Rangers Minor League Roundup – 4/21

Single-A Hickory starting pitcher Luke Jackson took a no-hitter through 5.2 innings on Saturday. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at all of the day's minor league action in the Texas Rangers' system along with a scouting report of the 20-year-old Jackson.

Feature Player: Luke Jackson, RHP, Hickory

Although Luke Jackson is coming off an up-and-down 2011 campaign at Single-A Hickory, he has some of the best raw stuff in the Texas Rangers' system. Last year, Jackson posted a 5.64 ERA in 75 innings, allowing 83 hits, walking 48, and striking out 78. The former supplemental first-round pick appeared to tire down the stretch of his debut season, as his velocity dropped a tick and his secondary stuff lost sharpness.

The 20-year-old is firing on all cylinders in the early going this year. Jackson took a no-hitter through 5.2 innings on Saturday. In his first four starts, he's yielded three earned runs on 12 hits in 20.2 innings while walking seven and fanning 29.

Jackson flashes three potential plus pitches in his fastball, curveball, and changeup. When he's going strong, all three offerings can miss bats.

But his raw stuff is just that––raw. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound prospect overthrows at times, causing his overall command to suffer and his fastball to float up in the strike zone.

When Jackson is locating down in the zone, his high three-quarters delivery gives him excellent angle and allows his fastball to reach the plate on a steep downward plane––helping his already plus velocity play up. The Florida native throws his fastball between 91-95 mph in starts and often touches 97––as he did in his April 16 outing against Kannapolis.

Jackson also features an upper-70s-to-low-80s power curveball with sharp downward break and good depth. Given his age, he also has an advanced low-80s changeup that shows good fading and sinking action. Both offspeed pitches have been inconsistent over the last two years but could be plus with more seasoning. His curve is slightly ahead of his changeup at present.

The stuff is there for Jackson to become a top-of-the-line pitching prospect in the Rangers' system. Now, the key becomes putting it all together––including the refinement of command and learning how to effectively sequence his stuff.

While he's not particularly close to the big leagues, the youngster has made progress and has the pure upside of a number two starter. If he ultimately can't stick in a rotation, his power repertoire and competitive nature could make him an intriguing late-inning reliever (he often works at 94-97 mph in one-inning spring training and instructs stints).

Jackson, who logged 19 starts in the Sally League last season, could be in-line for a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach within the next month or two if he keeps having success in Hickory. Given his above-average raw stuff, he's a prospect who could begin to move quickly once he figures it out.

AAA: Round Rock 5 – (@) New Orleans 8
L - Perez (1-2)
HR - Martin (3)
6-11, 6.5 GB

The Express began a nine-day, eight-game road trip against the first-place Zephyrs on Saturday.

Round Rock starter Martin Perez (4.03 ERA/.235 BAA) had a bout with his own command, walking five batters in five innings while throwing 94 pitches (50 strikes). He gave up five runs on six hits and struck out three.

In four starts this season, the 21-year-old southpaw has allowed 19 hits in 22.1 innings, walking 11 and fanning 15. While there have been some ups and downs, it's so far an improvement on last year's Triple-A stint, when he surrendered 72 hits in 49 frames.

Three-hole hitting centerfielder Leonys Martin (.359/.438/.578) continued to do damage at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double, a home run, a walk, and three runs batted in. Martin also stole his fourth base of the season.

The 24-year-old has been excellent at the plate through his first 15 games, smacking eight extra-base hits with eight walks and nine strikeouts. The early offensive production is an improvement on his punchless .263/.316/.314 slash line in 40 Triple-A games last summer.

While Martin is showing development offensively, it's the small things––such as base running and overall game awareness––that he must still improve before earning a full-time big league job. For example, Martin––who has speed that's a tick above average––has been successful on just four of his nine stolen base attempts thus far.

Joey Butler extended his hitting streak to 12 games, as he went 1-for-3 with a double and a free pass.

Second baseman Yangervis Solarte recorded his second three-hit performance in as many nights. He singled three times in four trips while also driving in his 10th run of the year.

Reliever Tyler Tufts was hit around for the first time since his promotion to Triple-A. He gave up two runs on three hits in 1.2 innings, walking one without recording a strikeout.

Yoshinori Tateyama finished the game by yielding a run in 1.1 innings.

Although he didn't pitch on Saturday, left-hander Beau Jones is a member of the New Orleans roster. The former Rangers pitching prospect, who signed a minor league deal with the Marlins over the offseason, has yielded two runs in his first 8.1 innings out of the Zephyrs' bullpen this season.

Player of the Game: CF Leonys Martin
3 1 2 1 1 3 1 0 .359

AA: Frisco 3 – (@) Corpus Christi 11
L - Murphy (0-2)
HR - Beltre (4)
9-6, 1.0 GU

Corpus Christi clobbered the ‘Riders for 11 runs on 14 hits, including five extra-base knocks.

Frisco starting pitcher Tim Murphy was tagged for five runs in 2.1 innings. The southpaw yielded four hits, walked three, and plunked one. He struck out a pair.

Murphy, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, has scuffled in his first three regular-season starts on the heels of a decent performance in spring training. The 24-year-old has given up 15 hits in 10 innings, walking five and striking out five.

Murphy's fastball in spring training worked anywhere between 85-91 mph. He also mixed in a curveball and a changeup. There may still be another tick of velocity to come as he gets further removed from the surgery.

Before the Hooks bats could get going, centerfielder Engel Beltre (.293/.344/.621) led off the game with a solo home run––his fourth round-tripper in 15 games this season. Beltre hit just one homer all of last year.

Beltre, who was 2-for-5 on the night, has a double, three triples, and four home runs thus far. His .621 slugging percentage ranks fifth in the Texas League. Last season, his .300 slugging percentage ranked second lowest of all qualifying hitters in the circuit.

Despite scoring only three runs, Frisco actually had 12 hits on the evening.

Prospects Mike Olt (2/5, 2B) and Jurickson Profar (1/5, 2B) both doubled.

Olt is holding his own with a .255/.328/.491 slash line in the early going, but he's also struck out 19 times in his first 14 Double-A contests.

Second baseman Guilder Rodriguez (3/4) singled three times and stole a base while Leury Garcia (2/4) and Brad Hawpe (2/4) had two knocks apiece.

Garcia's batting average is up to .309 (17-for-55) in the early going. The 21-year-old switch-hitter has one walk and 14 strikeouts in 14 games.

After beginning his season with a handful of strong outings, Venezuelan righty Wilfredo Boscan was hit around for five runs on six hits and two walks in just 1.2 innings. His earned-run average ballooned to 6.30.

Fabio Castillo (4.50 ERA/.280 BAA) finished the game by throwing only 24 pitches in 2.1 scoreless innings. He gave up one hit, fanned one, and induced five groundouts.

Player of the Game: CF Engel Beltre
5 1 2 0 1 1 0 2 .293

A+: Myrtle Beach 2 – (@) Carolina 7
L - Font (0-2)
HR - Nicholas (1)
8-7, 0.5 GU

There would be no late-inning heroics for the Pelicans on Saturday, as Carolina raced out to an early lead and didn't look back.

Big right-hander Wilmer Font, continuing his return from Tommy John surgery, lasted only one inning––a frame in which he threw 35 pitches (22 strikes). He struck out two, giving up a run on a hit and a walk.

Joe Van Meter (1.46 ERA/.214 BAA) followed by permitting his first runs of the year. The Virginia Commonwealth product yielded two runs on four hits in three innings.

Despite his so-so outing on Saturday, Van Meter is off to a good start this season. He's allowed nine hits in 12.1 innings while walking four and striking out 15.

One Myrtle Beach hurler who isn't off to a great start is reliever Francisco Mendoza, who coughed up four runs on five hits and two walks in 1.2 innings.

Mendoza finished last season strong at Single-A Hickory, showing a 91-96 mph fastball with a wipeout upper-80s slider. But he struggled to throw either offering for strikes in camp, and that has continued in the regular season. The 24-year-old has worked five innings, giving up 13 hits and walking six.

First baseman Brett Nicholas went 1-for-3 with a home run––the Pelicans' only extra-base hit of the game––and a walk. His two-run homer provided both of the club's runs on the night.

Centerfielder Jake Skole continued to heat up with two singles in four trips, raising his batting average to .245. Middle infielders Odubel Herrera (1/4) and Edwin Garcia (1/3, BB) also singled.

Vin DiFazio was 0-for-1 but drew two walks and was also hit by a pitch.

Righty reliever Zach Osborne (1.74 ERA/.206 BAA) finished the game on a strong note with 2.1 scoreless frames. The Houston native permitted two hits and struck out two.

Player of the Game: 1B Brett Nicholas
3 1 1 0 1 2 1 0 .250

A: Hickory 6 – (@) Savannah 1
W - Jackson (2-0)
HR - Robinson (1)
11-5, 0.5 GB

Starting pitcher Luke Jackson (1.31 ERA/.162 BAA) retired 17 of the game's first 18 batters and took a no-hitter through 5.2 innings. The no-hit bid was broken up by a double, which was followed by an infield single.

Still, Jackson yielded just those two hits in six scoreless innings. He walked one and struck out seven. Of the 21 hitters who faced Jackson on Saturday, only three lifted the ball out of the infield.

Catching prospect Jorge Alfaro (.290/.313/.419) returned from a short stint on the disabled list (strained hamstring) at designated hitter. The 18-year-old had his best game of the young season, going 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, and two runs batted in.

Third baseman Drew Robinson (.204/.278/.367) also had his best game of the year. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, and three RBI. He struck out twice.

Chris Grayson, who is hitting .396 thus far, went 1-for-3 with a double, two walks, and his fifth stolen base. The speedy outfielder walked nine times in 48 rookie ball games last season, but he's already drawn nine walks (with 11 strikeouts) in his first 13 contests of 2012.

Left fielder Jeremy Williams (2/5) raised his average to .229 with a pair of hits.

Reliever Chris Hanna allowed a run on four hits in two innings of work. The score would be Savannah's only of the night.

Sinkerballing righty Randol Rojas closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, inducing two groundouts. The Venezuelan right-hander has permitted a run on six hits in his first 12.2 innings.

Player of the Game: RHP Luke Jackson
6.0 2 0 0 1 7 0 1.31

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