Rangers Minor League Notes (3/16)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – In this spring training notes and observations piece, Lone Star Dugout takes a look at recent outings from Miguel de los Santos and Mason Tobin, and Leonel de los Santos' move to the mound, among other things.

• After being sidelined with some minor biceps tendinitis earlier in the spring, lefty Miguel de los Santos made his first spring training game appearance on Monday. The 22-year-old allowed a pair of runs in his inning, walking one and striking out two. Results aside (particularly since it was his first game action), the stuff was good.

De los Santos has a wipeout upper-70s changeup with lots of deception and screwball-like action. He shows the confidence in throwing it to both left- and right-handed hitters. None of the Dodgers' hitters on Monday were able to stay back on the pitch, and of the seven changes he threw, he induced four swinging strikes and a weak groundout. The offering could rate as a plus-plus (70-grade) pitch.

Against the Dodgers, de los Santos threw his fastball at 89-91 mph. He often sits in that range but can touch up to 94 mph on occasion and sits 89-93 with consistency when at full strength. He has funky mechanics and may never have plus fastball command––which may ultimately keep him in a relief role––but the stuff and command projects to be good enough to make him a good left-handed reliever and potentially a late-inning guy.

When de los Santos pitched with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers in 2008, his curveball was the money pitch and the changeup was underdeveloped. The prospect used his '09 season to focus on his change. While the change took off, the curve took a step back. He threw three curves (two for strikes) at 73-74 mph on Monday––the pitch is a slow-ish big-breaker that isn't as sharp as it could be, and he had trouble commanding it with consistency last year. The curve could ultimately be average, though, and passable as a third offering.

The Rangers optioned de los Santos to minor league camp and Double-A Frisco earlier in the week. If he starts with the ‘Riders, he'll be skipping the High-A level, but the southpaw should be able to handle the jump. He already has big league-caliber stuff but just has to refine his fastball command in order to take the next step forward.

• Rule 5 Draft selection Mason Tobin is one of the more intriguing story lines of camp. The Rangers' opening day bullpen doesn't figure to have many open spots––if any at all. And because Tobin has a nice arm, if he doesn't make the team and the club wishes to keep him in the system, it won't be easy to work out a trade for him.

Tobin missed almost all of the 2009 and 2010 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent cleanup procedures. The stuff isn't an issue, and his command has been impressive so far––particularly for a guy that has just 96 innings over parts of four seasons in professional ball.

The former Angels prospect worked a 14-pitch (nine strikes) inning in Tuesday's ‘B' game. While Tobin yielded a solo home run to Royals prospect Mike Moustakas, the overall stuff was very good. Showing all three pitches for strikes, Tobin threw his fastball at 92-94 mph, his changeup at 79-82 mph, and the slider at 84 mph. He fanned top prospect Eric Hosmer on a 93 mph fastball.

Tobin is doing a good job of commanding his fastball low in the zone, but perhaps the biggest surprise has been his changeup that gives him a strong three-pitch mix out of the bullpen. The righty is flashing a change with nice deception, and he appears to have confidence in the pitch.

In three ‘A' game appearances this spring, Tobin has hurled three scoreless frames, giving up one hit, walking one, and striking out zero. His hard sinker has induced eight groundouts and one flyout.

• Converted catcher Leonel de los Santos appeared to be enjoying himself and quickly taking to the mound after last Friday's tracking session. He threw three pitches for strikes with a fast arm and relatively clean and repeatable mechanics. He slows his body down a bit on the offspeed stuff and can tip the slider and change a bit, but that's to be expected for someone so new to pitching.

‘Macumba' got his first-ever game action as a pitcher in Wednesday's Low-A/High-A intrasquad game. He threw 18 pitches (10 strikes) and hurled a scoreless frame, hitting a batter and getting a strikeout of Tomas Telis. He mixed in an 89-91 mph fastball, a 79-81 mph slider, and one 80 mph change––throwing all three for strikes. When he missed, he didn't miss by much. There should be some more velocity in his arm as he continues to acclimate himself to the mound.

• Coming into spring training, shortstop Jurickson Profar and centerfielder Engel Beltre were generally considered the top tier of Rangers position-player prospects. But third baseman Mike Olt is quickly working his way into that group, and there's a legitimate argument that he could (emphasis on could) be the organization's top position prospect.

Olt's bat speed has been excellent, and it seems to have improved since last year's fall instructs. The good bat speed and strength enables him to put on impressive displays in batting practice (video here). He still needs to show he can carry it over into the games, but Olt has been very solid on the back fields thus far.

• Right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama, 35, was recently optioned to Triple-A Round Rock. The sidearmer struggled in big league spring training action, yielding four runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings. With an 86-88 mph sinking fastball, a soft sweeping slider, and a screwball, Tateyama's stuff has plenty of movement but little margin for error. His command wasn't sharp enough and he worked up in the zone too often. He'll begin the season in the Round Rock bullpen but remains on the 40-man roster, so he should get a big league look at some point if he has success in the minors.

• Another Japanese product, Hirotoshi Onaka, is a bit younger and less heralded. The 22-year-old outfielder was signed by Texas after he went undrafted in the NPB draft in his native Japan. Listed at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, Onaka appeared in 75 games over his four-year career at International Pacific University, batting .327 (92-for-281) with five homers and 36 runs batted in.

It's too early to tell much about Onaka, but he is performing well early on. His batting practice video clip can be found at at this link. He picked up a couple knocks in the Low-A/High-A intrasquad, laying down a drag bunt single and getting down the line at 3.9 seconds (per Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks). He was also clocked at 4.0 seconds on a routine ground ball––a 70-grade time from the left side. Later in the contest, Onaka turned on a Tim Steggall fastball and hit it out for a two-run homer.

Abel de los Santos, 18, is worth keeping an eye on. As a starting pitcher in the Dominican Summer League last season, he posted a 1.85 ERA in 58.1 innings. He gave up 46 hits, walked 21, and struck out 56. The Dominican Republic native has a fast arm, and he threw his fastball at 88-91 mph in Wednesday's minor league intrasquad. He unleashed a sharp slider with plenty of tilt that got a pair of strikeouts––it looked like a definite plus pitch.

• Last weekend, I went to Los Angeles with Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus to check out a handful of top college prospects. Scouting reports on a handful of players––including UCLA's Gerrit Cole, USC's Austin Wood, and UC Riverside's Matt Andriese––can be found at this thread on the subscriber message board.

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