As our guide to minor league camp states, the Rangers' minor league pitchers and catchers don't officially report until March 4. Position players follow on March 7. But the club had all of its starting pitchers report to spring training yesterday––February 24––to begin preparing for minor league spring training games, which open on Thursday, March 14. The Rangers want their minor league starters to work a little longer during spring training games this year––the reason for their earlier-than-usual reporting date.
Texas' big league squad played its second game of the 2013 Cactus League campaign on Saturday, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Kansas City Royals.
Inconsistent last spring, Kirkman entered camp as perhaps the favorite for the Rangers' left-handed relief job but ultimately lost out to rookie Robbie Ross. In fact, Kirkman likely also finished behind veteran Neal Cotts, who was impressive before suffering an injury in late March.
The Florida native began 2012 back in Triple-A with highly inconsistent results, but he pitched well enough after getting a mid-season call to Arlington. In the majors last year, Kirkman posted a 3.82 ERA over 28 relief appearances––35.1 ip, 24 h, 17 bb, 38 k.
There's no doubt that Kirkman has the best stuff of any Rangers lefty relief candidate in camp; his spotty command has always been the issue, rendering him inconsistent.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old southpaw flashed solid command, throwing 18 strikes out of 25 pitches and mostly attacking the bottom half of the strike zone with his plus fastball. He worked between 92-94 mph with a plus low-80s breaker that can miss bats against both left- and right-handed hitters.
One quick aside: Kirkman was actually more successful against righties (.160/.253/.296) than lefties (.216/.317/.392) in the major leagues last season.
Kirkman's breaking ball almost looks like a power curve with sharp two-plane break and big tilt/depth. He threw six of his nine breakers for a strike on Saturday, getting three swings and misses, two called strikes, and a lineout.
He retired all four left-handed hitters he faced on Saturday and, at one point, fanned three consecutive hitters––lefty Alex Gordon (81 mph slider), righty Elliot Johnson (82 mph slider), and righty Billy Butler (94 mph fastball).
Because Kirkman's delivery is on the rigid side, he'll likely always have at least some trouble repeating it and doesn't ever profile for plus command. But with his two-pitch mix––in addition to a decent mid-80s split-change––it just needs to be passable to yield big league success. Getting ahead in counts and repeating his delivery is the biggest thing for Kirkman, and he mostly did that on Saturday. It's just one early-spring outing, but the southpaw is off to a strong start in his quest to break with the big league club for the first time in his career.
Now 22, Ortiz is a definite long shot to crack the Rangers' opening-day roster. But he was added to the club's 40-man roster over the offseason following an impressive season between Double- and Triple-A, and there's a good chance he sees big league action at some point in 2013.
Against the Royals, Ortiz retired the side with a quick 1-2-3 sixth inning, throwing only nine pitches. His chart is as follows (B is ball, C is called strike, S is swinging strike):
Max Ramirez: 90 FBB, 90 FB – groundout to shortstop
Salvador Perez: 84 CHB, 91 FB – groundout to third base
Brandon Wood: 83 SLC, 92 FBF, 82 SLB, 92 FBB, 84 CHS – strikeout swinging
Ortiz walked just nine batters (while striking out 52) in 62.2 minor league innings last season. While he shows plus fastball command against left-handed hitters, he has room to improve against righties. In fact, between Double-A, Triple-A, and winterball last season, fellow lefties hit just .193/.220/.360 against him with a 2.5 percent walk rate and a 26 percent strikeout rate. He also threw 70 percent strikes against them. Righties, on the other hand, hit .266/.309/.370 with a 6.2 percent walk rate, 18 percent strikeout rate, and he threw only 63 percent strikes.
In the end, the diminutive reliever profiles as a middle relief type and somewhat of a lefty specialist––though he's not quite a straight LOOGY. Ortiz has decent stuff. His 89-92 mph fastball––which touches 93––and low-80s changeup both have decent life. He pounds the lower half of the zone with both offerings. Ortiz's out pitch is his slider, a plus pitch (with good horizontal break and tilt) that he varies the velocity on and locates extremely well to both sides of the plate. On Saturday, he commanded a back-foot 82 mph slider to Wood with two strikes––impressive for a young hurler.
Listed at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, Ortiz is built like a bowling ball and certainly doesn't have an ideal body on the mound. But there are little moving parts in his compact, simple delivery, making it easy to repeat. There's still a little room for the Venezuelan prospect to improve his command, but he's always going to come right after hitters with decent stuff, and that may set him up for at least some big league success.
Jake Brigham is one hurler who didn't have his usual velocity on Saturday. Coming off a season-ending elbow injury suffered in August, Brigham was traded back to Texas in exchange for righty Barret Loux this offseason.
Against the Royals, Brigham's normally plus fastball was just 90-91 mph, and his normally plus slider lacked the bite and velocity that it generally shows. He did get a strikeout of Max Ramirez with a good 80 mph slider but quickly issued a four-pitch walk before giving up a walkoff two-run homer to Brandon Wood. A former top prospect, Wood crushed a hanging 80 mph slider into the left-field bullpen for the game-winner.
Likely profiling as a reliever long term, Brigham pitched out of the bullpen for half of the 2011 season at Double-A Frisco. But he's otherwise been a starter throughout his minor league career, including last season. It'll be interesting to see if the Rangers put Brigham in the bullpen (or continue starting him) in 2013.
Although Borbon hit a decent .304/.349/.433 with 20 steals in Triple-A last season, he didn't see any major league time. It's no secret that Borbon's struggle to execute the "little things," such as getting bunts down and avoiding mistakes on the base paths, has frustrated Ron Washington and landed him in the skipper's doghouse.
It's going to take a big spring to get Borbon back in the Rangers' major league conversation. But he got off to a strong start on Saturday. After smacking a first-pitch single into right field, he took off and stole second base on the next pitch. Borbon then took third on a wild pitch that didn't get too far away from the catcher. He was aggressive on the base paths and looked decent on Saturday, but we'll see how the rest of camp goes. As mentioned, Borbon is a pretty big long-shot to crack the team this spring.