There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Last week, we were on the mound. This time around, we're bringing Pipeline Perspectives into the batter's box.
This week's discussion: Which corner outfielder would you rather have? In this edition, I'm advocating for the Pirates' Josh Bell. Jim Callis decided to go with 2014 first-round pick Alex Jackson of the Mariners.
Once again, Jim has decided to do the heavier lifting, picking a player just starting his professional career, with a grand total of 18 games as a corner outfielder on his resume. That said, Jackson is an exciting hitter, one who should be fun to watch.
Bell, on the other hand, is in Double-A, not too far off from trying to push his way up into Pittsburgh's outfield picture. The pair isn't far off from each other on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list, with Bell coming in at No. 32 (up from No. 74 at the start of the season) and Jackson making his debut at No. 37.
Bell was one of the biggest surprises of any Draft signing deadline in memory, as he decided to walk away from the University of Texas for a $5 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2011. It would be very difficult to make that kind of bonus work with today's rules governing the Draft. It might seem an even more daunting task for one player to live up to the expectations that come with such a price tag.
We'll leave aside the argument that you have to look at the Bucs' Draft as a whole, and not just the Bell signing, for the time being. This is about why Bell is the corner outfielder I'd rather have. Bell's and Jackson's grades are almost exact duplicates, with Bell getting slightly higher marks for speed and fielding.
Neither Bell nor Jackson will make their mark with either of those tools. In the end, it's all about the bat. Maybe it's because Bell is closer and has more of a track record; maybe I like playing it "safe." I just believe in Bell's bat just a tad more.
What's really impressive about Bell is where he is currently. It may not sound like a big deal for a 2011 draftee to be in Double-A in '14, but you have to remember that Bell missed nearly all of the 2012 season because of a knee injury. So we have a high school hitter, a switch-hitter at that, who has reached Double-A in less than two full seasons.
In 2013, in what was supposed to be that post-injury year when he just gets his bearings, Bell hit .279/.353/.453 as a 20-year-old in the South Atlantic League. The power, which wasn't supposed to show up right away, started to, as Bell banged out 37 doubles and 13 homers.
Next up was the Florida State League, which has a well-deserved reputation of being a pitcher-friendly circuit. That didn't matter to Bell, as he tore up the FSL to the tune of a .335/.384/.502 line. Even though he's been up with Altoona for 24 games, Bell enters play on Tuesday as the Florida State League leader in average, slugging and OPS. Bell is good from both sides of the plate, with little difference in his lefty/righty splits.
Bell is feeling his way in Double-A, and it goes a long way to show what kind of advanced hitter he is. The power hasn't come yet -- Bell is sacrificing it for batting average to get a sense of the pitching at the level. Hitting .287 over 102 at-bats, while being 3.7 years younger than the average Double-A hitter, according to Baseball-Reference, is pretty darn impressive. The leap to Double-A is the toughest, and so far, Bell is showing he has the ability to make the necessary adjustments. The extra-base ability will come, there's no doubt about that.
For someone with the kind of power and run-production potential Bell has, he doesn't swing and miss all that much. Bell struck out just 90 times in 459 at-bats in 2013. He has whiffed only 55 times in 425 at-bats this season. According to Fangraphs, that's a strikeout rate of 11.8 percent. I'll take those kinds of contact numbers any day of the week, especially given his above-average raw power.
The outfield in Pittsburgh is crowded and Bell could make for more of a logjam in the near future. It's safe to assume that nearly every call the Pirates fielded leading up to last month's Trade Deadline involved a conversation about Bell. There's a reason they didn't just include him in any old deal. They know Bell is legitimate. I know Bell is legitimate, and it's only a matter of time until he's hitting in the middle of a big league lineup and manning a corner outfield spot.