The Texas Rangers extended major league spring training invitations to eight minor league players on Tuesday, including top prospects like Mike Olt and Tanner Scheppers. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the players invited.
According to Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com, the Texas Rangers invited eight prospects to major league spring training on Tuesday. The list includes five pitchers, a catcher, and two infielders. They are right-handers Fabio Castillo
, Greg Reynolds
and Tanner Scheppers
, left-handers Robbie Ross
and Ben Snyder
, catcher Tom Mendonca
, and infielders Greg Miclat
and Mike Olt
Mendonca's listed position isn't a mistake. Due to the presence of Adrian Beltre at the major league level––in addition to Olt and young third base prospect Christian Villanueva in the minors––the Rangers recently brought Mendonca to Arlington for a catching clinic, looking to introduce him to the position on a part-time basis. But the former third baseman took to catching quicker than expected, and the club made it a permanent switch. With all of the nuances to the backstop position, Mendonca will be working to develop his game behind the plate during spring training.
The 23-year-old prospect is coming off a strong season at Double-A Frisco in which he posted a .278/.335/.492 slash line, ranking fourth in the Texas League with 25 home runs. He tore through the season's first half but scuffled after the All-Star break, when he hit only .218/.275/.386 in 55 games. While the Fresno State product features plus power to all fields, his 28.8 percent strikeout rate (160 punchouts in 125 games) certainly limits his ability to hit for average and raises questions about whether he'll be able to continue the power production at higher levels.
Mendonca was somewhat of a riddle to scouts in 2011, showing some very positive signs (power, strong defense) and some very negative ones (lots of swing and miss). He was at least a solid-average defender at third base with decent range, sure hands and a plus arm, but the logjam of prospects has now moved him behind the plate. How Mendonca develops defensively as a catcher will certainly be a storyline worth watching in 2012. Although the position change raises some question marks, he should still begin the season at Triple-A Round Rock.
Miclat, 24, was acquired from Baltimore earlier this offseason as part of the deal that sent Taylor Teagarden to the Orioles. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to compete for the utility infield spot on the Rangers' opening day roster, although he's likely a longshot to win the job out of spring training. A 5-foot-9 switch-hitter, Miclat is coming off a strong season at Double-A Bowie in which he batted .280/.371/.347 with 50 stolen bases in 53 attempts.
Although he's not a speed burner, Miclat draws high marks for his awareness on the base paths, leading to the best stolen base percentage in all of minor league baseball last season. He has battled shoulder injuries at times during his career and played 114 of his 120 games at second base in 2011, but the Rangers believe he has the range and arm strength to handle shortstop just fine in the future.
Olt, 23, is unquestionably the organization's top corner infield prospect. Though his first full season was limited to only 73 games after he broke his collarbone during a collision at home plate, Olt posted a .264/.381/.500 line with High-A Myrtle Beach. The former supplemental first-round pick has legitimate bat speed, plus power to all fields and draws more than his share of walks, but he must work to cut down on the strikeout totals as he progresses. Olt had a successful 27-game stint in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, in which he batted .349 and paced the circuit with 13 round-trippers while posting a .764 slugging percentage.
Also an excellent defender at third base, Olt has all of the necessary tools and instincts to not only stick at the hot corner, but also to stand out there. He'll progress forward to Double-A Frisco in 2012. While he isn't a candidate to make the major league team out of spring training, the Rangers extended the invitation to big league camp in order for him to gain experience around the club.
Castillo, 22, was a member of the 40-man roster last season before recently being non-tendered and re-signed to a minor league contract. As part of the deal, Castillo received an invite to big league spring training. The big righty still has good stuff, including a heavy 93-97 mph fastball, solid-average upper-80s slider and the occasional changeup. But he battled his mechanics and command throughout the '11 campaign, leading to inconsistent results and a 6.36 ERA with 58 hits allowed in 52.1 innings at Double-A Frisco.
|Castillo was inconsistent last season.
The Dominican Republic native pitched well while playing winterball in his native country this offseason. In 12 appearances for the Toros del Este, he logged 15.1 innings while yielding 11 hits, walking seven, and striking out 12. Castillo still has the stuff to make an impact in a major league bullpen someday, but he must harness his mechanics with more consistency than he did last season.
Reynolds, 26, was recently acquired from Colorado in exchange for Triple-A Round Rock first baseman Chad Tracy. The second overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Reynolds never found a consistent home in the Rockies' major league staff and has struggled at Triple-A each of the last two seasons. He allowed 83 runs (6.81 ERA) on 160 hits in 109.2 innings with Colorado Springs last year. He also had a 6.19 ERA in 13 major league appearances, including three starts.
According to the FanGraphs pitch f/x data from 2011, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound righty features a four-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball (89 mph), cutter (85 mph), curveball (76 mph) and changeup (82 mph). The cutter is a relatively recent addition to his repertoire. Reynolds is a longshot to make the team and should begin the year with the Round Rock Express.
Ross, 22, earns the invite shortly after being named the Rangers' Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the 2011 season. The southpaw had an all-around excellent season, logging a 2.34 ERA between the High- and Double-A levels. Ross was particularly impressive after his late-season promotion to Double-A. With the ‘Riders, he put up a 2.61 ERA while striking out 36 and walking only five in 38 innings.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound prospect appeared to pick up steam as the season progressed in 2011. In his late-season starts, his lively fastball sat between 90-92 mph and bumped 93 on occasion. He also began throwing his sharp slider in the mid-80s, touching as high as 87 at times. The changeup is still a work in progress for Ross and could be a key factor in deciding whether he ultimately becomes a reliever or sticks in the rotation.
While Ross is highly unlikely to make the team out of spring training, he could make a big league cameo by the end of the season. Assuming he returns to minor league camp at some point this spring, he'll compete for a job in the rotation at Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock.
Scheppers, 24, may have the best chance of landing an opening day roster spot of the non-roster invitees, but he will have to improve upon an overall disappointing 2011 campaign. The flame-throwing righty entered last season with high expectations, as most experts––perhaps including the Rangers themselves––expected him to be pitching out of the major league bullpen by the All-Star break. But after beginning the year with an injury, Scheppers had a season-long battle with command––particularly in keeping his 94-98 mph fastball low in the strike zone.
The result was splitting the season between the Double- and Triple-A levels and a 3.71 ERA. He ended up logging 43.2 innings and giving up 41 hits while walking 21 and fanning 44. Scheppers pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, and while he yielded just one earned run on five hits (with 16 strikeouts) in 13 frames, his command and control issues continued as he walked 13 batters.
Still armed with plus-plus velocity and a knee-buckling power curveball, Scheppers has the stuff to pitch in the back-end of the Rangers' bullpen. If he harnesses his command once again, he'll be pitching in Arlington in no time. But whether he can do it is the question.
Snyder, 26, is a former Rule 5 Draft selection who didn't make the major league team in 2010 but was acquired from the Giants and sent to the minor leagues. After splitting '10 between Double- and Triple-A, the lefty pitched the entire 2011 season at Double-A Frisco. Working with an 86-88 mph fastball and a big, sweeping breaking ball, Snyder had a 3.87 ERA in 40 appearances––including 14 starts––for the RoughRiders last summer.
While Snyder doesn't miss many bats––he struck out only 67 in those 118.2 innings––he fills up the strike zone (30 walks) and limited fellow southpaws to a punchless .202/.278/.302 slash line last season. He's slated to begin the 2012 regular season on the Triple-A Round Rock pitching staff.
Other non-roster players with invitations to spring training include catchers Dusty Brown and Chris Robinson, infielders Alberto Gonzalez and Luis Hernandez, and infielder/outfielder Yangervis Solarte. All five players were signed to minor league contracts as free agents earlier this offseason.
Those players won't be the only minor leaguers attending major league camp. All members of the 40-man roster receive automatic invitations to spring training. That includes the group that was added this offseason––pitchers Jake Brigham, Roman Mendez, Justin Miller, Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, and Matt West. Minor leaguers Miguel de los Santos, Wilmer Font and Engel Beltre, who were placed on the 40-man roster after the 2010 season, will also be in camp.
Catcher Luis Martinez and first baseman Brandon Snyder, who were acquired via trade this offseason, are also members of the 40-man roster.
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