Trevor Bell returns to form with Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Former first-round pick flashes brilliance of old during 2013 season in double-A.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Former Crescenta Valley High pitcher Trevor Bell reinvented his career as a closing pitcher for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2013. (Courtesy of Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Blue Wahoos / October 12, 2013)
Hence, despite some headaches with his flight plans out of Louisville, Bell arrived in time to lend his voice and make an appearance at a Glendale Unified School District meeting during the first week of September.
Speaking on behalf of repairing and maintaining Stengel Field, where he plied his trade as a high school phenom with the Falcons, Bell eloquently stated: “Stengel Field, to me, is a place that not only creates dreams, but a place that makes them come true. I know for a fact that if not for this ballpark, I would not be where I ended up.”
Where Bell ended up in the 2013 baseball season was in Louisville, ending his year as part of the Cincinnati Reds triple-A organization.
Where his year began was with the Detroit Tigers organization. Where his season, and perhaps his career, found rebirth was with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, as the right-handed fireballer rediscovered a passion for the game and reestablished the dominant form that made him a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim out of high school in 2005.
“It almost felt like it was high school baseball again,” Bell said. “I told myself I wanted to start new, good attitude, not be disgruntled, play the game and be a good teammate.”
With that approach, Bell dazzled in double-A.
For the first time, he was given the role as closer and, much like being the veteran figure in a young clubhouse, he embraced the position.
At season’s end for Pensacola, Bell sported a 1.72 earned-run average with 17 saves over 27 appearances and 37 strikeouts over 31 1/3 innings to just eight walks. Mixed with a trio of appearances for triple-A Louisville, Bell had a 2.45 ERA over 35 minor league innings and looked every bit his old self.
And much of it came with the very new role of closer, one that he quickly acclimated himself too.
“The first time out, just not being in that position before, adrenaline maybe got the best of him,” said Wahoos Manager Delino DeShields, a former MLB first-rounder who played with five clubs, including the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers. “After the first time, though, he really settled in and did a great job for us.”
Bell’s shot at being a closer was a welcomed one that further broadened his view on all things pitching after he’d previously been a starter and a middle reliever in the minors and majors.
“It was amazing. I have new respect for closers,” Bell said. “There’s so much adrenaline. It was more exciting sometimes than some of the starts I made in the major leagues.
“You kind of have to be a little strange to do it. You kind of have to have this inner demon about the guys at the plate.”
Bell made his MLB debut in August of 2009 as a starter for the Angels. It came after a torrid year in the minors in which he impressed with an ascension through double-A and triple-A all in the same season.
In each of his three seasons at the MLB level, he went back and forth between the big club and triple-A, never starting a season with the Angels and often stretching back and forth between being a reliever and a starter. In the 2010 and ’11 seasons, Bell ended on high notes. In 2010, he went at least 5 1/3 innings in each of his last three starts, allowing two runs in each one. The next season, his 3.41 ERA over 34 1/3 innings was a career-best.
“I would get into these grooves and all of a sudden …” Bell said. “I just felt like I was always battling something. I felt like I was always battling to prove myself.
“I think it really started to mess with my head.”
Thus, Bell’s confidence, love for the game and mechanics admittedly waned.
After three seasons in the big leagues for the Angels with a 4-8 career record and a 5.21 ERA, Bell was released in July of 2012.
“He’s got some confidence back, which is a huge thing and he’s in a new place, which is a fresh start,” Crescenta Valley Coach Phil Torres said. “He needed a new place to play. He felt that way and the Angels felt that way.”
Bell was signed as a free agent by the Tigers in December of 2012, but eventually asked for his release, which was granted in March.
Although Bell got along just fine with everyone in the organization, he “didn’t free right” there.
“It just kinda felt like the same situation I came from,” he said.
In May, the Reds picked him up and then, “it was back to busses and double-A spreads,” Bell joked.
Once the 37th overall pick in the draft and now a three-year MLB veteran approaching his late-20s, Bell could’ve looked at his assignment as a demotion. But he looked at is as an opportunity through open eyes.
“He was very, very professional,” DeShields said. “When you’re in a situation like him, you can take it one way or the other. You can go backwards or you can go forward. Trevor really came in with a good attitude and couldn’t have acted more professional. I couldn’t have been more pleased.”
Bell, 27, said he believes the organization actually thought he was older when they called upon him to be a guiding light of sorts to a club rife with prospects.
“I think the Reds really, really like that double-A team. There’s a lot of really great prospects. I think they really wanted the team to win and do well,” Bell said. “They really wanted someone with some veteran time to look over the guys. I had no problem with that.”
Lending a sage presence, Bell, who will be a free agent in the offseason, also showcased a once more young and lively arm.
“He’s proved he’s a professional pitcher now,” Torres said. “His big thing is he’s got the [experience], he’s been to the big leagues. You just have to prove to them that you can do something to help them win.”
And his best days still might be ahead of him.
“I just think he embraced where he’s at at this time,” DeShields said. “I think he can get back to the major leagues. I think he still has plenty of talent in front of him.”