Rangers Minor League Notes (3/23)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Tuesday's Low-A game was highlighted by a couple excellent pitching performances from some top pitching prospects. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from another day of action on the back fields of Surprise.

Hickory Crawdads 3 – Clinton LumberKings 6

1. Joe Bonadonna, 2B (2/3, 2B)
2. Alex Gonzalez, DH (1/4, BB, 2 K)
3. Christian Villanueva, 3B (1/2, RBI)
4. Taylor Vail, 1B (1/2, RBI)
5. Ruben Sierra, CF (0/2)
6. Santo De Jesus (0/4, K)
7. Santiago Hill, SS (0/2)
8. Kevin Torres, C (1/2)
9. Edward Alfonzo (1/2)

Braxton Lane, LF (0/2, 2 K)
Teodoro Martinez (1/2)
Oduber Herrera, SS (1/1, BB)
Alison Perez, DH (0/2)
Jorge Alfaro, C (1/2, K)
Alejandro Selen (1/2)
Jhonny Gomez, 1B (1/2)
Luis Sardinas (0/2, K)

• Tuesday's contest was a fairly standard Low-A Spring Training game. There was a lot of first-pitch swinging, there was some inconsistent command on the mound, and there were some miscues in the field. Because every organization only divides their system into four minor league teams during Spring Training, the Low-A team generally consists more of rookie ball players.

• Leadoff hitter Joe Bonadonna was a 43rd-round selection from the University of Illinois last season. The second baseman is just 5-foot-8, 170-pounds, but he is also a fun player to watch. Bonadonna may legitimately be the fastest player in the Rangers' system, as he consistently flies down the line. He swiped 16 bases in 17 attempts in 56 short-season games last year.

The 24-year-old batted just .217 with Spokane last summer, but he had a nice game on Tuesday while hitting leadoff. In his first at-bat, Bonadonna jumped all over a letter-high fastball and crushed it into the left-center field gap for a double. He got an opposite-field single in his next plate appearance before grounding out to second–and nearly beating it out–in his final at-bat.

• Third baseman Christian Villanueva appears to be a very nice player, and definitely a prospect to watch. The 18-year-old played in eight Dominican Summer League games last season before getting hurt and coming to Arizona to rehab for the remainder of the year.

Villanueva doesn't have the impressive tools that fellow infielders Luis Sardinas or Jurickson Profar possess, but he appears to be just an outstanding baseball player with strong skills. The Mexico native went 1-for-2 on Tuesday, hitting an opposite-field RBI single early in the contest. In the field, he has soft hands and a good feel for the third base position.

• Switch-hitting outfielder Braxton Lane had two plate appearances on Tuesday–one as a lefty and one as a righty. He struck out swinging in both instances. One of the issues is certainly timing, as Lane discussed in an interview last week. He wasn't chasing balls well out of the zone, but he was missing the ones in and near the zone.

• Luis Sardinas didn't play in the field, but he had a pair of at-bats. Sardinas is a much better right-handed hitter than left-handed. His righty swing is more fluid, has more lift, and he is able to get more extension on the ball. In his left-handed at-bat, he struck out on a 2-2 pitch after three relatively ugly swinging strikes. While hitting righty, he hit a first-pitch flyout into right field, putting a little charge into the ball.

Martin Perez: 2 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k (24 pitches – 18 strikes)
Matt Thompson: 2 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 5 k (32 pitches – 23 strikes)
Denny Peralta: 0.2 ip, 2 h, 3 r, 2 bb, 1 k (27 pitches – 16 strikes)
Ezequiel Rijo: 1.1 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 1 k (24 pitches – 17 strikes)
Carlos Pimentel: 1 ip, 1 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 0 k (12 pitches – 7 strikes)
Richard Alvarez: 1 ip, 3 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 2 k (20 pitches – 14 strikes)
Jared Schrom: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k (9 pitches – 7 strikes)

• With Scott Feldman pitching five innings in the High-A game and Ben Snyder and Kasey Kiker following, the pitching situation on the minor league side got a little skewed on Tuesday. Double-A hurler Martin Perez ended up starting the Low-A game.

• Martin was Martin. It has become sort of a saying around those in camp. When someone asks how he pitched, the answer is generally a variation of, ‘Martin was Martin.' In other words–he was good.

On Tuesday, Martin pounded the strike zone for two scoreless innings on 24 pitches. He ran his fastball between 91-94 mph, touching 96. His curveball was around 73-76 mph, and his changeup was 84-86. Last season, Perez threw his change in the 79-83 mph range, and it had a bit more fade at the lower velocity. The pitch was also floating up in the zone a bit too much on Tuesday.

At either rate, Perez was working down in the zone more often than he was last year. While he was able to blow his fastball by Low-A hitters with Hickory, he began getting punished for the belt-high heat after the promotion to Double-A Frisco. Perez got both of his strikeouts by blowing fastballs by guys down around the knees. If he does more of that, he'll even dominate the Texas League this season–even though he doesn't turn 19 until April.

• Matt Thompson wasn't flawless–he allowed a couple hard-hit balls on fastballs left up in the zone–but he missed some bats, leading to five strikeouts in just two innings of work. He got the strikeouts [two looking, three swinging] on two curveballs, one fastball, and two changeups.

When Thomspon entered professional ball late in the 2007 Arizona League season, he didn't throw a changeup at all. When he worked on it at '07 Fall Instructional League, he had very little feel for it. Now, although the pitch is inconsistent, Thompson shows the ability to throw some nice ones. The pitch is generally around 81-83 mph with some good action, and it has become a solid pitch to left-handed hitters when he commands it. He had some trouble keeping it down in the zone early in Tuesday's outing, but he got the feel for it as he progressed.

The right-hander's money pitch is absolutely his swing-and-miss upper-70s curveball. It's a sharp breaker with tight spin, and he threw it four times in the two innings, getting two called strikes, a swinging strike, and a foul ball.

Because Thompson's four-seam fastball doesn't have a ton of movement, he generally can't get away with mistakes up in the zone. And while Thompson has shown excellent control since signing in '07, his command within the strike zone started at below average and has gradually progressed. He left a couple of his 90-92 mph fastballs up on Tuesday, and they were hit. However, the native Texan is also ticking up in velocity with each season in pro ball so far, and he should gain a little bit more in the future.

• Tall righty Denny Peralta was outstanding at Fall Instructional League, when he won the points system for pitchers. That means he was excellent at throwing first-pitch strikes, getting ground balls, fielding his position, and other things of that ilk. Unfortunately, Peralta wasn't able to do any of that in his inning on Tuesday, as he didn't record all three outs.

The Dominican Republic native, who sits in the 86-88 mph range with his fastball, walked the first two batters he faced. He went on to allow a two-RBI double on a fastball that stayed up in the zone. He did record a strikeout with a nice changeup. Peralta spins a strong curveball when he can get on top of it, though it's an inconsistent pitch. His changeup is a very promising offering.

• Ezequiel Rijo generally throws a heavy fastball that runs away from left-handers and into righties, but he didn't have much of that on Tuesday. Though a few of Rijo's 87 mph fastballs had movement, the vast majority were pretty straight, including the one he threw that resulted in a home run.

• There's just a different look to Carlos Pimentel this season. He did gave up a run on Tuesday, but it was also unearned, as the first hitter reached on an Oduber Herrera error at shortstop.

Last season, Pimentel worked best in the 86-90 mph range, because when he topped 90, his fastball typically straightened out. This spring, Pimentel is working more between 89-91 mph, touching 92 and 93 on occasion–and he is throwing some heavy fastballs with late movement at those velocities. He threw a couple low-80s changeups with excellent movement in the game. Pimentel may have entered last season with the curveball as his go-to secondary pitch, but the change has absolutely passed it up. He consistently throws it down in the zone with excellent deception and movement.

• Even though Richard Alvarez pitched in just one inning–it was a tale of two innings. He sat between 85-86 mph, touching 88. His changeup was around 81 mph and his curve was 73-76. Even when he struggles, it's easy to see that the Venezuelan has advanced secondary stuff. He'll be 17-years-old almost the entire season.

To the first three hitters he faced, Alfarez allowed a home run, a single, and a long double. His fastball was hanging way up in the zone–he was practically unable to keep anything he threw down.

Then, suddenly, the hurler started painting the corners at knee-high. He threw a well-placed fastball for a swinging strikeout, a filthy changeup for another swinging strikeout, and a fastball in for a popup to second base. To the final three hitters he faced, Alvarez got five swings and misses with his fastball.

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