Sizing up the right-handed starters (part 2)

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 nine right-handed sleeper prospects in part two of this three-part series.

The "Sleepers"

Wilfredo Boscan: Boscan isn't flashy, but he knows how to pitch–particularly for his age–and he has been one of the system's most consistent performers over the last three years. The Venezuela native initially broke out when he posted dominant numbers in the Dominican Summer League in 2007. He followed it up with a solid season in Spokane, and the righty posted a 3.59 ERA in 105.1 innings at Single-A Hickory this past summer.

The 20-year-old works anywhere between 88-92 mph with good sinking action on his fastball, and he may be at his best when he throws in the upper-80s and gets the most out of his natural movement. Although Boscan's ground ball rates have shrunk in each of his three professional seasons, he still spots his fastball well and keeps it down in the strike zone for the most part.

Boscan's primary weakness over the last two seasons has been minor injuries. He had one disabled list trip with Spokane in 2008, and he missed over a month [from April 21 to May 27] in Hickory this past season. Boscan was also sidelined during Instructional League. The prospect's other weakness is his breaking ball, which remains a below-average pitch. He has had trouble getting the pitch over for strikes. However, Boscan features a changeup that projects as a definite plus pitch, and it is already one of the better changeups in the system. Left-handed batters hit just .225 against him in Hickory this year, while fellow righties got him at a .275 clip.

Gomez's sinker can be filthy.
Kennil Gomez: For the most part, the results weren't there for Gomez in 2009, but his raw stuff remains enticing and–at times–electric. A dreadful July hurt Gomez's overall numbers, but he struggled with some things–including control–for the entire season. Gomez led the California League with 67 walks in 135 innings pitched.

The Dominican Republic native has a hard sinker that sits between 90-91 mph, and he can throw a tick harder at times. The pitch dives under bats and it's one of the most dominant fastballs in the entire system when he's commanding it. Gomez still showed a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone at times, making him more than hittable.

Command is an issue for all of Gomez's pitches–not just his fastball. At times, he shows the potential for three above-average offerings, as featured in his occasional dominant start. The 21-year-old shows promise with both his slider and changeup. Gomez's upper-70s slider still must be tightened up, as it tends to get a little too slurvy at times. His changeup is perhaps his most intriguing pitch. Though Gomez doesn't always spot his changeup well, he gets lots of swings-and-misses with it against left-handed hitters. At 84-86 mph, the prospect's changeup doesn't get much velocity separation from his fastball, but its similar action–with a lot of sink and fade–is extremely deceptive.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Gomez is still fairly raw, and he must improve in a number of areas before he can think about having consistent success at the Double-A level. But he has the potential to become one of the top 10 prospects in the system if he puts it together. Gomez showed glimpses of that excellence down the stretch in 2009.

Carlos Pimentel: The Dominican right-hander has steadily improved in each of his three professional seasons, and he has turned into a fairly polished pitcher. Pimentel doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he has the potential for three solid pitches.

The 20-year-old throws his fastball in the 88-91 mph range, and he can get it a bit higher at times, but he had his most success when he sat in the upper-80s and let natural movement and sink take over. When Pimentel worked down in the zone, he was practically unhittable, as he did for much of the second half. The 6-foot-3 hurler logged a remarkable 2.11 ERA in 55.1 second-half innings with Hickory. Pimentel can be home run prone when he overthrows and leaves the occasional straight fastball up in the zone.

What sets Pimentel apart from most pitchers his age is the advanced development of his offspeed stuff. Pimentel attacks the strike zone early and often with all three of his pitches [35 walks in 123 innings] due in part to his ability to throw the curveball and changeup for strikes. Both pitches have the ability to become above-average. Pimentel's change has good fading action, and it was one of the primary reasons lefties hit just .202 against him [with a much higher ground ball rate] in 2009.

Poveda could make his big league debut in 2010.
Omar Poveda: The 22-year-old is an excellent example of a pitcher that just gradually improves with each season. During Poveda's first full season–with Clinton in 2006–he was an upper-80s pitcher with an advanced changeup and little feel for a breaking ball, but all facets of his game have progressed over the last three years.

Poveda made his first jump to Double-A Frisco in 2009, where he went 11-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 130.1 innings [22 starts]. He showed the ability to work deep into games, and he threw strikes. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound prospect generally sits in the upper-80s, low-90s with his fastball, and he can touch 93-94 mph on occasion. One of Poveda's biggest improvements in '09 was his ability to keep his fastball down, making him less homer-prone–he served up 10 round-trippers in 90.2 innings with Bakersfield in '08.

The Turmero, Venezuela, native is armed with one of the best changeups in the system–if not the single best. Poveda is crafty with his changeup, usually throwing it anywhere between 74-82 mph [and oftentimes hitting every spot on the radar gun in between]. Sometimes he uses a changeup that cuts, and sometimes it can fade and dive. Poveda's third pitch is a big curveball, and while it has made improvements over the last few seasons, it still lags behind the other two offerings. If Poveda can continue to tighten his curveball, it can give him three pitches of at least average quality. Because he has already completed five seasons in the States, it is often easy to forget that the righty will be just 22-years-old during the entire 2010 season.

Ezequiel Rijo: The Rangers have a pitcher with excellent raw tools across the board in Rijo, but they are still working to develop him as a pitcher. At 6-foot-4, 200-ish-pounds, Rijo has a solid frame and a good fastball. The 20-year-old strike-thrower works between 88-92 mph, and he has touched 93 and 94 on occasion over the last two years.

Rijo, who also mixes in a curveball and a changeup, doesn't miss many bats yet, although he has the ability to get all three of his pitches over the plate. After a dominant season with the Dominican Summer League Rangers in 2008, Rijo moved to the Arizona League in '09, where he posted a 4.86 ERA and showed drastic improvement down the stretch. In his last three outings, the right-hander yielded just two runs on four hits in 13 innings. He should get a crack at Spokane in 2010, as he continues to develop his secondary stuff.

Offspeed stuff is the key for Roark.
Tanner Roark: Overall, you'd be hard pressed to find a Rangers pitching prospect with better numbers in 2009. Working between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco, Roark combined to go 11-1 with a 3.02 ERA. He was a perfect 10-0 with a 2.70 ERA while working between the rotation and the bullpen, and Roark looked like a legitimate starting pitching prospect during the stretch run with the Blaze.

Around early August, Roark made a mechanical adjustment that brought his fastball velocity consistently back to the 88-93 mph range as a starter, and he started missing more bats as a result. The former University of Illinois standout finished off his regular season with an 11-strikeout, seven scoreless inning performance against Rancho Cucamonga. Roark also began working on a two-seam fastball later in the year.

The 23-year-old also has a low-70s curve, an upper-70s slider, and a changeup. Roark commands his fastball exceptionally well and he consistently throws strikes, but the development of his curveball, slider, and changeup will decide whether or not he can stick as a starting pitcher. Although Roark can throw strikes with his offspeed stuff, all three pitches have been inconsistent over the past two seasons.

Matt Thompson: The 19-year-old was better than his numbers suggested at short-season Spokane, particularly when you take into account how raw he proved to be while yielding 23 runs in just 8.1 innings for the AZL Rangers in 2008. Thompson had a 4.38 ERA in 2009, but he finished with sparkling numbers over his last seven starts, posting a 2.97 ERA while walking just two and fanning 27 over 36.1 innings.

Control has never been much of an issue for Thompson–he rarely walks hitters. Thompson had just 10 free passes in 72 innings this past summer, including only four in his final 50.1 innings. However, at the beginning of his pro career, Thompson had trouble throwing quality strikes. The righty has steadily improved at working both corners and down in the zone, partially due to the addition of a two-seam fastball to go with his four-seamer.

Standing at 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Thompson has an ideal pitcher's body, and he already has a good fastball that sits between 90-93 mph. His hard, tight curveball is one of the most promising breaking pitches in the entire system, and his power fastball-curveball combination could potentially be lethal in the future. Thompson showed some feel for his changeup in 2009, and the pitch made quite a bit of progress from the previous summer. It could be average in time.

Tullis has advanced stuff.
Braden Tullis: Perhaps one of the system's more underrated arms, Tullis signed for slot money as an eighth-round selection in this past summer's draft. The Boise native had a phenomenal debut campaign with short-season Spokane, putting up a 3.04 ERA in 68 innings. He yielded 68 hits while walking 20 and striking out 64.

Tullis isn't an overpowering arm, but he has above-average command of an advanced three-pitch repertoire that could allow him to slide through the system quickly. The 19-year-old works off his heavy 88-91 mph sinker that allowed him to post a 2.61 groundout-to-flyout ratio with the Indians. He also surrendered just one home run all summer. Because the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Tullis is both athletic and relatively new to pitching, he could add a few miles per hour down the line.

Tullis doesn't just get ground balls–he flashed two potential swing-and-miss offspeed pitches in Spokane as well. The prospect has an advanced changeup that projects as a plus pitch, and he also had success with a surprisingly sharp slider. While Tullis likely doesn't have top-of-the-rotation potential, he could turn into a mid-rotation starter with three very solid pitches.

Joe Wieland: Although his numbers weren't overly impressive, Wieland made some huge strides on the mound, particularly stuff-wise. After beginning the season at Extended Spring Training, the 19-year-old went to Single-A Hickory, where he logged 83 innings and posted a 5.31 ERA. Wieland was hittable [.299 BAA], but he worked down in the zone, threw strikes [24 walks] and missed some bats [73 strikeouts].

When the Rangers selected the 6-foot-3, 175-pound hurler in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft, Wieland was known as a high pitchability guy with just decent stuff. However, the club felt Wieland would add on to his 88-91 mph velocity and develop into a power pitcher. That transition began in 2009, when the Reno native sat between 90-93 mph with his fastball, topping out at 94 a couple of times per start. According to Wieland, he had never touched 94 before this summer.

The right-hander also has a good curveball and a developing changeup. Wieland's fastball velocity is strong–and could still improve–and he has a chance to have three pitches that are at least Major League average. Wieland showed signs of fatigue down the stretch of his first full season, but he's still a polished arm that could move quickly. It wouldn't be a shock to see him finish the 2010 season at Double-A Frisco if everything comes together.


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