Bell, Snyder Upgrade On Defense

PHOENIX—For most of their careers, Baltimore’s Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder have been known as defensive liabilities.

Coming into the season, Bell appeared to be a likely candidate to move off of third base, while Snyder was a below-average defender at first base after trying his hand at catching earlier in his career.

That perception is changing.

Phoenix manager Gary Cathcart saw Bell in the low Class A Midwest League in 2007, when Cathcart managed Lansing and Bell played for Great Lakes in the Dodgers organization. Bell committed 35 errors in 90 games at third base that season, and questions lingered until this season about whether Bell would eventually move off the position.

Now those questions seem to have vanished. Bell, 23, has slimmed down considerably from his listed 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and become a more reliable defender at third base, even winning the Best Defensive Third Baseman honor from Double-A Southern League managers in Baseball America’s Best Tools survey. He’s always had an above-average arm, but those who have followed Bell this season say his actions look cleaner and his improved conditioning has helped his range.

"(In the Midwest League) I saw a big, young kid, a switch-hitter with power-hitting potential," said Cathcart, who also saw Bell this year in the Eastern League while managing the Blue Jays’ Double-A New Hampshire club. "Then I did get to see him this year, two years later, and he looked like a totally different guy. Just in those three years since I’ve seen him, he’s gotten himself in shape, his footwork at third base is night and day where it was. He’s always had pretty good hands, but he’s a legitimate third baseman now defensively."

With his ability to stick at third base, Bell’s value has soared. Bell hit .296/.386/.497 in 94 games for Double-A Chattanooga, then continued to rake to a .298/.346/.570 tune in 33 games for Double-A Bowie after the Dodgers traded him and righthander Steven Johnson to the Orioles for lefty George Sherrill.

"To me it’s all about a consistent approach with him," Cathcart said. "He’s got tremendous power, tremendous power from both sides. The sound off his bat is truly major league. It’s just going to be a matter of being consistent with his approach and getting good pitches to hit. I know a lot of people have talked to him about getting himself out more often than not on pitchers’ pitches. It’s something he’s going to need to learn, especially facing a higher level of pitching, but all the tools are there for him to be a pretty good big leaguer."

Snyder, who turns 23 next week, was regarded as a work in progress in the field with below-average range and footwork at first base. Yet it’s Snyder’s glovework that has stood out the most to his Desert Dogs manager.

"What I didn’t realize is how good a defender he is at first base," Cathcart said. "He really prepared for it every day, worked real hard in pre-game. He’s got real good feet and real, real quick hands. He made some tremendous plays for us defensively here the whole time he was here. He’s got a chance to be a pretty impact big leaguer here pretty quick. I’m sure Baltimore’s pretty excited about him."

Snyder, who left the team last week because of a family commitment, hit .354/.456/.600 in 17 games and walked (13) more than he struck out (11). He was outstanding during the minor league season with Double-A Bowie, where he hit .343/.421/.597 in 55 games, then struggled upon a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk with a 248/.316/.355 batting line in 73 games.

"Brandon is probably as polished, as advanced a hitter as I saw in this league," Cathcart said. "He has a tremendously consistent batting practice approach every day, really works on his swing path and has a real, real good idea on how to hit. He was probably our best overall hitter as far as having a consistent approach."