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West Virginia Power: Bell hopes for return to form

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Josh Bell's biggest goal as the West Virginia Power prepares for its season opener is a simple, but essential one.

"Just staying healthy, that's my number one priority," he said.

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospects, his 2012 season lasted all of 15 games after a meniscus tear shelved him for the rest of the year. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound outfielder is at 100 percent now and ready to resume his climb through the Pirates' developmental system, a journey that starts at 7:05 p.m. Thursday against the Asheville Tourists.

Bell's first professional baseball season ended suddenly on April 24, 2012. While running the bases, he took a hard turn to second, made a move back to first, then started to second again, tearing his meniscus. He was hitting .274 with one home run and 11 RBI before the injury.

At first, doctors didn't think a meniscus surgery would be too big of a deal. Once they examined the knee further, the news went from unfortunate to awful. They originally thought it was a medial meniscus tear, which calls for a four-to-six week recovery time following surgery. Actually, it was a lateral tear, which needs four-to-six months of recovery time.

For a then-19-year-old second round pick - who signed a $5 million bonus, the largest for a second rounder in Major League history - the news was a shock to the system.

"Especially when I got the first time period to get back, I thought it was just a minor setback," he said. "When I was told four to six months, I was like, 'What?' Missing the entire season ... it's just a 20-minute surgery. It's a slight tear and a slight surgery.

"I guess that's just how the cookie crumbles and that's a bad bounce you have to take," Bell added. "I took it in full stride, and I hope to sail through this year."

The layoff hasn't seemed to hurt Bell, new Power Manager Mike Ryan said. As he watched the now-20-year-old through spring training, Ryan said Bell looked "tremendous."

"He can do it all," said Ryan, who was a player/coach for the Altoona Curve last season. "It's just a matter of him bringing that every day. This is one special type of player you don't see very often and a special type of player that might not come through Charleston for a long time."

Ryan said one of the most important lessons he can impart on Bell is to make sure he plays at full speed every game, to realize that throughout his career, he'll be a player people come out to watch specifically. He was the Pirates' No. 3 prospect last year and, after the surgery, is the organization's No. 6 prospect.

Apart from staying healthy, Bell said he'll work on getting his timing back both in the field and at the plate. Doing so following such a long time recovering isn't easy, but he said it's better than the alternative.

"It's tough, but it's just another thing you have to go through," Bell said. "It's just another day at the park being healthy. It's a lot of fun, spring training and all, being back on the field in a jersey instead of in a red shirt just watching other people play."

With what Ryan has seen so far, he said anyone who'd like to see Bell play in a Power uniform should do it early in the season. Chances are his stay with the low Class A club could be a short one.

"Our goal is for him not to be here long," Ryan said. "The goal is for him to get some at-bats where he's comfortable and getting his timing back and push him along, get him to (advanced Class A Florida State League) Bradenton, depending on his results."

* * *

BELL WILL bat third in the Power lineup and play right field Thursday, Ryan said. Max Moroff will lead off and play shortstop while Dilson Herrera will play second base and bat second. Stetson Allie will bat cleanup and play first base, Wyatt Mathisen will catch and bat fifth, Eric Wood will play third base and bat sixth, Raul Fortunato will play left field and bat seventh, Junior Sosa will play center field and bat eighth and Walker Gourley rounds out the batting order as designated hitter.

Left-hander Joely Rodriguez will be the Opening Day starting pitcher. Clay Holmes, Orlando Castro, John Kuchno and Tyler Glasnow join him in the rotation.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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