Rangers Minor League Roundup – 4/7

The Texas Rangers continued to get strong performances from all of their minor league starting pitchers on Saturday, as the five combined to allow one earned run in 25 innings. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at all of the day's minor league action.

AAA: Round Rock 7 – (@) Iowa 2
W - Tufts (1-0)
HR - Bianucci (3)
2-1, 1.0 GB

Express cleanup hitter and first baseman Mike Bianucci made it three home runs in his first three Triple-A games when he went yard in the second inning on Saturday night. He would go 2-for-4 with two RBI, a walk, and a stolen base.

Although he hasn't hit for a high average at the upper levels, the 25-year-old Auburn product certainly isn't short on raw strength and power. He posted a .243/.302/.469 slash line at Double-A Frisco last season, hitting 30 home runs in 133 games.

Mostly a left fielder and designated hitter in the past, Bianucci is becoming primarily a first baseman this year.

Right-hander Neil Ramirez turned in a solid opening to his 2012 campaign by working four strong innings. The prospect allowed a run on two hits, walking one and striking out six. He threw 42 of his 66 pitches for strikes.

Ramirez's short four-inning stint on Saturday was most likely just a product of low early-season pitch counts. Minor league starting pitchers will gradually build their workload with each of their first few starts.

The 22-year-old's outing was particularly impressive considering that he never seemed quite in-sync mechanically during spring training. Although his changeup was working, his fastball location was a bit off and he was often casting his curveball in his delivery––causing it to come out a little softer and not as sharp. But Ramirez had success on Saturday and induced 10 swings and misses out of his 66 pitches.

Both of Round Rock's corner outfielders also contributed to the victory. Right fielder Joey Butler doubled twice in five trips while left fielder Leonys Martin was 3-for-5 with his first two-bagger.

Catcher Luis Martinez (1/4, 2B) also doubled. DH Elio Sarmiento had two singles in four trips during his first career Triple-A game.

A trio of Express relievers posted strong work in the final five innings to ensure the victory.

Also making his Triple-A debut, recently promoted righty Tyler Tufts scattered three singles in two scoreless innings, striking out one. He threw 28 strikes and seven balls in the stint.

Newly signed veteran Aaron Heilman followed with a hitless, scoreless seventh inning. He worked around a walk. Left-hander Ben Snyder finished it off by allowing a run on four hits in two innings.

Player of the Game: 1B Mike Bianucci
4 3 2 0 1 2 1 1 .417

AA: Frisco 6 – (@) Springfield 1
W - Loux (1-0)
HR - Beltre (1), Hawpe (1)
2-1, 0.0 GU

Playing in his first Texas League game since 2003, Brad Hawpe showed that he can still hit Double-A pitching. The 32-year-old designated hitter went 3-for-4 with a double, a home run, a sacrifice fly, and two RBI in his first game with Frisco.

While Hawpe was with the Rangers' big league club in spring training, he was released with a few days remaining in camp in order to give him an opportunity to find a major league job with another team. When that didn't come to fruition, he elected to re-sign with the Rangers on a straight minor league deal.

MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reported that Hawpe will play DH and first base for Frisco for the time being while he continues to rebuild his arm strength. Hawpe is coming off Tommy John surgery and can also play in the corner outfield when at full-strength.

While the RoughRiders' bats plated six runs, the pitching staff scattered 12 hits––including 10 singles––through the nine innings and limited Springfield to just one run. The Cardinals stranded 10 runners on base.

Texas A&M product Barret Loux yielded six hits (five singles) in his five innings but kept the Cards off the board. He threw 72 pitches while walking two and striking out two.

Right-hander Trevor Hurley (1 IP) and Corey Young (1 IP) tossed a shutout frame apiece despite both allowing a pair of singles. Ryan Rodebaugh gave up a run in two innings––striking out three along the way––to close out the game.

Engel Beltre had an interesting day at the plate for Frisco. The left-handed hitter went 1-for-5 with a two-run homer and four strikeouts. Though not all of his plate appearances were long, he saw a total of 17 pitches during his first two punchouts.

It's far too soon to say that Beltre has turned a corner, but he was having better at-bats and putting himself into hitter-friendly counts more often during camp this year. If he does that with consistency, he'll allow himself to see more driveable pitches, which should help him improve on last year's .231 batting average and .300 slugging percentage. But Beltre has struggled to do that on a consistent basis through his career thus far, so the jury is still out.

Leury Garcia (1/5, 3B) tripled and Zach Zaneski (1/4, 2B) doubled for the RoughRiders' other extra-base hits. First baseman Chris McGuiness reached base three times in four trips, getting two singles and a base on balls.

Third baseman Mike Olt singled once, walked once, and struck out three times.

After an 0-for-4 performance with two punchouts, top prospect Jurickson Profar has begun his Double-A career in an 0-for-11 slump. He was also hit by a pitch on Saturday.

Despite the hitless performance, Profar is, true to form, working the counts just fine. He saw 29 pitches in his five plate appearances––nearly six pitches per at-bat.

Player of the Game: DH Brad Hawpe
4 2 3 1 1 2 0 0 .750

A+: Myrtle Beach 2 – Wilmington 1
W - Mendez (1-0)
SV - Rowen (1)
2-0, 1.0 GU

Fireballing righty Roman Mendez announced his presence in the Carolina League by striking out the game's first three batters––Whit Merrifield, Alex McClure, and Cheslor Cuthbert.

Mendez went on to have a fine start, surrendering just an unearned run in six innings pitched. He gave up three singles and fanned nine without issuing a walk.

The Dominican right-hander is coming off a solid performance in major league camp in which he featured a mid-90s fastball and vastly improving secondary stuff. He mixes in a slider, a splitter, and a straight changeup. All three of Mendez's offspeed pitches remain a bit inconsistent but flash above-average.

Mendez took big strides last season at Single-A Hickory, when he posted a 3.31 ERA and struck out 130 (with 45 walks) in 117 innings. After showing more improvement this spring, the 21-year-old may be primed for a full-on breakout. He was Lone Star Dugout's number seven prospect in the Rangers' organization this past offseason.

Mendez was featured in-depth during camp in this story.

Left fielder Jared Hoying, who is repeating the High-A level, fell a homer short of the cycle in Saturday's victory. He went 3-for-4 with a single, a double, and a triple.

Third baseman Christian Villanueva was a perfect 3-for-3 with a double and a hit-by pitch. Tomas Telis (1/4, 2B) also doubled while Vin DiFazio (2/4) singled twice.

Righty relievers Francisco Mendoza (1 IP) and Ben Rowen (2 IP) teamed up for three scoreless frames to finish the game. The submarining Rowen fanned two and induced three groundouts.

The Pelicans' pitching staff has 24 strikeouts in their first two games.

Player of the Game: RHP Roman Mendez
6.0 3 1 0 0 9 0 0.00

A: Hickory 8 – (@) Kannapolis 0 (7 innings – Game 1)
W - Payano (1-0)

Hickory's offense jumped all over the Intimidators early, plating seven runs in the first three innings.

Chris Grayson (2/4, 2B), Zach Cone (2/4, 2B), Jeremy Williams (1/4, 2B) and Drew Robinson (1/3, 2B, BB) all notched a double off Kannapolis starter Daniel Webb in those first three frames.

The Rangers' 13th-round pick in last year's MLB Draft, Grayson is an intriguing under-the-radar prospect. The outfielder has borderline plus-plus speed to go along with a little bat speed and gap-to-gap pop.

First baseman Kevin Torres singled, walked, and was plunked by a pitch in four plate appearances.

Tall lefty Victor Payano earned the full-season assignment out of camp this year on the heels of a strong performance at last year's fall instructs and last month's spring training.

The 19-year-old Payano didn't disappoint on Saturday, as he allowed only two hits in five shutout innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Nick Martinez, who came on in relief of Payano, gave up two doubles in two innings but was otherwise unharmed. He fanned three without walking a batter.

Player of the Game: LHP Victor Payano
5.0 2 0 0 2 4 0 0.00

A: Hickory 4 – (@) Kannapolis 2 (7 innings – Game 2)
W - Eickhoff (1-0)
3-0, 1.0 GU

Although Jerad Eickhoff isn't a well-known prospect, he has a four-pitch mix that includes a good fastball from a strong 6-foot-4 frame. The 21-year-old dazzled in his first full-season start during the nightcap, limiting Kannapolis to a single hit in five blank innings. He struck out seven and walked one.

Eickhoff, who also performed well during spring training, was featured during camp in the same feature that was linked earlier.

The doubleheader's second game remained scoreless until the top of the fifth inning, when Hickory busted out for all four of its runs.

Catcher Kellin Deglan (1/3, 2B) and shortstop Hanser Alberto (1/3, 2B) both doubled. Drew Robinson (2/3) and Zach Cone (1/3, BB) each reached base twice.

Leadoff man Luis Sardinas went 1-for-2 with a walk, a hit-by pitch, and his third stolen base in as many games. Through three games, the speedy shortstop is 4-for-10 with two walks and two strikeouts.

Tall right-hander Nick McBride allowed two runs in two innings, striking out three, to end the game.

Player of the Game: RHP Jerad Eickhoff
5.0 1 0 0 1 7 0 0.00

Subscribe to LoneStarDugout.com today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all premium content on LoneStarDugout.com, Scout™ Player and Roster Database (including the 'Hot News' at the top of the site), Breaking News and Information, Total Access to all Scout.com Websites, and Player Pages, detailing the progress and careers of players from high school, the minors, and the pro ranks.

Sample the LoneStarDugout.com Total Access Pass™ at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 or $21.95. If you want to save 2 months off the monthly subscription price, simply choose the annual LoneStarDugout.com Total Access Pass™ at $79.95.

Future Rangers Top Stories