|Mitch Hilligoss||3B/LF||L/R||6'1||195||06/17/85||TMP (NYY)|
1) Going back to Cali.
Relievers Adalberto Flores and Corey Young were outstanding with the Blaze last summer, but a deep bullpen in Frisco means both hurlers will head back to Bakersfield for the beginning of the season. A minor league free agent over the offseason, Flores re-signed with the Rangers, and he has a low-90s fastball with strong offspeed stuff. The 6-foot-7 righty missed tons of bats last year, fanning 73 in 55.2 frames en route to posting a 3.40 earned-run average. Young, a lefty, throws an upper-80s sinker with an excellent curveball from a deceptive arm slot that makes him tough on fellow southpaws. The 23-year-old was dominant in Bakersfield last season before earning a promotion to Double-A Frisco, where he struggled with command. Still, both relievers should reach the Texas League before the end of the season. It's only a matter of time before players like Tanner Scheppers, Alexi Ogando, Zach Phillips and Ben Snyder move up the ladder.
2) Fabio Castillo gets a shot at High-A.
After two seasons at the Single-A level, right-hander Fabio Castillo will get his first shot at the High-A California League. Castillo has worked primarily as a reliever the last two years with Clinton and Hickory, posting a 5.22 ERA in 2008 and 4.05 in 2009. He had a dominant 1.79 ERA in the first half last summer, but Castillo suddenly became hittable [.297 BAA] and logged a 7.01 ERA after the All-Star break. The 21-year-old appears to be a full-time reliever now, but he still has good stuff. Castillo's fastball has good life, and he generally sits in the low-90s, sometimes reaching 94 and 95 mph. However, he must show consistent command. The pitcher was far from consistent during Spring Training, and he will get hit if he falls behind hitters or leaves the ball up in the zone with the Blaze.
3) Mike Bianucci: MIA.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from the recently released rosters was outfielder Mike Bianucci, who was held back in Extended Spring Training because of a groin injury. It's not considered serious and he isn't expected to miss significant time. The former Auburn standout batted .288 with 30 homers between Single-A Hickory and High-A Bakersfield in his first full season last year.
1) Can Michael Main bounce back from a lost season in 2009?
There's no doubt that Michael Main was affected by last season's illness from the get-go, but he also had his share of baseball-related troubles. Though Main's velocity was down and his curveball wasn't as sharp as the illness sapped much of his energy last year, he was also working up in the zone far too often. With his normal 92-95 mph velocity, Main often got away with working up in the zone–but he didn't in the upper-80s. The Florida native is a fierce competitor and an intelligent pitcher, and he has a good chance to finish the season at Double-A Frisco. But he must keep the ball down in the zone more often. Main allowed nine home runs in just 58 innings last season.
2) Can Kennil Gomez harness his stuff?
At times, Gomez can be one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the Rangers' system. He had 11 starts last season where he pitched at least five innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer. But at other times, he can be a bit of a disaster, struggling to find the strike zone and leaving balls up when he does. Gomez surrendered at least five earned runs in six out of eight starts during one stretch last summer. The 21-year-old has an outstanding upper-80s, low-90s sinker, a very promising changeup, and a slider that can be a swing-and-miss pitch at times. If Gomez consistently learns to command his stuff, he has the ability to tear through the Cal League and reach Frisco by season's end.
3) How will Tom Mendonca produce in his first full season?
Mendonca made plenty of adjustments last summer, helping him bounce back from a slow start to hit .309 with short-season Spokane. But he also has many more adjustments to make, as he was just 9-for-43 with 11 strikeouts after a late-season promotion to Bakersfield. The third baseman is a strong defender with plenty of power potential, and he should have no problems racking up the extra-base hits in the hitter-friendly California League. However, it'll be interesting to see what he does in terms of batting average [.290 last summer] and strikeout-to-walk ratio [78-to-10 in 60 games] in the full season. Mendonca showed the ability to make rapid adjustments and improve on the fly in Spokane, and he could do the same with a full 140 game slate in Bakersfield this season.
One to Watch
Jake Brigham – His numbers last season were far from sexy–89.2 IP, 104 H, 5.52 ERA–but, in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Brigham touched the upper-90s with his fastball and his hard-breaking curveball improved. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect appeared to be putting it together in Spring Training, where he dealt in his outings. Brigham was spotting the ball on the corners and down in the zone [he often left the ball up last season, leading to the .292 BAA despite the hard stuff] in his outings in camp, which came with both Double-A Frisco and High-A Bakersfield. In one early-camp outing, Brigham tossed a perfect inning on 13 pitches, getting two strikeouts with upper-70s curves and throwing his fastball between 91-95 mph, sitting at 93-94. If Brigham can continue that kind of command with his stuff, he will be on his way to a breakout campaign.