Rangers Minor League Notes (3/21)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The Texas Rangers' Triple-A club played an excellent all-around game against Seattle on Sunday, notching eight runs on 17 hits and taking a shutout through 8.2 innings. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the day's back-field action.

Oklahoma City RedHawks 8 – Tacoma Rainiers 3

1. Marcus Lemon, CF (2/4, RBI)
2. Matt Lawson, 2B (2/4, K)
3. Toby Hall, DH (1/5, 2B)
4. Mitch Moreland, RF (3/3, 2 2B, RBI)
5. Chad Tracy, LF (1/4, RBI, 2 K)
6. Justin Smoak, 1B (0/1, 2 BB, K)
7. Emerson Frostad, C (0/2)
8. Joey Butler, DH (2/4, HR, 2 RBI)
9. Mitch Hilligoss, 3B (2/3, 2B, BB, RBI)
10. Guilder Rodriguez, SS (1/4, 3B, RBI)

Chris Gradoville, C (2/2)
Jonathan Greene, RF (HBP)
John Otness, 1B (1/1, 2B)

• The RedHawks played with a 10-man, two-DH lineup for the first five innings of Sunday's game, as Toby Hall batted third in each of the first five innings. Hall was definitely in there to take his hacks–he was swinging early and often, hitting a double, three flyouts to center and a groundout.

• On the whole, OKC's hitters squared up and hit the ball hard in the game, totaling eight runs on 17 base hits. They had one home run, one triple and five doubles.

• Mitch Moreland looked like a big leaguer going against clearly inferior minor league pitching on Sunday afternoon. And after going 7-for-21 with two doubles and four walks in big league ‘A' games, maybe that's not so surprising.

Moreland crushed opposite-field doubles in his first two plate appearances–one into left-center field off a left-handed pitcher, and one down the left field line. In the second at-bat, Moreland went with tailing 91 mph two-seam fastball from Mariners pitching prospect Michael Pineda, crushing it down the opposite-field line. In the third at-bat [video link below], he worked the count to 3-1 before finding a pitch he liked and smashing it into right field for a single.

One thing that should help Moreland's chances of becoming an everyday player in the Majors is that he doesn't seem to struggle against lefties. Moreland appears to still see the ball well against fellow left-handers, and he consistently works counts and makes solid contact against them. Here is how the 24-year-old has performed against them since 2008.

'08 Clinton: .301/.404/.455 [20 walks, 24 strikeouts]
'09 Bakersfield: .289/.431/.622 [11 walks, 11 strikeouts]
'09 Frisco: .385/.429/.526 [5 walks, 5 strikeouts]

If there is one negative about Moreland, it remains his defense. He can read balls at and in front of him pretty well, and while he doesn't have plenty of speed, he can get to balls in his vicinity. However, when it comes to going back on balls, Moreland often gets lost and doesn't track the ball well–he has a tendency to turn himself completely around. Three times in recent weeks, Moreland has turned himself around and allowed a fly ball to land on the warning track for an extra-base hit. His strong arm plays well at the corner spots, but he is likely best suited for left field in the Major Leagues.

• Marcus Lemon played in centerfield on Saturday, and for the most part, he looked like he knew what he was doing out there. Lemon was tested almost immediately, when a ball was hit into the right-center field gap. Although it hung in the air for quite awhile, he read the ball quickly, tracked it well, and stood under it for a few seconds before making the catch.

Later in the game, Lemon was unable to catch a sinking liner that he had to dive in on, but he was still able to keep the ball in front of him. Though he hasn't played much center at all in his life, Lemon looked like a natural at the position and it'll be interesting to see if he spends more time there this spring.

Offensively, Lemon had a pair of singles in the game. He roped one inside fastball into right field for a hard base hit. The Florida native has quick hands and good barrel control on the inner-half of the plate.

• Second baseman Matt Lawson is playing with the Triple-A team, although he doesn't have any experience above High-A Bakersfield. Lawson picked up a pair of infield singles in the contest, but where he shines most is in the field. The Missouri State product gets the most out of his tools with polished play at second, including quick, clean footwork and soft hands.

• It gets said a lot, but it was actually true on Saturday–Justin Smoak had a better eye for the strike zone than the rookie ball umpire behind the plate. The first baseman took some close pitches to work full-count walks in each of his first two at-bats, and he struck out looking on a ball that was clearly outside of the zone in his third plate appearance.

• After appearing a bit overmatched against Major League pitching, Joey Butler seems to have found a happy medium in Triple-A. Butler was a little overanxious in his first at-bat of the game, and he pulled his front foot out on some right-righty breaking balls, but he turned on a fastball in his second at-bat for a long two-run bomb to left-center field.

Butler has intriguing tools because he isn't really below-average in any category, but he isn't quite plus in any category either. He does everything pretty well, and those players often reach the Major Leagues. Butler was outstanding in the second half at High-A Bakersfield last year [.300/.367/.442], and he's an intriguing player to watch in 2010.

• Mitch Hilligoss may no longer be considered a top prospect after three full years at the Low- and High-A levels, but he is proving he can still hit. After blasting a home run against the San Diego Triple-A club on Saturday, he went 2-for-3 with a single, a double, and a walk on Sunday. Hilligoss has a nice line-drive stroke and he appears to have a good eye for the strike zone. It's pure speculation at this point, but although he is currently playing third base, Hilligoss may be best suited for second when he opens the regular season.

• Shortstop Guilder Rodriguez crushed a triple that one-hopped the wall in right-center field. That's not monumental news for most players, but in eight professional seasons [583 games and 1,772 at-bats], Rodriguez has just 34 career extra-base hits. He didn't get his first-ever home run until last season with Double-A Frisco.

Darren Oliver: 3 ip, 4 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 4 k (39 pitches – 30 strikes)
Daniel Gutierrez: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 0 k (21 pitches – 10 strikes)
Tanner Roark: 2 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 3 k (33 pitches – 19 strikes)
Jared Hyatt: 2 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (20 pitches – 16 strikes)
Tyler Tufts: 0.2 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 0 bb, 1 k (27 pitches – 15 strikes)

• The Oklahoma City pitchers had a shutout going until there were two outs in the ninth inning, but Tyler Tufts was unable to record the final out of the game, giving up three runs. They ‘rolled' the inning because of his pitch count, and the 27th out never happened. Welcome to minor league Spring Training.

• With just five innings of ‘A' game experience this spring, Darren Oliver took the mound for three innings, looking to get some more work in. The 39-year-old southpaw looked every bit the Major League veteran that he is, pounding the strike zone and tossing three scoreless innings with zero walks and four strikeouts.

Oliver, who was throwing his fastball in the upper-80s, was perhaps most impressive with his excellent slider-curveball combination. The reliever practically never missed a spot with either breaking pitch–his command was pinpoint. Facing a lefty heavy Mariners lineup, he got two swinging strikeouts [fastball, slider] and two called strikeouts [curveball, fastball].

Of the four hits Oliver allowed, one of them was misplayed by Moreland in right and the other likely should have been caught by Lemon in center. The other two singles were simply bleeders through the infield. He got better as the outing progressed, retiring the final five hitters on two soft comebackers, two strikeouts, and a broken-bat grounder to third.

Oliver may be getting up there in age, but nothing about his Spring Training stuff or performance says he'll take a step back from last season, when he was a key component of the Angels' bullpen. Oliver clearly knows how to prepare himself for a season at this point, and he has been extremely sharp in games.

• Daniel Gutierrez, who worked the fourth inning, wasn't nearly as sharp as Oliver command-wise. The right-hander, who will begin the season pitching in Extended Spring Training due to his 50-game suspension, walked two batters and threw more balls [11] than strikes [10] in his inning of work.

During his limited time in the Rangers system, Gutierrez's velocity appears to be based on adrenaline. In back-field games, he often sits in the upper-80s, low-90s–even in short relief stints. However, in the Arizona Fall League, the prospect often sat between 93-95 mph and reached 97.

On Sunday, Gutierrez hit every spot between 88-93 mph, but he didn't have much command. Gutierrez wasn't missing by much, as his fastball's natural armside run caused the ball to slide just off the plate to the lefty-heavy lineup.

Because Gutierrez hasn't had too many command issues in the past, it's not fair to make judgements based upon one minor league Spring Training inning. However, it is nice to see a pitcher with nice natural armside movement on a fastball that can range anywhere between 88-97 mph.

The former Royals prospect didn't have his best curveball in the game, as he threw three between 70-73 mph–all for balls. Gutierrez has a slower upper-60s, low-70s curve, and he also uses a harder one around the mid-to-upper-70s.

Since acquiring him late last season, the Rangers have been working with Gutierrez on his third pitch–a changeup. Even if he doesn't develop a third offering, his fastball-curve combination could make him a great reliever, but the Rangers want to see him stick as a starter. Although Gutierrez hasn't thrown many changeups in the past, he threw a nice one at 81 mph to a lefty on Sunday, getting a weak groundout to first base. The pitch had some nice deception and tailing action away from the left-handed hitter.

• Righty Tanner Roark threw a first-pitch strike to just one of the seven hitters he faced on Sunday, but he also faced just seven batters in two scoreless innings. After allowing a leadoff double in the fifth, Roark sat down the next six batters he faced on three strikeouts, a popout to third base and two flyouts to left field.

With the exception of falling behind hitters, Roark commanded his 87-90 mph fastball [sitting at 88] very well, working both sides of the plate and keeping hitters from squaring it up. Plus fastball command is a large part of why Roark was able to go 10-0 with the Blaze last season.

During his two summers in pro ball, Roark has often gone between throwing a slider and a curveball, and he appears to be using both right now. Roark's slider clocks in the upper-70s, while his curveball is a slow, big-breaker, coming in at the low-70s. The Illinois native got three strikeouts looking in his two innings [including one to big leaguer Ryan Langerhans] on two well-placed fastballs and a changeup.

The 23-year-old doesn't have amazing stuff, but he continues to get the job done. Roark even held his own in a short stint at Double-A Frisco last season, though it was his first full year of pro ball. He throws strikes and hits his spots with all four of his pitches, and he should be ticketed for Frisco this year.

• Speaking of throwing strikes and hitting spots–Jared Hyatt may be the posterboy for that in the Rangers' system. While the Georgia Tech product battled injuries and limped his way to a 7.75 ERA between three levels last season, Hyatt has been a steady workhorse through the better part of three professional seasons, pitching anywhere between the rookie-level AZL and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound hurler tore through the Mariners' lineup with excellent placement of an 86-87 mph fastball, a big curveball and a changeup. Hyatt threw 16 strikes out of 20 pitches and–like Roark–faced just seven batters in two frames.

• Tyler Tufts normally keeps his sinking fastball down in the zone, and he generally doesn't allow hitters to get under the ball. He not only posted a 2.17:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio between Hickory and Bakersfield last season, but he also surrendered just one home run in 73 innings.

In his first spring outing, Tufts appeared to be focusing on throwing a straight sinker in the mid-80s. But on Saturday, his fastballs were mostly between 88-91 mph. While they had some sink and run, they were up in the zone and straightening out much more than usual.

Tufts got a quick groundout to third on a sinking fastball that ran away from a lefty and induced weak contact. He then left a heater up that was smoked into left-center for a double off the wall. Tufts came back to record a swinging strikeout on his fastball, but it went all downhill from there.

With two outs and one on, Tufts proceeded to allow an infield single, a double off the wall, a line-drive single to center, and a single to left field–all coming off poorly placed fastballs.

Daily Videos

Watch Video - HD (Tanner Roark warms up)
Watch Video - HD (Mitch Moreland ropes a single into right field)

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