|Andy Jenkins||1B||R/R||6'0||205||07/23/83||JAX/NEW (FLA)|
1) Kirkman earns a Triple-A rotation spot.
Coming into Spring Training, the Texas Rangers had Michael Kirkman pegged for a rotation spot at Double-A Frisco. But the southpaw, who has shown continued progression over the last two years, forced the club's hand. Kirkman showed good stuff and pitched well in Spring Training, and he played his way into the Oklahoma City rotation. The 23-year-old was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason, after his stuff took a major step forward in '09. Kirkman began throwing his fastball between 91-93 mph [topping out at 94], and he showed two promising breaking balls in his curve and slider. This spring, the Florida native added a two-seam fastball and a cutter, and the early returns on both pitches are positive. While Kirkman may profile as a late-inning reliever down the line, he has a deep repertoire and will continue to start for the time being. Kirkman is slated to make his Triple-A debut in the third game of the season, coming on Saturday, April 10.
2) Utility infielders added late in camp.
The Rangers assembled a handful of infielders during Spring Training, as they scrambled to find a big league utility option after they voided Khalil Greene's contract. While Andres Blanco made the big league roster, Hernan Iribarren and Gregorio Petit were sent down to Triple-A. Primarily a second baseman, Iribarren should split time with Esteban German, and it looks more and more like Petit will have they everyday job at shortstop. Neither player is on the 40-man roster, but the Rangers' utility system remains far from stable, and the club will certainly be keeping an eye on the players throughout the year.
3) Holland, McCarthy begin in minors.
Pitchers Derek Holland and Brandon McCarthy combined to log almost 240 innings for the Rangers last season, but both pitchers will begin the 2010 season with the RedHawks. Holland, who entered last year as the system's second-ranked prospect, made just one start at Oklahoma City before being called up and spending the remainder of the season with the Rangers. McCarthy has played in the Majors for parts of five seasons, making 110 career appearances. Both players are still on the 40-man roster, and there's a good chance they will both wind up making starts [or at least pitching in some form] for the Rangers this season. However, while fighting for a rotation spot in Spring Training, neither hurler pitched particularly well–Holland had an early injury and McCarthy was working with new mechanics–and the Rangers felt both could use developmental time in the minors to start the year.
1) Will Justin Smoak prove he is ready for the big leagues?
The general belief seems to be that first baseman Justin Smoak will make his Major League debut at some point during the 2010 campaign. While Smoak is certainly the Rangers' top position-player prospect, he still has some improvements to make before proving he is ready for the big leagues. The 6-foot-4 switch-hitter struggled to stay back on good offspeed pitches after his promotion to OKC last summer, and he ended up batting just .244 with 15 extra-base hits in 54 games with the RedHawks. Nobody is too worried about Smoak–he kept his excellent discipline and wasn't swinging and missing too often. The primary issue was that Smoak wasn't able to square up on offspeed pitches. But the 23-year-old should improve with experience, and it will be interesting to see how much he improves while getting his second look at the Pacific Coast League. After a slow start in Spring Training, Smoak began to get his timing back and finished camp on an absolute tear.
2) Can Max Ramirez bounce back from a dreadful 2009?
To be blunt, the Venezuela native was brutal in 76 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season. Ramirez batted just .234/.323/.336. Although he still showed good plate discipline, Ramirez was swinging and missing too often [85 strikeouts in 274 at-bats] and wasn't getting much power behind the ball when he did hit it [13 doubles, 5 homers]. However, it appears the issues came because Ramirez was fighting a pair of wrist injuries–one on each wrist–throughout the year. He was eventually shut down and rehabbed for the remainder of the year until going back to Venezuela to play winterball for La Guaira. There, Ramirez showed signs of improvement. Though he was still striking out too often, he placed second in the league with 13 round-trippers. The backstop continued to show positive signs in Spring Training, as he hit the ball with authority looked like more of a contact hitter. Ramirez, who also played some first base this spring, should play every day in some role with the RedHawks.
3) What is Guillermo Moscoso's role?
Even when he pitched as a starter at Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City last summer, Guillermo Moscoso himself said he believed the Rangers viewed him as a reliever in the long run. That was definitely true last year, as all 10 of Moscoso's Major League appearances were out of the bullpen. But Moscoso pitched extremely well as a Triple-A starter–posting a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings–and after failing to make the big league bullpen out of Spring Training, the right-hander will go back into the OKC rotation to begin this year. Because the Rangers have plenty of potential starting pitchers–at least eight or nine on the 40-man roster alone–Moscoso will likely continue to relieve as a big leaguer, but he could eventually force the club's hand if he remains a dominant force as a Triple-A starting pitcher. Moscoso's secondary stuff took a strong step forward last summer, as his breaking ball tightened up and his straight change improved.
One to Watch
Omar Beltre – Beltre and fellow right-hander Alexi Ogando will likely be forever linked because of their involvement in the marriage fraud scandal that kept them in the Dominican Republic since the conclusion of the 2004 season. Both pitchers were allowed to come back this season, and they are both talented upper-minors relievers with the same repertoires–fastball, slider, splitter. Ogando certainly has the higher ceiling because his stuff is a tick better across the board, but Beltre is currently the more polished of the two. The big 27-year-old is a bit inconsistent, but he generally works down in the zone with a 91-93 mph fastball and a decent slider-splitter combination. Beltre likes to use the slider as a put-away pitch to fellow righties, and he prefers the splitter to left-handers. Though he doesn't have the upside of Ogando, Beltre profiles as a solid Major League reliever–perhaps a sixth or seventh-inning guy.