Rangers Minor League Notes: AAA/AA at RBiA

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Oklahoma City RedHawks defeated the Frisco RoughRiders, 10-1, in Tuesday's exhibition game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the contest, which included a number of top pitching prospects.

Oklahoma City RedHawks 10 – Frisco RoughRiders 1



Frisco

1. Renny Osuna, 2B (0/3, 2 K)
2. Marcus Lemon, CF (1/3, BB)
3. Joey Butler, RF (0/3, HBP, 2 K)
4. Wes Bankston, LF (2/4, CS)
5. John Whittleman, 1B (1/4, 2B, 3 K)
6. Elio Sarmiento, DH/C (1/3, BB)
7. Kevin Richardson, C (1/2)
8. Jonathan Greene, 3B (2/4, 2B, 2 K)
9. Guilder Rodriguez, SS (0/4)

Matt Lawson, 2B (0/1, RBI)
Chris Gradoville, DH (1/2)

The RoughRiders managed nine hits in the game off the veteran OKC pitching staff, but they worked only two walks and had just two extra-base hits in the contest.

• John Whittleman will likely play some first base this season, as the club will need Wes Bankston for a corner outfield spot and Jonathan Greene will see plenty of time at third base. At times, Whittleman looks solid at first, but the transition is definitely still a work in progress. He failed to scoop low throw from short early in the game and committed an error on a slow grounder in the late innings.

At the plate, Whittleman struck out three times and doubled once. His punchouts were versus Ballard (swinging, curveball), Geary (looking, curveball) and Beltre (swinging, splitter). The one hit was smashed to the wall in right-center on a first-pitch fastball from Elizardo Ramirez.

• Third baseman Jonathan Greene had the other double–he laced a sinking liner into left on a changeup from sidearming lefty Clay Rapada. Greene also had a single off Ballard in his first plate appearance.

Over the last year, Greene has improved his game at third base. Once known as a left fielder/third baseman/catcher without a true position, Greene improved his footwork drastically in 2009, and his plus arm plays well at the hot corner.

Alexi Ogando: 1 ip, 3 h, 4 r, 1 bb, 2 k (41 pitches – 24 strikes)
Brennan Garr: 0.2 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 0 k (16 pitches – 9 strikes)
Kasey Kiker: 3 ip, 1 h, 2 r, 3 bb, 3 k (54 pitches – 31 strikes)
Martin Perez: 2.2 ip, 6 h, 4 r, 1 bb, 1 k (55 pitches – 37 strikes)
Tanner Scheppers: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 1 k (22 pitches – 12 strikes)

The Frisco pitchers were going up against an OKC lineup that is not only stacked, but it is also stacked with a number of patient hitters that like to work the count. That spelled doom for the younger, less experienced Double-A arms, and they wound up combining to throw an astounding 188 pitches in nine innings.

• Right-hander Alexi Ogando got the start, and he threw 41 pitches while getting just three outs. Ogando will be in Frisco's rotation to start the season, but he is still considered a reliever. The Rangers want the right-hander to focus on developing his secondary pitches [slider, splitter], and he'll have an opportunity to throw them more often while working in two- to three-inning stints as a starter.

Ogando's raw stuff is flat-out powerful and dominant. He works between 93-100 mph with his fastball [sitting in the mid-90s] and both his slider and splitter are promising swing-and-miss offerings. However, he has practically zero experience pitching in the U.S. and his overall command can be hit or miss.

On Tuesday, Ogando's command was off. His first inning was rolled before he got three outs, going as follows: double, strikeout, walk, strikeout, broken-bat E6. Ogando got the two strikeouts on upper-90s fastballs that he climbed the ladder with.

He blew a few fastballs by guys and got one swing and miss on a slider, but other than that, Ogando simply wasn't able to throw his offspeed stuff over the plate. He threw 13 sliders and splitters in the game, resulting in seven balls, two foul balls, one double, one swinging strike, one called strike and one groundout. Although Ogando had a two-strike count on each of the first six hitters he faced, he was only able to retire two of them.

The 26-year-old should be ready for the Majors at some point in the 2010 season. He has some absolutely dominant outings against strong competition, but he also has games like Tuesday.

• Because of the lofty pitch count, manager Steve Buechele pulled Ogando after just three hitters in the second [homer, double, groundout], and Brennan Garr came on to finish the frame. Garr got Gregorio Petit to hit a sac fly to right field before walking Craig Gentry. The inning ended when Gentry was caught trying to steal second base.

Kiker allowed just one hit.
• Kasey Kiker pitched the third through fifth innings, and he had a very Kasey Kiker-esque outing. The southpaw threw a lot of pitches, but he missed some bats and wasn't hit hard. Kiker got off to a rough start, as he walked third baseman Matt Brown before hanging a change and serving up a two-run bomb to DH Chad Tracy. But he quickly settled down and retired the next six hitters he faced, throwing first-pitch strikes to five of them.

The Rangers sent Kiker back to Double-A Frisco largely because he must refine his command. Even when Kiker isn't running into problems with walks or hit batsmen, he tends to fall behind and throw too many pitches. Because of his heavy 88-91 mph fastball, good changeup and usable curve, Kiker never gets hit very hard–but the hits certainly count for more when he is putting men on base via the walk.

During Spring Training and in Tuesday's outing, Kiker had issues with missing up and away to right-handers on both his fastball and changeup. His command came and went–he had the stretch where he got ahead and pumped first-pitch strikes, and he also walked three, including one right before he hung a pitch for a homer and two consecutive in the fifth. Kiker was able to get out of the jam he created in the fifth by striking out a pair of hitters with well-placed fastballs.

Kiker's changeup can be dominant when he commands it. The pitch is deceptive with good life, and he routinely catches hitters out in front of the pitch. However, he has had problems locating it of late. Kiker threw 13 changeups in the three innings [8 strikes], and the only hit he allowed was Tracy's home run. Still, when Kiker misses with the changeup, he misses up.

The left-hander uses his plus change as an out pitch against righties, and he goes to the curve more often against fellow southpaws. Kiker was spinning a pretty good curveball on Tuesday, throwing four of the five for strikes and freezing Brandon Boggs with it for a called strike three.

• Martin Perez yielded six hits in just 2.2 innings, but for the most part, he wasn't hit particularly hard. Overall, though, the outing was a reminder that Perez isn't invincible, despite all the glowing scouting reports.

The Venezuela native is definitely a special talent and a top prospect, but he just turned 19-years-old and still has plenty of things to work on before he is ready to succeed against experienced Triple-A hitters. The disciplined OKC lineup simply laid off his stuff out of the zone and worked counts. For Perez to cut down on his pitch count [55 in three innings], he'll need to place his fastball down in the zone more often, which will lead to more early-count swinging.

Perez's first inning was rolled with two outs because of a lofty pitch count, but he was being blooped to death on the windy day. The seven hitters he faced in that frame: bloop single, bloop single, K looking, walk, bloop single, E3, popout to short. Not a single ball was hit hard, but he yielded three runs.

Out of Perez's 55 pitches, he threw 11 changeups [8 strikes] and 10 curveballs [7 strikes]. He had two swings-and-misses on the change and zero on the curve, but he also didn't allow a single hit on an offspeed pitch–all six came on fastballs, generally left up in the zone.

The southpaw has total confidence in all three of his pitches, and it shows. He will throw any pitch in any count because he can throw them all for strikes. But for now, the key is primarily fastball location. Perez was able to get away with working up in the zone in Hickory last season, but he won't at the upper levels, and that will certainly be his focus in 2010.

• Though Oklahoma City had a nine-run lead, they played out the bottom of the ninth in order to get right-hander Tanner Scheppers into the game. Scheppers definitely didn't disappoint, sitting between 94-96 mph and bumping 97 and 98 on a radar gun that may be a tick slow.

Scheppers busted out all four of his pitches in the four-hitter inning–the fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He threw just one change [a ball] and one slider [also the ball]. The rest of the 22 pitches were all heaters and curves. In the inning, Scheppers had a groundout, a walk, a strikeout [79 mph curve], and a flyout to center.

The 23-year-old has dominant stuff and he should have little issue against Double-A hitters to start the season, but if there is any criticism thus far, it is the occasional wildness. Scheppers didn't throw first-pitch strikes to any of the hitters he faced in the ninth. Still, it's easy to forget that he has yet to throw an official pitch in professional baseball, and the control should improve with experience.



OKC

1. Craig Gentry, CF (2/4, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, SB, CS)
2. Esteban German, 2B (0/2, BB, K, SB)
3. Matt Brown, 3B (0/0, 3 BB, SB)
4. Chad Tracy, DH (1/5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 K)
5. Mitch Moreland, RF (1/4, 2B, BB, K)
6. Justin Smoak, 1B (2/5, HR, RBI, K)
7. Brandon Boggs, LF (2/3, 2B, K)
8. Matt Treanor, C (0/2)
9. Gregorio Petit, SS (0/2, BB, RBI)

Hernan Iribarren, 2B (1/2, RBI)
Emerson Frostad, 3B (0/2)
Andy Jenkins, LF (1/2)
Max Ramirez, C (1/2, K)

Gentry filled up the box score.
• Craig Gentry just looked like a leadoff hitter. In addition to playing his usual strong defense in center, Gentry singled, doubled, walked and stole a base. He was making things happen at the top of the order. Already a member of the 40-man roster, Gentry can secure an full-time spot on the 25-man roster if he proves his bat is good enough.

• Matt Brown stole his base on the back end of a double steal with Gentry in the first inning. Though Brown's defensive numbers at third have been shaky over the years–and he made a few outstanding plays only to be followed by an error or two in Spring Training–he has some tools. Brown does a good job charging, grabbing, and throwing weak grounders. He showed his patience by drawing three consecutive walks–one from Ogando and two from Kiker.

• Designated hitter Chad Tracy got his lone hit of the day–a two-run homer–on a hanging changeup from Kasey Kiker. The change hung up and over the plate, and Tracy pulled it into the stands in straight-away left field.

• Justin Smoak also went yard, nailing a solo shot against Alexi Ogando. The pitcher came up and in with a fastball to Smoak on a 2-2 pitch, and he punished it, hitting it well out of the park down the right field line. The first baseman added a bloop single later in the contest.

• Not many of the hits allowed by LHP Martin Perez were well struck, but Mitch Moreland's double certainly was. Moreland clocked a two-bagger into centerfield after being down in the count 0-2.

Mike Ballard: 3 ip, 4 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 3 k (52 pitches – 31 strikes)
Elizardo Ramirez: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (14 pitches – 9 strikes)
Jailen Peguero: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (9 pitches – 7 strikes)
Geoff Geary: 1 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k (17 pitches – 12 strikes)
Clay Rapada: 1 ip, 1 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 0 k (13 pitches – 9 strikes)
Omar Beltre: 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (18 pitches – 9 strikes)
Pedro Strop: 1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 1 k (5 pitches – 5 strikes)

• Starting pitcher Mike Ballard didn't have his typical pin-point command, resulting in a lofty 52 pitches over three innings of work against a Double-A lineup that appeared a bit overmatched all game long.

As usual, though, Ballard was crafty. He used a mixture of four- and two-seam fastballs, changeups, curveballs and sliders to keep the RoughRiders off-balance. While the left-hander isn't a strikeout pitcher, he got three in three innings on a high fastball [swinging] a big-breaking curveball [swinging] and a changeup with excellent fade away from the righty [swinging].

Ballard typically throws his four-seamer in the 86-88 mph range [sometimes touching a bit higher], but he is able to succeed because of the excellent command. His big-breaking curveball can keep hitters honest, and the plus changeup is a definite out pitch. He will begin the year in the Triple-A Oklahoma City rotation.

Peguero worked a quick inning.
• Jailen Peguero had an impressive inning, through seven of his nine pitches for strikes and working down in the zone. Peguero commanded both his fastball and his slider extremely well. His chart went as follows (B means ball, C called strike, F foul):

FBC, SL – groundout to short; pitch ran into lefty and jammed him
SLC, SLB, FBF, FBF, SLB, FBC – K looking; well placed on the outside corner
FB – groundout to second; hitter was busted up and in, forcing weak contact

Peguero, who was signed away from Veracruz of the Mexican League mid-summer last year, had 24 relief appearances for the RedHawks in 2009.

• Although Omar Beltre didn't allow a hit or a walk, his command was all over the place early in his inning. Beltre plunked Joey Butler on the head with his first pitch of the outing, and he fell behind 3-0 to Wes Bankston. Beltre made a nice comeback, throwing three consecutive strikes to force a popout to second.

After throwing nothing but fastballs to the first two hitters, Beltre started implementing both his splitter and slider. He threw a solid splitty that dove down and away from the lefty Whittleman for a swinging strikeout. He threw another one to Sarmiento–another left-handed hitter–that led to a routine groundout.

• Pedro Strop was extremely efficient in the ninth, needing only five pitches to get through the frame. Every fastball registered between 94-95 mph on the stadium radar run. He yielded a first-pitch single, struck out a hitter with a slider, and induced a quick double play.



Game Videos

Chad Tracy homers off Kasey Kiker
Martin Perez strikes out Max Ramirez
Justin Smoak takes Alexi Ogando deep
Tanner Scheppers strikes out Justin Smoak
Tanner Scheppers gets Chad Tracy
Alexi Ogando breaks Mitch Moreland's bat
Martin Perez gets Justin Smoak to pop out
Omar Beltre gets Wes Bankston to fly out


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