Rangers Minor League Notes (3/28)

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The Hickory Crawdads played almost a perfect game on Sunday afternoon, winning 12-0 and out-hitting Fort Wayne 21-3. Lone Star Dugout has plenty of notes and observations in this free preview of premium content.


Hickory Crawdads 12 – Fort Wayne TinCaps 0

1. Cody Podraza, DH (2/5, 2B, K)
2. Leury Garcia, SS (3/5)
3. Vin DiFazio, C (2/4, 2B, RBI)
4. Miguel Velazquez, CF (2/5, 3B, HR, 3 RBI)
5. Matt West, 3B (3/4, 2B, BB, RBI, K)
6. Michael Ortiz, 1B (3/5, 2 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, K)
7. Ed Koncel, LF (0/3)
8. Guillermo Pimentel, RF (2/4)
9. Edwin Garcia, 2B (2/4)

Leonel De Los Santos, C (1/2, RBI)
Cristian Santana, LF (1/1)

• No doubt about it–the Crawdads pounded the ball on Sunday afternoon. The Rangers moved a lot of players between teams in the morning, and the rosters–for the most part–are more representative of where players will begin the 2010 season. Stacked with a lineup that had mostly been playing in High-A games before Sunday, Hickory pounded out 12 runs on 21 hits, including eight extra-base knocks.

• Switch-hitting shortstop Leury Garcia had a very Leury Garcia-like game. He didn't appear overpowered from either side of the plate, but he also doesn't have a whole lot of strength. Batting right-handed, Garcia had a nice push bunt single towards the right side in his first plate appearance. Later in the game, he reached on an E3 [he could have potentially been given a base hit here, as well], hit a broken-bat single to center, and singled through the right side.

In the field, Garcia simply makes it look easy at times. He ranged all the way to the second base side of the second base bag to field a ground ball and gun down a runner at first base. He got a lightning-quick first step and breezed over to the ball before making a smooth pickup and transition. The young shortstop will do that once in awhile, but he also still struggles at the more routine plays. He still needs time to develop, but the tools are there for him to be a plus defensive shortstop.

Velazquez had a triple and a homer.
• Outfielder Miguel Velazquez definitely has an aggressive approach at the plate, and he generally doesn't get cheated on his swings. The Puerto Rico native flashed his power on Sunday, going 2-for-5 with a triple, a home run, and three runs batted in.

Velazquez went with a pitch on the outer half in his second at-bat for an opposite-field triple that one-hopped the wall in right-center. The next time up, it was turn-and-burn on a first-pitch fastball in for a long bomb over the wall in left-center.

Although the 21-year-old is definitely aggressive, he doesn't chase a lot of bad pitches. Velazquez swings and misses some, but he's not wildly swinging at anything with no sense of pitch recognition. He simply likes to swing at pitches over the plate early in the count, and with that approach and his strength, he could dominate the Single-A levels over the next year or two.

• For the most part, third baseman Matt West has looked like a different player in camp this year. The prospect has generated some buzz with the way he has performed with the bat–he had three home runs in two games last week. In Sunday's contest, the Houston Bellaire High product singled twice, doubled once and walked.

West appears to be much, much more improved in the pitch recognition department this season. While he is still swinging and missing some, it's not nearly as wild as it was last season. He has been a more selective hitter, showing an improved eye for the strike zone as well. West seems to know what he can square up, and he is doing a better job of hitting his pitches.

The 21-year-old is a strong hitter with plenty of raw power that hasn't yet shown up in games because of his other issues at the plate. When West squares up on a ball, he hits it hard and it goes a long way. On the same token, when he gets jammed, he has the strength to fist the ball into the outfield for a base hit.

West also looks much improved defensively, although Sunday's contest was a tale of two games for him in the field. He made plays on the ball [either groundouts or popups] nine times in the game. Although West committed 33 errors last season with Hickory, he definitely has the tools for success. He looked calm and confident at third, using his feet well to get the desired hops and showing smooth hands. West also flashed his range when he made a full-extension diving stop towards shortstop to snag a ball. He then calmly got up, set his feet, and fired the ball to first for the out.

Later in the contest, West appeared to get a bit lackadaisical at first, which was his problem last season. He dropped a popup [resulting in a fielder's choice forceout at second] after he pulled his glove off to the side and used just one hand–he didn't get completely under the ball. A similar play happened with a slow chopper in the ninth, as West attempted to backhand the ball instead of getting his body in front of it.

Either way, the third baseman looks like a different player this spring, and although the former second-round pick has been a disappointment thus far in pro ball, he is getting something out of his tools right now.

Ortiz had three extra-base hits.
• First baseman Michael Ortiz continues to show that you simply can't make mistakes up in the zone to him, because he will absolutely punish the ball. The Miami native had another excellent game at the plate on Sunday, going 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and two runs batted in.

Though Ortiz is still relatively inexperienced as a baseball player, he seems to do just fine against left-handed pitching. In two at-bats against the southpaw starter, he mashed a double to right-center [just missing a home run] on a hanging slider before ripping a 3-1 pitch into right-center for a triple. Ortiz sees the ball well and stays back on offspeed pitches from lefties.

Later in the game, Ortiz got his second double, as he smoked a ball down the right field line for an RBI double. He also hit an absolute monster shot foul down the right field line in his final plate appearance before striking out swinging.

Last season, Ortiz focused on going up the middle and the other way in games more often, and it made him a much improved all-around hitter. This past offseason, the prospect has been working on getting more power behind his swing. Ortiz has always been strong, but his line-drive stroke prevented him from elevating many balls. So far this spring, he is blistering the ball into the gaps and down the lines for extra-base knocks.

Hickory's opening day lineup should bear at least some resemblance to the Crawdads' lineup in Sunday's game. Given the way Ortiz has hit in camp this spring, he has a legitimate opportunity to open the season as Hickory's starting first baseman.

Nick McBride: 2 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (28 pitches – 16 strikes)
Johnny Gunter: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (9 pitches – 7 strikes)
Winston Marquez: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 0 k (14 pitches – 6 strikes)
Bobby Wilkins: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k (7 pitches – 5 strikes)
Keith Campbell: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 0 k (22 pitches – 8 strikes)
Jonathan Rojas: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 0 k (28 pitches – 14 strikes)
Geuris Grullon: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (12 pitches – 9 strikes)
Jose Monegro: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k (16 pitches – 10 strikes)

• Eight Hickory pitchers combined to spin a three-hit shutout on Sunday afternoon. It wasn't always pretty, as they also walked five hitters while striking out just three, but that will tend to happen when you are using a new pitcher in almost every inning.

McBride projects to have power stuff.
• The only pitcher to go multiple frames was right-hander Nick McBride, who started and pitched two innings. The Rangers' fifth-round pick in last summer's draft was extremely sharp. McBride was impressive in pitching off his 88-91 mph fastball that bumped 92 once and 93 once. In fact, he threw only three or four offspeed pitches in the two innings.

McBride did have a tendency to float the ball up in the zone at times, but he also pounded the strike zone in general. In the two innings, the prospect induced two flyouts to right field, a strikeout swinging, a groundout to short, a popout to second and a lineout to third.

In the strikeout at-bat, McBride threw six fastballs: 87 mph [foul], 91 mph [ball], 91 mph [swinging], 92 mph [ball], 91 mph [ball], 91 mph [swinging for K].

With a 6-foot-4 frame that should fill out as he matures physically, McBride could add some serious velocity. He already touches the low-90s and gets good angle on the ball–he throws his fastball on a nice downward plane, and he projects to be topping out in the mid-90s in a couple years.

McBride has yet to throw an official pitch in professional baseball, as he signed around the mid-August deadline last year and did not appear in the AZL. The North Carolina native will almost certainly begin the season in Extended Spring Training before reporting to short-season Spokane. If he keeps the ball down, he could be dominant this season.

• Reliever Johnny Gunter, a strong-armed former catcher that the Rangers took a flier on in the 11th round last summer, appears to have a little something. The 22-year-old is big, and he has an excellent arm. Gunter had a quick 1-2-3 inning, getting a strikeout and two weak groundouts to third base on just nine pitches.

While it was an extremely short sample size, the Alabama native commanded his 89-91 mph fastball well, particularly for a guy who hasn't been pitching for very long. In 27.1 innings with Spokane last summer, Gunter was difficult to hit [21 hits], but he also walked some hitters [15 walks]. Gunter has reached the mid-90s in the past, and he may do so once he gets out of Spring Training this season.

Gunter's most promising pitch on Sunday looked like his slider, which he used to get a strikeout swinging. The 83 mph pitch looked to have true plus potential, as it had filthy late movement down and in to left-handed hitters. He also threw a slower, not-as-sharp slider at 78 mph for a ball. While his stuff and command may be understandably inconsistent right now, Gunter is a relief arm to watch in the coming years.

• Left-hander Winston Marquez comes to the plate with a good, fast arm and a unique short-striding delivery, but he has all sorts of problems throwing strikes. The Rangers liked Marquez's raw arm enough to acquire him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft over the offseason, but he has been on-and-off the field due to injuries and has walked 5.5 batters per nine innings over two professional seasons.

On Sunday, Marquez threw just six strikes out of 14 pitches, but he got outs with three of those strikes. The Venezuela native, who has sat in the low-90s in the past, worked in the upper-80s–mostly at 88-89 mph. He walked one hitter and got three weak ground balls–two to third and one back to the mound–in the frame. Marquez mixed in just one offspeed pitch–a promising 74 mph curve with good depth for a called strike.

Wilkins' velocity is back up a bit.
• Former sixth-round pick Bobby Wilkins has had a rocky professional career thus far, spending three consecutive summers in the rookie-level Arizona League, but he is taking some positive steps forward. Wlkins' fastball dipped into the low-80s for parts of 2008, but the velocity returned late in '09 and it appears to be back this season.

Like Gunter, it was a small sample size with Wilkins, as he was sharp and needed just seven pitches to complete the inning. The hurler threw six fastballs, sitting between 88-90 mph. Wilkins also did a good job commanding his fastball, throwing five of the six heaters for strikes down in the zone and getting two groundouts [including a shattered bat] and a popout to second.

The 20-year-old mixed in a 73 mph curveball for a ball. Wilkins has always thrown a slower, big-breaking curveball, but the pitch has had a bit sharper break in the past over the last two years.

• Texas' 15th-round selection in last summer's draft was right-hander Keith Campbell, and he pitched on Sunday. Campbell was difficult to hit with Spokane [16 hits in 21.1 innings] and missed some bats [19 strikeouts], but he also had plenty of problems throwing strikes [16 walks].

The numbers held true for Campbell in the game, as he lost all control at one point, throwing eight consecutive pitches well out of the strike zone for two straight four-pitch walks. Campbell began the outing missing up above the zone and after a couple hitters, almost every fastball was well outside to right-handed hitters.

Campbell threw six fastballs to the first hitter, all between 85-88 mph, leading to a groundout to second. However, his velocity declined through the inning, as he sat more in the 84-87 mph range to the last few hitters he faced. Although Campbell loaded the bases at one point, he got a popout to third base to end the threat and escape with zero runs allowed. He didn't throw any breaking balls in the outing.

• Venezuela native Jonathan Rojas, who turned 22-years-old last week, put up an identical line to Campbell in his one inning. The pitcher's inning went as follows: walk, single, popup, flyout, walk, groundout. Like Campbell, Rojas worked in the 85-88 mph range, although he also dipped down to 84 mph a couple of times. He featured a solid 77-78 mph breaking ball and a nice low-80s changeup, which he threw once for a called strike.

• Geuris Grullon is the most hit-or-miss pitcher in the Rangers' system. In an early spring outing attended by BBTiA's Jason Parks and The Newberg Report's Scott Lucas, Grullon failed to throw almost any strikes at all in the appearance.

On Sunday, Grullon was extremely sharp, needing just 12 pitches to get through his inning, throwing nine strikes. The southpaw's inning charted as follows:

88 mph fastball [groundout to short – the pitch cut in on the hands of the righty hitter]
89 mph fastball [ball], 88 mph fastball [called strike], slider [single to center – radar gun read the ball off the bat]
88 mph fastball [foul], 79 mph slider [called strike], 89 mph fastball [strikeout swinging]
88 mph fastball [ball], 88 mph fastball [ball – wild pitch above the hitter's head], 90 mph fastball [swinging strike], 89 mph fastball [ball], 89 mph fastball [foul], 89 mph fastball [flyout to left – pitch cut over the outer-half to the lefty Everett Williams]

Grullon's raw velocity itself isn't amazing–although he has touched the mid-90s in the past. It's the incredible fastball movement that makes his heater one of the best pitches in the system. At times, it seems like Grullon's 88-89 mph fastball is a slider due to its outstanding cutting action. The 89 mph pitch for the strikeout cut hard down and in to the right-handed hitter, and it was practically an unhittable pitch.

The issue is that Grullon's stuff simply seems to be too filthy for him to command. The lanky 6-foot-5, 185-pound southpaw has all sorts of problems staying square in his delivery [he has a major tendency to fly open], and while he gets plenty of ground balls and strikeouts, he also has outings where he throws very few strikes.

The Rangers seem completely resigned to keeping the 20-year-old in the bullpen at this point–they just hope he can eventually harness his stuff at least somewhat.

• Jose Monegro also worked in a scoreless inning even though he wasn't his sharpest. The right-handed reliever is intriguing not only because his stuff is solid, but also because his results last season were excellent. Monegro posted a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 AZL innings last summer, walking seven and striking out 47.

The 20-year-old threw his fastball between 88-90 mph on Sunday, and the pitch had plenty of sink and armside run. However, he ended up getting three flyouts in the inning because he was working up in the zone with the fastball.

Monegro also throws a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He seems to command the low-80s changeup pretty well, and the pitch has a lot of fade and dive. The Dominican Republic native appears to be a bullpen arm to watch this season.

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