Scouting Rangers Prospect #27: Wilmer Font

After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2011 season, right-hander Wilmer Font is set for a return to action this year. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 21-year-old prospect with an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Wilmer Font
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: May 24, 1990
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 245
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2006 International Free Agent

Font's 2012 feature story scouting report may look similar to his 2011 scouting report because, quite frankly, he hasn't pitched in a game since 2010.

Right-hander Wilmer Font has been in the Texas Rangers' organization for five full seasons. But he has also missed a significant amount of time due to various injuries.

Shoulder soreness and knee tendinitis limited Font to only three rookie ball appearances in 2008. After undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in October 2010, he was sidelined for the entire 2011 campaign.

Font's raw talent has always been evident. As a 17-year-old with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers in '07, the prospect was already flashing 98 mph heat. The rest of the package––including mechanics, command and secondary stuff––has been a steady work in progress.

Despite missing nearly all of the '08 season, Font got an aggressive assignment to Single-A Hickory the following year. Though still plenty raw, he began to show progress while posting a 3.49 ERA and fanning 105 batters over 108.1 innings.

Font was particularly impressive late in the '09 campaign, putting up a 2.95 second-half ERA with much-improved command. He walked 31 batters over 44.1 innings prior to the All-Star break but issued just 28 free passes in 64 frames afterward.

The success was due in part to Font's work with then-Crawdads pitching coach Brad Holman.

"I call him ‘man-child," Holman said during the 2010 season. "He's just a real strong kid. But he needed a lot of maturing. More so from a personal standpoint, but also as a pitcher. He's another guy that had a lot of rotation in his delivery. And every time he threw the baseball, he tried to throw it 110 mph."

Even though Font had plenty of overall success with the Crawdads in '09, the Rangers sent the hurler back to Single-A to open the 2010 season. According to Holman, the club wanted to give him a refresher course.

"He really grew a lot," the pitching coach said. "He went home in the winter. They sent him back here this year (2010) because they wanted to get him started how he finished. The second half of the season was really improved command to the first half last year. To get him off on the right foot this year was a big deal."

The Venezuela native opened his 2010 campaign by making seven starts at Hickory before earning a promotion to High-A Bakersfield.

Following a rough Cal League debut outing, the early returns for Font were extremely positive. Over his next three starts, Font yielded one earned run in 19 innings, walking five and striking out 19. Included in that was a strong seven-inning start against Visalia, which was detailed in this story.

Font was showing the ability to command his fastball and get ahead in counts. And Holman says that's something that began to improve during his time with Hickory.

"His fastball command improved greatly," he said. "The changeup was a workable pitch. His curveball is coming along––it's something that I think is going to need work.

"I'm not so sure what Wilmer Font is going to be in the future, but I know this––if he continues to progress at the rate he did when I had him, I think he's going to be a special pitcher."

Then, after the impressive string of starts with Bakersfield, Font began to experience some discomfort in his elbow and lost some control. While the loss of control and elbow problems were likely linked, it's difficult to know for certain. Regardless, Font walked 22 batters in 28 frames over his final five starts.

He was shut down for the remainder of the season following his outing on July 5. After attempting to rehab the injury, he eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in early October 2010.

When Font returns to the mound this season, he'll be just 21-years-old (turning 22 in late May) with plenty of time left to develop. However, the club added the hurler to the 40-man roster two offseasons ago. The Rangers may choose to put him on a faster track to the majors by converting him into a hard-throwing reliever.

Also See: Tweeting Rangers Instructs (October 2, 2011)
Rangers Top Prospects, Top Tools (October 27, 2011)
Rangers All-Prospect Teams (November 8, 2011)
Rangers Injury Wildcards (December 12, 2011)

Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.

Fastball: The big-bodied pitcher can flash plus-plus velocity in a fastball that has reached the upper-90s and flirted with triple digits at times during his career. During the '09 and '10 seasons, Font learned to sacrifice some of that velocity for improved command, and it led to better results. He also began showing progress in repeating his delivery with more consistency.

After working mostly in the low-to-mid 90s (touching 96-97) in '09, Font displayed periods of above-average command in the 89-92 mph range with Bakersfield last summer. If the stuff remains the same post-surgery, he could ultimately have average command of a 92-95 mph fastball that can bump higher in short spurts. His fastball could potentially sit in the mid-90s if the Rangers choose to fast-track him out of the bullpen coming off the injury this season. There is some uncertainty due to the surgery, and those questions should be (mostly) answered this year.

Other Pitches: Font's ability to get on top of his curveball has been an issue through his professional career, but the pitch showed some improvement in 2010. Thrown between 69-74 mph, the curve can be a bit loose and loopy at the lower velocity but has good shape. In the 72-74 mph range, the offering has a hint of sharpness and two-plane break. Because Font was able to get on top of the pitch, it morphed from a tough-to-command slurvy breaking ball into a true big-breaking curve that he was able to throw for strikes. As he continues to gain a feel for the pitch, he should throw it a bit harder with sharper break.

While Font's curveball has about average potential, it wouldn't be a particularly well-suited pitch for him if he's a reliever. He could begin naturally throwing the curve harder in short spurts out of the bullpen. But it wouldn't be a shock to see the Rangers have him begin experimenting with a slider at some point.

When Font entered the 2010 campaign, his changeup was considered the more advanced of his secondary offerings, though his feel for the pitch still comes and goes. He can create deception with good arm speed, velocity separation and tumbling action on the low-80s change. The inconsistency makes it a fringy pitch at present, but it has solid-average potential.

Projection: Font would rank higher on this list if it weren't for the injury and uncertainty that it has created. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound prospect has a body that appeared a little soft in 2010, but he should be plenty strong and durable if he dedicates himself and stays in shape.

His big frame, plus fastball and potential for two usable––though not dominant––secondary offerings give him the potential to become an innings-eating number three starter who could show flashes of dominance. While he has a decent feel for the strike zone and projects for average control, his fastball command and offspeed stuff must continue to improve.

If Font doesn't ultimately develop a starting-caliber arsenal and command, his ability to pump 80-grade velocity in short bursts could make him an intriguing late-inning relief prospect––particularly since he'll be in his second season on the 40-man roster this year. He doesn't have a swing-and-miss offspeed pitch right now, but his fastball could be elite.

2012 Outlook: After undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2010, Font was throwing simulated games during instructs last fall and should be full-go for game action this spring. His performance in spring training could go a long way toward deciding where he opens the 2012 season. Font is still relatively young at 21-years-old, but he's also already on the 40-man roster. The Rangers will have to make a decision as to whether they want to continue developing him as a starting pitcher or transition him to the bullpen, where he has late-inning relief potential. Regardless of where he begins the year, Font could log a significant portion of his innings at High-A Myrtle Beach this season.

ETA: 2013.

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2007 AZL Rangers (RK) 2-3 45.2 41 24 61 4.53
2008 AZL Rangers (RK) 1-0 4.1 1 1 6 10.38
2009 Hickory (A) 8-3 108.1 93 59 105 3.49
2010 Hickory (A) 4-1 29.2 35 13 33 3.86
Bakersfield (A+) 1-2 49.0 38 32 52 3.86
2011 DNP – Injured --- --- --- --- --- ---

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