeouts (19) in 152 plate appearances.

"That's going to be something I hopefully carry on for the rest of my career," Bell said. "I like that being a part of my game. Hopefully, I can continue to grow off that."

Still, there is room for improvement. He hit only three homers, the first a dramatic grand slam against the Cubs at PNC Park on July 9. He learned that Major League pitchers will challenge him, throwing high-90s fastballs in on his hands until he proves he can punish them.

Video: Must C Curtains: Bell's first MLB HR is a grand slam

He will have plenty of time to work on that part of his game in Spring Training. He won't be worried about hitting a home run in every at-bat or making a diving play on each ball hit his way.

"Just taking the pressure off and realizing that you're there to get the cobwebs off and get ready to go for the season, it's going to be fun," Bell said.

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

 

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell