Rangers Minor League Notes (3/18)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Thursday marked the first day of minor league games on the back fields, and the Double-A club got off to a solid start, beating Kansas City, 7-1. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the day's action in minor league camp in this free preview of premium content.


Frisco RoughRiders 7 – Northwest Arkansas Naturals 1

1. Engel Beltre, CF (1/4, RBI, 2 K)
2. Davis Stoneburner, SS (2/3, RBI)
3. Erik Morrison, 2B (1/2, HR, 3 RBI)
4. Mike Bianucci, LF (2/3)
5. Tom Mendonca, 3B (1/3, 2B)
6. David Paisano, RF (0/1, BB)
7. Jared Bolden, 1B (0/3, K)
8. Jose Felix, C (0/3)
9. Jake Kaase, DH (1/2, BB)

Kyle Rhoad (0/1, BB, SB)
Mike Hollander (0/1)
Jared Prince (1/1)
Edward Martinez (0/1, K)
Andres James (0/1, K)
Eric Fry (0/1, K)
Zach Zaneski (0/1, K)
Alberto Puello (0/1)

• It's important to note that rosters in the minor league Spring Training games have almost zero bearing on where a player will actually begin the season. The organization likes to mix up the rosters in general, and many players are working a level up because of all the minor leaguers currently playing in big league camp.

With that said, the Royals seemed to have most of their projected Double-A lineup in the game, while the Rangers played many younger players, including a lot of guys with no experience above short-season ball.

Beltre laid down a bunt single.
• Engel Beltre still likes to swing, but he put together a couple nice at-bats on Thursday. The centerfielder went with a pair of outside fastballs and served them into left field for flyouts [one brought home a run on a sac fly], and it is encouraging that he isn't trying to pull those pitches. However, the next step will be for Beltre to do more than just reach out and fly the pitch into the outfield–if he develops and stays balanced at the plate, he can begin driving those pitches into the opposite field.

In his second at-bat, Beltre laid down a perfect bunt in the ‘Bermuda Triangle' between the pitcher, first base, and second base. He easily beat the throw to first, and then advanced to second when the throw sailed past the bag.

• Defense was an issue for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Thursday. They committed three or four errors in the contest on top of many more mental mistakes.

• Davis Stoneburner certainly isn't the toolsiest player around, but he has the organization's favor due to his tireless work ethic. Stoneburner has gotten some time in Major League games this spring, and he went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and a run batted in on Thursday. In his other at-bat, he went with a pitch on the outside corner and hit it just in front of the track in right field, allowing Beltre to tag up to third base.

• Stranger things have happened, but Erik Morrison–the 24-year-old 46th-round pick in 2008–is looking like he may just be a prospect. The University of Kansas product has been playing second base lately, and he has looked like a natural during drills, showing crisp, clean footwork.

Morrison played second in the game versus NWA, and he was 1-for-2 with a no-doubt two-run homer to left-center field. After striking out on a breaking ball in the dirt in his second plate appearance, Morrison gave another ball a ride, this time taking a sacrifice fly to the wall in left field.

As a four-year Big 12 collegiate player, Morrison was clearly advanced for the South Atlantic League last season, where he batted .297 with 32 doubles and 18 home runs. But he has surprising pop and showed a nice hit tool last season. If the Rangers view Morrison as a prospect and not just another organizational soldier, they'll need to push him, but his versatility could allow him to move up the ranks quickly if he continues to hit.

• Strong slugger Mike Bianucci was swinging early in the count on Thursday, and it led to a 2-for-3 day with a pair of singles up the middle. He grounded out to shortstop in his other plate appearance.

• Third baseman Tom Mendonca had what seems like a typical day for him–he belted a double off the wall, worked the count in an at-bat that ended in a groundout, struck out, and made a couple nice defensive plays.

Mendonca took a fastball up and on the outer half off the left-center field wall for a double in his second at-bat of the spring. He also made an excellent play going toward the third base bag to snag a ball, set his feet, and throw to first. The throw was a bit off-line, but Jared Bolden used his smooth footwork to switch sides on the base and make the play.

Bolden appears to be a plus defender at both first base and centerfield–that doesn't happen very often.

• David Paisano's more pronounced leg-kick appears to be helping him put more of a charge into the ball. In his first plate appearance, the right fielder hit a fastball up in the zone on a hard line right at the right fielder. He also had a great at-bat in the game, working a full-count walk against the left-handed Payano.

• In batting practice, catcher Jose Felix has looked better than ever. But he had the same struggles as usual once the game began. When Felix plants his front foot, he often pulls it out, causing him to pull off balls he should be squaring up. He was 0-for-3 with a pair of weak choppers and a lineout to centerfield.

• A number of lower-level players came into the game late, and they got the pleasure of facing Royals prospect Aaron Hartsock. The 26-year-old reliever carved up the young hitters, striking out four in a row at one point.

Jake Brigham: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k - 13 pitches (9 strikes)
Tim Murphy: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k - 8 pitches (5 strikes)
Hector Nelo: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k - 6 pitches (5 strikes)
Trevor Hurley: 2 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k - 16 pitches (9 strikes)
Mark Hamburger: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 0 k - 14 pitches (5 strikes)
Denny Peralta: 1 ip, 1 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 0 k - 7 pitches (5 strikes)
Cody Eppley: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k
Jared Schrom: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 2 k - 19 pitches (13 strikes)

• The Frisco pitchers were incredibly sharp on Thursday afternoon, particularly for their first game of the spring. Every pitcher attacked with the fastball and only used offspeed stuff when absolutely necessary. Everyone located their fastball pretty well, and they were inducing early contact and weak outs.

In fact, the ‘Riders had faced the minimum through 5.2 innings. That's not only rare when throwing eight pitchers in nine innings, but it's also not normal to see pitchers with that kind of command early in the spring.

• The story of the game–and perhaps the story of minor league camp thus far–was right-hander Jake Brigham, who got the start for Frisco. Brigham made quick work of the Naturals, getting a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts.

Brigham fanned two lefties [including former Rangers prospect Tim Smith] with late-breaking 77 mph 12-to-6 curveballs that dropped over the outer-half of the plate. Of his 13 pitches, the prospect threw 10 fastballs and three curves. His fastballs ranged anywhere between 91-95 mph, sitting at 93-94. He bumped 95 on a pitch that induced a weak groundout to short from the second hitter he faced.

The velocity and plus curveball isn't anything new for Brigham. What appears to be different in this year's camp is his command. Brigham flashed impeccable command on Thursday–particularly with his fastball–as he worked down in the zone and spotted on the corners. Last season, even though Brigham had outstanding raw stuff, he worked up in the zone far too often, making him more hittable than he should have been.

It is obviously still early, but if Brigham continues to show advanced command with his stuff, he could develop into one of the system's top pitching prospects in a hurry.

• Former third-round pick Tim Murphy struggled for most of last season, often throwing his fastball between 84-86 mph. Because the southpaw still has a good curveball and a strong feel for pitching, he can work his way back on to the prospect radar if he re-gains at least some of his velocity.

On Thursday, Murphy worked a quick, perfect inning against the 4-5-6 hitters of the Northwest Arkansas lineup. He jammed a lefty in with a fastball for a broken-bat popup to third, gave up a first-pitch single through the hole at short, and got Manny Pina to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end in the inning.

There was plenty of early-count swinging in the game on both sides, and that was particularly true for Murphy, who threw just eight pitches–all fastballs. Murphy threw five fastballs to Pina, registering at 87 mph, 89, 86, 86 and 91, respectively.

Nelo had impressive command.
• Throughout his career, hard-throwing reliever Hector Nelo has shown a power arm, but he has also struggled with control. Last year with Bakersfield, the righty posted a 5.16 ERA in 29.2 innings. He allowed 33 hits while walking 23 and striking out 27.

In one outing Lone Star Dugout watched at Modesto last season, Nelo sat in the mid-90s and topped out at 97 mph three times, but he showed little command and needed 34 pitches to get through just one inning.

The 23-year-old got off to a nice start in Thursday's contest, as he needed only six pitches–throwing five strikes–to get through a perfect inning. Nelo got outs with fastballs on his first two pitches, and he got a groundout to third after a four-pitch at-bat to the third hitter he faced. In that battle, Nelo's fastballs registered at 94 mph, 93, 93 and 93, respectively. He didn't throw any offspeed pitches, although he flashed a breaking ball and a changeup in warmups.

Nelo had some late armside movement on his fastball, and he showed excellent command on those six fastballs. If he can spot up 93-94 mph with movement, he becomes a legitimate relief prospect. The key for Nelo's breakout may not be to try and throw 97 mph every time–his arm is good enough, he just needs the command.

• Kansas State product Trevor Hurley repeated short-season Spokane last season, but he also moved into the starting rotation. The numbers were promising, as he logged a 3.36 ERA, gave up less than a hit per inning [71 in 80.1], had solid control [33 walks] and missed some bats [77 strikeouts].

Hurley wasn't overpowering against the Naturals, but he threw strikes and went six up, six down on only 16 pitches. Like the other pitchers, Hurley attacked with his fastball, throwing just one 79 mph slider [for a ball] in the outing. He worked between 88-91 mph with a fastball that showed a bit of heavy, late movement.

Although Hurley was working up in the zone a bit, the late movement forced four high popouts on balls that ran off the barrel at the last moment. He also got a pair of groundouts to second base.

• Thanks to a double play and a first pitch popup, reliever Mark Hamburger had a relatively short inning, although he struggled to find the strike zone. Hamburger threw 13 fastballs in his 14-pitch outing [one slider], but only five pitches found the strike zone. His 88-91 mph fastball was a bit straight on Thursday, and he wasn't able to locate it. Hamburger was missing up and away to right-handers, walking a pair of hitters.

• Young hurler Denny Peralta is an intriguing prospect to watch. After pitching well in the Dominican Summer League last season, the 20-year-old came to the U.S. and won the points system for pitchers at Fall Instructional League. He got an opportunity to pitch in the Double-A game while the Royals still had the bulk of their normal Double-A lineup in-tact.

Peralta, who is known for his pinpoint command, generally throws his fastball between 86-88 mph. He also has an advanced changeup and a decent curveball. In the Double-A game, he threw nothing but fastballs, working around 87 mph. After inducing a routine groundout to third and a first-pitch popup to center, he left a fastball up and served up a bomb to Royals second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Two pitches later, former Rangers prospect Tim Smith flew out to the track in right field.

• Sidearming reliever Cody Eppley is far from overpowering–he works between 85-87 mph with a sinking fastball–but his command is unmatched in the system. In 67.2 innings with Single-A Hickory last season, the Virginia Commonwealth product walked just six batters while fanning 76.

Eppley notched a pair of strikeouts in his inning, getting one looking on a slider that broke over the outside corner and one swinging on a fastball. The 24-year-old can be death on right-handers with his arm slot and late-breaking slider.

• Undrafted free agent and Stephen F. Austin alum Jared Schrom didn't have his best fastball command on Thursday, but he–like Eppley-worked a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.

The big right-hander worked at 87-90 mph, but he was slightly wild, going deep into a few counts and walking one hitter. Schrom got his strikeouts–both swinging–on an 88 mph fastball up in the zone and a nice 78 mph changeup to end the game.

Daily Videos

Watch Video - HD (Tom Mendonca doubles)
Watch Video - HD (Engel Beltre hits a sacrifice fly)
Watch Video - HD (Jake Brigham warms up)

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