Friday was another busy day at the Texas Rangers' complex in Surprise, as there was an ‘A' game, a ‘B' game, and minor league position players reported to camp.
Although the position players arrived in the West Valley on Friday, they will not actually take the field as a group until Saturday morning. Then, the full minor league squads will have their first workout of the spring. Games will then begin on Thursday, March 18, running through April 1.
The Rangers won the ‘B' game, 7-6, in eight innings. It wasn't an official game, meaning they had to ‘roll' the inning a couple of times. When an inning is ‘rolled,' it simply means a pitcher has reached his pitch count, so instead of bringing in a new pitcher, they just end the inning at that point.
• Once again, right-handed reliever Pedro Strop flashed outstanding stuff without much command. He gave up one run on three hits in his inning of work. Working between 93-94 mph with his fastball, Strop gave up a broken-bat single, got Manny Pina to ground into a 5-4-3 double play, gave up a double to Scott Thorman, plunked Jordan Parraz with an 85 mph splitter and yielded an RBI single to Wilson Betemit.
Strop threw three sliders in the inning, none particularly close to the strike zone. His splitter to Parraz obviously wasn't a strike, but it had some nice dive and run to it. When he has command, Strop's slider and splitter can both be swing-and-miss pitches, but command is the issue.
Despite his big league-caliber stuff, Strop was inconsistent at Double-A Frisco last season, posting a 4.38 ERA in 51.1 innings. When he really reaches back, his fastball can touch the 96-98 mph range, but it won't matter unless he can command his stuff. Strop's command went in-and-out last season [1.75 ERA at AA after the All-Star break], and it appears to be doing the same thus far in camp.
• Kasey Kiker also struggled in his frame. After a couple strong ‘A' game outings, Kiker had absolutely zero command on Friday, walking three batters and allowing one run in just two-thirds of an inning.
Kiker didn't have his best velocity in the game [he was between 86-89 mph], but he also wasn't able to spot any of his three pitches. On the bright side, from behind home plate, it's easy to see that Kiker's changeup has the exact same movement as his fastball [from the same arm angle and speed, no less], but he threw the 78-79 mph change well up in the zone and often away from right-handers. When Kiker missed with his fastball and change on Friday, it was almost always up in the zone, though it was generally too far up to induce swings.
The southpaw got his one strikeout when he came back in the count to fan Buck Coats swinging on a fastball up and out of the strike zone. Brian Anderson then hit a sacrifice fly for the second out, but the inning was rolled after consecutive walks to Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue.
Kiker's command this spring is a bit reminiscent of his 2009 season at Double-A Frisco. The hurler would spot extremely well and dominate most of the time, but he had the occasional poor outing where he lost control of all his pitches. While his overall command has improved a touch in each of his professional seasons, he still has some work to do before being Major League-ready.
• Dominican import Alexi Ogando has created plenty of buzz with his performance this month, and fellow right-hander Omar Beltre finally got his first opportunity to impress on Friday.
Beltre had an extremely short inning, throwing just a handful of pitches and facing the minimum. He began the inning by allowing a single through the hole at shortstop, but he finished it with a double play and a swinging strikeout.
?The 28-year-old threw his fastball between 91-92 mph, but he spotted it well, locating the pitch down and on the outer half of the plate to righties. He mixed in a couple sharp 85 mph sliders, including the strikeout of Parraz, which came on a pitch he buried in the dirt.
• A couple sluggers–left fielder Chad Tracy and first baseman Max Ramirez–had big-time ‘B' games.
Tracy went 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs and four RBIs in the game. He had a rough beginning to the game, getting just under a hittable pitch from Phil Humber and flying out to left field. He also misplayed a fly ball in left-center that eventually resulted in a ground rule double.
But Tracy got a couple fastballs up [one from Humber, one from lefty Nelson Payano], and he crushed both for two run shots to left-center field. The second blast went just over the 390 sign.
• Not to be out-done, Ramirez was 2-for-3 with a double, a home run, and a run batted in. In his first at-bat, he smoked a ball to left field right at the defender. But Ramirez didn't get cheated his second time up, as he blasted a tape-measure shot to left-center on a 91 mph fastball from Humber. He pounded a double to the deepest part of the park his third time up.
All three pitches Ramirez hit on Friday were pitches that he should crush–they were fastballs left over the plate and up in the zone. But it's still a promising sign, because with the two injured wrists sapping his strength and power, those were balls Ramirez wasn't able to hit hard last season. Even when he got good swings on bad pitches, he was unable to get any power behind it.
It was certainly a positive sign to see Ramirez hit the second-most home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League this past offseason, but it's nice to see him carrying it over and doing it during Spring Training as well. Friday was by far the best day Max has had at the plate since camp began.
• Justin Smoak hasn't really stood out at the plate yet, although he is putting together plenty of solid at-bats. His excellent plate discipline has been evident, but he isn't really squaring up and making solid contact very often right now. It's a bit reminiscent of his Triple-A performance last season, when he batted .244 with a .363 on-base percentage. In his four plate appearances between both games on Friday, he was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a sacrifice fly.
• Third baseman John Whittleman didn't get an at-bat in the ‘B' game, but he appeared late as a defensive replacement. Whittleman fielded a ground ball cleanly, but he rushed his throw and fired high of the bag for an E5 with Billy Butler running to first.
• On a day-in, day-out basis, Mitch Moreland has easily been the most impressive of the ‘prospect' hitters in Major League camp. The outfielder had another solid effort on Friday, combining to go 3-for-5 with a double. Moreland does an excellent job of staying back on offspeed stuff, allowing himself to drive practically any pitch in the strike zone. It's still relatively early in camp, but Moreland is doing a great job of hitting from behind in the count and he doesn't appear fazed by left-handed pitchers.
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