Pirates OF prospect Bell eager to impress in Double-A

Bob Cohn
| Thursday, July 17, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

ALTOONA — Other than the brisk-for-July evening, if Josh Bell needed a reminder that he wasn't in Florida anymore, it was the roller coaster looming behind him.

Bell had seen photos of the white, wooden structure called the Skyliner just beyond the right-field wall at Peoples Natural Gas Field, the Altoona Curve's ballpark. He believed it to be inactive, an outdated relic.

Not so.

“It was cool to hear the people screaming on it during (batting practice),” the Curve's new right fielder said before his first game since being promoted to Double-A. “It felt different, but it's going to be fun.”

Bell, who shredded pitching in the High-A Florida State League, is unlikely to be distracted by amusement park screams or anything else.

The scouting reports note he is uncommonly poised and mature for a 21-year-old.

“He had a good upbringing,” said Gary Green, the Pirates' organizational defensive coordinator.

Green has watched Bell since he signed out of high school in 2011 as the most expensive ($5 million) second-round draft pick ever.

“He has a good head on his shoulders, and he keeps things in perspective,” Green said.

Batting third and wearing No. 35, Bell flied out to deep center, walked twice, struck out and scored a run in an 8-6 loss to Bowie. In his first at-bat, Bell, a switch-hitter, pulled a hanging slider pitch over the concession stand roof in left field, but it was foul.

Bell declared his first Double-A experience “awesome.”

“It was a lot of fun,” he said.”It was a different experience, but I felt I put myself in good positions to hit. I just couldn't really get anything to fall tonight.

“As a kid you know what Double-A and Triple-A are, and it's just one of my dreams coming true, a Double-A guy. And I'm excited to be so close to Pittsburgh, as well.”

Green and Bell chatted around the batting cage before the game. Green said the gist of what he told Bell was simple: “Do what you did (in Florida). Don't try to change anything.”

What Bell did in Florida was hit .335 with nine homers, 53 RBIs and an .886 OPS. He played in the All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis just before his promotion.

Bell, who surmounted a 2012 knee injury he suffered 15 games into his pro career, said he was pleased with how he played with Bradenton but hardly satisfied.

“I had my failures,” he said. “I didn't hit a thousand.”

Bell reunited with former Bradenton teammates, including pitcher Tom Harlan, who joined Altoona earlier this month. They are roommates.

“He's fun to watch,” Harlan said.

Harlan added that he expects Bell, a switch-hitter listed at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, to exhibit more power at this level even though his new ballpark favors pitchers slightly.

Bell's stay with the Curve might prove to be another Pirates rite of passage. Among others, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, who form the Pirates' dynamic outfield, previously came this way.

Polanco, despite recent rookie struggles, is considered to be the real deal in right field, which also is Bell's position. This has led to speculation about Bell's future. Will he eventually move to first base? Might he be traded?

Bell is aware of the chatter but tries to ignore it. Otherwise, “I might get a little bit crazy,” he said. “You've got to be careful what you look at and what comes into your mind because it clutters you for the game.

Bell has been queried about first base “by reporters and stuff like that,” he said, “but I've been the right fielder since I got drafted, and I'm still playing right field.

“I just want to be one of the guys in the lineup that pitchers fear and batters fear when I'm in the outfield.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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