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Q+A: Josh Bell on handling hype and transitioning to first base

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On the road in Portland, Maine on Thursday, Pirates minor-leaguer Josh Bell spoke to David Manel about being a highly regarded prospect, about moving from outfield to first base, and about hitting in Double-A. Bell also gave brief scouting reports on a couple of his Altoona teammates. Here's the transcript, lightly edited (by Charlie Wilmoth) for clarity and brevity.

What is the experience like being a top prospect, in terms of getting more attention as you move up? How do you handle that?

I feel like it's easy for me. I’m just trying to stay focused on my work on a daily basis. For the most part, as prospects, and [Tyler] Glasnow would probably say the same thing, you just don’t think about it much. You just go out and try to play your game, try to bring what we have to the baseball field every day and show it when we have our chance. That’s what it boils down to — just playing your best and trying to get Ws for the team.

What about guys like me coming around? Where you're going now, you're probably asked for interviews, and it's going to be more in Pittsburgh. How are you bracing for all that?

It’s one of those things where the more interviews I do, the more comfortable I am with them. It’s good preparation for the ones that come with Pittsburgh and having a lot of cameras in your face and whatnot. It’s something that’s a blessing for those guys to be in that position, and I’m hoping for the same for myself someday.

I was there when you came to Pittsburgh. We talked in the hallway. There was a little scrum around you. You guys do a remarkable job. I don't know, at your age, if I could have possibly pulled that off.

The Pirates do a great job training us. Steve Shenbaum gets us prepared for those situations [so] we don’t make fools out of ourselves. We try not to. We try to reflect the Pirate Way the best we can.

Do you get a chance to see different towns like this? You visit different places in the United States. Do you get a chance, when you're here, to go downtown and see stuff?

Actually, we got lucky -- our first day here was an off day, so I ended up checking out downtown Portland. Had my first lobster roll, which was incredible. Great cup of clam chowder. I’m from down South. It’s a different experience up here. $18 for a lobster roll, though, I don’t know if I could find anything like that down South.

How are your feelings so far on how the transition to first base is going?

I just need to work towards being a great player over there every day. It’s not going to come easy. Being here at the Double-A level, the game is fast. I need to be quick on my toes. If I can just come to the field and work my tail off every day, I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and count it as a good day. Hopefully, in a couple months I can have a whole ton of good days and, hopefully, I’m a great player by then.

What were some of the nuances or surprises when you [started playing first]?

Just the quickness. It’s a quick position. One of the hot corners. Every half second counts on the infield. Just trying to be more comfortable with it and take my work seriously every day. The little things -- being in the right position and knowing where to go. You just can’t be asleep out there.

That's something I forgot about until I went back and played in a 30-and-over league. It was nowhere close to what you guys are doing, but standing out there -- sometimes, as a fan, it's a slow game, but when you're out there, you've got to think about, "Okay, what am I doing if it's hit to me here?" Going through that situational thinking -- did that require some time, and are you comfortable now [so] it's almost automatic?

I try to get that point as best as possible, just running through the scenarios of where the ball could go. But even me in professional baseball, I get caught sleeping. I’ve found myself in the wrong position. But for the most part, my teammates have been picking me up. I’m getting a lot of help from Gift Ngoepe. He’s probably the best shortstop I’ve ever played with, so I’m picking up a lot from him. Having [Altoona manager Tom] Prince in my corner, too, with the reps he’s had in the big leagues. I’m just trying to be a sponge out there.

What does Gift tell you? I've [also] heard you were talking to Kevin Young, and I was wondering if Pedro [Alvarez] had any advice for you, because he made the switch.

I haven't really talked to Pedro. I talked to Kevin Young when I went to one of the big-league games in the spring. But, for the most part, Gift’s just helping me out on ground balls and staying athletic. I throw with him every day, so I’m just trying to watch his footwork and how he takes balls over there at shortstop and implementing it into my game. He’s been there for years and years and years, so it comes more naturally to him. It’s everything, just trying to pick it up slowly but surely.

On the offensive side, what are some of the differences you've noticed as you go through the levels? You've handled them ...

Decently. Decently handled them. I feel like the biggest jump from last year to this year is, from High-A to Double-A, is the repeatable strikes. If someone's got a cutter and they hit a spot with a cutter, they’re going to do it again. Until you prove you can hit a pitch in a certain spot, they’re going to wear you out right there. That was one of the things in High-A last year. If someone would hit an incredible spot, it seemed like you could tip your cap and not have to worry about it again for the rest of the game. If he tries to do it again, he’s just not going to hit it. Now, it’s one of those things, you’re playing against older guys that have been here before. They’re really perfecting their craft at this level, so I’ve got to be more on my toes in the box.

Being a switch-hitter, if you go to a new level, is there a difference when you're on the right side and left side? In a way, it's like double [the] adjustments.

That's one of those things where it's a blessing and a curse. I've got to take care of two swings. If one side's off you've got to take care of it, even if I'm not facing that pitcher that day.

I've been watching the team the past couple nights, and one guy that's been really jumping off the page for me is [Keon] Broxton. A lot of range, fast ...

He's an incredible athlete. He's one of the hardest workers out here. The balls that beat him are few and far between. With Gift at shortstop and Keon in center field, it's an incredible center of the diamond right there. That's where I feel like we're getting most of our wins -- we have the pitching, we have the offense, but defense wins games.

In the top three guys in the order, it's pretty impressive. Max [Moroff] is wearing out [opposing pitchers].

His spray chart's unbelievable. He can barrel up the ball anywhere. And it's awesome to have another switch-hitter on the team, so we can talk about our problems together. It's awesome to see him work, too.

It's a really impressive team to watch. You throw Tyler in the mix and some other guys. Do you guys talk about getting to Indianapolis and hopefully arriving together and being the next wave?

I can honestly say we don't really talk about it. We're more focused on the now. Every team that Max has been on since he got drafted has gone to the playoffs, and [he] won a championship his first year. So every year -- my first full season, I went to the playoffs with Max. Last year, they went to the playoffs after I got called up. We're focused on the now, and we like the competition. We like coming in first place in our league. That's what we're worried about right now.