Name: Wilmer Font
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: May 24, 1990
Acquired: 2006 International Free Agent
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, right-hander Wilmer Font will have been state-side for five full seasons. But he has also missed a significant amount of time due to injuries.
Shoulder soreness and knee tendinitis limited Font to only three rookie ball appearances in 2008. And after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last October, he'll be sidelined for the entire 2011 campaign.
The raw talent has always been there for Font. As a 17-year-old with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers in '07, the prospect was already flashing 98 mph heat. The rest of the package––including mechanics, command, and secondary stuff––has been a steady work in progress.
Despite missing nearly all of the '08 season, Font got an aggressive assignment to Single-A Hickory the following year. While still plenty raw, he began to show progress while posting a 3.49 ERA and fanning 105 batters over 108.1 innings.
Font was particularly impressive late in the '09 season, putting up a 2.95 second-half ERA with much improved command. He walked 31 batters over 44.1 innings prior to the All-Star break but issued only 28 free passes in 64 frames afterward.
The success was due in part to Font's work with then-Crawdads pitching coach Brad Holman.
"I call him ‘man-child," Holman said during the 2010 season. "He's just a real strong kid. But he needed a lot of maturing. More so from a personal standpoint, but also as a pitcher. He's another guy that had a lot of rotation in his delivery. And every time he threw the baseball, he tried to throw it 110 mph."
Even though Font had plenty of overall success with the Crawdads in '09, the Rangers sent the hurler back to Single-A to open the 2010 season. According to Holman, the club wanted to give him a refresher course.
"He really grew a lot," the pitching coach said. "He went home in the winter. They sent him back here this year because they wanted to get him started how he finished. The second half of the season was really improved compared to his first half last year. To get him off on the right foot this year was a big deal."
The Venezuela native opened his 2010 campaign by making seven starts at Hickory before earning a promotion to High-A Bakersfield.
Following a rough Cal League debut outing, the early returns for Font were extremely positive. Over his next three starts, Font yielded one earned run in 19 innings, walking five and striking out 19. Included in that was a strong seven-inning start against Visalia, which was detailed in this story.
Font was showing the ability to command his fastball and get ahead in counts. And Holman says that's something that began to improve during his time with Hickory.
"His fastball command improved greatly," he said. "The changeup was a workable pitch. His curveball is coming along––it's something that I think is going to need work.
"I'm not so sure what Wilmer Font is going to be in the future, but I know this––if he continues to progress at the rate he did when I had him, I think he's going to be a special pitcher."
Then, after the impressive string of starts with Bakersfield, Font began to experience some discomfort in his elbow and lost some control. While the loss of control and elbow problems are likely linked, it's difficult to know for certain. Regardless, Font walked 22 batters in 28 frames over his final five starts.
He was shut down for the remainder of the season following his outing on July 5. After attempting to rehab the injury, he eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in early October.
When Font returns to the mound in 2012, he'll be just 21-years-old (turning 22 in late-May 2012) with plenty of time left to develop. However, the club added Font to its 40-man roster earlier this offseason. The Rangers may choose to put him on a faster track to the majors by converting him into a hard-throwing reliever.
Only time will tell which route the Rangers choose, and they won't have to make a decision for at least a full year.
Also See: Breaking down the Hickory Crawdads (April 5, 2010)
Font learning to command (June 4, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman (August 22, 2010)
Scouting the 40-man roster additions (November 29, 2010)
Top Prospects, Top Tools (January 14, 2011)
Mark Anderson's Top 20 Rangers Prospects (February 14, 2011)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: The big-bodied pitcher can flash plus-plus velocity in a fastball that has reached the upper-90s and flirted with triple digits at times during his career. Over the last two years, Font has learned to sacrifice some of that velocity for improved command, and it has led to better results. He has also begun to show progress in repeating his delivery with more consistency.
After working mostly in the low-to-mid 90s (touching 96-97) in '09, Font displayed periods of above-average command in the 89-92 mph range with Bakersfield last summer. If the stuff remains the same post-surgery, he could ultimately have average command with a 92-95 mph fastball that can bump higher in short spurts. But there is a lot of uncertainty right now, with questions that won't be answered until 2012 at the earliest.
Other Pitches: Font's ability to get on top of his curveball has been an issue through much of his professional career, but the pitch improved last season. Thrown between 69-74 mph, the curve can be a bit loose and loopy at the lower velocity but has good shape. In the 72-74 mph range, the offering shows a hint of sharpness and two-plane break. Because Font was able to get on top of the pitch, it morphed from a tough-to-command slurvy breaking ball into a true big-breaking curve that he was able to throw for strikes. As he continues to gain a feel for the pitch, he should throw it a bit harder with sharper break. It could eventually become a tick above average and miss some bats.
When Font entered the 2010 campaign, his changeup was considered the more advanced of his secondary offerings, though his feel for the pitch still comes and goes. He can create excellent deception with good arm speed, velocity separation, and tumbling action on the low-80s change. While the inconsistency makes it a present fringy pitch, it also could become a tick above average.
Projection: Font would rank higher––likely significantly higher––on this list if it weren't for the Tommy John surgery that will cost him the entire 2011 campaign. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound prospect has a body that appears a little soft at present, but he should be plenty strong and durable if he dedicates himself and stays in shape.
His big frame, plus fastball, and potential for two usable––though not dominant––secondary offerings give him the potential to become an innings-eating number three starter that could show flashes of dominance. While he has a decent feel for the strike zone and projects for average control, his fastball command and offspeed stuff must continue to improve.
If he ultimately doesn't develop a starting-caliber arsenal and command, his ability to pump 80-grade velocity in short bursts could make him an intriguing late-inning relief prospect––particularly since he's already on the 40-man roster.
2011 Outlook: The 20-year-old will miss the entire 2011 season while he rehabs his right elbow from Tommy John surgery. Added to the Rangers' 40-man roster over the offseason––in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft––Font will almost certainly spend the year on the 60-day DL. He is currently slated for a return to official game action in 2012.
|2007||AZL Rangers (RK)||2-3||45.2||41||24||61||4.53|
|2008||AZL Rangers (RK)||1-0||4.1||1||1||6||10.38|
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