Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, after the 2-for-1 deal with Pittsburgh’s Pirates for Josh Bell was announced, about hitting coach Kevin Long getting started on a plan to help the 28-year-old first baseman get back on track after a down year offensively for the corner infielder in 2020.
Bell put up a .226/.305/.364 line with three doubles and eight home runs in 57 games and 223 plate appearances in a -0.4 fWAR season last summer, but that came after he finished the 2019 campaign with a .277/.367/.569 line and career highs in doubles (37) and homers (37) over 143 games and 613 PAs in a 2.5 fWAR season.
In his five seasons in the majors with the Pirates, the 2011 second round pick posted a combined .261/.349/.466 line with a 162-game average of 31 doubles and 25 homers.
How will the Nationals help Bell can get back to his 2019 form?
“I know Kevin Long has studied him since we alerted him that this was going to be a possibility,” Rizzo explained.
“And he’s ready to touch base with Josh and put a plan together and get working with him really soon.”
Rizzo said everyone in the front office in D.C. was confident that Bell could get back to the sort of numbers he put up before 2020’s struggles.
“Analytically they loved him. They love Josh, they loved his performance before, they think he’s a big bounce-back candidate to get back towards those ‘19 numbers,” Rizzo said.
“We’ll study his swing, and K-Long and [manager] Davey [Martinez] are as good as there is in the business on tweaking and making guys maximize their ability.”
“We think that we’ve identified a few things,” he added. “We’ve got a plan in place for him. We’re certainly not going to share it with anybody on the call, but we have a distinct and definitive plan in place and K-Long will be reaching out to Josh in the near future if he hasn’t already and K-Long and Davey will get with Josh long before Spring Training and set up a program and a thought process and an offensive plan of attack well before they get to West Palm.”
Bell’s teammate in Pittsburgh (between 2016-2018) and his future teammate in Washington, infielder Josh Harrison, told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Brad Lidge over the holiday that after spending the 2020 campaign working with Long in D.C., he thinks he and Bell will work well together.
Some of Bell’s struggles during his time with the Pirates, Harrison said, can be chalked up, to some extent, to the normal growing pains young major leaguers go through as they try to figure things out in the big leagues.
“Yeah, that’s always going to be a struggle with a guy coming up,” Harrison said.
“Deciphering which information is beneficial for you and which information isn’t, because everybody’s got an — I want to say — inkling to help you, but the truth is not everybody can, and that’s not being harsh, that’s just being real. Everything’s not for everybody. But one thing, just in my small time working with Kevin, he’s going to challenge you to know yourself, I mean, it’s good for hitting coaches to know you as a player, but at the same time, they can’t feel what you feel. He’ll be able to express what he’s feeling, and I think it’s going to be a good fit for him, because even before I got to work with Kevin, I got guys telling me, ‘Oh, man, you’re going to like it over there.’ Just guys that I might have been playing with the previous years that have known him from the places he’s been with, are like, ‘Yeah, he’s a good dude to be with.’
“I’m excited for him to get to work [with Bell], because he’s dealt with switch hitters. Switch hitting can be one of the toughest things to do, having to balance things out, and I got a close look at how he worked with Asdrúbal [Cabrera], I think it’s going to be a good fit for him.”
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“I’ve looked at his film and kind of went through the ins and outs of it,” Long said in an MLB Network Radio interview of his own on Monday night.
“Right-handed and left-handed, and as of right now just going to kind of let him go through his offseason progression and then if there’s anything that he has then he can let me know.”
Getting to work with Bell, Long said, has him excited.
“You’ve got a middle of the lineup guy, you’ve got a switch-hitter, you’ve got an All-Star, you’ve got a guy that’s driven in 90 and 116 runs in a season. He’s a guy that’s intriguing. Looking at his swing and reading some stuff on him, I guess he tinkers with his swing a lot, but I guess I’d probably rather have that than a guy who didn’t do anything and was just kind of content on where he was at.
“What I think I’ll do as a hitting coach is say, ‘Let’s ... let’s instead of tinkering with about six or seven different things, let’s tinker with a couple things that we can hone in that can kind of fix or get you right and maybe see if we can take this to another level, but certainly at the end of the day, I’m excited to have a middle of the lineup guy, someone that we — I think — desperately needed in the middle of our lineup, you know, we don’t have a lot of guys that can fill that need and Josh Bell’s perfect.”