Rangers Minor League Notes (3/7)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The pitchers and catchers kicked off minor league camp with a light workout on Monday morning. Lone Star Dugout has notes from all of the recent spring training action, focusing on the prospects in big league camp.

• Right-hander Neil Ramirez may not have touched 98 mph in his second big league outing, but he was once again impressive. After yielding a leadoff bloop single to former Rangers outfielder Brandon Boggs, Ramirez recorded a strikeout (81 mph curveball up in the zone) and two flyouts. While the 21-year-old still needs to tighten his within-the-zone fastball command, he showed the stuff that could make him a late-inning reliever with a 92-96 mph fastball and plus 81-82 mph curve. He's not a full-time reliever yet, though, and still has a chance to become a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

• After having trouble locating and throwing just 11 of his 22 pitches for strikes in his previous outing, lefty Zach Phillips bounced back on Sunday and hurled a scoreless, two-strikeout inning on 11 pitches (eight strikes). The reliever displayed impressive command of an 88-90 mph two-seam fastball and got both punchouts with his upper-70s curveball. Phillips has a chance to ultimately stick as a middle reliever if he commands his arsenal like he did on Sunday, but inconsistent command has been his primary issue.

Cody Eppley also bounced back from a rough game to post a clean inning in Sunday's contest. Showing his usual pinpoint command, the sidearming righty retired Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, and Edwin Maysonet in order on just seven pitches. Naturally, with his sinker, he got three groundouts. Eppley was working between 85-87 mph for the second consecutive outing––he was around 88-91 mph for the majority of last season, so it'll be interesting if the velocity returns before opening day.

• Supplemental first-round pick Mike Olt was a shortstop to begin his collegiate career at UConn, and it shows. Olt plays third base with shortstop-like actions, squaring himself up between ground balls and constantly getting low and into a good fielding position. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound infielder has good athleticism and a quick first step. The entire package makes him arguably (or likely) the best defensive corner infielder in the system. In two major league appearances, Olt has also impressed with the bat, collecting two line-drive singles in four at-bats.

• The Rangers like outfielder Jared Hoying, not only for his solid package of tools (raw power, athleticism, arm strength), but also because he's regarded as a hard-working prospect. Hoying saw recent big league action and went 0-for-2, driving one inside fastball approximately 400 feet to center field.

Likely a future corner outfielder, Hoying played in center during the big league game and turned himself around on two deep fly balls. He missed the first and held on to the second. Though he's a decent athlete with a good arm, Hoying played shortstop for much of his collegiate career and is still learning to play in the outfield. He still struggles to read the ball off the bat and doesn't always take the most direct routes.

• Catcher Jose Felix is generally regarded as a future defensive-minded backup that can handle a pitching staff and control the running game. While he doesn't project to do a whole lot with the bat, Felix improved last season and hit .278 in 100 contests between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. He finished off the year by going 17-for-49 (.347) with four doubles in 13 Arizona Fall League games.

The 22-year-old flashed improved bat speed during Sunday's major league workout, and he was driving the ball with more authority than he has in the past. Felix's excellent hand-eye coordination enables him to make plenty of contact, but he needs to become a more selective hitter and limit his swings to only balls he can drive. The early results for Felix are positive, as he's 4-for-4 with a double in big league action. He should begin the season back at Double-A with a chance to reach Triple-A during the second half.

Drew Robinson, last year's fourth-round pick, has an intriguing bat––but the question mark is his glove. Drafted as a shortstop, Robinson committed 10 errors in 13 games (.783) at the position last year with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers. He had just one miscue in 31 total games between first base, second base, third base, and both corner outfield spots.

So far in camp, Robinson has been taking ground balls at third base and he's showing smooth actions with above-average arm strength. Shortstop likely won't be Robinson's future position, and he should see most of his time this season at either third or second base.

• Minor league pitchers and catchers officially reported on Monday, and that meant the first minor league workout of camp. A large group of pitchers threw bullpen sessions before they went to fielding practice and the catchers took batting practice.

• Among the pitchers throwing a side session was former catcher Leonel de los Santos, who now appears to be a full-time pitcher. When he was behind the plate, ‘Macumba' was best known for his phenomenal 70-grade (at least) arm strength. He has a strong, fast arm––but only time will tell whether it will convert to legitimate plus velocity on the mound.

De los Santos showed a solid feel for his mechanics despite his inexperience. Naturally, he slowed his body down on offspeed stuff and failed to hit his spots with both the breaking ball and changeup. But he didn't look bad for a newcomer, and it'll be interesting to see if he gets into a game before camp is over.

• Although Brett Nicholas hit just .245/.319/.344 in 51 contests at Spokane last season, he has some potential in his bat. The lefty swinging catcher has quick hands and stays inside the ball during batting practice, letting him turn on balls with authority. He has slight lift in his swing and was hitting line drives to all fields during Monday's BP session.

• Catcher Fernando Vivili, who signed with the Rangers for a reported $300,000 over the offseason, is in camp this year. The 17-year-old is most likely to play in the Dominican Summer League this season, but he is currently getting his first taste of state-side ball.

At the time Vivili signed, he was listed at 6-foot-2 (or 6-foot-3, depending on the source) and 200 pounds. He was said to be best regarded for his plus arm strength and raw power. Though Vivili didn't flash the arm on Monday, he did show the raw power with quick, strong wrists and the ability to drive the ball. Vivili's approach and mechanics are very raw, though, and––like Alfaro––it could be a couple years before his offensive tools develop into actual game results.



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Jose Julio Ruiz takes batting practice 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

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