Sizing up the right-handed starters (part 1)

Which prospects have the highest upside? Which ones are ready to make a Major League impact soon? Who needs to make their mark quickly? Lone Star Dugout takes a look at some of the right-handed starting pitching prospects in the Texas Rangers' system in part one of this three-part series.

Need to Make Their Move

Tae Kyung Ahn: The Korean prospect has been one of the system's biggest mysteries since he signed for a sizable bonus near the conclusion of the 2008 season. Shortly after signing, Ahn reported to Fall Instructional League, where he had more than his share of struggles with both velocity and control. During the '09 campaign, Ahn battled more control problems–plus a minor shoulder impingement–and he pitched in just five games for the rookie-level AZL Rangers. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound hurler walked 10 batters in just 3.1 innings.

Regarded as one of the top prospects in all of South Korea following his junior year of high school, Ahn slipped a bit in his senior year and he hasn't yet been able to recover. The 19-year-old has both two- and four-seam fastballs [which can reach the low-90s], two different breaking balls, and a changeup. Ahn still has the raw tools to turn it around and succeed, but his primary issue is simply throwing the ball over the plate. He will almost certainly get another shot at the Arizona League in 2010.

Ben Henry: The 6-foot-4, 190-pound righty has been a raw arm with talent ever since he was initially selected in the 30th round of the 2007 MLB Draft. Henry entered the 2009 season looking to capitalize on a solid '08, but his velocity dropped in Spring Training, and the Rangers send him to their complex in the Dominican Republic when camp broke.

Henry came back to the states and joined Spokane for the start of their season. After two starts, the 20-year-old had an incredible 15 strikeouts in 8.2 innings, but things quickly went downhill. After Henry was battered in his next three starts, he was relegated to the bullpen. The Rangers eventually chose to scrap his straight-over-the-top delivery and gave him more of a high three-quarters release. Henry gradually improved, worked his way back into the Indians' rotation, and he finished the season with a 3.45 ERA over his last seven appearances (six starts).

The South Carolina native found the high three-quarters delivery to be a success across the board. The angle not only gave him much more deception on his upper-80s fastball, but the pitch also gained a lot of natural movement. Additionally, more than ever in his career, Henry was able to command his fastball in the bottom-half of the strike zone. His go-to offspeed pitch is his big-breaking curveball, which can be a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch at times. He also spent much of his time in the Dominican Republic working on a changeup.

Hurley will pitch again in 2010.
Eric Hurley: Once the club's unanimous top prospect, Hurley's future has been in question ever since he underwent surgery on a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum about a year ago. Hurley had pitched through shoulder pain for much of the 2008 season before being shut down, and he missed the entire '09 campaign after undergoing surgery.

After four mostly dominant seasons in the minors, Hurley struggled at Triple-A Oklahoma in 2008, posting a 5.30 ERA and yielding 15 home runs in 74.2 innings. The former first-round pick mostly held his own in five big league starts that season, but the injury appeared to hurt his durability, velocity, and command.

When healthy, Hurley flashes a heavy 92-95 mph fastball to go with a sharp slider and a usable changeup. During his time in the minors, he was regarded as a tough pitcher who improved [particularly with velocity] as games progressed. Hurley's raw stuff and mental makeup led most to project him as a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher.

Now 24-years-old and a year removed from labrum surgery, nobody is quite sure how Hurley's arm will react. Hurley has once again begun throwing, and he should return to action at some point in the 2010 season.

Michael Schlact: The 6-foot-8 hurler also has quite a bit of uncertainty, as he will be returning from a similar injury. This past July, Schlact underwent surgery to repair a few tears in his rotator cuff and a small tear on his labrum. Schlact appeared in four games with Double-A Frisco in 2009, but he was placed on the disabled list three different times between April 13 and May 31 before he was finally shut down for the season.

When healthy, the 24-year-old [Schlact turned 24 on December 9] relies on his 88-92 mph sinker that can drop off the table. The sinker has allowed Schlact to post solid ground ball rates throughout his professional career. He also has a 91-93 mph four-seam fastball, which he uses on occasion. Schlact spent two seasons at High-A Bakersfield focusing on the development of his four-seamer and slider, and the slider has continued to get a bit sharper with each season.

Schlact's 2010 season is going to be big, and he may be the epitome of a prospect that needs to make their move. With practically a lost season in 2009, Schlact will become a six-year free agent at the conclusion of the '10 season. His stuff still provides reason for hope, and he should be ready to pitch in games at least shortly after Spring Training breaks.

The Jury is Still Out

Alvarez has advanced offspeed stuff.
Richard Alvarez: The organization is extremely high on the 17-year-old, who was one of the youngest players in the States this past season. Alvarez has the tools to develop into an elite starting pitching prospect, but he still has some work to do.

The Venezuela native will need to add some velocity to his fastball, as he currently sits between 86-88 mph in most of his starts. However, Alvarez commands his fastball well, and he has two very advanced offspeed pitches to complete his repertoire. His curveball and changeup both project to become plus pitches down the line.

If there was a major criticism from Alvarez's first year in pro ball, in which he posted a 5.49 ERA in 41 innings for the rookie-level AZL Rangers, it was that he had a tendency to shy away from his fastball at times. Of course, given the effectiveness of his curve and change, the issue was a bit understandable. Alvarez pitched much of the season as a 16-year-old–he didn't turn 17 until August 14.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound righty could compare a bit to fellow Venezuelan Omar Poveda, although Alvarez's breaking ball should be better than Poveda's. Poveda's velocity had gradually improved with each year in the minors, and if Alvarez can do the same, he could quickly become one of the system's top prospects.

Blake Beavan: Much of the talk surrounding Beavan over the past two years has been about his drop in fastball velocity since being drafted. However, the 6-foot-7, 250-pound hurler is still an excellent pitching prospect with plenty of potential.

Known as an absolute power pitcher out of high school, Beavan has developed into a guy who succeeds more on control and command. His fastball sits right around 90 mph–sometimes in the upper-80s, sometimes low-90s–and he could still gain some velocity as he matures. He has had some success with a rapidly developing changeup, which should at least become an average pitch. Beavan commands the change well, and the pitch has solid fading action. His slider shows some potential at times, but for the most part, it must get tighter and sharper to become a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch at the upper levels.

Though Beavan was hittable with Double-A Frisco [he allowed 113 hits in 89.2 innings] and he didn't miss many bats [34 strikeouts], he showed improvement as the season progressed, posting a 2.78 ERA in his last nine starts. Beavan finished the season with a 4.01 ERA in 15 Double-A starts. It's also important to note that he did so at just 20-years-old. Beavan may not have the front-line potential he was once thought to possess, but he can still develop into a reliable big league starting pitcher.

Jake Brigham: With a 5.52 ERA in 89.2 innings pitched with Single-A Hickory, Brigham's 2009 numbers weren't exactly awe-inspiring, but there were plenty of positives during his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

Practically from the start of Brigham's '09 campaign, his velocity took off. The 21-year-old consistently worked in the low-90s, often touching the 94-96 mph range. He was also able to tighten up his big curveball, which has definite plus potential. Brigham used his curveball to chase strikeouts this past summer. Like all young starting pitchers, Brigham is also working on a changeup.

The jury remains out on Brigham because, while the raw stuff to be a top prospect is present, the results currently lag behind. The Florida native still has inconsistent command and mechanics–two of the primary issues that hold him back. However, if there's a list of top breakout candidates in the Rangers' system for 2010, Brigham would have to be at or near the top.

Keith Campbell: The 2009 15th-round pick was a bit overlooked on a very talented Spokane pitching staff. Campbell, a product of Everett Community College in Washington, played against fellow Rangers draft pick and Spokane teammate Braden Tullis, who hails from Skagit Valley CC. Campbell was solid in his pro debut, proving to be tough to hit, as he gave up just 16 hits in 21.1 innings en route to a 4.22 ERA. However, he was also wild, issuing 16 walks.

The 22-year-old Campbell is a couple of years removed from Tommy John surgery. During his freshman season at Everett CC, the right-hander logged a 1.46 ERA while striking out 94 batters [and walking 34] in 68 innings. During his JUCO season, the South Carolina native threw his fastball between the upper-80s and low-90s, sometimes touching the 92-93 mph range. But he was only in the 88-90 mph range with the Indians–not a major surprise given it was his first year back from surgery. Campbell also works with a promising breaking ball. He finished his debut season on a positive note, as he moved to the bullpen and didn't surrender a run in his final five appearances–or eight innings.

Doyle is a sinker-slider guy.
Andrew Doyle: The Rangers were able to sign their fourth round pick for slot money–$234,000–and then they took it easy on him after signing. Though the organization views the University of Oklahoma product as a starting pitcher, he made 19 appearances out of the bullpen with Spokane and Hickory after logging 90-plus innings for the second consecutive season at OU. Doyle was excellent in Spokane, giving up only four earned runs in 19 innings [1.89 ERA] while walking just four and fanning 24. A couple of bad outings led to a high ERA in 6.2 innings with the Crawdads, but he still got ground balls and fanned nine batters in that time.

Despite the high strikeout numbers in his debut summer, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect probably isn't going to be a big strikeout guy as he progresses. Doyle relies on his 89-91 mph sinker, and he can use a four-seam fastball with a bit more velocity when necessary. The 22-year-old is a ground ball pitcher, but his sweeping low-80s slider showed the ability to miss some bats in his debut. Doyle has an advanced feel for his changeup, which could help give him a third average pitch down the line. The righty is expected to open the 2010 season as a starting pitcher once again.

Trevor Hurley: The Kansas State product returned to Spokane in 2009 even after pitching fairly well there as a reliever in '08. This time, the Rangers sent Hurley there as a starter, and he flourished, posting a 7-2 record with a 3.36 ERA in 15 starts. Hurley was able to practically cut his walk rate in half [from 6.6 per nine innings to 3.7] while remaining tough to hit and still missing bats.

The 22-year-old had a rough three-year career at K-State, as he finished with a career 5.99 ERA, and he posted a 6.90 ERA in 27 appearances during his final season with the Wildcats. But Hurley is beginning to look like a bit of a steal in the 22nd round of the 2008 Draft. The Tomball, Texas, native has always possessed a solid fastball–anywhere between 88-93 mph–and he also has a promising slider.

Justin Jamison: Yet another tall right-hander, the Rangers' 13th-round pick in the '09 Draft stands at 6-foot-8, 225-pounds. Jamison has a big body and a big arm, but he is going to be a project. The Strongsville, Ohio, native touched 93-94 mph in his debut summer with the AZL Rangers, but he mostly worked between 87-90 mph. Jamison had plenty of control issues, as he walked 23 batters in 13.1 innings.

A two-sport star in high school, Jamison was also regarded as a top basketball prospect until he began making baseball a priority. Because he still doesn't have a ton of experience, Jamison still must find consistent mechanics, and his control clearly has to improve. The 18-year-old shows some potential with a curveball. While he worked out of the bullpen in rookie ball this past summer, the organization views him as a starting pitcher down the line.

Carlos Melo: The 18-year-old has one of the highest ceilings in the entire system, but he is also still very raw. Melo's numbers in his U.S. debut with the AZL Rangers left something to be desired–7.09 ERA, 60 hits and 24 walks in 47 innings–but he also improved with the season. In his last five starts, he went 22.2 innings, giving up 24 hits, walking 10, and fanning 26.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Melo has hit the upper-90s in the past, and he spent much of the 2009 summer touching the 94-95 mph range with consistency. Melo has a loose arm and the heat appears to be effortless as the ball explodes out of his hand. His fastball command progressed throughout the season, but his secondary stuff remains very raw. Melo can spin a curveball, but he was rarely able to get it over the plate last season.

Ocampo was better than his overall numbers suggested.
Kyle Ocampo: The 21-year-old spent nearly the entire summer coming out of the bullpen after two dreadful starts [13 runs in 8.2 innings] to start Spokane's season. Still, Ocampo has some of the best raw stuff in the system, and he likely isn't done as a starter. The righty not only saw his results improve out of the bullpen, but his stuff was also a bit sharper. In his final nine appearances, he yielded just one run in 16 innings, giving up seven hits, walking four, and fanning 16.

As a starter, Ocampo works between 90-93 mph with excellent life on his fastball. The late movement on his heater has allowed him to post solid ground ball rates in each of his first two professional seasons. While coming out of the bullpen, his velocity took another tick up and his command continued to improve. Though he has never had problems with walks, Ocampo's often spotty command–mostly leaving the ball up in the zone–can lead to him getting hit hard at times. However, command was not an issue during most of Ocampo's '09 season. His sharp slider has plus potential, and he is also working on a changeup to help him improve against lefties, as they hit .298 against him this season [righties hit just .195].

Neil Ramirez: The former supplemental first-round pick didn't have a flashy summer with the Hickory Crawdads, but he was once again difficult to hit and continued to miss some bats. Ramirez worked anywhere between 88-93 mph with his fastball–mostly sitting around 90-91–but he was still able to succeed with his velocity being down a tick. The prospect's primary concern over the last two years has simply been command. Ramirez walks and hits [41 walks, 14 HBP in 66.1 innings] too many batters.

If Ramirez begins locating his fastball and getting ahead in the count with more consistency, he could fly through the system. He spent much of the year working on both his curveball and changeup. The 20-year-old's curveball lost a bit of bite early in the season, but he began to get the feel back later in the year, as shown by his 32 strikeouts in 26 innings over his last seven starts. He has a bit of a feel for the changeup, and it has an opportunity to become an average pitch–but probably not much more–in the future.

Staying on the field has been a primary concern for Ramirez, who has missed significant time in each of his first two seasons due to what were basically freak injuries. He was sent home from instructs a few days early because of some discomfort in his shoulder. If Ramirez can stay healthy enough to refine his command, he could become a top prospect. The pitcher features a hard, heavy fastball, and he has already proven to be difficult to hit.

Ryan Tatusko: One of the most inconsistent pitchers in the Rangers' system, the 24-year-old Tatusko definitely has potential. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in 2009, and he was flat-out dominant at times. However, he also had some clunkers, such as a nine-run, 13-hit outing in 4.1 innings against the same Modesto club he nearly no-hit. In the end, it led to a 4.64 ERA in 120.1 innings between the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Tatusko throws his fastball anywhere between 88-93 mph–usually around 90-92–and the heater has plenty of natural cutting movement. The cut made Tatusko extremely tough to hit against righties [.237 BAA] and it kept hitters from getting under the baseball–he yielded just nine home runs and got nearly two groundouts per flyout in the Cal League. The 6-foot-5 pitcher has a big curveball and a changeup. Tatusko's hard curveball was inconsistent at times in '09, and he began making the changeup a focus for the first time in his career during the second half.

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