Bell building on excellent summer

The Texas Rangers signed 14th round pick Chad Bell for a lofty $450,000 signing bonus, thanks in part to Bell's outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the left-hander both after the draft and after he signed with the Rangers.

Although Major League Baseball's latest Collective Bargaining Agreement did away with the draft-and-follow rule for junior college players, clubs are still able to scout JUCO guys in summer wood bat leagues prior to the mid-August signing deadline.

The Texas Rangers selected Walters State Community College left-hander Chad Bell in the 14th round of this year's MLB Draft with the intention of following him in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League.

Originally a product of South Doyle High School in Knoxville, Tenn., Bell was taken by the Brewers in the 25th round out of high school, but he instead opted to attend junior college.

Bell went on Walters State, where he posted a 12-2 record with a 3.70 earned-run average during his freshman campaign. The performance got Bell drafted once again, this time in the 37th round by Cleveland.

According to Bell, the Indians drafted him as a summer follow, but he didn't end up pitching in summerball because of his high innings total. Because Bell didn't play, the two sides never even began negotiating, and he returned to Walters for another season.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound hurler showed major improvement in his sophomore season, as he was 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA. Bell pitched in 65 innings, giving up just 48 hits [.198 BAA]. Additionally, he walked just 17 while striking out 78.

The Rangers drafted Bell in the 14th round after his collegiate season, and he moved on to the Cape Cod League, where his performance would basically decide whether he'd attend the University of Tennessee or sign with the Rangers.

Bell was more than impressive against the elite competition of the Cape League, tossing a no-hitter and posting a 1.77 ERA in 45.2 innings [11 games, 7 starts] for Cotuit. The 20-year-old surrendered only 27 hits while walking 15 and fanning 46.

But it wasn't all about results for Bell and the Rangers. The southpaw's velocity ticked up over the summer, as he sat around 89-91 mph. He flashed one of the best changeups in the circuit and showed the ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes.

The performance enticed the Rangers to give him a $450,000 signing bonus to forego his commitment to his hometown Tennessee Volunteers.

Because Bell signed just before the mid-August signing deadline, he has yet to appear in an official professional game. Bell is currently pitching with the Rangers' Fall Instructional League club in Arizona.

Lone Star Dugout conducted a pair of interviews with the prospect–one shortly after the draft, and one a couple of days ago.

The first part of this interview was conducted shortly after the draft, while Bell was playing with the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Jason Cole: I know you've been through the draft thing a couple of times before, but tell me what was going through your mind at the time you were drafted by the Rangers this year.

Chad Bell: I was excited. I didn't know at the exact time that I had gotten picked. We had just gotten out of practice up here in summer ball. I'm up in Cape Cod playing for the Cotuit Kettleers. I just had a bunch of text messages and my advisor called and told me that I'd just been selected. Then I actually heard from the Rangers.

I was really excited. I believe it's going to be more of a summer follow deal, but hopefully they can come up here and they like what they see and we can get something worked out.

Cole: I assume that during your college season, you were in contact with some teams and scouts?

Bell: Yeah, I had talked to probably a dozen teams off and on between me and my advisor. The hardest part was just sitting back, watching on the internet, and waiting to see what was going to happen.

Cole: This is your third time to be picked in the draft, and as a junior college guy, you have the option to attend the University of Tennessee or sign with the Rangers. You went in the 14th round this year, which is the highest you've gone. Was that about where you were expecting to be picked?

Bell: I had talked to a bunch of teams about earlier, and then I had talked to some that were only thinking about drafting me as a summer follow. I really didn't know. I knew it could be anywhere from maybe into the top five rounds to the top 30 rounds. Once you get into where teams are picking for a summer follow, you never really know where you're going to get picked.

Cole: Tell me a little bit about your stuff. Give me kind of a scouting report of you on the mound, if you can.

Bell: I throw a fastball, a changeup, and a curveball. My fastball usually sits, on a good day, around 89-91. I feel like I have really good command of my fastball, working the inner half and outer half very well. My changeup is probably my best pitch–I feel comfortable throwing it in any situation. And I'd say my curveball is the pitch that I could work on a little bit more and use it a little better, but I would say it's no less than an average pitch at this time.

Cole: That's interesting because most young pitchers are barely even throwing a changeup when they first get into pro ball. How long has it been a go-to pitch for you?

Bell: I would say it has been my go-to pitch ever since my freshman year at Walters State. Coach Seaver, our pitching coach, that was a big thing that me and him worked on–making sure that I really could have a good go-to changeup.

Like I said, I'm 89-91 with my fastball, so I'm not going to just blow anybody away. But if I'm spotting it up really good, then I can have a really good outing and I feel like my changeup is a really plus pitch in any league to get anybody out in front of.

Cole: How do you feel you performed in college this season?

Bell: I thought I had a pretty good year. Team-wise, we didn't go quite as far as we thought we should. I definitely thought we could've made it to the JUCO World Series again. But I think I had a pretty good year. I think I ended up 8-1 with about a 2.05 or a 2.06 ERA. My ERA almost got cut in half from my freshman year. I felt my performance was a whole lot better due to being able to throw all my pitches for strikes whenever I wanted to.

Cole: Talk about playing in the Cape for a bit. Did you play there last summer as well?

Bell: I was supposed to, but I ended up taking the summer off due to throwing 100-plus innings in the spring. But since, like I said, our spring season didn't go as well as it should have, I only threw 60 or 70 innings, so my arm still feels really fresh.

I'm really excited about being up here. This is a premiere summerball league. It doesn't get much better than this. You're playing against the best talent in the country, and I think it's the best place for me to be if somebody is going to be watching me this summer.

Cole: Like you said, the Rangers will be watching you throughout the summer in the Cape. Do you know who will be scouting you? Will it be your area guy?

Bell: I have already talked to [area scout] Jeff Wood, and he says that there are going to be different people coming up all summer. I know the scouting director saw me really early in the spring down at Chipola in Florida. That was our second weekend of playing. From what I hear, he liked what he saw for the most part, and I feel like I'm a much better pitcher than I was then. Hopefully whoever they do bring up, I can impress.

Cole: You signed a letter of intent with the University of Tennessee. What led you to chose them?

Bell: They had an all-new coaching staff come in a couple years ago, and I really liked all the coaches that they brought in. I felt like the program wasn't going to go anywhere but up. They're rebuilding right now and they're bringing in a lot of good talent, so my decision was really based on just how I thought that program was going to be in the next couple of years. I think they're going to be really good.

Cole: I know Knoxville is listed as your hometown. Is that where you grew up as well?

Bell: Yes. I've lived there all my life.

Cole: So have you grown up as a bit Vols fan?

Bell: I have. In about every sport.

This interview was conducted on Monday evening, just a few days into the 2009 Fall Instructional League.

Cole: When you got the deal done with the Rangers, were you still out in the Cape?

Bell: Yes, I was. We were actually in the middle of the first game of our championship series with Bourne. We got fogged out for the night, and after that game I was informed that I was flying out the next afternoon. That flight got delayed so long that it got canceled, so I ended up flying out the next morning. It got done–I think it was either the 13th or the 14th.

Cole: Did you sign your contract in the Cape or did you have to fly to Arlington or Surprise to do it?

Bell: I flew into Arlington and had to go through a physical and stuff, and then I signed it down there at the stadium.

Cole: Did you get an opportunity to go to a Rangers game or anything like that on that day?

Bell: I got to tour the facilities. They were actually on the road. I think they were coming home the next night to play against Boston, but I had to end up flying back out to the Cape and move all my stuff out of my host family's home and head back to my house.

Cole: When did you finally get down to Surprise?

Bell: I got down here on September 15.

Cole: You made some headlines in the Cape when you threw that no-hitter. Just take me through that start and what that experience was like for you.

Bell: It was awesome. You can't ask for much more. You're in one of the biggest summerball leagues in the country. I got a little tired about the seventh or eighth inning, and I know we even had somebody warming up in the ‘pen in the ninth inning even though I still had a no-hitter going.

By the eighth and ninth, I couldn't really throw but one pitch over the plate, and it was the changeup. I just had to keep throwing it and get ground ball outs. I finally struck the last guy out. It was more of a relief to get the game over with because I had thrown a bunch of pitches and I was a little worn down.

Cole: Did it take any convincing of the coaches to keep you in the game, or were they going to let you go until you gave up a hit?

Bell: He had that guy down there getting up and getting loose. I think it was as soon as a guy got a hit, I was done. But I didn't have to convince him of anything. It was probably a good thing they did have somebody ready in case I did give up a hit.

Cole: Had you ever thrown a no-hitter before at any level?

Bell: I had thrown one in high school. I didn't throw one in college. I had thrown one one-hitter and that was it.

Cole: Now that you are out in Surprise, and you've been there for a couple of weeks, what are your initial reactions and thoughts on the Rangers' organization and how instructs is going?

Bell: So far, I'm really enjoying it. You've got all the help you need out here. Any time you have any questions, there is always someone to go to and talk to about it. I think I'm already progressing a little bit, and even just fixing the little things is making me better.

Cole: What are some of the things in your game that you're really focusing on right now out there?

Bell: Right now it's just commanding my fastball on both sides of the plate and working on consistency with my breaking ball. I would say my changeup is probably my best pitch, so those are the main two things to work on right now. And a few little things in my delivery with my mechanics.

Cole: How many innings have you thrown so far in Instructional League?

Bell: So far, I've just thrown three. We started last Monday, so we've really only played five or six games.

Cole: Does that mean you've thrown in two games so far?

Bell: I've actually thrown in three. I threw one and two-thirds my first outing and then I closed out a game and threw an inning there. And I threw one-third of an inning today.

Cole: Do you know about how many innings the Rangers want you to get at instructs?

Bell: I think we're talking anywhere between like 12 and 15.

Cole: I don't know much about this Advanced Instructional League, but it seems like you might be the type of guy the club would send to that. Do you know if you will be playing in any of those games?

Bell: The one-third inning I threw today was actually in the Advanced League. I was kind of there as a backup guy and one guy reached his pitch count limit in the ninth inning. I was in the ‘pen actually getting my bullpen work in, so I was loose and I came over and just finished it out because he had reached his limit.

Cole: Was today the first Advanced Instructs game?

Bell: It was the third one overall, but it was the second one that our pitchers had thrown in.

Cole: How are the rosters working for that team? Are they picking different guys every day to go over there?

Bell: From what I've seen so far, it looks like it's more of the older guys–guys that have been up in Hickory or Bakersfield. Guys that have been here since 2007 or were here all season of 2008.

There are about five pitchers that have been up there the first two times consistently, and I think they're kind of sending some guys in and out as backups. That way if they reach their limit, they can throw those guys in there and see how they do.

Cole: I know you're new to the organization and you probably don't know everybody that well yet, but can you name a couple of guys at instructs so far that have impressed you?

Bell: Since I've only been here this week, I've only really gotten to know the pitchers. I got to watch Neil Ramirez throw today. He threw really well in three innings. Joe Wieland is throwing really well. I got to know about all of the pitchers. They are a great group of guys.

A couple of hitters–the centerfielder, Beltre, I got to watch him today in the advanced game. I also got to watch West today in the advanced game. They both hit home runs. They hit the ball really well today.

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