Monday, May 10, 2010

Josh Bell

O's SweetSpot blogger Dave Mc asks an interesting question today:
Imagine that Bell stays hot as Las Vegas summer for the next six weeks. He plays good defense and hits lefties well enough. He is pounding on the door of the majors. Would the Orioles promote him? I'm not so sure because I'm not sure where Bell would fit defensively.
Dave's reasoning is that the club would be hesitant to move Miguel Tejada--admittedly one of the O's only bright spots on offense thus far--off third base and also wouldn't want to shift Bell to DH, first base or the outfield.  It's an interesting conundrum, but one that I think makes the mistake of overvaluing a few more wins in 2010.  Personally, if the hypothetical Dave posits comes true, I don't think MacPhail will hesitate to promote Bell.  If Tejada, who was signed specifically to be a one-year stopgap, is playing well, he could be traded to a contender looking for some help at third base (perhaps Anaheim, Minnesota or Detroit) or be moved to first base, where the O's don't exactly have a plethora of quality hitters.  In any case, this would be a happy problem for several reasons.

First of all, it is far from clear that Bell can handle third base defensively.  While errors are not a perfect (or even good) measure of defensive ability, Bell certainly makes a lot of them.  There have also been questions about his atheticism, which of course leads to speculation that his ultimate position will be first base.

Mostly, though, Bell is currently half of a hitter.  He shows good pop and plate discipline from the left side (.303/.371/.514 in his minor league career and .291/.330/.524 this season), but he is Cesar Izturis with a few more walks from the right (.237/.319/.355).  That's a huge split and one that isn't likely to close in just a couple of AAA months.  Rather, it wouldn't surprise me if the Orioles have Bell give up switch hitting.  In that case, he would clearly need a few more months in Norfolk to accumulate at-bats against lefthanders.*

*Assuming there are any left-handers to hit against.  No one on the Tides has more than about a dozen at-bats against left-handers.  Are there no left-handed pitchers in the International League?  How can I sign up for some of that?

But this actually brings up another reason that MacPhail would go ahead and promote Bell to Baltimore: he could platoon with Tejada.  Bell could play third base against right-handers, with Miggy manning the hot corner against lefties.  This would likely push Luke Scott out of the DH role (which Tejada would assume against righties), but considering that he's struck out in roughly 127% of hit at-bats this season, that would actually be a good thing.

The lesson?  MacPhail will stick to the plan.  If the O's had busted out of the gate with a surprising start (like say, the Blue Jays), maybe things would be different.  Instead, the Orioles have the "luxury" of focusing only on 2011.

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