Hawaii Winter Baseball Notebook: Josh Bell




WAIPAHU, Hawaii--Los Angeles Dodgers third base prospect Josh Bell has a wait problem.

It seems he just can't wait to get around on a pitch.

"I want (work on) staying on balls, going the other way and (being) more disciplined at the plate," said Bell, ranked the ninth-best prospect in the Midwest League by Baseball America.

Bell is one of eight Dodgers minor leaguers assigned to the West Oahu CaneFires of Hawaii Winter Baseball. They are joined by Rookie-level Ogden pitching coach Craig Bjornson.

There is no doubting Bell's power. The switch-hitter has compiled 47 doubles and 30 home runs in 832 minor league at-bats over three seasons. This past season at low Class A Great Lakes, he batted .289/.354/.470 with 21 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs. In Hawaii, Bell's batting average has taken a hit--.216 through Oct. 29--and yet he has been among HWB's RBI leaders since the outset.

CaneFires hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh likes what he has seen so far from the Dodgers' 2005 fourth-round pick.

"He shows pretty good tools from an offensive stand point," Coolbaugh said of the Bell, who turns 21 on Nov. 13. "He's a switch-hitter, he's got power from both sides. The thing right now is he has to have a little bit better plate discipline. He wants to go up there and swing at everything, but that's what usually comes from a young hitter. I understand he's going to start taking what the pitcher's giving him a little bit. He's done a nice job so far. He's come up with some big hits and hit the ball hard."

Bell said he also wants to work on his fielding. In nine games at third, he has been charged with two errors. But in one particular game recently, Bell was tested on a bunt, a grounder to the hole and grounder near the foul line. He fielded all flawlessly. He said the Dodgers' infield coordinator Matt Martin worked with him extensively during the year.

"(He) worked with me on my set-up and reading balls off the bat and getting a good jump," Bell said. "I'm feeling comfortable."

Bell said he was a shortstop in high school, but he started getting bigger and the Dodgers drafted him as a third baseman out of a Florida high school.

Now, he is struggling with a weight problem. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Bell said he started picking up extra pounds the last two years of high school.

"I was able to eat anything and I stay skinny," he said. "(But) my junior and senior year, I started working out a lot and kind of blew up. This offseason, I'll be real serious about (losing weight). Get down, get more toned."

But he admits that dieting has been a challenge out here. He apparently has acquired the taste of the multi-ethnic food of Hawaii.

"There's a lot of good food out here so I'm trying to stay away from it," he said. "Me and roommate pretty much go to that L & L Hawaiian Barbeque."

L & L is a popular plate lunch restaurant here known for its generous portions at a reasonable price, making it attractive for those on minor league salaries.

Still, he is determined to show the Dodgers why he is among their top prospects.

"I want to go into spring training with more tone," he said. "I want to lose 10, 15 pounds and just go in there and show them I can play third base. I'm ready."

Dodgers' farm director De Jon Watson, who was officially promoted to assistant general manager of player development while he was in Hawaii to see Bell, is pleased with the young third baseman's progress as well.

"Josh Bell has driven the ball in key situations," Watson said. "His RBI production has been good here. Defensively, he looks a lot better at third base."

The Dodgers have eight players in HWB, more than any other major league club.

"It's a good opportunity to continue playing because you want them to get accustomed to playing deep into the year," Watson said. "You want your players to understand that the major league season is a full 162 (games). We finished instructional league a week ago and these guys are still going.

"We're trying to get the mindset, to try develop unpolished skills and make sure they're ready to take the jump to another level. So there's so many positives to a league like this. And the competition is decent."

Bird Watching

Orioles hitting coordinator Denny Walling was in Hawaii for a week to monitor the club's prospects in HWB. The position players Baltimore sent to Hawaii include catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman/third baseman Brandon Snyder and second baseman Miguel Abreu. All are assigned to the Honolulu Sharks.

"I had a nice little session with them the other day . . . got them in a (batting) cage and worked with them for an hour," Walling said. "They're doing well. They're being pretty selective up there and using the whole field."

The league is especially beneficial to Wieters, who signed late and made his pro debut here. As of Oct. 29, he was hitting .298 with six doubles and nine RBIs. The switch-hitting catcher has shown an ability to hit to all fields.

"He as a lot of talent, but more than that, he's a baseball player with good character," Walling said. "A cerebral player. He's smart. You can tell he's soaking up everything you bring up to him. He has a nice swing, great frame to work with. I think he's going to go quick."

Rangers In Paradise

While most of the HWB players are staying in rentals in Waikiki, where most tourists stay, four Rangers minor leaguers are sharing a resort condo in Ko Olina, some 35 minutes west of Honolulu, but less than a 10-minute drive to Hans L'Orange Park, where they play.

One of them is Chad Tracy. Drafted in the third round as a catcher in 2006 out of Pepperdine, Tracy has been getting action in left field for the West Oahu CaneFires. He said the Rangers are trying to groom him for other positions.

"I'll probably play a lot of everything," he said. "I'll probably play a lot of left field (in HWB). Next year, you might see me at first base and then hopefully still catch a few games here and there, just to keep that fresh."

Besides enjoying the beach near the condo, Tracy is having success at the plate. As of Oct. 29, he was batting .286 and was among the league leaders with four home runs.

"I'm just trying to become more consistent and learn more about my swing so I know what adjustments I have to make," he said.

One of his roommates and teammates is first baseman Ian Gac, who also is enjoying success with his hitting. He was at .300 with three home runs through Oct. 29.

The trip to Hawaii is a chance for Gac to kick start his career. After spending most of the 2005 and 2006 seasons in the low Class A Midwest League, he was sent back to short-season Spokane this year.

Even with the drop to a lower level, Gac still struggled with strikeouts this year, hitting .231/.309/.489. He showed excellent power (17 home runs in 70 games at Spokane), but struggled to make contact (80 strikeouts in 257 at-bats.

"I went to extended spring training, so I didn't play a full season like a lot of other guys," he said. "I just want to get more at-bats and get a full season under my belt before spring training. I wasn't really sure what to expect here. I knew there was going to be good competition (from the pitching). I'm seeing the ball pretty well."