BRADENTON -- Thursday marks a new start for the Bradenton Marauders.
The high Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates competes in the Florida State League, which slices its season into two 70-game halves.
The first half ended Wednesday and the second one begins 6:35 p.m. tonight when the Marauders head to Jupiter to open a three-game series with the Hammerheads.
And though Bradenton didn't play well enough to win the South Division's first-half crown, the Marauders recorded their first winning record during the season's first 70 games since 2010.
That wasn't the only highlight.
Outfielder Josh Bell, the most highly-touted position player on the Marauders' roster, has been as good as advertised. He took a .323 average into Wednesday's finale with nine home runs and 42 RBIs while slugging .516 in 64 games.
Bell got better as the season went along, hitting .314 in May and .408 in June to earn a spot on the South
Division's All-Star team and an invitation to the league's home run derby.
It's been a gratifying year for Bell, who missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury.
"I'm glad it's behind me now. It definitely happened and I'm glad I got through it," Bell said earlier this season about the injury. "It's just one of those things where it's in my past. I can't say that I've forgotten about it completely, it's always in my past. I've learned from it, and I just try and take care of my body as much as a 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 was the one bright spot in a Bradenton lineup ranked last in the league in slugging (.323). The offense took a hit when Jordan Steranka and Jose Osuna each went down with early season oblique injuries.
Osuna has 16 RBIs in 32 games while Steranka has 25 hits in 27 games, so they've produced when healthy.
Their absence has helped pave the way for Jonathan Schwind, a 41st-round pick in 2011 who is hitting .297 with 15 RBIs and three home runs while slugging .419. Though he has slowed in June, hitting .167 in eight games, Schwind gives the Marauders another option moving forward.
Orlando Castro was one of three Marauders pitchers to make the All-Star team, posting a 3-4 record and 3.99 ERA in 13 games. Castro, a lefty, nearly threw a perfect game in Lakeland during a seven-inning contest earlier this year.
"I just put the ball in play because I know I have a good defense," said Castro, who has 53 strikeouts and 10 walks in 70 innings.
Tyler Glasnow, the highest-rated pitcher in the Pirates' rich farm system, missed the early part of the season with a back injury. But the righty has been solid, posting a 1.90 ERA in nine starts while striking out 48 in 42 2/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .168 against Glasnow, who is 3-3 but has allowed no earned runs and six hits over his last three starts, a span of 15 2/3 innings.
Bryton Trepagnier and Josh Smith, relievers who have teamed for eight saves and 4-1 record, also made the All-Star team.
The Marauders play their second-half home-opener at 5 p.m. Sunday against Palm Beach, the first of a six-game homestand.
The first- and second-half winners of each division meet in the championship series at the end of the year, and the overall division winners play for the FSL title.
The Marauders made the playoffs in 2010 and '11.