Pirates prospect Bell gets a taste of big league lifestyle

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 9:18 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — Bus rides are anything but thrilling for minor-leaguers, even when you're a highly-regarded prospect like Josh Bell, the switch-hitting outfielder currently getting his feet wet in the Florida State League for the Pirates' Single-A team in Bradenton.

Selected to play in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game at Target Field, Bell got his most notable “welcome to the Show” moment just stepping onto the bus for the short ride from the U.S. team's downtown Minneapolis hotel.

“We were on the bus for five minutes and it had 40-inch flat-screen TVs,” Bell said during batting practice Sunday afternoon. “I was like ‘What are we doing here?' I'm just soaking everything in.”

Bell's name has been well-known in baseball circles since the 2011 draft. One of the more renowned hitters in the crop that year, he fell to the second round, due mostly to his commitment to attend Texas, before the Pirates picked him 61st. A $5 million signing bonus later, a record for a second-rounder, Bell was off to the minor leagues rather than standing in line for textbooks.

He's leading the team in batting and is second in the league with a .333 average and nine homers in 83 games in Bradenton this season. For many Pirates fans, including a few in attendance Sunday in Minnesota, Bell represents the hope of more offense in Pittsburgh.

“Hopefully, the sky's the limit. I think if he keeps his head on right and does the right things, he'll be alright,” Marvin Gordon of Carlisle, Pa. said.

Gordon, 50, was watching batting practice from the front row, wearing a gray Pirates T-shirt and bright yellow Pirates hat.

“This is a big spotlight for him, playing against some of the best young players. He can judge his competition,” Gordon said.

Bell didn't start the futures game for the USA team, but manager Tom Kelly sent him out to play right field in the sixth inning, with the Americans up 1-0. He was unable to make a play on the first ball hit his way, as Cubs prospect Javier Baez hit a pitch 399 feet, over Bell's head, and over the right field fence, briefly giving the World team a 2-1 lead.

“Honestly, off the bat, I thought I had a bead on it. I took four or five hard steps toward it,” Bell said. “It's true what they say about Major League baseballs. They do tend to travel a little further, and it wasn't even close. I guess that's just the game up here.”

Bell hauled in a pair of fly balls in the top of the seventh, then led off the bottom of the frame. He scorched a foul ball deep into the right-field stands, then worked the count to 3-2 before bouncing a ground ball to short in his only at-bat. The U.S. won 3-2.

“It was definitely a fun AB. I wasn't able to get a hit, but I put it in play with two strikes,” Bell said. “That's what I like doing. I battled with him a little bit and got the job done.”

Bell will fly back to Florida on Monday, likely after another one of those high-end bus rides. He said his lasting impression of life in the Show is a reminder why he puts in so many hours staying in baseball shape over the winter.

“After this, after seeing what it can be like in the big leagues, I know I'm going to have so much to work for in the offseason,” Bell said.

Jess Myers is a freelance writer.

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