Scouting Report and Video: Wilmer Font (8/22)
Right-handed pitcher Wilmer Font is having an all-around successful season in his first campaign since undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2010.
Between the High- and Double-A levels, Font posted a 4.03 earned-run average in 33 appearances (19 starts) during the regular season. Over 98.1 innings, he yielded just 67 hits, walked 44, and struck out 138.
After working as a starting pitcher for the majority of the 2012 season, Font moved into a relief role in late July. Rangers Minor League Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark says the club needed to limit Font's innings in his first season back from surgery, but they also wanted to see how the 40-man roster member's stuff would play out of the bullpen.
"The number one thing for Wilmer––going into the season––is that we wanted to be at 100 or 110 innings," Clark said. "When we flipped him, he was at about 86, so we knew we didn't have as much to play with.
"Plus we also wanted to again see him in the bullpen because we've never seen him out of the bullpen. We wanted to see if his velocity would play up, which it has."
Font's velocity––and fastball in general––is his best weapon as a pitcher. During his final regular-season appearance against Midland on September 2, Font struck out all three batters he faced while touching 100 mph on the radar gun.
As a starting pitcher this season, the Venezuela native most often worked in the 92-96 mph range, touching a tick higher on occasion. He had success at High-A Myrtle Beach despite relying (very) heavily on his fastball.
Between the velocity, heavy life, and deception, Font's fastball is at least a 70-grade pitch––and some scouts have argued 80.
"It's really fun to watch," said Pelicans Pitching Coach Brad Holman. "And it's not a normal fastball. It's a very, very heavy ball, and hitters just aren't getting good swings. So there's some deception that goes along with it as well as some sinking action at times."
The 22-year-old's dominant fastball has helped him rack up those 138 strikeouts in 98.1 innings this season, including 29 in 15 frames since his promotion to Double-A Frisco.
Font was particularly impressive in his final four regular-season appearances, tossing eight innings of two-hit shutout ball while walking one and striking out 16.
That stretch includes Font's August 22 outing, which is shown in the video below. While the appearance was a brief one-inning look, it provided a fitting snapshot of Font's current status as a prospect.
The 6-foot-4, 260-ish pound prospect began the frame with a five-pitch walk that included some wild misfires on his fastball. He was overthrowing (and flying open in his delivery), causing him to miss away to the right-handed hitter. But he settled in and fanned the next three batters in order, ranging his fastball between 93 and 97 mph.
As the video shows, Font certainly has the demeanor of a late-inning reliever. He attacks hitters with a high-octane fastball and pitches with a purpose. But his overall below-average to fringy command still must improve. While he's done a better job of throwing strikes this season––and has refined his delivery––Font is still a pitcher who relies more on his natural velocity and movement, peppering the zone with fastballs when he throws strikes.
At the end of the day, Font is likely a reliever. His elite pure fastball and attacking demeanor gives him the ceiling of a late-inning major league reliever. But whether or not he reaches that potential will be determined by how well he commands his fastball and how much his secondary stuff progresses.
Font entered this season with a big-breaking low-70s curveball and a soft changeup––two offerings that didn't quite complement his mid-to-upper 90s heat. The Rangers let Font continue to work with the old secondary pitches earlier this year before eventually scrapping them in favor of a slider and a split-change.
Although Font didn't show a splitter in the outing against San Antonio, he threw three sliders at 77-78 mph. With Font's currently below-average breaking ball still on the soft side, Clark hopes the velocity improves next season as he gets more comfortable with the pitch.
"We let him use both (the curveball and the slider) early in Myrtle Beach, and then we kind of took away the curveball," Clark said. "The slider we hope matches up with his velocity––gaining more confidence with his hand speed on the slider.
"He has the right rotation of it, but you'll still see him, as he creates his hand path––he tries to create the slider versus trusting the slider and staying through the ball."
As Clark mentioned, Font has a tendency to slow his body and arm when throwing both of his secondary pitches at present. Because he isn't a guy who shows excellent arm speed––most of his elite velocity comes from pure strength––he doesn't ever figure to throw the upper-80s power slider that many hard-throwing relievers feature. But if he can begin throwing his slider with more conviction in the low-to-mid 80s, it could be an average pitch––especially while playing off the elite fastball. It's a present 40-grade pitch with 50 potential.
During the appearance against San Antonio, Font's first two sliders come out of his hand lacking bite with loose spin. But his third was a sharper pitch with late vertical break.
Overall, Font projects as a big fireballing reliever who lacks a plus secondary pitch. If his command and breaking ball develop just enough, he could reach his potential as a late-inning reliever. If not, he could wind up as an arm-strength middle reliever or up-and-down guy.
Either way, the Rangers are plenty satisfied with Font's progress both mentally and physically in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
While he's currently pitching in the Texas League postseason with the RoughRiders, Clark says Font should get a brief opportunity to refine his game in Venezuela this offseason.
"It's going to be a limited-type winterball season for him," he said. "He is going to go and pitch. Obviously it's according to whether or not he gets called up in September. I think a lot of it goes into play with that.
"If he doesn't get called up, then yes, we're probably going to put a limited amount of innings on him going into winterball."
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