Rangers Advanced Instructs Notes – 9/27

A handful of the Texas Rangers' top prospects played in Tuesday's Advanced Instructional League game, including position player Jurickson Profar and hard-throwing hurlers Will Lamb and Matt West. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the performances.

Surprise 4 – Glendale 4

Engel Beltre, CF (1/3, 2B, BB)
Jurickson Profar, SS (2/4, RBI)
Christian Villanueva, 3B (0/4, K)
Odubel Herrera, 2B (1/3, BB)
Chris McGuiness, 1B (0/2, BB, K)
Jose Felix, C (0/2, K)
Tomas Telis, C (0/1)

––A handful of the Rangers' 2010 Arizona Fall League participants had disappointing campaigns at Double-A Frisco this season. Some of those prospects––including Engel Beltre, Jose Felix and Fabio Castillo––are currently looking to right the ship at advanced instructs.

After hitting .300 between Bakersfield and Frisco in 2010, Beltre played well in both the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Winter League. His strong all-around package of tools appeared to be translating into game skills. But the 21-year-old took a definite step back in his first full Double-A season this year. Beltre hit just .231/.285/.300 with one lone home run in 118 games.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty still has all the tools. He is developing into an excellent defender in center field with good range and a plus arm. He's a plus runner to go along with the bat speed necessary to turn around on plus velocity. The primary issue is––and always has been––his plate discipline.

At this point, the Rangers are certainly looking for baby steps out of Beltre. He put together good at-bats at times with Frisco this season, but they were far outweighed by his not-so good ones.

On Tuesday, Beltre put together a couple of good at-bats. In his second plate appearance, he worked the count full after falling behind 0-2 and poked a ball into the opposite field. He hustled it out for a double. His worked a five-pitch walk in his next plate appearance. Beltre had only 28 walks with 103 strikeouts at Frisco this summer.

Beltre will likely play in the Dominican Winter League once again this offseason, where he batted .333/.366/.437 in 33 contests with Licey. His 40-man roster spot isn't in jeopardy yet, but the 2012 season will be very important for him.

––At this point, there's not a whole lot that needs to be said about uber-prospect Jurickson Profar. The young switch-hitting shortstop had a single from each side of the plate on Tuesday while showing the usual disciplined approach. The Surprise team had an impressive group of young infielders, including Profar, Villanueva, Herrera, and the Royals' Cheslor Cuthbert.

––Chris McGuiness is at extended spring training as he looks to finish a rough injury-plagued season on a positive note. The first baseman is one of the three players acquired by the Rangers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the 2010 trade deadline. Hard-throwing righty Roman Mendez looks like a potential top prospect with a plus-plus fastball, but McGuiness scuffled this season and catcher-turned-pitcher Mike Thomas was released without throwing a pitch in an official game this year.

Because of the injuries, McGuiness appeared in only 53 games for Myrtle Beach this season. The 23-year-old batted .214/.320/.296 with 30 walks and 51 strikeouts. The lefty handles himself well at first base, and he can take a walk due to his excellent strike zone discipline. However, McGuiness has lots of pre-pitch movement in his swing load and has trouble catching up with plus velocity. He struck out, walked, and grounded out to second in his three plate appearances on Monday.

––Tomas Telis had a flyout to right field in his only at-bat, but it was an impressive swing. His bat speed was put on display when he turned around a down-and-in mid-90s fastball from the left side and hit it relatively hard. The 20-year-old is a long way off behind the plate, as he struggles to block balls, but his switch-hitting bat is advanced. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound prospect posted a .297/.329/.430 slash line in 115 contests at Single-A Hickory this summer.

Will Lamb: 2 ip, 0 h, 2 r, 2 bb, 1 k (39 pitches – 20 strikes)
Zach Osborne: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (8 pitches – 7 strikes)
Fabio Castillo: 1 ip, 1 h, 1 r, 1 bb, 1 k (12 pitches – 6 strikes)
Joe Van Meter: 1 ip, 3 h, 1 r, 1 bb, 3 k (26 pitches – 14 strikes)
Chad Bell: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k (10 pitches – 9 strikes)
Ryan Rodebaugh: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 0 k (7 pitches – 2 strikes)
Francisco Mendoza: 1 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 1 k (24 pitches – 16 strikes)
Matt West: 1 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 3 k (17 pitches – 12 strikes)

––Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Matt West's 2011 campaign was how quickly he adjusted to the mound. The right-hander not only showed a fantastic arm with seemingly easy mid-to-upper 90s heat, but he also filled up the strike zone with both his fastball and breaking ball. In 27 innings this summer (26 with Spokane and one in Bakersfield), he fanned 35 while issuing only one walk.

West began pitching at the end of spring training, and his fastball touched 94 mph in his first bullpen session. He got his first game action in extended spring, flashing (almost surprisingly) repeatable mechanics and a feel for pitching. Lone Star Dugout featured West (with video) in early May.

In Tuesday's advanced instructs contest, West fanned the side while working around two singles. On this chart that follows: FB (fastball), SL (slider), B (ball), C (called strike), S (swinging strike), F (foul ball).

–94 FBB, 95 FBF, 95 FBF, 80 SLC – strikeout looking
–80 SLC, 79 SLB, 95 FB – single to right field
–95 FBB, 96 FBF, 97 FBB, 80 SLC, 80 SLS – strikeout swinging
–94 FBB, 94 FB – single to center
–94 FBF, 80 SLC, 79 SLS – strikeout swinging

West threw his fastball between 94-96 mph on Tuesday, topping out at 97 one time in his relatively short frame. His 79-80 mph slider is really more of a slurve––it's a breaking ball with big two-plane break, including good depth and tilt. It was a sharp offering that fooled the Glendale hitters. Of the seven times he threw it, nobody made contact and six went for strikes.

Perhaps the biggest downside of West's game at this point is his within-the-zone fastball command. His fastball can straighten out a bit when up in the zone, and he still leaves it up at times. West surrendered a few home runs in his 26 innings in Spokane this year. Regardless, that's a relatively small gripe for his first year on the mound.

The 22-year-old may find himself on the Rangers' 40-man roster this offseason. He flashes two potential wipeout pitches and occasionally mixes in both a changeup and a harder slider. Because he fills up the strike zone, he should begin to move quickly through the system next year. West likely isn't an arm the Rangers would feel comfortable leaving unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft, regardless of his relative inexperience.

––When viewing left-hander Will Lamb in Spokane earlier this summer, he flashed dominant stuff at times but also fell out of his delivery at others, hurting both his velocity and command. The Clemson product followed the same path on Tuesday.

His first inning was dominant. The chart:

91 FBC, 93 FBC, 94 FB – flyout to left field
94 FBB, 92 FBS, 82 CBC, 83 CBB, 93 FBB, 77 CBC – strikeout looking
81 CBB, 76 CBS, 91 FB – flyout to left field

In the second inning, Lamb's fastball touched 95 mph early. But it eventually dropped into the 87-90 mph rage (he finished the outing with a 93 mph heater), and he consistently missed below the strike zone. The second frame began with an error before being followed by a hit-by pitch and a pair of walks.

The 6-foot-6, 180-pound lefty became a full-time pitcher for the first time in his career this summer, making the mechanical inconsistencies understandable. Despite the long limbs and moving parts, he is an excellent athlete who should be able to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes with more experience.

Lamb's fastball often ranges anywhere between 87-95 mph and topped out at 97 at times this past season. He works at 91-95 mph when his mechanics are in-line. He flashes three quality pitches at times in a 74-83 mph curveball and a changeup, although he still must keep from slowing his body when throwing the change.

Some scouts who saw Lamb this summer believe he will find an eventual home in the bullpen, where he can flash plus-plus velocity with decent secondary stuff. But the Rangers will surely work Lamb as a starting pitcher for the time being in order to maximize his experience, and it's far too early to rule out a future in starting.

––Deceptive sinkerballing righty Zach Osborne won the prize for quickest inning of the day. The tall right-hander, who posted a 2.93 ERA between the A-ball levels this season, threw seven strikes out of eight pitches (including seven-of-seven with his fastball) while featuring an 86-88 mph sinker. He induced a groundout to first, a strikeout swinging (87 mph fastball) and a popup to first.

––Lefty Chad Bell had arguably the biggest in-season improvement of any pitcher in the Rangers' organization this season. After scuffling in spring training with his mechanics, stuff and results, Bell joined High-A Myrtle Beach and surrendered nine runs in his first 15.1 innings, walking 10 and striking out 12. His delivery was far from fluid and the velocity dipped to 86-89 mph.

The Rangers lowered Bell's arm slot in June, helping smooth the mechanics. The velocity wasn't there, but he began getting results. The 6-foot-3 hurler eventually brought his arm slot back up, and the smooth delivery followed. The end result was an excellent second half, which included a 2.45 ERA in 16 appearances––58.2 ip, 49 h, 13 bb, 46 k.

Bell had a short 10 pitch, nine strike inning on Tuesday. His chart was as follows:

89 FBF, 78 CBC, 80 CBS – strikeout swinging
79 CBC, 91 FBC, 81 CBB, 91 FBC – strikeout looking
91 FBC, 92 FB – single to first base
90 FB – groundout to shortstop

Bell commanded his 89-92 mph fastball low in the strike zone during the short sample. His 78-81 mph curveball was a late-breaking pitch with plenty of depth––perhaps the best breaking ball he has thrown since joining the Rangers' system in the '09 draft. The 22-year-old worked his way back into the starting rotation down the stretch this season, and he could get an opportunity to start at Double-A Frisco out of spring training next year.

––Although Francisco Mendoza wasn't quite at his best on Tuesday, he still showed good stuff while throwing his fastball up to 96 mph and his slider to 89. Mendoza's fastball and slider ticked up after a late-season promotion to Hickory, and he ended up striking out 33 batters (with only five walks) in 22.2 innings. His fastball sat between 93-96 mph, and the slider was often clocked at 86-89 mph.

In Hickory, Mendoza's slider had sharp, late break with good tilt. His breaking ball wasn't quite as sharp on Tuesday, though it showed good tilt. The pitch missed bats in Hickory. On Tuesday, hitters weren't able to square it up but they were making contact. His plus fastball has some heavy late life, and it––of course––has room for command refinement.

The 23-year-old Mendoza is a bit older than most at his level. That's largely due to a leg injury he sustained during a motorcycle accident in the Dominican Republic a few years back, which cost him nearly the entire '08 campaign. But the reliever has two potential plus pitches and is worth keeping an eye on in 2012.

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