Pop quiz: which of these 26-year-olds with a mid-90s fastball would you want?
4-3, 6.22, 17 G, 15 GS, 94 IP, 113 H, 16 HR, 35 BB, 70 K
5-5, 7.18, 18 G, 18 GS, 105 IP, 130 H, 23 HR, 47 BB, 64 K
0-5, 5.48, 9 G, 9 GS, 44 IP, 46 H, 9 HR, 17 BB, 33 K
7-8, 5.00, 26 G, 26 GS, 140 IP, 130 H, 32 HR, 73 BB, 112 K
2002 Oklahoma City (AAA)
5-0, 4.06, 12 G, 11 GS, 75 IP, 70 H, 10 HR, 25 BB, 55 K
2001 Louisville (AAA)
2-2, 3.33, 5 G, 4 GS, 27 IP, 32 H, 4 HR, 4 BB, 26 K
2000 Louisville (AAA)
4-0, 3.73, 6 G, 6 GS, 41 IP, 35 H, 6 HR, 13 BB, 47 K
Okay, trick question -- they're the same guy. These are the major-league and minor-league numbers for Rob Bell, just placed on waivers by Texas.
Bell has been around the block in his professional career: drafted from Atlanta in the third round back in 1995, dealt to the Reds in '98 with Denny Neagle and Michael Tucker for Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger, and then traded again to Texas for ex-uberprospect Ruben Mateo in 2001. He has a power fastball, but never managed to perfect a secondary pitch, let alone a third pitch, to complement it: neither a curve nor a changeup ever panned out. When the Rangers think you can't make their staff, it's not exactly a great sign for your career.
Those AAA numbers are just fine, though, especially the BB/K ratios that so often signal a pitcher ready to succeed in the big leagues. Even his Oklahoma numbers aren't so bad when you consider they're in the Texas League. But without a reliable off-speed pitch to worry about, hitters just hung back and waited on the fastball, depositing it into the seats with alarming frequency. There's a huge gap between AAA and the majors, and guys like Bell can't seem to cross it. It's a valuable lesson that should temper one's expectations of all minor-league prospects, all the way up to Triple-A. There's simply nothing like The Show.
Bell could still be a worthwhile pickup for some team: a solid fastball and good command would seem to be ideal for a relief position, especially on a team whose fences are far back from home plate (that wouldn't be Toronto). The folks at Baseball Prospectus think so: they predicted his release and recommended him to teams like the Tigers. I'd be surprised if no one took a flyer on Bell before the end of the spring.