From the start this spring, Josh Bell has talked excitedly about getting to hit in the Nationals’ lineup with all the talent in Washington, and especially getting to learn from Juan Soto, even if the outfielder is significantly younger (22) than the switch-hitting first baseman (28).
“It’s unreal,” Bell said of the situation he finds himself in after the trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter. “It’s something that dreams are made of.”
“I feel like just watching [Soto’s] BP, how professional it is, and knowing that he’s going to make these pitchers work. First pitch of the season, he’s not a guy that expands the zone.
“He makes pitchers work. He works deep into counts. And pitchers start getting tired up there, they start making mistakes. Me being an RBI guy, love hitting with guys on.
“I know he’s going to be over there 40-50% of the time. So that makes me happy. That makes me smile as a hitter. So hopefully I can put up some numbers with him.”
Soto was equally excited about what the addition of Bell could mean for the Nationals.
“I think he’s going to be a really good piece on the team,” Soto told reporters early this spring.
“I’ve been talking with him around and everything. He’s a really nice dude, and he likes to work. He likes to work hard and be on the field grinding.
“I think it’s going to be good to have a guy like that who comes every day to work and gives his 100%. I think he’s going to be a good piece for the team.”
Bell, who’s hit in five straight, with home runs in three in a row, is 11 for 30 (.367/.444/.900) with four doubles and four home runs in Grapefruit League action after a 2 for 3 night last night.
He credits a lot of his success this spring with his comfort-level with his new club, and what he’s been able to learn from Soto, especially about allowing, “the ball to travel just a little bit more,” and adopting the mentality that, “... if the ball beats me just a tad bit I can still drive the ball out the other way, don’t try to rush the hit by any means, so, so far it’s working out.”
That focus, and mentality, he said, came out of conversations with hitting coach Kevin Long and his new teammates.
“We had a hitters’ meeting with K-Long, and I want to say Trea [Turner] and Soto and [Ryan] Zimmerman were kind of talking about that, when they had time to talk with all the hitters.”
“And I feel like just watching Juan Soto’s batting practice every day,” Bell explained, “you see the success that he had last year, and he had in the past, he drives the ball to all fields and he really makes pitchers pay with that. If I can add that to my arsenal, I think it’s going to make me dangerous as well.”
Bell and Soto’s manager, Davey Martinez, said he’s enjoyed the interaction between the two this spring, though the first baseman is not the only one watching what Soto does with the bat in his hands.
“They watch him take BP, they watch his routine,” Martinez said. “When these guys are left-handed like he is, they all congregate together. We put them in the same group with most of our lefties, so they can watch him and they can feed off of each other, so it’s nice to watch him have these conversations about hitting and about pitching, they sit down and they talk about the guys they’re going to face and what they’re looking for, it’s good. I’m glad that Josh views Juan as that person, because Juan is such a good hitter, and Juan has such a good approach to hitting, all these guys could learn from it.”
“Obviously I think I would be pretty stupid not to,” Bell said of watching and learning from Soto. “This guy has had so much success. I want to say one of the first conversations that I had with him was just asking his approach, and he said, ‘Fastball right down the middle every time.’ His best fastball, whether it’s 95 or 105, if he’s ready for that right down the middle and he can take that ball to left-center field, he’s ready for all other pitches, so I just put that in my back pocket, that’s easily the best left-handed swing in the game, so I’m trying to mirror myself, think that way as well, and hopefully have success.”