Rangers Minor League Notes (2/27-28)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – While the minor league side is mostly quiet thus far, a number of prospects and young players are seeing action in early big league spring training games. Lone Star Dugout has notes from Sunday and Monday's spring training action.

A few key minor league spring training dates:

March 6: Pitchers and catchers report
March 7: First workout for pitchers and catchers
March 11: Position players report
March 12: First full-squad workout
March 16: Intrasquad scrimmages
March 17: First games
April 1: Camp breaks

Until the action picks up on the minor league side, I'll be posting some notes from the younger players and prospects getting action in the major league games. One reminder: early-spring game reports should be taken with a grain of salt, as most players are just getting back into the swing of things.

• While the minor leaguers haven't officially reported yet, a number of players are in camp early and getting some work in. A handful of prospects may get an opportunity to see late-inning action in a big league game over the next week or two.

• In terms of younger players getting action, shortstop Jurickson Profar is certainly the story early on.

Profar, who turned 18-years-old on February 20, entered Monday's Rangers/Royals contest in the fifth inning and played for the remainder of the game. Although Profar didn't get an opportunity to field a ball, he did get two at-bats. The prospect held his own, going 1-for-2 with a double.

In his first at-bat, he got out in front on a 77 mph changeup and flew out to medium-deep left field. And the next time up, he got an 83 mph change that stayed up in the zone and took it for a one-hopped double off the left field wall. Profar was a bit out in front of both pitches, but he did a good job of controlling the barrel of his bat.

If he adds more strength in the coming years, both balls could have been home runs. The average-to-solid-average power potential is apparent for Profar––he just needs to add some strength on top of the natural refinement of his game.

• First baseman Jose Julio Ruiz is a definite prospect to track this season. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Cuba native has intriguing tools as a left-handed hitter. During the morning batting practice session on Monday, Ruiz flashed impressive bat speed. His quick, strong wrists allowed him to keep his hands inside and turn on balls with plenty of power. He was also getting good extension on balls in the outer portion of the zone.

At first glance, there doesn't appear to be any reason the 25-year-old shouldn't be able to show game power. He is a little busy in the pre-swing setup, but it wouldn't seem to be a huge issue. However, Ruiz batted just .272/.358/.348 in 23 contests at Double-A Montgomery in the Tampa system last season.

Perhaps he has trouble carrying it over to the game, or maybe he was simply getting used to playing professional ball in the U.S. Regardless, the Rays released the prospect in November. When Tampa signed him out of Cuba, he was given a one-year minor league deal with a four-year, $4 million big league option. He reportedly has a similar, but cheaper, deal struck with the Rangers.

The first baseman appeared in Monday's contest and showed off his pure strength by fighting off a 90 mph fastball on the handle and muscling it into left field for a single. Despite being a big guy with a relatively thick lower body, he appeared to be moving well down the line.

Ruiz began his offseason in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit well (.323/.356/.375) but still wasn't showing power. The potential appears to be there, though, and he should begin the 2011 campaign at either Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock.

• Right-handed reliever Pedro Strop has been a favorite of scouts for the last couple years. He doesn't always repeat his mechanics, which has made his command spotty at best. But he can flash three plus pitches, and that's what he did in Sunday's outing.

Strop appeared to be going to more of a deliberate leg kick in the game, though he mixed in a couple of slide-step moves despite having no runners on base. He has had issues with rushing through his delivery in the past, and the leg kick may help him to stay in rhythm.

Regardless, the hurler threw his fastball between 92-95 mph, mixed in a couple sharp 84 mph sliders, and got Royals prospect Mike Moustakas to swing under an 87 mph splitter with trap-door action. The slider was inconsistent––a couple weren't as sharp and broke early at 80-81 mph, but in a short 1-2-3 inning, all three pitches showed the ability to miss bats.

Tanner Scheppers tossed a perfect frame on nine pitches––throwing six strikes––on Sunday. He was living up in the zone with his fastball––an issue he ran into late last season. But at 93-97 mph, the velocity was fine. He also threw two late-breaking 79 mph curveballs, which he commanded well.

As with all pitchers, it's early in the spring and difficult to judge much on command. Every pitcher is going to have some trouble in hitting their spots during the first couple outings of camp.

• Consistent lefty reliever Corey Young pitched a perfect frame on Monday, getting a flyout, a bunt groundout, and a strikeout. He threw his two-seam fastball at 86-88 mph, mixed in one 83 mph changeup (it was up and lacked movement, and Zawadski hit it to the wall in right-center field) and a couple of late-breaking 76 mph curveballs. He froze Kansas City prospect Derrick Robinson with a backdoor curveball to end the inning.

Young's curve is a plus big league pitch with sharp two-plane break, and he generally does a good job of commanding it to both left- and right-handers. The changeup is occasionally––if not rarely––used. The key to his making it as a situational lefty reliever is his fastball, which normally sits in the upper-80s. It has some sink but he struggles to command it down in the zone with consistency.



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Leury Garcia right-handed batting practice from Jason Cole on Vimeo.




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