Rangers Minor League Notes (3/1)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – It was a busy day at the Texas Rangers' complex on Thursday. The Rangers played their first intrasquad game of the spring, with a number of young prospects seeing game action. Four of Frankie Piliere's top 100 MLB Draft prospects were also playing in Surprise Stadium. Lone Star Dugout has notes from both events.

Although the Texas Rangers' major league spring training is well underway, minor league camp doesn't officially kick off for another week. There are quite a few prospects already in Surprise, though, and a number of them are participating in a minicamp. Many of those players––including youngsters like Ronald Guzman and Rougned Odor––played in the Rangers' intrasquad game on Thursday.

Until the action picks up on the minor league side, I'll be posting notes from the younger players and prospects getting action in the major league games. One reminder: early-spring game reports should be taken with a grain of salt, as most players are just getting back into the swing of things. Some hitters will have a bit more trouble catching up to velocity this early in camp, and most pitchers will be inconsistent with their velocity right now.

First, some notes on Thursday's intrasquad game––the first live game action of the spring––before diving into a couple of 2012 MLB Draft notes.

  • The Rangers moved 6-foot-5 prospect Ronald Guzman to first base during fall instructional league last offseason. His immature long-limbed body made him somewhat of an awkward athlete, but he is showing more coordination early in camp as his 17-year-old frame begins to develop.

    After looking a bit more smooth during infield drills on Wednesday, Guzman went into the full splits––which is highly impressive given the length of his legs––to stretch out on a ball that shortstop Jurickson Profar had thrown from his knees. It was a great play on both sides, with Profar going deep into the hole to stop a ground ball before making a strong throw toward first. Guzman stretched to the ground and finished off the superb play. He's still quite raw at first base but appears to be a little more smooth.

    The Dominican Republic native went hitless in his two late-game plate appearances but also showed his talent. While facing righty Roman Mendez, he turned on a 91 mph fastball on the inner half for a deep flyout to right field. It was a ball that, in two years, almost certainly leaves the yard. Guzman has a quick bat and an advanced feel for hitting given his age and body.

  • Third baseman-turned-catcher Tom Mendonca saw his first-ever game action behind the plate and looked raw, as expected. He didn't get a chance to throw any runners out during the game. Between innings, he popped in the 2.1 to 2.2 range and appeared to rainbow his throws to second base slightly. He has above-average arm strength, but he's clearly still getting accustomed to throwing from behind the plate.

    Mendonca is best known for his raw power, and he showed it on Thursday by going 2-for-2 with a double and a long home run over the 404-foot sign in right-center field. It was a pitch that any upper-level professional hitter should crush––a 91 mph fastball up and over the plate––but good to see that he hit it a long way nonetheless.

  • Mike Bianucci is playing first base early in camp, and he got late-inning game action there on Thursday. Be sure to check out Wednesday's spring training notes for more on Bianucci and the other minor leaguers already in camp.

  • Right-hander Jake Brigham, who was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason, hurled a scoreless inning on 11 pitches (six strikes). He gave up one hit and fanned one. Brigham threw his fastball at 91-93 mph with a sharp 77-81 mph curveball. He didn't mix in the slider or changeup. The reliever finished off the frame with a couple of sharp late-breaking curves that dove down and in on the left-handed hitter. While his overall command must still improve, both his curve and slider can miss bats on top of a fastball that sits at 93-96 mph and reaches 97 out of the bullpen.

  • Robbie Ross followed Brigham with a perfect frame, throwing seven of his nine pitches for strikes and recording a punchout. Just about everything Ross throws has cutting action––which is nice on the fastball and slider but not so much on the changeup. He located his 88-91 mph fastball well on top of the good life. His third pitch––the changeup––was a primary focus late last year and into the offseason. The 84 mph change is still fringy and often cuts rather than fades. He mixed in a couple during the short inning on Thursday. Ross also threw one 73 mph curveball––a pitch he began developing as a fourth offering last year. He didn't mix in a slider.

  • Miguel de los Santos, also on the 40-man roster, appeared to be working on a slider in addition to his normal fastball-curveball-changeup arsenal. The funky left-hander was throwing an 81-82 mph slider, looking like a pitch he only recently began throwing. His 76 mph curve was both sharper and harder than it has been the last two seasons with late downward break––a definite promising sign. Former supplemental first-round pick Zach Cone was a strikeout victim on the plus-plus changeup, as he had his knees buckled by a nasty 76 mph offering that appeared to stop in mid-air before tumbling down and toward the outside corner.

    De los Santos' change has lots of life, which is part of what makes it such a devastating pitch. But he's also able to throw it with deception despite the big-time velocity separation from his fastball. Few pitchers can show a 13 mph differential between the fastball and changeup while also maintaining their arm/body speed and mechanics.

  • Justin Miller's improving slider played a significant role in his dominant second half at Double-A Frisco last season, when he surrendered only three runs in 33.1 innings. With a 92-93 mph fastball on Thursday, the reliever flashed a very good slider at 83 mph with long break and late dive. He also worked in a couple of 81 mph changeups with fade and sink, locating one of the two.

    Miller improved his velocity, secondary stuff and overall command quite a bit last season. Although it's very early in camp, his slider and changeup both looked promising in the intrasquad game. Miller yielded a hit in an otherwise clean 13-pitch frame.

  • The Coca-Cola Classic kicked off in Surprise Stadium on Thursday, with four of Frankie Piliere's top 100 draft prospects for this summer in action.

  • Saint Mary's right-hander Martin Agosta (Frankie's #69 prospect) kicked off the weekend against Oregon State. He threw 106 pitches (70 strikes) in six innings, yielding four runs on five hits while walking one and fanning six.

    The 20-year-old was particularly impressive in the early innings, featuring a 91-94 mph fastball with a sharp 82-84 mph slider. Both offerings showed the potential to miss bats, and his slider looked like a future plus pitch. Agosta's slider had long break at good velocity with late tilt. Though he's listed at only 6-foot-1 and his fastball doesn't have much life, Agosta––coming from over the top in his delivery––pitched from a downward plane and got nice angle on his fastball. He has clean, easy-to-repeat mechanics with a quick arm and an advanced feel for command of the two primary pitches. Agosta mixed in the occasional third pitch––an 82 mph changeup––though he tipped it by dropping his arm slot and slowing his mechanics.

    After the first two innings, the California native looked like a future first-round pick with two potential plus offerings and impressive command. But his stuff began to soften as the game progressed. His arm slot dropped slightly––causing him to lose some of the angle on the fastball––and his velocity fell to the 89-92 mph range (sitting at 90-91). His previously sharp slider also became a little more slurvy between 79-80 mph. He began having more trouble putting hitters away.

    There's no doubt that Agosta is a talented hurler, but he'll need to prove that he can hold the stuff and mechanics deeper into games (in addition to refining the changeup as his third pitch) if he's to remain a starting pitcher. His 6-foot-1, 178-pound frame is a bit lanky and has room to add muscle. It's also easy to look at the early-innings velocity and breaking ball and dream on him as a future late-inning relief prospect if he doesn't stick in the rotation. But whoever drafts Agosta will almost certainly give him the opportunity to develop as a starting pitcher first.

  • Prospect Video:

    2012 MLB Draft: Martin Agosta, RHP (best viewed in full screen and HD).

  • Arizona State righty Brady Rodgers (Frankie's #57 prospect) pitched a gem in the next game against Saint Louis, tossing a complete-game four-hitter on 106 pitches (70 strikes). He surrendered just one unearned run while walking two and fanning seven.

    More known for his advanced pitchability than pure stuff, Rodgers did an excellent job of mixing and locating his deep four-pitch repertoire throughout the start. The Houston native flashed a fastball that sat mostly between 87-90 mph. He also showed a big-breaking 73-75 mph curveball with good depth, a 79-80 mph slider and the occasional changeup. The prospect was able to throw all four of his pitches for strikes when needed.

    The knock on Rodgers is his lack of plus velocity, though he can touch the low-90s with more consistency than he did in Thursday's start. He's a polished pitcher in all aspects. Rodgers has clean mechanics, pitches well with his fastball (read: locating it to both sides of the plate and changing the hitters' eye levels by working it up and down effectively) and commanded two solid––though not wipeout––breaking balls.

    Rodgers, who's listed at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, entered the season with a career 2.52 ERA and only 20 walks (with 150 strikeouts) in 164 innings. He's a good athlete and a strike-thrower who can locate a deep arsenal but doesn't project to miss many bats. He looks to be a back-of-the-rotation prospect with the absolute ceiling of a number three starter.

  • Prospect Video:

    2012 MLB Draft: Brady Rodgers, RHP (best viewed in full screen and HD).

  • Saint Mary's third baseman Patrick Wisdom (Frankie's #73 prospect) has a well-built and strong 6-foot-2, 210-pound body––and he may be a few pounds heavier than listed. Despite his size, the junior flashed some agility and quickness by making a couple nice backhand stops toward the third base bag. He also showed definite plus arm strength by making strong throws off his back foot to nail the runners at first base. It was just a one-game look, but Wisdom looked like at least a decent defensive third baseman with an above-average arm.

    At the plate, Wisdom mixes his strength with a quick bat to generate plus raw power––his best offensive tool. He socked a home run against Oregon State on Thursday. The prospect also displayed a patient approach with an advanced eye for the strike zone. He worked deep into counts and drew one walk after a long at-bat in which he fouled off a number of tough pitches close to the zone.

    Wisdom is off to a bit of a slow start this season, but he has some intriguing tools (power and arm) and has the potential to create some draft helium this spring.

  • I also got a quick look at Sun Devils shortstop Deven Marrero (Frankie's #7 prospect) but didn't get a chance to see much. He's a slick-fielding shortstop with an advanced hit tool. I'll be writing more about him later in the weekend, as I get a better look.

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