During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn’t sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 while part of the Braves’ organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I’ll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.
After finishing with 106 victories in 1998, the Atlanta Braves ultimately failed to advance to the World Series. It was a disappointing end to an impressive team that became just the second team in history to have five pitchers with at least 16 wins. While they had plenty of pitching, the ’98 Braves had some issues at the plate. Keith Lockhart received 401 plate appearances as the primary second baseman in 1998 and struggled at the plate along with showing his poor range in the field. Michael Tucker, who had arrived with Lockhart before the 1997 season, also was a disappointment with the bat. To fix the latter, Atlanta signed Brian Jordan. The former? Well, they would need to break up their rotation to push a deal through. But that wasn’t all. They would also have to deal one of their top pitching prospects.
The Braves saw in the Reds a team that could help them deal with not only the issue at second base, but almost improve the bullpen depth. Bret Boone had just made his first All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove after slashing .266/.325/.458 with the Reds. Meanwhile, the Braves felt Mike Remlinger was being misused by the Reds as a swingman when he was better suited for bullpen work. John Schuerholz wanted both players and dangled Denny Neagle, who had just finished with a 3.55 ERA and was receiving an increased salary as a result of being part of Atlanta’s famed rotation. With the development of Kevin Millwood along with prospects like Odalis Perez and Bruce Chen, the Braves didn’t need Neagle as much as they needed offense. The Reds liked the deal, which would also bring Tucker to Cincinnati, but Reds GM Jim Bowden wasn’t going to give up Boone and Remlinger without an extra piece – right-handed prospect Rob Bell. The Braves wanted to keep Bell, who had been third round pick of the ’95 draft, but chose to take the deal.
It was a moment of significant change for Bell. Before being drafted by the Braves, he had attended Central High School in Marlboro, New York – a “hamlet” with less than 4000 people about two hours north of New York City. After two years to forget to begin his professional career, Bell made significant improvement in 1997 with the Macon Braves before seemingly coming into his own as a member of the Danville 97’s, the one and only year of the club (read more). In 28 starts, Bell struck out 197 in 178.1 ING. He rarely walked anyone and kept the ball in the yard while maintaining an ERA of 3.28. It was the kind of year that gets you noticed and Bell improved his Baseball America prospect ranking from #68th overall after ’97 to #35th. No wonder the Reds wanted him so bad.
Injuries limited his effectiveness the following year, though he was still a Top 60 prospect according to Baseball America. He would reach the majors in 2000 as a member of the opening day rotation. It was a hyper-aggressive move for a player with just 72 innings at AA, but the Reds were positive they had found their next big starter. Bell looked unfit to be in the majors, struggling to the tune of a 6.08 FIP in 26 starts. He gave up way too many homers (2.1 per nine) and walked a small village. The following season, the Reds again brought him north, but after nine starts, Cincinnatti cut bait and traded him to the Rangers for Edwin Encarnacion and Ruben Mateo.
Bell’s season grew from bad-to-awful with Texas. In his 8th start, he surrendered eight runs and seven earned. That wasn’t hugely surprising in itself as he had given up seven runs in his previous start. What was surprising – or at least noteworthy – was the fact that he had given up FIVE homeruns while recording just six outs. It broke the record for fewest outs recorded while surrendering at least five homeruns. Nearly 14 years later, Detroit’s Shane Greene would push Bell out of the worst record book of all time by recording just five outs and giving up five homers.
Bell would pitch an additional 94 innings with the Rangers in 2002 and actually posted the best FIP of his career – 4.83. He was released after the season and landed with the Devil Rays. Bell continued to receive starts and over a three year period, he started 40 games for the Rays. His 5.28 ERA with Tampa Bay nearly matched his 5.36 FIP. Finally, Tampa Bay moved on and Bell would spent the next three years playing in four different organizations, but only getting to the majors again in 2007 with the O’s for 30 ugly games as a reliever. He threw his last pitch as a member of the Charlotte Knights in May of 2008.
Since retiring, Bell has entered the world of sales as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short-season Class-A squad for the Rays. After beginning as a sales executive, he was promoted to Director of Corporate Sales. You can follow his continued involvement with baseball by checking out his twitter account.