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For draft pick Bell, Pirates were best option

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Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011

To lure second-round draft pick Josh Bell into signing a contract, the Pirates unleashed a recruiting pitch that would be the envy of any college coach.

The team sent videos and PowerPoint presentations detailing what life is like at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and at every minor league stop up the ladder to the majors. Scouting director Greg Smith kept in constant contact with calls and visits.

One day before the 12:01 a.m. Tuesday signing deadline, the Pirates made their final offer of a $5 million bonus.

Bell, 19, gave up his scholarship to the University of Texas and turned pro.

"I couldn't tell you how many times I switched back and forth," Bell said Friday at PNC Park. "In the end, I felt that if a team is going to have this much faith in me, I really can't turn it down. They're investing in me as a player."

It was a dramatic change of heart by Bell, who was a standout outfielder at Jesuit High School in Texas. Months before the draft, Bell sent a letter to MLB headquarters telling teams not to select him because he was intent on going to college.

"When I sent out that letter, I changed my phone number," Bell said. "I had no contact with any team. The Pirates took a leap of faith with me, and I'm really happy that they did."

Over the summer, Bell took 12 credit hours' worth of classes at Texas and worked out with the college's strength and conditioning coach. He swung a bat every day, wondering if his next big hit would help the Longhorns or some minor-league club.

Bell's mother, Myrtle, handled negotiations with the Pirates, with help from super-agent Scott Boras.

"There was discussion daily, hourly," Boras said. "When you're in the serious moments of a life decision for a player, you want to do a good job as a parent. I tell every player, the greatest way to learn baseball is doing it all the time, every day."

That message resonated with Bell, who was rated among the top 10 prospects in this year's draft.

"If I want to be a baseball player, ultimately this is the best 'school' for me to be in," Bell said. "This is my one chance to reach my full potential in baseball."

It also is a chance to make a lot of money very quickly. Bell's $5 million bonus was well over MLB's recommended slot for a second-rounder and has earned the Pirates a rebuke from commissioner Bud Selig.

The Pirates have spent more than $52 million on draft bonuses during the past five years, the highest total in the majors. They spent $17 million this year, including $8 million for No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole, who will be in Pittsburgh today.

The Pirates did not say where they will place Bell in their system, but he's likely to play in instruction leagues this offseason.

"This is another step in our process, a process that isn't possible without the support, both financially and guidance-wise, of (owner) Bob Nutting," general manager Neal Huntington said.

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