Bradenton Marauders | Pirates prospect Bell regaining momentum

Pirates prospect Bell regaining momentum in Bradenton

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 14, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Josh Bell has no qualms about being in Bradenton.

He credits Jeff Roy, the Marauders' centerfielder, for helping him navigate McKechnie Field's outfield amid the strong winds that blow in from the Gulf of Mexico. He considers his teammates a "great group of friends" and a group that wants to make a run at a Florida State League playoff spot.

But had everything worked out as planned, Bell wouldn't be here, playing with the Pittsburgh Pirates' high Single-A affiliate.

Perhaps he'd be in Double-A Altoona, or maybe even Triple-A Indianapolis, and burning a trail to Pittsburgh.

Bell was with the low Single-A West Virginia Power in 2012 when he suffered a left knee injury. Surgery was required. Bell, drafted by the Pirates in during second round of the 2011 amateur draft, saw his season end after just 15 games.

Worse, it cost him a year of development.

"The toughest part was not being able to be out on the field," Bell said Tuesday after going 1-for-4 during the Marauders' 3-0 loss to the Lakeland Flying Tigers at McKechnie Field. "I got to watch a championship team, the GCL Pirates, which was kind of cool. But it still kind of stunk not being able to be out there."

While the GCL team, which was managed by current Marauders skipper Tom Prince, won its first championship, Bell, who was rehabbing at Pirate City, just sat and watched. It was emblematic of the frustration felt by the Dallas native, who had already driven in 11 runs and clubbed five doubles for the Power at the time of the injury.

"I'm glad it's behind me now. It definitely happened, and I'm glad I got through it," Bell said. "It's just one of those things where it's in my past. I can't say that I've forgotten about it completely. ... I've learned from it, and I just try and take care of my body as much as I can and make sure I'm in the best position to be at the best at my game in all times on the field."

Bell rebounded nicely last summer, when he returned to West Virginia and hit 13 home runs and drove in 76 runs in 119 games while slugging .453. He was named to the South Atlantic League's midseason and postseason All-Star teams.

He's hitting .299 this year but slugging .445 -- 13th in the league -- thanks to his eight doubles, three triples and two home runs. Bell has knocked in 19 runs while serving as the most consistent piece of an offense that has been extremely inconsistent this summer for Bradenton. After being shut out Tuesday, the Marauders are 18-20 and in the throes of a four-game losing streak.

The biggest question surrounding Bell, however, revolves around his future in Pittsburgh. His potential hasn't dimmed -- Baseball Prospectus ranked him the game's 77th-best prospect, while MLB.com considered Bell the sixth-best prospect in the Pirates' rich farm system entering this season.

But the Pirates gave a six-year extension to leftfielder Starling Marte during spring training, have a franchise player in centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and are supposedly on the cusp of promoting their best prospect, rightfielder Gregory Polanco, from Indianapolis.

Marte, McCutchen and Polanco are being groomed as the Pirates' talent-laden outfield of the future. So where does that leave Bell, who turns 22 in August?

As of now, he said that's not his primary concern.

"I'm just focused on the now, tomorrow, coming out and being ready to play," Bell said. "I've got a great group of friends down here and we're going to try and make a run at first place this year. That's what I'm focused on right now."

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