PITTSBURGH -- Josh Bell began the year wondering when he'd be sent back to Triple-A. He endured a rough Spring Training, hit .198 in May and frequently found himself in the dugout when the Pirates held a late lead.
But Bell will end the year as one of the National League's top rookies. On Monday, Pittsburgh's first baseman of the present and future was named a finalist for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The switch-hitting slugger slashed .255/.334/.466 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs, developed into a reliable defender and smashed several records while serving as one of the few bright spots in the Pirates' season.
Bell is one of three finalists for the award, which is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The other two are Dodgers first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong.
The winner will be revealed on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET on Nov. 13. Bellinger is considered the favorite after hitting 39 homers and driving in 97 runs for the 104-win, NL-champion Los Angeles club.
The Pirates have only had one Rookie of the Year Award winner: Jason Bay, in 2004.
Bell, 25, set the NL record for most homers by a switch-hitting rookie and fell one shy of the Major League mark held by Eddie Murray and Tony Clark. The Pirates' slugger led NL rookies in hits (140) and walks (66) and tied for first in doubles (26). He ranked second among NL rookies in RBIs, runs, triples, total bases and extra-base hits, and he was tied for the second-most homers.
The 61st overall Draft pick in 2011, Bell also tied Bay's club record for most home runs by a rookie, and he became one of eight rookies in franchise history to tally 90 RBIs. Bell's 90 RBIs were the most by a Pittsburgh rookie since Maurice Van Robays' 116 in 1940.
Bell's durability bolsters his Rookie of the Year case. He finished the year tied for fourth in the NL with 159 games played, the second-most among all Pirates rookies behind Johnny Ray's 162 in 1982.
Before the season began, there were questions about Bell's defense and his power. As a converted outfielder, he often showed his inexperience at first base in 2016. In the Minors, he never hit more than 14 home runs in one season.
Bell wound up recording six Defensive Runs Saved at first base, fifth-most among NL first basemen, and earned the trust of Pittsburgh's coaching staff. Offensively, he emerged as the Pirates' cleanup hitter behind Andrew McCutchen and ranked second on the club with 26 homers.
"I definitely didn't think I was going to hit 20-plus homers, but I also thought I was going to hit .300," Bell said, smiling. "We'll see what I can do next year."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.