The Texas Rangers took a flyer on Walters State Community College left-hander Chad Bell in the 14th round of last summer's MLB Draft.
The club selected Bell with the intent of watching him in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he was slated to pitch with the Cotuit Kettleers. As it turned out Bell, had a breakout summer, tossing one no-hitter and going 3-1 with a 1.77 earned-run average in 45.2 innings. He yielded just 27 hits while walking 15 and fanning 46.
Bell's impressive performance was enough to earn a $450,000 signing bonus from the Rangers. Not only were his Cape League results outstanding, but he also began to pick up some velocity on his fastball. Bell's upper-80s heater was beginning to reach the 90-92 mph range.
Because the Knoxville, Tenn., native didn't sign with the Rangers until just before the mid-August signing deadline, he didn't get any game action before the end of the season. Bell attended Fall Instructional League before beginning his first offseason.
Bell recently earned a spot on the Single-A Hickory pitching staff during Spring Training. He took more steps forward in camp, as his fastball sat in the low-90s in some outings, even reaching 93 mph. The 21-year-old has an advanced changeup, but his previously little-used curveball is also beginning to make some strides and should be a usable pitch.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with Bell after his official professional debut, when he tossed a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout against Hagerstown on August 9.
Jason Cole: Going back to your Spring Training, what were your overall thoughts and how did you feel you threw?
Chad Bell: I felt like I threw pretty good. We were trying to make some minor adjustments, and I felt like when that stuff started clicking in and I started getting the feel for what they were telling me, I started to throw a little better. I thought it was fun. It went by pretty fast, and then you find out you're going to a full-season club. I thought it went pretty good.
Cole: What were some of those adjustments they were making with you?
Bell: Just little things like trying to stay back over the rubber a little bit longer. I changed sides of the rubber–I went from throwing on the first-base side to throwing on the third-base side. It's to try and give me more command on the inside part of the plate to a right-hander. And I feel like it has worked pretty well.
Cole: How was that change at first? Did it feel a little awkward when you first started? And had you ever thrown from the third-base side before?
Bell: I never have. When I was younger–a lot younger–I used to throw just from the middle. And then as I moved on to middle school and in high school ball, I moved to the left side to try and get what I thought was a better angle to the plate.
Arm-side it was there–away from a righty. But it was harder for me to command the inside part. I just feel like it gives me a better line to the inside part of the plate from that side.
Cole: So even though you haven't been doing it for long, you're starting to gain a little more command of the inner half to righties now?
Bell: Yeah. That's kind of an easy adjustment to make because I didn't really have to change mechanics to do it. It's not like you're having to change something you're doing during your delivery. Just moving over and repeating the same mechanics–it makes the command part a lot easier for me, I think, on both sides of the plate.
Cole: Coming into Spring Training, did you know that you'd be in heavy competition for a full-season spot?
Bell: They told me at instructs that I was competing for one. I didn't really know where I was going to be. I had a feeling it was Hickory because they acted like I was competing for that. It would be that or staying in extended. I knew what I was fighting for, I just needed to go out there and get some people out and get the job done.
Cole: When everyone around you is pitching well like right now, are you able to feed off of that?
Bell: Yeah, I think it helps everybody. If someone is pitching well, it not only helps other pitchers coming into the game–because you see what they got success by doing–I think the defense also feeds off that. They're not out there a long time. I think the offense feeds off it, too. If you get a big double play ball or something, you go in and get some energy when you get up to the plate. I think it helps everybody.
Cole: You had a one-inning outing your first time out. Obviously you guys have a lot of arms there that are considered starting pitching prospects. Do you have any idea how the Rangers will handle you specifically and what kind of role you'll be pitching in?
Bell: I'm not sure. I'm not really used to being in the bullpen, but that's where I am right now. Everybody in the pen–or I would say the majority of us–don't really know our specific role yet. I think everybody is just trying to get some innings in. I was just happy to get that first inning under my belt and get it out of the way. When it comes time to figure out our roles, we'll just take care of that when it comes.
Cole: When you were in college and in the Cape League last summer, a lot of the talk was about your fastball-changeup combination. But, like Jason Parks recently wrote on BBTiA.com, your curveball has made some strides recently. How do you feel about it?
Bell: It is coming along. It's getting better. I feel like every outing–I just mix it in every now and then. I still feel like fastball-changeup is my best combination when I'm spotting both up. But if you have three pitches that you can totally command and throw them in any count, it's definitely a big help to you.
But yeah, it has come along a lot since the summer. I probably only threw five percent curveballs the whole summer up in the Cape. It was just fastball-changeup, fastball-changeup. But as you keep moving up–it's not going to work forever, so you have got to develop some other stuff somewhere.
Cole: You mentioned moving to the other side of the rubber, but as you got that down, what has been your main focus lately?
Bell: I guess the main thing is just trying to keep the tempo of the game up so you can keep your defense in the game. You don't want them back on their heels. You just want to go fast so you can keep them on their toes and not lose anybody behind you.
Cole: This is obviously your first full season, and you've got a lot ahead of you. Do you have any expectations for yourself or anything you'd like to accomplish before the year is over?
Bell: Sure, I would like to move up. I think that's the ultimate goal for everybody–to keep moving up as fast as they can. But I guess I just want to keep succeeding. I just want to make myself better along the way.
Bell showing progress with curve
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