Rangers Minor League Notes (3/8-9)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Monday was a long day of baseball in Surprise, as the Rangers also played their first seven-inning 'B' game of the spring. Lone Star Dugout has notes from Monday and Tuesday's action on the back fields, including the official start of minor league camp for pitchers and catchers.

Things are finally beginning to get into full swing at the Surprise baseball complex, with minor league pitchers and catchers officially reporting to camp on Monday morning.

Monday also marked the first ‘B' game of the season, beginning a long day of baseball. The Rangers played the Royals in a seven-inning ‘B' game at 10 a.m. before taking on the Angels during the ‘A' game at 1 p.m.

The Rangers dropped the ‘B' game, 2-1, but there were a number of encouraging notes.

• Right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who has generated more buzz than any pitcher in camp thus far, was outstanding as usual. The fireballer worked two scoreless innings, allowing one hit, walking none, and fanning two.

Scheppers worked anywhere between 92 and 96 mph, although he generally sat in the 94-95 mph range. He broke off a couple nasty curveballs for strikeouts in the first inning–one backdoor breaker to get Jarrod Dyson looking and an 80 mph buried in the dirt to punch out Willie Bloomquist.

As appears to be the norm, Scheppers commanded his fastball well and generally kept the contact on the ground. After recording three ground ball outs in his first ‘A' game appearance, he had a 3:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio on Monday.

Michael Kirkman worked the third and fourth innings of the game, and he also kept Kansas City off the scoreboard. The southpaw threw some pitches and allowed some baseunners, finishing with the following line: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K. Two runners reached on errors and he plunked lefty Scott Thorman on an 88 mph two-seamer to begin the fourth.

Overall, Kirkman showed good, promising stuff, but he was a bit inconsistent. The 23-year-old threw his four-seam fastball between 91-93 mph, and his two-seamer was in the 86-88 mph range with some decent sink and armside run. Kirkman's command of the two-seam was below average–and he often left it up–but the pitch is still relatively new to him.

• Relievers Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and Warner Madrigal also threw an inning in the game. O'Day pitched scoreless ball, but Strop and Madrigal surrendered one run apiece.

Strop served up a leadoff home run on the first pitch of his outing to big first baseman Ernesto Mejia, who led the Venezuelan Winter League with 14 home runs this past offseason. Mejia was sitting dead-red fastball, and he got his pitch-right down the pipe.

During the outing as a whole, Strop worked around 93 mph, and he broke a bat by running his fastball in on a hitter's hands. He also got two strikes in the frame–one on a filthy downer splitter and one on a slider.

Marcus Lemon had a long day of baseball, batting leadoff and playing second base in the ‘B' game, and he also entered mid-game at second in the ‘A' game. Lemon struggled in game one, committing one fielding error and one throwing error–both on rather routine plays that didn't require much range.

The Florida native hit the ball well a couple times in the ‘B' game, although he didn't get any hits to show for it. In the ‘A' game, he was 2-for-3 with a double. Lemon ripped a mid-90s fastball into the opposite field with an inside-out swing for a single early on, then he smoked a double to right field late in the game.

• Centerfielder Craig Gentry also saw time in both games, and he had a rather nondescript day at the plate. The highlights were being hit by a pitch and flying out to the warning track in right-center field in the early contest.

However, against the Angels, Gentry picked up a ball in center and fired a strike to cutoff man Marcus Lemon, who in-turn threw to Kevin Richardson to nail the runner at home with a great throw. Credit Richardson with the outstanding play, as he blocked the plate and dug Lemon's throw out of the dirt–all while the runner was sliding in.

• When the day began, left-hander Zach Phillips was scheduled to get time in the ‘B' game, but he ended up pitching the fifth inning against the Angels. It didn't go well–Phillips yielded four runs on five hits in just one inning of work. He walked zero and fanned one.

Phillips allowed an opposite-field home run to Angels third baseman Brandon Wood during the outing. Overall, he was extremely shaky. When Phillips struggles, it is often because he runs into issues with fastball command. And his command of his 87-90 mph fastball was definitely poor on Monday, but he also wasn't able to spot-up his normally plus change.

Phillips' inability to throw his changeup in the vicinity of the strike zone may mean it was simply nerves. On the bright side, he was spotting his tight mid-70s curveball well, and the pitch was effective for him later in the inning, helping him record the strikeout. It will be interesting to see how Phillips performs his next time out.

Toby Hall isn't a prospect, and he can't really throw a ball, but he has been impressive as a hitter. In seemingly every at-bat this spring, Hall squares up the ball and makes hard contact.

• Although minor league pitchers and catchers have reported, there still isn't much to report on from the back fields.

Left-hander Glenn Swanson, who turns 27-years-old this May, appears to be a full-time sidearm pitcher now, after watching his bullpen on Monday morning. Swanson was in his first full-season back from Tommy John surgery in '09, and he posted a 3.38 ERA in 26 relief appearances. In 56 innings, he allowed just 50 hits while walking 24 and fanning 55.

With a mid-80s fastball that can sometimes creep into the upper-80s, Swanson is far from overpowering, but he spots his fastball well and has solid offspeed stuff. The UC Irvine product has a big breaking ball to go along with an above-average changeup.

Swanson has been in the system since signing as a senior draft-and-follow in 2006, and he has yet to reach Double-A. The sidearm move is clearly a last-ditch effort on his career, but he is an interesting pitcher to follow because he is a hard-working, plus makeup guy with solid offspeed stuff.

• A few Dominican Summer League players appear to be making their first appearance in U.S. Spring Training, including right-handers Anyenil Mendoza, Randol Rojas, and Jonathan Rojas. Catchers Alison Perez and Jorge Alfaro are also making their U.S. debut.

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