Image credit: Josh Bell (Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos Via Getty)
The Nationals gave their fans an early present on Christmas Eve.
Bell, 28, is just over one year removed from his first all-star selection and fills the Nationals greatest need. Eric Thames and Asdrubal Cabrera, who made the most appearances at first base for the Nationals in 2020, are both free agents. Howie Kendrick, who made the third-most appearances at first base, retired.
The Pirates, meanwhile, add two more pitching prospects to their system as they continue to rebuild. Yean ranked as the Nationals No. 8 prospect and Crowe was their No. 10 prospect.
Josh Bell, 1B
Bell made his major league debut in 2016 and steadily progressed leading up to a breakout 2019, when he hit .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs and earned his first NL all-star selection. He struggled during the abbreviated 2020 season, however, batting .226/.305/.364. At his best, Bell is a middle-of-the-order threat who can hit for both average and power. The switch-hitter is significantly better batting from the left side (.271/.360/.485) than the right (.232/.315/.410) in his career, but the total sum was an above-average offensive player each season until the abnormal 2020 campaign. Bell’s average exit velocity, launch angle and hard-hit percentage all dropped during the 2020 season, but he is still in his prime and a more normal season should allow him to return to his previous levels of production. Bell’s defense at first base has long drawn criticism, but he’s playable. The expected permanent addition of the DH in the NL in the coming years will help keep his bat in the lineup even if his defense becomes an issue at any point. Bell is under team control for two more seasons and should represent a marked upgrade over what Washington received from its first basemen in 2020. Nationals first basemen hit .233/.305/.397 last year, a .702 OPS that ranked 25th out of 30 teams.
Eddy Yean, RHP
Yean signed with the Nationals for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 and quickly emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects after bulking up and growing into his body. He made his stateside debut in 2019 and went 2-3, 3.50 with 43 strikeouts and 17 walks in 46.1 innings as he rose to short-season Auburn. Yean is a physical, aggressive power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball that reaches 97 mph. His slider is still developing but already gets swings and misses and his changeup is coming along. Yean is still a teenager who is more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point and will need time to harness his stuff. He has below-average control now, but evaluators are optimistic that will improve as he matures over time.
Wil Crowe, RHP
The Nationals drafted Crowe in the second round out of South Carolina in 2017. He quickly made his way up the minors and made his major league debut in 2020, although he got hit hard in three starts with 14 hits and 11 earned runs allowed (including five home runs) in 8.1 innings. Crowe relies more on command than stuff. He has four potentially average pitches he needs to mix and locate in order to succeed. His fastball sits 91-93 mph, his curveball and slider both earn average grades and his changeup has shown average potential. Crowe’s command was sharper in the minors than it was in the majors, where he nibbled too much and often fell behind in counts. If he can get back to attacking hitters, evaluators see a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or swingman.