Slugging outfielders Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco have shooting guard size, are 20 and 21, respectively, and are ranked consecutively among the Pirates' top prospects
. Similar ballplayers they may be, but their stories are vastly different.
Bell, a Texan, received a $5 million signing bonus after he was taken in the second round of the 2011 Draft and has played only 15 pro games. Polanco hails from the Dominican Republic and, in his fourth pro season in 2012, posted a career-high .910 OPS.
They shared time, however briefly, in the Class A West Virginia outfield last spring, so closing in on next season, we thought it best to chat with both players: Bell over the phone from Bradenton, Fla., where he is training, and Polanco via email and in Spanish with translations provided by his agency, Beverly Hills Sports Council. For outtakes of these discussions, visit the PROSPECTive Blog.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to this offseason?
Polanco: Just working out in the mornings, hitting the weight room and trying to get my body ready.
Bell: I'm at the IMG Academy. Basically, it takes me through speed training, some baseball training and strength training -- all in one -- every day. It's my first week and it's been tough. I thought I'd been working hard, but these guys kick my butt. I still have 1 1/2 more months with them to get in tip-top shape before Spring Training.
MiLB.com: Did you enter this offseason with personal goals, things you wanted to accomplish, and have you been able to make progress on them?
Polanco: Yes, I want to get stronger and up to 225 pounds. I'm getting there. I'm up to 220 pounds. By adding the right weight, I'll add bat speed, arm strength and velocity on the field.
Bell: This is the most intense training I have done since surgery, so it's good and heartwarming, I guess, to see my knee holding up with everything. I definitely need to strengthen my left lower half again -- I can tell that my left side is weaker than my right side. The trainers here have been working with me. Getting healthy and then some is the most important thing. The most I did before this was take at-bats from pitchers. This is the first time I've taken balls in the outfield, too.
MiLB.com: Josh, you played in 15 games last season before undergoing surgery on the meniscus in your knee and missing the rest of the year due to incessant swelling. What do you take away from that brief playing experience?
Bell: I just got back to the basics. It was good to get some time off [afterward] -- maybe not so much time off -- because I was stressing a little bit when I was playing. Injuries happen; it's just how you respond to them that matters. I can't control the past, so I don't worry about it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all this work I am doing and that is this season, and then I'll show the world what I can do. I'm looking forward to actually being on that pedestal and doing what I can do.
MiLB.com: Greg, this was your first 100-game season, but you weren't immune from injury, either. It was reported that you injured your ankle in August, re-injured it under controversial circumstances in October. What's the real story?
Polanco: I had never been hurt [before]. It was a sprain running to first base and I never fully healed. So when I went to Florida, it got swollen again, but I'm 100 percent recovered now.
MiLB.com: Looking at the numbers, Greg, it's clear you had a productive year at the plate. What was the key?
Polanco: Just making my swing shorter and working on using the opposite field.
MiLB.com: How do you guys describe your approach at the plate? What do you do mechanically to put yourself in a position to hit the ball and hit it hard?
Polanco: I try to stay inside the ball and just trust and use my hands. I have power, but I only focus on making good contact to all fields when I'm in the box.
Bell: I have simplified my approach. Last year, I had some funky things going on: I would get jumpy or just wouldn't get started on time. I had to deal with jitters. I didn't feel comfortable in the box, so I was susceptible to changing things on a regular basis. I have been working to just get back to what I was doing in high school: A simple approach and letting the ball get as deep [in the hitting zone] as I can and staying through the ball with a powerful swing. That is what I have been working on, virtually since I could start swinging a few months back, and it feels really good now.
MiLB.com: How long have you been switch-hitting, Josh?
Bell: I have been switch-hitting since before I remember playing, like age 4. I know my right hand is my dominant hand, so I guess that keeps my swing dominant from both sides. It's virtually the same setup from both sides, but I'm little quicker to the ball as a lefty. But I can stay through the ball a little better as a righty because of bottom hand vs. top hand.
MiLB.com: What is the secret then to switch-hitting?
Bell: You just need to recognize the benefit it gives you as a player, that it makes you more versatile in the box. You never have to worry about a ball starting at you and breaking back into the zone, which is one of the harder pitches to hit in baseball. It's definitely hard to be a switch-hitter. You have to take more hacks and get more work done on your own, but it seems to have paid off for me so far and, hopefully, it does in the future.
MiLB.com: And, Greg, what is the key to stealing bases? You had a career-high 40 last year ...
Polanco: Having very long legs!
MiLB.com: Is that the most underrated part of your game?
Polanco: My speed is, yes. Some people don't realize I could be a great leadoff hitter. [I see myself in the] middle of the order, but I could get the job done at either one.
MiLB.com: OK, so we've talked about your skills. Who do you guys model yourselves after?
Polanco: Ken Griffey Jr. because of his style of play and swagger. I haven't [met him]. I would like to ask him about [his] mental approach at the plate.
Bell: Growing up, I really liked Ken Griffey Jr. He was like a rock star to me.
MiLB.com: Greg, what did you think of Josh in the short time you played with him last year?
Polanco: He's an amazing athlete who can hit the ball a long way and, yes, he will be a guy that will come up with us to Pittsburgh and hopefully help the team win a World Series one day.
MiLB.com: Josh, what was your impression of Greg, and other Power teammates like second baseman Alen Hanson?
Bell: They're studs. They had great seasons. I'm going to be pumped to see them again in Spring Training. They have great swings. Alen is another switch-hitter -- nice to have another switch-hitter on the team.
MiLB.com: What else excites you guys about potentially playing in Pittsburgh?
Polanco: That we are like a family. Starling Marte is a big brother to me.
Bell: That there are a lot of studs in the system. Barrett Barnes was having a great season, too. We're all the cream of the crop right now. I guess we just have to fine-tune some things before we get to the big time.