Rangers Minor League Notes (3/29)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Tuesday's Myrtle Beach contest offered some intrigue, including a start from Robbie Erlin, Leonel de los Santos throwing a scoreless inning, and catcher Vin DiFazio falling a triple short of the cycle. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the game.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans 5 – Wilmington Blue Rocks 7

1. Leury Garcia, SS (1/5, SB, K)
2. Jared Hoying, CF (1/2, RBI, SB, K)
3. Chris McGuiness, 1B (0/1, BB)
4. Mike Olt, 3B (1/2, 2B)
5. Vin DiFazio, C (3/4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI)
6. Jared Prince, RF (1/3, RBI, BB)
7. Ryan Strausborger, LF (2/4, SB)
8. Clark Murphy, DH (0/4)
9. Travis Adair, 2B (0/3, BB)

Ruben Sierra, CF (0/3)
Jared Bolden, 1B (0/2)
Santiago Chirino, 3B (0/2, K)

• Third baseman Mike Olt has run a little hot and cold since minor league games began. One scout remarked that, despite Olt's struggles in a recent High-A spring training contest, he was impressed with his ability to work his way back into counts after being down 0-2 and 1-2.

In Tuesday's first at-bat, Olt got a first-pitch fastball up and over the plate. He crushed it into the right-center field gap for a double. In the second at-bat, he took a 2-1 pitch into right field (video here) for a fairly deep flyout that moved both runners over.

• Falling a triple short of the cycle was catcher Vin DiFazio, who had a single to left, a three-run homer off the scoreboard in left, and a double down the line in left––in that order. In his final at-bat, he fouled a ball off his foot before getting caught out in front on an offspeed pitch and popping out to third base.

The 24-year-old struggled a bit in 16 games at High-A last season, hitting .216/.355/.431. There are few doubts about his raw strength and ability to draw walks, though. DiFazio was hitting the ball extremely hard in Tuesday's contest. The key for him will be proving that he can hit for average and keep the strikeout totals down at the upper levels.

• Ryan Strausborger showed off his above-average speed by laying down a bunt single on the first pitch he saw. In the next at-bat, he collected a first-pitch single to left field and took off for second base on the next offering. The Indiana State product didn't get a great jump, but he was still able to swipe the base.

With both Strausborger and Hoying headed to Myrtle Beach, it'll be interesting to see who gets the majority of the reps in which outfield spot. Hoying manned left field in Spokane last season while Strausborger flipped between all three outfield spots. But Hoying has been playing center in spring training.

Strausborger is the more advanced defender technically, though both players have good athleticism and speed in the outfield. Hoying was a shortstop for the majority of his collegiate career and is still adjusting to the outfield in terms of his off-the-bat reads and route running.

• Former fifth-round pick Clark Murphy struggled in camp once again, and it appears that he may be headed back to extended spring training. While he didn't show a ton of pop at Spokane last summer, he flashed some promise by hitting .319/.440/.410 for the Indians. But Murphy had trouble squaring balls up in camp––he had a late trigger and wasn't able to get his bat around on inner-half fastballs.

• Santiago Chirino entered the game at third base on Tuesday, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout. The 20-year-old will begin the season at High-A Myrtle Beach, but it's unclear whether he'll get everyday reps with the club. Chirino is mostly a second baseman, where he's a plus defender due to his range, sure hands, and advanced instincts. He can fill in at shortstop and third base on occasion, though his arm strength is just fringy at those positions.

The Pelicans will have Mike Olt (third base), Leury Garcia (shortstop), and Travis Adair (second base) at the infield spots. Though Adair is regarded more as an excellent organizational player than a prospect, he hit .319/.370/.403 in Hickory last season and figures to get lots of action in 2011.

Regardless, Chirino is an advanced hitter with a mature opposite-field approach and a good eye for the strike zone. Between the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Spokane last year, he posted a .296/.360/.365 line over 56 contests. He's more of a second base prospect but could play a utility role with the Pelicans in order to maximize his at-bats.

Robbie Erlin: 4 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 1 bb, 1 k (60 pitches – 41 strikes)
Leonel de los Santos: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k (11 pitches – 8 strikes)
Chad Bell: 0.2 ip, 2 h, 3 r, 1 bb, 0 k (24 pitches – 13 strikes)
Kennil Gomez: 1.1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 1 k (24 pitches – 15 strikes)
Juan Grullon: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (17 pitches – 10 strikes)
Colby Killian: 1 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 1 k (20 pitches – 14 strikes)

• In many ways, Robbie Erlin pitched to his scouting report against the Royals' High-A club. He did a good job of working both corners and changing hitters' eye levels with his fastball. His pitch sequencing was also good in keeping hitters off-balance. He was hit a little when his fastball floated up in the zone, and he didn't have his best curveball during the outing.

Erlin was plenty efficient through the first three frames, needing only 36 pitches. He reached his pitch limit after a 24-pitch fourth inning that included two singles, a seven-pitch walk, and a Chris McGuiness error at first base.

Erlin's 75-78 mph changeup appears to be a more advanced offering than his curveball at this point. He gets good deception on the pitch, which has good sinking action and can dive under bats. He also shows the confidence in throwing it to both left- and right-handed batters. In fact, Erlin recorded his lone strikeout with a swinging K of lefty John Whittleman on a 78 mph change that was swung over.

The 20-year-old worked between 88-90 mph, touching up to 91 on occasion. His 71-75 mph curveball was a bit slow and deliberate at times, but the pitch has good shape and he commanded it well. If he gets the curveball into the mid-70s with more consistency, it has plus potential.

The 2009 third-round pick not only has mature stuff, but he is also a student of the game that really knows how to attack hitters and never appears fazed on the mound regardless of the situation. He will open the year in the Pelicans' rotation, but if he pitches well, the across-the-board polish could entice the Rangers to push him forward to Frisco at some point in the summer.

• Former catcher Leonel de los Santos worked a scoreless frame while throwing eight strikes out of 11 pitches (video here). He continues to improve with each time on the mound. After working in the upper-80s early in camp, Macumba's fast, strong arm is now producing a fastball that sat at 91-94 mph. He may ultimately work in the mid-90s and touch even higher in spurts as he continues to get a feel for pitching, but only time will tell.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound righty was working up in the zone with his fastball––a nitpick for a guy who just recently moved to the mound and was throwing strikes. He mixed in a couple changeups and sliders, which he also threw for strikes and got a pair of weakly struck outs on the offspeed stuff.

De los Santos, 21, may begin his season in extended spring training. He might not be there for long if he continues to pitch well.

• Lefty Chad Bell wasn't able to get out of his inning. The Tennessee native's delivery has looked a bit stiff and mechanical. As a result, he has struggled to find much command of his 87-89 mph fastball. Bell is also been working on mixing in a cutter with slider-like action at 81-82 mph.

In Tuesday's contest, Bell threw five changeups between 81-82 mph––three for strikes, two for balls. The pitch had a little deception and looked like it could be an average offering with some more refinement. His curveball 76 mph curveball has promise when he commands it down in the zone, showing good depth and bite.

He'll go to the Myrtle Beach bullpen, where he may be working with pitching coach Brad Holman to smooth out his mechanics and get the upper-80s, low-90s velocity back. Bell touched up to 93 mph in camp last season, but the velocity hasn't been there yet this year.

• It appears that Kennil Gomez (video here) will move into a relief role this season, and it's a role that could suit him well. Stuff has never been an issue for the Dominican righty, who gets excellent action on all his pitches. Gomez likely was never going to have the command necessary to stick as a starting pitcher. He posted a 5.77 ERA in 232.1 innings over the last two years at High-A.

Instead of working at 87-91 mph like he did as a starter, Gomez has been sitting between 90-92 mph out of the bullpen. While still a little erratic with his fastball, he still gets plenty of sink and run on the pitch. His unique 85-87 mph changeup has just enough velocity separation to create deception because the pitch moves almost exactly like his fastball. He also has an upper-70s slider that has tightened up a bit.

The 22-year-old has a chance to reach Double-A this season after spending over two full years in High-A. He'll need to prove that he can command his fastball with more consistency, but the stuff is there and the spring training results were promising.

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