ShareThis Page

For draft pick Bell, Pirates were best option

Rob Biertempfel
| 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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.