When Wingnuts third baseman Michael Thompson, who had been with the team since the first day of the inaugural 2008 season, was traded last week, it was widely viewed that a change of address would help him resurrect his baseball career.
The player the Wingnuts received in return for Thompson, Michael Bell, was in similar need of a change.
After a productive stint in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, followed by a successful 2009 season in Fort Worth, Bell battled health problems and wasn't the same hitter to start the 2010 season.
The Wingnuts acquired him in hopes he could produce the way he had in the previous four seasons.
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"I just needed to start over," Bell said.
Bell was a .269 career hitter entering 2010, and he had reached double figures in home runs the last four seasons, including 35 in three years in the Brewers' system.
He reached Double-A and was part of a 2008 Hunstville Stars teams that included some of Milwaukee's top prospects, such as Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel and Matt LaPorta.
"It was great," Bell said. "We had a pretty tight-knit system where most of us moved up to the next level every year. There were seven or eight of us. That was fun — we were like a family. We had success at every level."
Bell was released by the Brewers during spring training in 2009, and after joining Fort Worth he was fourth in the American Association in slugging percentage while leading the Cats with 14 home runs.
His slow start this season — he batted .214 in 37 games before the trade — can mostly be traced to Bell's bout with pancreatitis, which he said caused him to lose about 40 pounds.
Though facing a serious health situation, Bell had one focus.
"That's actually the only thing that was on my mind, was playing baseball," Bell said. "I wasn't really worried about (my health) —I knew I would get better. The most important thing for me was to get back on the field and get playing and get in shape."
Bell has made an immediate impression with his new team, notching 12 hits, including four doubles, in 26 at-bats with the Wingnuts.
As the No. 8 hitter, the pressure isn't on Bell to carry the offense, and the Wingnuts acquired him in part because of his defensive prowess. He wouldn't mind some of that pressure, though.
"I don't look myself as a number eight hitter, that's just where I happen to be in the lineup right now," Bell said. "I've never been a number eight hitter. I just take my at-bat for what it is. Whatever the situation requires, that's what I try to get done."
Pearson's push — Doug Hurn was traded the same day as Thompson, leaving first baseman Stephen Pearson as the only Wingnuts player remaining from the 2008 season. There are six left from 2009.
Pearson was in some danger of losing his job when he had a .200 average June 3. He had a longer leash, though, because of his previous two seasons, when he was one of Wichita's most consistent hitters.
Pearson had four hits on June 4 and hasn't stopped hitting since. His .355 average since that date has raised his overall average to .305 through Friday.
Pearson has never played affiliated baseball, mostly because he has never hit for power, with 13 home runs in 957 professional at-bats.
He changed his stance at the beginning of the season in attempt to add power, but it sent him into a funk instead. Once he changed back, his power reappeared naturally. Since June 4 he has 13 of his 14 extra-base hits.
This is major — Not many players from the American Association go on to play in the major leagues, but plenty play in the AA on their way down from the highest level.
The 2009 season was proof of that, as 13 former big-league players were employed by an AA team for at least part of the season. Some were fairly recognizable names, such as Wichita's Dustan Mohr, St. Paul's Kerry Ligtenberg and Pat Mahomes, who pitched for Sioux Falls and Grand Prairie.
This season hasn't seen as many ex-MLBers. Grand Prairie recently added Nook Logan, formerly of the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals, and St. Paul signed Edgard Clemente. A former Colorado Rockie, Clemente is the nephew of Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente.
The only other former major leaguers who have played in the American Association this season are Reggie Abercrombie (Sioux Falls), T.J. Bohn (Sioux City) and Kevin Millar (St. Paul).
Roster moves — On Saturday, the Wingnuts added second baseman Joseph Spiers and pitcher Jacob Wiley while releasing Rene Ruiz and David Jensen.
Spiers batted .274 with Grand Prairie this season, and Wiley has pitched in the Cincinnati Reds organization.