By David Saltzer - Angelswin.com Columnist
When I’ve talked to major league pitchers about how they pitched their best games, they usually give similar answers. I’ve had some tell me “Get the ball, throw the ball. Don’t sit around and think. Get into a good rhythm with your catcher and don’t slow down.” Basically, it’s what my dad would call KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Apparently, Trevor Bell has learned the importance of those lessons and as a result has exploded onto the scene this year, jumping all the way from Double-A Arkansas up to his first Major League start today.
Originally drafted by the Angels in 2005 as a supplemental first-round pick for the loss of Troy Percival (37th overall), Bell was mostly putting up solid, yet unremarkable numbers prior to this year. Two of his main weaknesses were that he worked slowly on the mound and often over-relied on certain pitches, which gave the hitters a tremendous advantage. He had the stuff to pitch in the Majors (he sports a 91-95 mph heater, a good curve and a developing change up), just not the makeup to succeed.
Things might not have worked out for Bell if two changes didn’t happen in 2008. After initially trying Bell out of the pen, the Angels ultimately decided to demote him a level to work through his issues and gain some success on the mound. It worked.
Once demoted, Bell came back with a vengeance to show why he was the Angels' first pick in 2005. He pitched a complete game gem and reclaimed a spot in the starting rotation. He started attacking hitters in the zone and working faster. He mixed his speeds better and kept the hitters off balance. Basically, he got the ball and threw it; he KISSed.
Bell is the kind of pitcher who can pitch deep into games. So far he’s already pitched two complete games for Triple-A Salt Lake City, and has averaged almost 7 innings pitched per game for the year. He generates plenty of ground outs (he has a 1.36 GO/AO ratio) and has only given up 121 hits in 140 innings pitched.
Off the field, Bell has shown a remarkable awareness for the world outside of baseball. He is the only Angels pitcher, and one of the few minor leaguers, to participate in the Strikeouts for Troops charity created by Barry Zito. Strikeouts for Troops has raised more than $2 million so far to provide wounded soldiers and their families the “comforts of home” during their long rehabilitation.
Additionally, while regaining his form in Cedar Rapids last year, Bell took a tour of the region that had been affected by horrendous flooding and wrote a personal check for $2,500 to help with the flood-relief efforts. It’s amazing to see such generosity from anyone, let alone a 21-year-old pitcher trying to work his way up the organizational depth chart.
As the sixth rookie to start for the Angels this year, Bell has a lot of pressure riding on him. He’s coming to the team in the midst of a pennant run and facing a potential playoff opponent. His first start is against a powerful lineup in a day game — the kind of game where the ball could really fly out of Angel Stadium. Thankfully, it appears that manager Mike Scioscia has committed to giving Bell two starts at least to try and alleviate the pressure.
In our annual Top-50 Angels Prospects list for 2009, we ranked Bell as our 18th best prospect overall and said, “When everything is going right for Bell, he's working quickly on the mound and generates weak outs ... He has a chance to become a solid No. 2 if it all comes together for Trevor.” With the latest injury to Joe Saunders, the Angels desperately need a quality arm to come in during the stretch if they're going to fend off the Rangers. If the rookie pulls it all together on the mound today, the Angels' post season run this year might truly be saved by the Bell.