President Frank Coonelly reflects on how Josh Bell became a Pirate | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

President Frank Coonelly reflects on how Josh Bell became a Pirate

Jerry DiPaola

Frank Coonelly looks back eight years to the 2011 MLB Draft and remembers “a lot of internal discussion and debate” about Josh Bell and his stated commitment to play collegiately at Texas.

Bell, a high school senior at Dallas Jesuit at the time, had written letters to every major league team, warning them not to draft him. He was going to college.

Coonelly, the Pittsburgh Pirates president, said team officials believed the letter was “legitimate” and not a ploy — such as other players had tried — to get him drafted by a club willing to pay the best signing bonus.

“We really believed he and his family had made a commitment to Texas and wanted to go to college,” Coonelly said.

But Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and others in the front office had spoken to their area scouts, who also knew this about Bell:

“He wanted to be a major league player, ultimately, and he wanted to be a great major league player,” Coonelly said Wednesday night at PNC Park during the Pirates’ Josh Bell All-Star voting party.

“We thought we could make a case that starting in the Pirates organization was his best opportunity to become a superstar.”

Coonelly and Huntington knew the risks, so they waited until the second round to draft Bell after they took Gerrit Cole as MLB’s first overall pick. They gave Bell a record $5 million signing bonus to close the deal, and the payoff has arrived this season as Bell is hitting .310 with 21 home runs while leading the majors with 68 RBIs less than halfway through the season.

Bell is one of three finalists, joining the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman and the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, in voting for the National League’s starting first baseman in the All-Star Game on July 9 at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

The Pirates invited fans into PNC Park on Wednesday night, offering free admisson, access to the visiting dugout and discounted concessions while setting up a booth at first base where fans could vote for Bell.

The final stage of voting opened Wednesday at noon and concludes at 4 p.m. Thursday. The results will be announced three hours later on ESPN.

MLB twice released returns Thursday morning, with Freeman’s lead over Bell shrinking to less than 4 percent at 6:30 a.m. to 2.5 percent at 8:30 a.m. Rizzo is third.

Bell’s popularity is no surprise to Coonelly.

“We’ve known Josh from the time we drafted him as an 18-year-old out of high school and believed in him from that point forward,” he said. “We knew there was a special player there. He had a bit of the sophomore slump (last year), but we were confident this year would be different than 2018.

“He’s committed to the process. I’m confident he’s going to be an All-Star caliber player all season long.”

Among the fans voting for Bell on Wednesday was season-ticket holder Jonathan Ramsey of Shaler. He was hopeful, but a bit fatalistic about Bell’s chances.

“I would be disappointed but not surprised (if Bell isn’t voted the starter),” he said. “Smaller-market team having to compete with Chicago and Atlanta with Rizzo and Freeman. I just don’t really see it happening.”

Bell would be the Pirates’ first All-Star starter since Andrew McCutchen in 2015 and the first to do so at first base since Dale Long, who hit home runs in eight consecutive games, in 1956.Wednesday at noon and concludes at 4 p.m. Thursday. The results will be announced three hours later on ESPN.

MLB released early returns as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bell trailed Freeman but was ahead of Rizzo. No numbers were released.

“We’ve known Josh from the time we drafted him as a 17-year-old out of high school and believed in him from that point forward,” Coonelly said. “We knew there was a special player there. He had a bit of the sophomore slump (last year), but we were confident this year would be different than 2018.

“He’s committed to the process. I’m confident he’s going to be an All-Star caliber player all season long.”

Among the fans voting for Bell on Wednesday was season-ticket holder Jonathan Ramsey of Shaler. He was hopeful but a bit fatalistic about Bell’s chances.

“I would be disappointed but not surprised (if Bell isn’t voted the starter),” he said. “Smaller-market team having to compete with Chicago and Atlanta with Rizzo and Freeman. I just don’t really see it happening.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


1339287_web1_PTR-votebell09-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Nicholas Adams (right), 5, of Upper St. Clair runs the bases at PNC Park on Wednesday during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting first baseman Josh Bell (above) elected as a starter for the All-Star Game.
1339287_web1_GTR-Bucs-Bell-AllStar
AP Photo
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell poses for a portrait during spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell06-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Nicholas Adams, 5, of Upper St. Clair, runs the bases during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell05-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Nicholas Adams, 5, of Upper St. Clair, runs the bases during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell02-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Audrey Falbo, 4, of Gibsonia, runs the bases with her father, Jim Falbo, during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell01-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Audrey Falbo, 4, of Gibsonia, runs the bases during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell04-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Audrey Falbo, 4, of Gibsonia, runs the bases with her father, Jim Falbo, during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell03-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Audrey Falbo, 4, of Gibsonia, runs the bases with her father, Jim Falbo, during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_PTR-votebell07-062719
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Eli Vresko, 5, of Saxonburg, Pa., runs the bases during a party thrown by the Pirates aimed at getting Josh Bell elected as a starter for the All-Star Game at PNC Park Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
1339287_web1_1154666531
AP Photo
Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates watches his sacrifice RBI ball in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 08, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Categories: Sports | Pirates | Top Stories
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.