By JAY LeBLANC
It appears the deadline deal that cost the Baltimore Orioles their All-Star closer may very well have yielded their third baseman of the future. Josh Bell was four months into his best pro season to date when the Los Angeles Dodgers shipped him to Baltimore along with minor league righty Steven Johnson for George Sherrill on July 30, and the 22-year-old has carried the momentum with him to his new organization. Bell, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound switch-hitter, has slugged five home runs and knocked in 14 runs in his first 27 games for the Double-A Bowie Baysox.
Bell has hit at every level since the Dodgers made him a fourth-round pick out of Santaluces High School in Lantana, Fla. in 2005. He topped the .300 mark in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League that summer and followed that up by earning Post-Season All-Star honors in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2006. Baseball America ranked Bell as the ninth-best prospect in the Class A Midwest League in 2007 after he hit .289 with 15 homers in 108 games to earn a late-season promotion to advanced Class A. He returned to the California League the following spring and hit .273 with six homers before preventative surgery to repair a divot in the cartilage near his kneecap ended his season after just 51 games.
Bell used the downtime to get in better shape, and his hard work paid immediate dividends. Previously criticized for a lack of speed and range at the hot corner, Bell showed such marked improvement that Baseball America tabbed him as the best defensive third baseman in the Double-A Southern League at midseason. He took MVP honors in the circuit’s All-Star Game and was hitting .296 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 94 games when the Orioles acquired him as the key piece in the Sherrill deal. Both Bell and Johnson have performed well since then, significantly softening the blow of parting with one of baseball’s better left-handed relievers.
I had the chance to speak with Bell on Tuesday night after he went 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored in Bowie’s 6-1 win over the visiting Binghamton Mets at Prince George’s Stadium.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been traded from the Dodgers to the Orioles in the George Sherrill deal?
A: Mixed emotions, for the most part. I’d been with the Dodgers for five years, but I figure baseball is baseball and I have an opportunity over here. So it’s just same game, different colors.
Q: Could you talk about your experience in transitioning from one organization to another in the middle of a season?
A: For me it was good because the guys, I knew some of them from Florida. For the most part, it’s difficult just because you’re so used to doing things a certain way and knowing people and whatnot, and then you come to a different organization where you don’t know really anybody or anything over here. The transition was good, though.
Q: Could you talk a bit about your approach to hitting? Do you step into the batter’s box with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions and try to hit the ball where it’s pitched?
A: I just trust my reactions.
Q: What are some of the things you do off the field to help prepare you to succeed on it?
A: I think that preparation off the field is mainly mental - getting a mental picture of what you’re trying to accomplish and if you’re struggling, figuring out why you’re struggling and trying to simplify things to get back to what you were doing.
Q: What are some of the things you’ll need to work on in order to be a successful big leaguer?
A: I’d say, defensively, being consistent, and keeping my swing short from both sides.
Q: What is your outlook on participating in this year’s Arizona Fall League?
A: More baseball, more exposure … it’s a positive.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: No. It’s kind of hard because everyone is different in their own way. You’ve got to find a way to make things work for your benefit.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?
A: I can’t really answer that. I can just worry about things I can control, and that’s coming out and playing hard every day. When they feel I’m ready, I’m ready.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 -Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; Robbie Grossman, Pirates; Brandon Waring, Orioles; Casey Kelly, Red Sox; Michael Taylor, Phillies; Brandon Snyder, Orioles; Kyle Drabek, Phillies; Drew Storen, Nationals; Nick Hagadone, Red Sox; Matt Moore, Rays; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Eric Hosmer, Royals; Mike Minor, Braves; Mike Montgomery, Royals.
2008 -Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.