Rangers Minor League Notes (3/1)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Right-hander Neil Ramirez shined in Tuesday's big league game, flashing a good curveball and a fastball that reached 98 mph. Lone Star Dugout has notes on Tuesday's spring training action, focusing on the minor league prospects in big league camp.

• One day after shortstop Jurickson Profar turned in an impressive performance as a JIC (just-in-case player) in a big league game, right-hander Neil Ramirez shined on the high stage.

Ramirez was recently profiled in this scouting report after being named our number 16 prospect in the Rangers' system. And if Tuesday's performance is any indication, Ramirez may prove to be worthy of a higher ranking.

As the prospect improved his mechanics last season, he began throwing harder (sitting 92-93, touching mid-90s), his fastball command improved, and he began showing a better feel for his changeup. Though he was hit around at times, it was a strong across-the-board improvement.

Ramirez entered Tuesday's contest against Seattle in the eighth inning. Facing veteran outfielder Ryan Langerhans, he pumped three consecutive fastballs at 95, 97, and 98 mph to record a quick strikeout.

Overall, the hurler allowed a run (a solo homer) on two hits, walking zero and striking out two. He threw his fastball between 95-98 mph and featured three 81-83 mph curveballs and a pair of 89 mph changeups.

It's important to note that Ramirez won't sit at 95-98 as a starting pitcher, but that he can reach the plus-plus velocity on occasion is impressive. He has a strong frame and gets a good downward angle on his fastball when he keeps it low. While Ramirez had little trouble throwing strikes (13 strikes, four balls), he still needs to tighten up his within-the-zone command. He surrendered a homer on a 95 mph fastball that caught too much of the plate, and he left a curveball up that went for a single.

The curveball Ramirez flashed was an above-average hammer pitch with a hint of two-plane break. Two of the three were excellent, resulting in a called strike and a weak groundout. Both changeups were a bit firm but had some deception, with one getting a foul-tip swinging strike. Though there's still work to be done, his change looks like it could be an average offering.

Because Ramirez has cleaned up his delivery and flashes the potential for a three-pitch repertoire, he has a chance to stick as a starting pitcher and will be developed as such. If he ultimately becomes a reliever, the heat and plus breaking ball give him late-inning potential.

There's still a lot of camp remaining, and it'll be interesting to track Ramirez's progress through the spring.

• Sidearming right-hander Cody Eppley struggled a bit, as he surrendered two runs on three hits in his one inning of work. After his promotion to Double-A Frisco last season, Eppley threw his heavy sinker between 88-91 mph, touching 92. He was more in the 86-87 mph range on Tuesday and left it over the plate, making him plenty hittable.

Mark Hamburger emerged as an intriguing relief prospect last season, when he flashed a 92-96 mph fastball and posted a 2.20 ERA in 65.1 innings between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. The 24-year-old worked an effortless eight-pitch (seven-strike) frame against Seattle, getting one strikeout.

He threw his fastball at 90-93 mph and mixed in a pair of 79-81 mph sliders. While Hamburger has always shown plus velocity with some movement, his breaking ball has been a fringy pitch. The strikeout slider, however, had a bit more tilt than the pitch generally has in the past.

• Lefty Zach Phillips also hurled a scoreless inning, although his command wasn't quite there. He needed 21 pitches (11 strikes) to complete the frame, yielding two hits and a walk. As usual, he flashed four usable pitches––an 89-91 mph fastball, a 76-78 mph curveball, an 80 mph slider, and an 84 mph changeup––he just had trouble commanding all four.

Phillips began toying with a slider late last season in Triple-A. Though his curve can miss bats, he wanted an easier-to-command option to combat lefties with. The slider he flashed on Tuesday looked pretty good, with some break and a little tilt. He commanded it down and away to a lefty batter.

• Shortstop Leury Garcia is young (19-years-old) and undersized (around 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9), but the Rangers like him and got him into Tuesday's big league contest. The prospect, who has excellent defensive tools (including a 70-grade arm) but is raw with the glove, didn't get a chance to field a ball. In his lone at-bat, he laid down good sacrifice bunt left-handed and flashed his elite speed by getting down the line in 3.96 seconds, according to TexasFarmReview.com's Jason Parks.

• First baseman Chris McGuiness saw action, and––not surprisingly––drew a walk in one of his two plate appearances. The former Red Sox prospect has 116 free passes in 172 professional games. He wasn't challenged at first but appeared to show nice footwork around the bag.

• Davis Stoneburner played second base and knocked a warning-track fly ball to left field that he got just off the end of the bat. While still likely more solid organizational soldier than prospect, Stoneburner has developed some definite pop. He belted 30 doubles, five triples, and 16 round-trippers last season, mostly at High-A Bakersfield. In the Fall League, he added two doubles, two triples, and a homer in 52 official at-bats. The 26-year-old, who is known as a hard worker, figures to fill an infield spot at either Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock this season.

• Among the game's more intriguing match-ups was Rangers prospect Engel Beltre against hard-throwing Mariners prospect Dan Cortes. Cortes, who has touched the mid-90s, pumped two fastballs (96-97 mph) to Beltre for strikes before freezing him on a filthy 82 mph backdoor curveball.

Beltre was overmatched by Cortes. And with the hurler's upper-90s fastball and plus curve, so will a number of big league hitters. The video of the at-bat is embedded below.

Daily Videos

Engel Beltre faces Dan Cortes from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

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 reports should be taken with a grain of salt, as most players are just getting back into the swing of things.

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