Name: Yohander Mendez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: January 17, 1995 (18)
Acquired: 2011 International Free Agent (Dominican Republic)
Before Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a bonus cap on international amateur free agents last summer, the Texas Rangers had earned a reputation as one of the game's biggest spenders in the market.
That was especially true during the July 2 signing period in 2011, the final window without bonus restrictions. The Rangers inked three players to seven-figure deals, giving a record $4.95 million to outfielder Nomar Mazara, $3.45 million to first baseman Ronald Guzman, and $1.5 million to left-hander Yohander Mendez.
Because he signed at the same time as Mazara and Guzman, Mendez has managed to fly a bit under the radar––even though he received by far the largest bonus the Rangers have ever given to a Latin American amateur pitcher. Additionally, Mendez played his debut summer in the Dominican Summer League, while Mazara and Guzman were state-side in 2012.
Despite the overall lack of attention, Mendez is one of the Rangers organization's more intriguing projection arms. Standing approximately 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, the left-hander has an overall clean delivery with a feel for pitching and secondary stuff.
After signing in the summer of 2011, the Venezuela native worked on the side and in unofficial games at the Rangers' Dominican Republic complex. But he was quickly slowed by a tender elbow.
Mendez didn't pitch during fall instructional league in 2011 or spring training last season; the Rangers chose to take it easy on the southpaw, putting him on a rehab and strengthening program to ensure that he'd make a fully healthy return.
"Right now, it has been very positive," Rangers minor league field coordinator Jayce Tingler said about Mendez's health last spring. "He has been on the rehab program with Keith Comstock and the training staff. The plan was, right after spring training, to get him back to the Dominican and get him throwing. He is putting on weight, he is getting stronger, and he is getting great reports from Keith Comstock."
The Rangers ultimately elected to hold Mendez back in the United States for a portion of extended spring training, keeping him on the training program.
"We're probably going to extend that program and see if we can continue to get him more physical and stronger––especially in the lower half and the leg area. He is continuing to increase his long toss. The ball is coming out of his hand well. He has got a lot of positive things going right now.
"So we're probably going to extend that up to the point where he's about ready to start seeing some live game action. At that time, we'll have a discussion whether to send him down and pitch down in the Dominican or stay here."
As it turned out, the Rangers chose to send Mendez back to the D.R. in early June for the start of the Dominican Summer League campaign. The projectable southpaw performed well throughout the summer, posting a 1.99 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts). Over 45.1 innings, he yielded 36 hits, walked 13, and struck out 35.
Mendez gradually had his innings total and pitch count built up through June before working five innings during four consecutive starts in July and August. On the whole, he maintained his stuff well and continued adding strength to his slender frame.
Following the regular season, Mendez returned to Arizona to pitch in the Rangers' fall instructional league, where he put on another strong performance. He'll make his official state-side debut in 2013.
Also See: Rangers' July 2 haul taking shape (July 25, 2011)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jayce Tingler (April 4, 2012)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Standing approximately 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, Mendez is a long, lanky southpaw with lots of room to add strength and fill out his frame. His tall frame, loose arm, smooth mechanics, and strike-throwing ability enable him to project as a starter long-term. After signing in 2011, the Venezuelan's fastball was up to 88-91 mph, touching 92 at times while working at the Rangers' Dominican complex. He settled into the 86-88 mph range––hitting 89––in the Dominican Summer League and at fall instructs last season. While his fastball doesn't show a lot of life at present, he locates it well enough for his age and fills up the strike zone. As mentioned, Mendez still has plenty of room for growth; his fastball should be at least average with a chance for solid-average or plus, but he needs to mature physically.
Other Pitches: Projecting as a future plus pitch, Mendez's changeup is his most advanced offering at present. Throwing his change between 76-78 mph with some fading life, Mendez creates excellent deception on the pitch––particularly given his youth––by matching his fastball arm action and arm speed when throwing it. He's already able to throw it for strikes with consistency and is confident enough to use it against both left- and right-handed hitters.
On the other hand, Mendez sometimes struggles with arm and hand speed when throwing his 72-74 mph curveball; he often doesn't throw the breaker with as much conviction as the fastball and change, leaving it soft and loopy. That's an issue many, if not most, young hurlers deal with, and it should be correctable over time. While inconsistent, his curve has good shape with some depth and gives him projection for a third pitch of at least average quality.
Projection: There's a lot of projection remaining in Mendez's game, making his ceiling difficult to project entering his age-18 season. He shows an advanced feel for pitching, secondaries, and command, but he also has lots of room for growth––particularly on the body and fastball.
At present, only one of Mendez's offerings––the changeup––looks like a certain future plus. His fastball and curveball could come around to more, but they may end up as average pitches. The total profile would appear to give Mendez a potential mid-rotation future, but he just recently turned 18 and has a lot of development remaining. His ultimate ceiling will mostly be determined by how strong his body gets (i.e. the ability to remain healthy and handle a starter's workload), how much velocity he has at maturity, and how much the breaking ball develops.
2013 Outlook: After debuting in the Dominican Summer League last season, Mendez will make his official state-side debut in 2013. He'll play at one of the two short-season levels––either the rookie Arizona League or the short-A Northwest League. The 18-year-old's destination will be determined by what he shows during spring training and extended spring. While Mendez is expected to work as a starting pitcher, he'll likely have his innings monitored after logging just 45.1 frames last season.
|2012||DSL Rangers (DSL)||2-1||45.1||36||13||35||1.99|