Myrtle Beach News and Notes (4/23)

The High-A Myrtle Beach club is off to a strong start, posting a 10-4 record and getting good performances from the team's top prospects. Lone Star Dugout has news and notes on the Pelicans, including a feature interview with right-hander Barret Loux.

  • After a long, unprecedented saga that saw Barret Loux go from sixth-overall pick to free agent to signing with the Rangers for $312,000, the hurler has officially begun his professional career. And Loux is happy to have all the off-field drama out of the way.

    "It's fun out here," said Loux. "I'm having fun. We're winning a lot of games. It's nice to be out of Arizona, and it's nice to be playing baseball. For awhile, I didn't know if I was going to get to do that. I'm happy to be playing."

    Through three starts, the 22-year-old Texas A&M product has a 1-1 record with a 4.40 earned-run average. He has logged 14.1 innings, giving up 15 hits, walking four, and striking out 14. Loux has also induced just over two groundouts per flyout.

    "I'm doing some things well, but there are some things that I need to be doing better," he said of his performance thus far. "So I'm not completely happy with it. But I'm taking some of the positives and trying to correct some of the negatives."

    Loux attacks hitters with the standard four-pitch mix––fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He worked primarily off his fastball during his first two years of college but started to mix in the secondary stuff more often in his junior campaign with the Aggies.

    Still, Loux says he'd like to continue working to mix in all of his pitches.

    "My slider was good in my last start," he said. "It's just different little things. I've changed some things mechanically. I want to slow the game down instead of overthrowing. I want to use all my pitches, too."

    While Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman has earned a reputation as a mechanical guru, Loux has enjoyed picking his coach's brain about the mental aspect of the game.

    "Mechanically, we haven't worked on a ton of stuff," said the native Texan. "He's just trying to let me do my thing for awhile, and then if something needs to be corrected, we'll address it.

    "With him, I'm trying to be around him as much as I can because he tells guys how to pick stuff up. I'm taking advantage of his knowledge."

    The health of Loux's right arm raised plenty of questions around last summer's draft. He had a cleanup procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow in '09, and his physical with the Diamondbacks last summer reportedly revealed potential shoulder troubles.

    But so far, Loux says he is healthy, and his velocity has been just fine. The 6-foot-5 righty has thrown his fastball at 90-94 mph through his first three starts, and he has touched as high as 96 mph.

    "It feels good," Loux said of his arm. "Last year was the best it has ever recovered, and this year it has started off recovering better than that. I haven't had a problem yet. I felt good yesterday and threw hard."

  • Ross has 16.2 scoreless innings.
  • Left-hander starter Robbie Ross has certainly been the most impressive Pelicans arm in the early going. After tacking on 5.2 scoreless innings on Friday, the former second-round pick has begun his season with 16.2 shutout frames. He has yielded nine hits while walking seven and fanning 15.

    The 21-year-old generates lots of ground balls––a 2.33:1 ratio through four outings––due to the excellent late life on his 88-92 mph fastball. Everything he throws features cutting action––the fastball, 81-84 mph slider, and 81-83 mph changeup.

    Ross flashed an improved changeup this spring. Many scouts believe he'll ultimately wind up in the bullpen, but he has a chance to stick as a starting pitcher, particularly if his change develops into a reliable third offering.

  • Both Ross and righty Joe Wieland should finish the 2011 season in the Double-A Frisco rotation if everything goes according to plan. And both hurlers must focus on the same areas––developing the changeup and commanding the fastball low in the zone.

    Wieland generally throws his fastball between 87-93 mph, sitting in the 89-91 mph range with some armside run and a little sink. He, like Ross, had a tendency to drift up with his heater last year, leading to 67 hits allowed in 59 innings at High-A Bakersfield.

    He began to throw his 74-78 mph curveball more often with the Blaze last season. The pitch became more consistent as a result, looking like a future plus offering with good sharpness and depth. The breaker helped him log improved strikeout numbers down the stretch in 2010, and he has 17 punchouts (and only three walks) in his first 12 frames this season.

  • It would probably be a stretch to say that any of the Pelicans' current starting pitchers have front-line potential. But Loux, Ross, Wieland, and lefty Robbie Erlin are all aggressive strike throwers with decent stuff and mid-rotation ceiling projections.

  • Once a physically impressive third base prospect, Johan Yan is now a sidearming reliever. After throwing over the top with less-than-inspiring results (9.36 ERA) in '09, he converted to a sidearm delivery during extended spring training last year.

    Now, Yan showcases a seemingly effortless and carefree delivery with good deception. The 22-year-old uses a heavy mid-to-upper 80s sinking fastball and a frisbee slider to rack up the groundouts. He has given up only one earned run in eight innings with the Pelicans, walking three and striking out eight.

    The ground balls have continued to come for Yan. He has induced 14 groundouts against only one flyout so far this season. While he can be erratic at times, it's difficult to argue with the numbers he has posted as a sidearmer––51.1 ip, 38 h, 14 er (2.45 ERA), 15 bb, 44 k.

  • Kenny Gomez is another Dominican sinkerballer with unique stuff. Playing his third season at the High-A level, Gomez struggled as a starter in '09 and '10 but is having early success in his new relief role.

    Gomez's fastball velocity has ticked up (91-92 mph) out of the ‘pen, and the pitch still has excellent sink. Although he throws a hard changeup at 87-88 mph, it's effective in working almost like a second sinker––it has similar action as his fastball. Gomez throws it confidently to both left- and right-handed hitters. His upper-70s slurve also has tighter break this season.

    The 23-year-old righty is still a bit erratic, and he probably always will be. But if he throws enough strikes, his stuff could carry him to the upper levels. So far, Gomez has permitted just a run on four hits over nine innings, walking three and striking out 12.

  • Reliever Ryan Kelly, acquired from Oakland for Guillermo Moscoso over the offseason, is another reliever worth watching. He fills up the strike zone with a 93-96 mph fastball and a hard, sharp 81-84 mph slurve that looked like a plus pitch in camp. He is currently working as a spot starter in place of Neil Ramirez but profiles as a short-inning reliever.

  • The Rangers sent lefty Kasey Kiker down to Myrtle Beach in order to work out the kinks with pitching coach Brad Holman. With already diminished velocity (86-91 mph), Kiker lost control of the strike zone in Frisco last season, walking 46 batters (and plunking eight more) in 40 innings.

    He continued to struggle in spring training, and the early results with the Pelicans aren't all that promising. In five innings, he has walked eight, hit one, and unleashed three wild pitches. His last two outings have been better, though (3 ip, 1 walk), so perhaps he has something to build on.

  • Olt is off to a fast start.
  • Third baseman Mike Olt could not have asked for a better start to his first full season. Coming off a strong showing in spring training, Olt has posted a .353/.469/.627 slash line through his first 14 contests. If there's one nitpick, it's that he has 14 strikeouts. But he's also second in the Carolina League with 11 free passes.

  • The supplemental first-round pick generates plus raw power with his strength and bat speed. He has worked to take some of the pre-swing movement out of his mechanics, which he hopes will make him shorter to the ball and help cut down on the strikeouts.

    If Olt proves that he can make consistent contact, he could find himself in Double-A Frisco at some point this season. RoughRiders third baseman Tom Mendonca is coming off a rough season in High-A, but he is playing well early on while feeling the heat from Olt. Mendonca leads the Texas League with six round-trippers in 13 games.

  • Travis Adair is more solid minor league soldier than prospect, but it's impossible to ignore his early-season performance. The son of former Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Rick Adair, Travis is making a name for himself by hitting .396 with five doubles, two homers, and 11 RBI in 13 games.

    Adair, who played the '08 and '09 seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization, belted his first two career home runs at Single-A Hickory last year. He has already matched the career high just over two weeks into this season.

  • Although Adair is a natural second baseman, he has played all of his games at DH or in left field so far due to the presence of Santiago Chirino. The club's decision to put Chirino, who doesn't turn 20 until November, in High-A was more of the more surprising roster assignments out of spring training.

    And while Chirino entered the year with just one season of state-side experience, he is more than holding his own in the Carolina League. The 5-foot-10 Venezuela native is currently 15-for-43 (.349) with two doubles, one walk, and four strikeouts.

    Chirino doesn't currently post big walk totals, but he clearly has a feel for the strike zone. He is a disciplined hitter for his age (16 walks, 21 strikeouts in 56 games last season) and should draw a few more free passes as he develops. The prospect has an advanced all-fields approach that gives him a solid hit tool.

    He is also an excellent defender at second base, with beyond-his-years instincts and soft hands. Chirino may have the athleticism to handle shortstop or third base on occasion, but his arm strength is less than ideal on the left side of the infield.

  • Jared Hoying missed a few days of action due to a minor shoulder injury, but he is back and playing everyday. The 21-year-old is an intriguing––and unique––prospect with good, though slightly unrefined, across-the-board tools. A good athlete with plus arm strength, the former shortstop is still adjusting to the outfield in terms of reading the ball off the bat and getting maximum carry behind his throws. At the plate, he has great bat speed and raw power but is refining the upper body-heavy swing he relied on in college.

  • It's tough to say much in the positive or negative about Hoying's start, but the other two outfielders named Jared––Prince and Bolden––would certainly like to hit the reset button.

    Both players, who began the season as Myrtle Beach's expected corner outfield duo, are batting under .100 on the year. The two are a combined 6-for-72 (.083), and both are still searching for their first extra-base hit.

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