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Pirates

Pirates minor league report: Bell getting kick out of Indianapolis

| Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, 8:21 p.m.
Pirates prospect Josh Bell works out at Pirate City during spring training in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates prospect Josh Bell works out at Pirate City during spring training in Bradenton, Fla.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Less than a week before Josh Bell appeared in the Major League Baseball All-Star Futures Game in Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, he and Altoona Curve hitting coach Kevin Riggs changed the 6-foot-2, 235-pound first baseman's swing mechanics to generate more power.

Bell responded by blasting a fastball into the right-center field bleachers during the fourth inning of the Futures Game on July 12. Early in the pitcher's windup, he lifted his right leg and stomped it into the ground, giving a national television audience a brief glimpse at an adjustment he made to get more power.

Improving the leg kick has kept Bell busy, especially since moving up to Triple-A Indianapolis in early August. And he's not content with it yet, even as his numbers with the Indians sit at career-high marks.

“I feel like (power) can be strived for,” said Bell, ranked by MLB.com as the top first base prospect in the minors. “You've got guys my age putting the ball out of the ballpark on a regular basis, so it's definitely in the back of my head for what I want to work toward. It's in my plans for this offseason.

“When I first got drafted, I kind of backed away from (the leg kick), tried to just put the ball in play. ... Sometimes with a short stride, I kind of pulled off of balls. Still hit it hard, still hit for average. But it felt like some balls I could really drive in the gap, it'd stop just a little bit shy, so (the kick) is something I've been tinkering with.”

Bell's .347 batting average and just 14 strikeouts through 27 games with Indianapolis indicated he remained under control with his busier swing. A .520 slugging percentage signaled the benefits of the leg kick for the switch hitter, whose previous season-high slugging mark was .502 in High-A Bradenton last year.

“I like the approach at the plate,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “The ceiling is as high as this guy wants to push the ceiling up.”

Indians hitting coach Butch Wynegar worked to steer Bell away from trouble when the slugger's leg kick looked too slow and awkward. Minor tweaks allowed the 23-year-old to move past the 1-for-17 slump he experience after joining Indianapolis.

That home run Bell hit in the national spotlight in mid-July served as a helpful moment to revisit.

“I really didn't have many at-bats under my belt at all with the leg kick, but (Riggs) was like, ‘Just trust it up there, and have as much fun as you can,' ” Bell said. “It was an awesome experience, just that feeling off the bat. Feelings like that are few and far between, especially at this point in my career.”

A reminder of Bell's progress popped up Friday as several Indians sat around discussing this past spring's big league camp, catcher Tony Sanchez said.

Bell noted to the others he hadn't been invited.

“I was like, ‘What? You weren't?' ” Sanchez said. “And I felt bad, but I was like, ‘Listen, those days are behind you. For the rest of your career, you'll be there. I promise you that.' ”

Bell's move from outfield to first base no longer strikes anyone as an experiment. Room for improvement remains, but entering Saturday, Bell had committed just one error in 29 starts at first base with Indianapolis. He had 13 in 84 games with Altoona.

“Going into this offseason, I'm excited to just take groundballs and know what feels right,” Bell said. “Last offseason, I wasn't really sure if I was doing anything correctly because coming from the outfield, it was just like I needed to catch the ball and keep my feet moving.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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