Bell flying under the radar

Left-hander Chad Bell hasn't received much attention in his first year as a pro, but he posted a 3.10 ERA while flashing good stuff and a strong feel for pitching. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old prospect.

Left-hander Chad Bell recently finished off a solid first season in professional ball. He logged 104.2 innings between short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory, posting a 3.10 earned-run average. He allowed just 86 hits while walking 30 and striking out 97.

The Walters State College product was selected by the Rangers in the 14th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, but he commanded a $450,000 signing bonus (late-second or early-third round money) after last summer's excellent performance in the Cape Cod League.

A starting pitching prospect, Bell started in only 12 of his 34 appearances this season, as the Rangers eased him into pro ball. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw has a big frame and three strong pitches.

Many pitchers struggle with inconsistent fastball velocity in their first full season. That has certainly been the case with Bell, whose fastball has ranged anywhere between 85-93 mph this year.

During an early-August start against Charleston attended by Lone Star Dugout, Bell's fastball sat at 85-88 mph. He has worked in the 88-91 mph range at times, reaching as high as 92 in Spring Training and 93 during a start with Spokane.

The Tennessee native clearly knows how to pitch. He attacks both corners of the plate effectively and changes hitters' eye levels with his fastball––allowing his heater to fool hitters and generate some swinging strikes even at the lower velocity.

Though the 21-year-old has an excellent feel for pitching, he must refine his command a tick, particularly with the fastball. Bell walked only five hitters in 32 innings after returning to Hickory in August, but he often nibbled a bit, leading to high pitch counts.

Bell also attacks hitters with a 74-76 mph curveball and a 79-81 mph change. He came into the Rangers organization as largely a fastball-changeup pitcher, but the curveball has made strides this season and he is using it with more frequency. Both offerings show at least average potential, if not better.

Because Bell isn't overpowering and doesn't have electric stuff, he tends to fly under the radar in a farm system deep with pitching. But the prospect is an intriguing arm to watch––particularly if he can sustain the 88-91 mph velocity in his second full season.

Lone Star Dugout sat down with Bell for a Q&A session.

Jason Cole: You began the season out of the bullpen in Hickory but went back to Spokane around mid-season to work as a starting pitcher. How did that transition go for you?

Chad Bell: I thought it went pretty good. It wasn't too difficult for me since I was pretty much used to starting my whole pitching career. My first time in the bullpen was here at the beginning of the season. It was pretty easy, but it was good to start getting my pitch count up. I guess that was the main thing I had to get used to again––throwing 75 or 80 pitches per outing instead of 40.

Cole: How did you feel you performed in Spokane?

Bell: I felt like I did pretty good. I limited walks. I was just not giving up any free bases. I gave up a few home runs, but with the limited walks, they were all solo home runs. I felt like I did better just commanding both sides of the plate. I felt like it was good for me to go out there.

Cole: You had success early in the season with Hickory before going down a level to Spokane. What was the difference in levels like?

Bell: There's not really that big of a difference between here and there. There are some guys that swing through more pitches. I noticed that I would throw five innings and I would burn my pitch count. You'd think 80 or 85 pitches would last you six innings, I would hope.

But I would get into four or five with 75 or 80 pitches just because I was going deeper into counts and people were swinging through fastballs. It was harder for me to get first-pitch outs on ground balls. There wasn't that big of a difference. Once you get to this level, everybody competes.

Cole: What are your thoughts on your performance since returning to Hickory?

Bell: My first outing was good. It was in Greensboro. I think I went six innings and allowed three or four hits. I got a bunch of ground balls. The next outing was a little rougher––I had four long innings of 20-plus pitches probably in every inning. It was just due to three or four long at-bats. But I feel like I've been pitching pretty well.

Cole: It seems like walks haven't been an issue this year, but what must you do in order to cut down on the long at-bats?

Bell: Just maybe not necessarily trying to get strikeouts. Maybe going after them first pitch and letting the hitters get themselves out early. I want to go after them with the fastball and get ground balls because our defenses in the organization are all really good.

Cole: You were largely a fastball-changeup guy in college but it seems like you were throwing the curve quite a bit in that Charleston start. How far has it come and how much more often are you throwing it?

Bell: It has come a long way. I guess the answer to, ‘How many times am I throwing it in a game?' is, ‘How long can I live off my fastball?' I'll pitch off the fastball as long as I can, and I'll pitch off my fastball if I can do it the whole game. Then I wouldn't have to go to the curveball too much.

But when I gave up six hits against Charleston, I got into trouble with people on base, so I had to go to it earlier than I would have liked. That was probably a high number of curveballs for me to throw in an outing.

Cole: What parts of your game do you feel have progressed the most in your first full season?

Bell: I think I've gotten better learning pitch sequences and commanding the inner-half of the plate––glove side of the plate. It's the inner-half to righties. I think that is big––to be able to throw all your pitches to both sides of the plate and to be able to throw them whenever you want. I've learned to read swings and knowing what pitch sequences to throw to certain guys. Little things like that that might give you that little bit of an edge against a hitter.

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