Texas Rangers minor league camp is officially in full swing, and the Spring Training game schedule–which begins on March 18–is fast approaching. Over the last two days, pitchers have thrown tracking sessions and hitters take batting practice and defensive work.
A tracking session is basically a bullpen/side session, but with a hitter standing in the box. The hitters aren't allowed to swing a bat–it's purely to get a pitcher used to working with a hitter, and for hitters to ease back into seeing live pitching.
On Sunday morning, half of the system's pitchers in camp threw tracking sessions. On Monday, the other half went.
While the position players have kept plenty busy over the last few days, this notes article will focus on the pitchers in particular. Position player notes will come on Tuesday evening, as the minor leaguers will take their first live batting practice of the spring that morning.
• Perhaps one of the top breakout candidates for the 2010 season is right-hander Jake Brigham, who–despite sub-par numbers with Single-A Hickory last season–reached 97 mph at times and flashed a potentially plus hammer curveball.
Entering his second full season back from Tommy John surgery, Brigham looked excellent in his tracking session on Sunday. The 22-year-old popped the glove consistently and showed maybe the best velocity on the back fields, and his hard curve [usually low-80s] had nice late break.
• Left-hander Paul Strong, who received a $300,000 bonus as a 17th-round pick out of high school, has yet to throw an official professional pitch. But the California native appears to have a nice package, including a good body, a nice fastball, and a hard, tight-spinning curveball. Strong tends to get a bit overlooked because he wasn't a top pick, but he received the sixth-highest bonus of any Rangers draft pick last summer.
• Tae-Kyung Ahn was the Rangers' most high-profile amateur signing since Jim Colborn took over as director of Pacific Rim operations. While Ahn's talent is evident at times, he has shown very poor control since coming to the U.S. for Fall Instructional League in 2008.
Ahn has a deep arsenal and a nice fastball with movement, but he simply hasn't been able to throw strikes. None of Ahn's first eight pitches on Sunday were relatively close to the strike zone. He bounced a number of his fastballs in the dirt, and while Ahn's curve can be sharp with nice depth, he has not been able to get it near the strike zone. The South Korea native logged just 3.1 innings for the AZL Rangers last summer, walking 10 batters.
• The 2010 season is a big one for Neil Ramirez, who has missed some key developmental time due to freak injuries in his first two seasons. Now healthy and in excellent shape, the prospect appears to be off to a good start. He pounded the lower-half of the zone with a hard fastball on Sunday morning, showing some pretty impressive command, particularly for a guy known for his fastball command issues.
• In terms of control and command, righty Carlos Pimentel's tracking session certainly wasn't its best, but the raw stuff was maybe better than ever. Pimentel's fastball–which has a tendency to straighten out at times, making him home run prone–had solid sink and run. His curveball looked to be at least an average pitch down the line, and Pimentel's changeup appeared to be his best offering. His change sinks and dives away from left-handed hitters, and he commands it extremely well. It was a large reason he held left-handers to a .202 average with just nine walks in 50.2 innings last season.
• Chris Matlock posted a 4.46 ERA in Spokane last season despite solid peripherals [34.1 ip, 25 h, 10 bb, 30 k]. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound product of Central Missouri State University is definitely one of the organization's more interesting pitchers to watch. A sidearmer, Matlock gets excellent movement on all of his pitches, including a fastball, a sweeping slider, and–yes–a sidearm knuckle-changeup.
• It's still early, but Robbie Erlin has been one of the most impressive players in camp thus far, without a doubt. The California native logged just four rookie ball innings after signing last year, but he carries himself like a veteran. Everything Erlin does makes him look like the consummate professional, including his advanced stuff and clean mechanics.
Erlin often gets compared to fellow lefties Robbie Ross and Kasey Kiker because of his size and advanced stuff, but he is a tad taller than both, standing an even six feet. Erlin has a good fastball, but his tight, late-breaking curveball should not only be a plus pitch, but it also looks like one of the best benders in the entire system. The southpaw has a legitimate chance to be among the organization's top 10-15 prospects this time next season–and maybe higher.
• Geuris Grullon is perhaps the most frustrating pitcher in the system because of his outstanding stuff and lack of results. Simply put, it appears Grullon's stuff is too nasty for him to handle right now, particularly with his wildly inconsistent mechanics. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound pitcher had a 7.57 ERA in 27.1 relief innings at Spokane last summer, but his raw stuff is special.
The 20-year-old gets plenty of ground balls due to his outstanding 88-92 mph fastball [up to 94 on rare occasion] with tons of movement. Some scouts have compared the movement on Grullon's fastball to that of Mariano Rivera's cutter. However, Grullon can rarely locate his fastball and breaking ball. At this point, the odds are certainly against Grullon. But he is a pitcher that, should he figure it out, has big-time Major League potential.
• Right-hander Randol Rojas has to be one of the more intriguing arms in camp this season. At 6-foot-0, 160-pounds, the 19-year-old isn't massive, but he posted a 0.80 ERA while yielding just 42 hits in 67.1 Dominican Summer League innings last season. Rojas walked just six batters while striking out 48.
The Venezuela native has already turned a few heads in camp, flashing a three-pitch repertoire with nice movement. Rojas' best pitch appears to be a curveball with late break, tight spin, and nice depth. Obviously it's hard to get a complete look from a tracking session alone, so it'll be interesting to see him in live game action.
• Jonathan Rojas, also a right-handed Venezuela native, may not be a huge prospect as a soon-to-be 22-year-old that has never pitched in the U.S., but he also showed a nice arm on Monday morning. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound hurler logged a 3.52 ERA between the Rangers' two DSL clubs last summer, and he missed some bats, fanning 76 in 69 innings.
Rojas got a bit of run on both his fastball and changeup, and he spotted up fairly well with both pitches. He broke off a couple nice curveballs, but a number of them came out as slurvy and he wasn't able to command them. Like the other Rojas, Jonathan has also never played in the U.S. before, and it should be intriguing to see him in games.
• Wilfredo Boscan appears to have added some muscle since last season, and he has looked strong in early-spring bullpen sessions. Boscan commanded his fastball and plus changeup extremely well on Monday morning, but his curveball remained inconsistent. As usual, Boscan didn't appear to be getting on top of his curveball consistently, and it flatted out at times. Though he dropped in a few nice breakers, the majority weren't thrown in the vicinity of the strike zone.
• Working from the first base-side of the rubber, Joe Wieland threw an impressive tracking on Monday. The Reno native had excellent command, and he flashed a nice feel for a changeup that fades away from left-handed hitters.
• It's always fun to watch sinkerballers from behind home plate because you can get a nice view of the action on their fastball. That was certainly the case for Braden Tullis, who features a ball with very heavy sink and run. It's not particularly surprising given his 2.6:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio in Spokane last season.
Most impressive was Tullis' changeup, which will be a plus pitch in the big league scale, if it isn't already. Tullis commanded both his fastball and changeup very well, and both offerings featured the exact same sink and run. He has plenty of deception on the change, and it should help him move through the system quickly. Tullis must work on improving his slider, but the fastball-changeup combination is an excellent start for the 20-year-old.
• After the tracking sessions, I headed to the Mariners complex in Peoria to watch Canadian prep catcher Kellin Deglan in a workout. The 6-foot-3 backstop was impressive behind the plate, showing a quick pop with clean mechanics and a very strong arm. Because of his size, there has been some speculation that he will need to move off the plate, but unless he continues growing, it looks like Deglan certainly has the skills to play back there.
During batting practice, Deglan got good extension and drove balls into all gaps, although he wasn't able to do it consistently. It wasn't at his fault, however, as the batting practice pitcher was a bit wild and he [along with the rest of the team] was unable to get into a rhythm in the cage. Deglan is a left-handed hitter with strong raw power.
Canadian players tend to be a bit overlooked simply because of where they're from, but Deglan has a chance to slide into the first round. Either way, the Florida International signee is going to be an early pick, and he's one for Rangers fans to keep an eye on. With the Rangers' need for talented lower-level catchers and five early picks in this year's draft, you never know.
• Justin Smoak appears to be well on his way to righting the ship. Early on in games, Smoak looked just like he did at Triple-A Oklahoma City last year–he was still working counts and putting together good at-bats, but he just wasn't squaring up anything. The South Carolina product appeared to be pressing just a bit when swung at the first two pitches he saw in Sunday's game, but he has been great since then. In his last two games, Smoak has lined a pair of doubles into the gaps, including on a 97 mph fastball from Santiago Casilla on Monday night.
Watch Video - HD (Carlos Pimentel throws a tracking session)
Watch Video - HD (Chris Matlock throws a tracking session)
Watch Video - HD (Tae Kyung Ahn throws a tracking session)
Watch Video - HD (Paul Strong throws a tracking session)
Watch Video - HD (Braden Tullis throws a tracking session)
Watch Video - HD (Tim Steggall throws a tracking session)
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