Rangers Minor League Notes (3/27)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The Frisco RoughRiders dropped their game to Northwest Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, but there was a lot to see between players like Blake Beavan and Engel Beltre. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the day's action in minor league camp.

Frisco RoughRiders 0 – Northwest Arkansas Naturals 5

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

Eric Fry, LF (0/2)
Jared Prince, 1B (0/2, K)
Leance Soto (1/1)
Edward Martinez, 2B (0/1, K)
Doug Hogan (0/1)

• The Frisco offense struggled to get much of anything going on Saturday, as they collected just five hits and were shut out. The RoughRiders had only two extra-base hits [both doubles] and two of the hits were of the infield variety.

• Left-hander Everett Teaford started the game for the Naturals, and he made life tough on two of the left-handed hitters in the starting lineup–Jared Bolden and Tom Mendonca–as they combined to go 0-for-4.

In the later innings, the ‘Riders had to face Chris ‘Disco' Hayes [he calls himself Disco because he ‘lives in the ‘70s'], a submarining pitcher who throws anything between the low-60s and mid-70s. The Frisco hitters had trouble squaring up anything against Hayes, and they also weren't able to score against the right-hander.

• Engel Beltre still has a ways to go in terms of plate discipline and pitch selection, but he is a little better this spring than he has been in past years. Beltre has the occasional great at-bat and works the occasional deep count. In fact, in Beltre's first plate appearance on Saturday, he hit a broken-bat infield single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch. Even more remarkable, Beltre hadn't swung the bat until the count was full.

While the Dominican Republic native has some raw power, he would be best served using his plus speed to his advantage more often. Beltre has been doing that consistently this spring, successfully bunting for a base hit at least once a game it seems. He was able to do that again on Saturday, placing a ball between the pitcher, first baseman and second baseman.

In the outfield, the 20-year-old seems to be getting better with his route-running as he matures. Beltre went all the way into left-center field to chase down a fly ball with a direct route. He flashed his speed and spent a couple seconds camping under a ball that initially looked like it might fall in for extra bases.

Beltre still has a long way to go before he can succeed offensively at the upper levels. He batted just .223 with a .596 OPS while spending most of his time at High-A Bakersfield last season. But he is showing a number of positive developmental signs this spring, and he doesn't turn 21 until November.

• Erik Morrison has spent most of his time at second base this spring, but he showed off some of his versatility when he moved into left field on Saturday. Morrison made an excellent on-the-run grab down the left field line early in the contest, running a nice route and getting a good jump.

• Third baseman Tom Mendonca only got two at-bats in the game, both against the southpaw Teaford. Mendonca simply didn't appear to be picking the ball up well out of Teaford's hands. The prospect struck out looking twice–once on an 88 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, and again on a similar fastball that zipped over the outer half.

One bad day may not be best way to judge, though. While Mendonca looked unable to read the ball out of the lefty's hands on Saturday, he was actually a better hitter against fellow left-handers with both Spokane and Bakersfield last summer. It'll be interesting to see what another look and a longer sample size will show.

• Backstop Jose Felix left the game after he appeared to take a foul ball off his finger. But before the injury, he was having a phenomenal game behind the plate. Though the 21-year-old doesn't have the best defensive tools, he gets the most out of everything he has. Felix gunned down a pair of attempted base-stealers with pinpoint throws to second, and he also picked a runner off first in the early innings. He doesn't quite have plus arm strength, but Felix is accurate and he has smooth mechanics that lead to a quick release.

Blake Beavan: 4 ip, 6 ip, 2 r, 0 bb, 1 k (50 pitches – 35 strikes)
Andrew Laughter: 1 ip, 3 h, 2 r, 0 bb, 0 k (19 pitches – 12 strikes)
Justin Miller: 2 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 bb, 1 k (30 pitches – 19 strikes)
Adalberto Flores: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 2 k (16 pitches – 10 strikes)
Jumbo Diaz: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (9 pitches – 6 strikes)

• Blake Beavan ended up with a very Beavan-like line. He threw strikes, he gave up some hits, he didn't miss many bats, and he didn't allow many runs.

In 89.2 innings at Double-A Frisco last season, Beavan issued just 13 walks. Not surprisingly, he threw first-pitch strikes to six of the seven hitters he faced in the first two innings.

Beavan got off to an excellent start on Saturday, retiring six of the first seven hitters he faced with two groundouts and four flyouts to left field. However, as the start progressed, he struggled more and more with fastball location–he had a tendency to get a bit wild in the zone.

Even though Beavan struck out just 34 batters in those 89.2 innings with Frisco in '09, he was able to maintain a low 4.01 ERA because of his excellent fastball command and action. However, especially in the third and fourth innings, his heater was straightening out and hanging up and over the plate. Although Beavan mixed in a number of sliders and a handful of changeups in the game, all six of his hits allowed came on fastballs up and over the zone.

The 21-year-old sat at a very consistent 88-92 mph with his fastball throughout the outing. His first-inning fastballs registered at 88, 89, 88, 89, 92, 91 and 92, respectively. His heaters to the last hitter of the fourth inning were 89, 89 and 90. He appeared to reaching back for a little extra later in the outing, and it not only didn't lead to extra velocity, but it also hurt his command a bit.

While Beavan gave up hits to five of seven hitters he faced at one stretch during the third and fourth, he was able to calm down and re-gain his impeccable command to the final two hitters of the outing. The pitcher began commanding both his fastball and slider well, working both corners down around the knees.

The right-hander has a very promising 78-ish mph changeup, but he didn't throw it very often on Saturday, as the Royals trotted out a righty heavy lineup. He did, however, throw a ton of sliders, ranging between 80-84 mph. Beavan threw a couple sliders at 84, and while the pitch was hard, it didn't have much tilt at all. His best sliders came in the 80-82 mph range.

Beavan's one strikeout came against first baseman Ernesto Mejia, who led the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs this past offseason. In the at-bat, Mejia fouled off a first-pitch slider, took an 81 mph slider for a called strike, and then chased a high 89 mph fastball for a swinging strike. Mejia's swing and miss was one of just two that Beavan induced in his 50 pitches.

• Andrew Laughter, who has been slowed by an injury this spring, made his first game appearance on Saturday afternoon.

The 6-foot-4, 227-pound reliever got a rude greeting, as his first pitch of the spring–an 88 mph fastball that stayed elevated and over the plate–was crushed into right field for a home run. The next pitch, a fastball to Royals catcher Manny Pina, resulted in a hard lineout to third base.

Laughter mostly worked between 87-88 mph in the inning, topping out at 90 once. He simply didn't locate his fastball well–in fact, Laughter got only one called strike with his fastball in the frame. The other fastballs inside the strike zone went as follows–home run, lineout, single, sac fly, single. The Naturals were hitting his fastball hard because he was leaving it up in the zone.

The 25-year-old threw his hard 81 mph slider effectively, using it four times and getting three swinging strikes. The frame came to an end on a pitchout, when Jose Felix nailed a base stealer at second.

• Right-hander Justin Miller also had issues locating his fastball, particularly in the first inning of his two-frame outing. After yielding a first-pitch bunt single, Miller walked the next hitter on four pitches–all 88-89 mph fastballs that sailed high of the zone. He then got three flyouts [including a sac fly] to finish the inning.

In the second, Miller got two groundouts and allowed a single before finishing the inning with a three-pitch strikeout looking. The strikeout at-bat went as follows–90 mph fastball fouled off, 82 mph slider fouled off, 85 mph slider caught looking.

The Fresno State product often sat in the upper-80s, low-90s last season, but he also showed the ability to dial his fastball up into the 93-94 mph range fairly often. Miller worked at 88-90 mph on Saturday. Though he typically sticks with a hard [and inconsistent] 83-85 mph slider, the pitcher broke out a promising 75-76 mph curveball on Saturday.

• Adalberto Flores is a bit different than most 6-foot-7, 225-pound pitchers–he is a bit crafty. Flores threw 16 pitches in his inning on Saturday, ranging between 69 mph and 93 mph on the radar gun.

The Puerto Rico native's fastball sat right at 90-91 mph, and he commanded it very well. Flores got a strikeout looking on a 93 mph heater and finished the inning with a swinging punchout on a fastball that rode up and in on a right-hander. He also threw a changeup for a called strike and a handful of curveballs around 69-76 mph.

Flores walked a batter on a full count after being ahead 0-2. Fastball command wasn't really the problem–he just seemed to get a bit too cute with two outs and nobody on. After getting ahead, Flores went to three consecutive offspeed pitches before missing with a fastball on 3-2.

The 23-year-old may be one of the more underrated [and still unknown] commodities in the system. He was outstanding at High-A Bakersfield last season, giving up just 51 hits and striking out 73 in 55.2 innings. Even though Flores was a minor league free agent after the season, the Rangers chose to re-sign him because of his promising arm.

• Big righty Jumbo Diaz finished out the game for the Rangers with a bang. It's never really a boring inning when Jumbo is on the mound. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound [listed–he almost certainly weighs north of 300 lbs] pitcher threw gas between 94-97 mph [sitting 96-97] and needed just nine pitches to complete a perfect inning.

Diaz's inning chart went as follows:

FB [ball], 96 FB [foul], 96 FB [foul], 96 FB [swinging], 97 FB [swinging K]
FB [flyout to right]
85 SL [called strike], 97 FB [ball], 94 FB [groundout to short]

The 26-year-old has power stuff and he had strong results at Double-A Frisco, but he also has inconsistent, wild mechanics and a long history of arm injuries. Regardless, Diaz is always an interesting player to watch because of his raw arm strength.

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