RMLN – Scouting the Bakersfield Blaze

STOCKTON, Calif. – With Lone Star Dugout on hand, the High-A Bakersfield Blaze split their recent four-game series against the Stockton Ports. We have some notes from the weekend, including a focus on right-hander Wilfredo Boscan.

In Wilfredo Boscan's start against the Stockton Ports on May 1, he had plenty of trouble early before settling down late. The right-hander threw 96 pitches over five innings, allowing five runs. He surrendered seven hits [two doubles, two homers] while waking one and striking out five.

FASTBALL – Boscan's fastball velocity has been down a tick, as he threw the pitch anywhere between 85 and 90 mph, mostly sitting at 86-87. Inconsistent velocity has been an issue for him over the past two years, but it's a normal issue for most young pitchers whose arms are becoming accustomed to throwing more often. When going well, the prospect will pitch at 87-91 mph, as he did during Spring Training in March.

Despite the natural sink on his normally heavy fastball, Boscan has little room for error at the velocity he showed in this start. When he leaves an 86-87 mph fastball up in the zone, it gets hit hard––he has already surrendered five home runs this season, including two in this game. Boscan profiles to have plus fastball command. He is already a strike thrower that doesn't issue many walks, but he must refine his command within the strike zone.

CURVEBALL – Through his young career thus far, Boscan's curveball has clearly been his third pitch. He has generally shown very little feel for the breaking ball, often failing to get on top or throw it for strikes. But the curve was definitely the most promising aspect of this outing.

Boscan consistently got on top of his 69-72 mph curveball, giving the pitch solid depth. It was certainly the more effective of his two offspeed pitches in the game. Though a bit on the slow side, Boscan showed some consistency with the curve and it flashed average potential for the first time.

The 20-year-old clearly had confidence in his curve in this outing, as he used it 24 times [out of 96 pitches], throwing 17 for strikes. He didn't surrender a hit on the pitch and got five swings and misses, including three strikeouts. Boscan needs to prove he can spin and command an effective curveball from start to start, but this outing was a definite sign of progress.

CHANGEUP – The Venezuelan's low-80s changeup is normally an above-average pitch, and it should be a consistent plus pitch down the line, but it wasn't quite as good in this outing. Simply put, Boscan's change isn't going to be as effective when his fastball velocity is down––it plays up much more when he's working in the upper-80s, low-90s.

With good arm action and plenty of sink and fade away from left-handed batters, Boscan's change has plus deception and movement. Though it wasn't a swing-and-miss offering against Stockton, he commanded it very well and was able to get some outs while catching hitters out in front or rolling over it.

• In the end, there were some positives and negatives for Boscan. It's important to remember that he's one of the youngest players in the California League. The 6-foot-2 hurler's velocity should become more consistent as his arm matures, and he'll have to fight through periods of decreased velocity for the time being. It will be interesting to see if [or when] he works back into the upper-80s, low-90s again this season.

Boscan has a good feel for pitching and an excellent changeup, particularly for his age. But his arm and stuff may be a bit more raw than it appears on the surface, and he could need more than a full season in Bakersfield to develop. Given his youth, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Velocity isn't an issue for Hamburger.
• Tall reliever Mark Hamburger worked a scoreless ninth on Sunday afternoon, and he flashed some very impressive velocity. Hamburger bumped 95 mph with a couple fastballs and sat in the 93-94 range––an improvement from the 90-91 that he showed during a couple Spring Training outings. The secondary stuff [including a hard slider] is still a work in progress, but it was nice to see the plus velocity out of his arm.

Fabio Castillo also flashes plus velocity out of the Bakersfield bullpen, generally working between 91-94 mph. Still, the right-hander has command issues and his secondary stuff is inconsistent. Castillo shows a hard downer slider that can get swinging strikes when he commands it, as shown in his recent two-inning, six strikeout outing against Visalia.

• The Rangers recently dropped left-hander Tim Murphy's arm slot down a bit, and while Murphy says the new slot is more natural, he is still working out the kinks. Throwing from a low three-quarters angle, his velocity was around 86-88 mph, and he was able to get some more natural movement on his fastball than he did from the higher slot.

Now a full-time reliever, the UCLA product threw exclusively from the stretch. He flashed better curveball command than last season, but he still must work on placing his fastball. Murphy has a tendency to get wild with his fastball, but if he can locate it consistently, the natural movement could help it play up.

The Bakersfield offense was relatively hot and cold during their four-game series split in Stockton. In the two wins, the Blaze combined to score 26 runs. In the two losses, they had eight.

The outburst of offense in two of the games was a promising sign, at least, as the team entered the series having scored more than six runs just twice in its previous 17 contests.

• Centerfielder Engel Beltre had an impressive weekend in all facets of the game. Beltre is beginning to develop his raw tools into baseball skills––he is learning how to play his game. On the weekend, the 20-year-old was 6-for-12 with a home run, four walks, and three stolen bases. There will be much more to come in a feature interview and in-depth scouting report in the coming days.

Paisano didn't see many fastballs.
• The Ports fed David Paisano a steady diet of breaking balls all weekend long, and he didn't handle them particularly well. Paisano saw plenty of curveballs––probably about 60 percent of the overall pitches that he saw were benders. He was often jumpy at the plate and struck out in eight of his first 11 plate appearances during the series.

Despite the struggles, Paisano is a good player and a solid prospect. The Rangers have made a number of recent adjustments with him, and he is beginning to show improved pitch selection to go along with increased game power. The Venezuela native has always been an excellent defender with good speed and a strong arm.

He took a questionable route during one game in left field––turning himself around––but Paisano hasn't seen much time at that position. He generally plays in center and right, where he is an intelligent player.

• While watching Mitch Hilligoss both in batting practice and in games, it's easy to see the raw talent that made him one of the Yankees' top hitting prospects a couple years ago. The 24-year-old has a strong lower hand that helps him whip the bat through the zone, producing some line-drive pop from the left side. He blasted off for a pair of home runs––including one no-doubt shot––during Sunday afternoon's contest.

Jared Bolden struggled offensively in the series, as he didn't really square up a ball until his line-drive homer to right-center on Sunday, but he continues to look like an excellent defensive first baseman.

The Virginia Commonwealth product has above-average athleticism at first to go with smooth footwork and soft hands. He ranges to both sides well to snag ground balls and has little trouble maneuvering his feet on the bag to catch errant throws from infielders.

• It's no secret that Tom Mendonca will have to improve his pitch recognition and overall plate discipline for him to move up the organizational ladder, and that's exactly what he struggled with against the Ports. Mendonca did smack one triple to right field, showing impressive speed for his size once he got the motor running.

Mike Bianucci is just coming back from a groin injury that caused him to miss the first three weeks of the season, and it is apparent that his timing isn't all the way back yet. The former Auburn standout had trouble catching up to plus fastballs during the four games, but he was able to punish some breaking balls, giving him multi-hit efforts in three of the four games. The slugger capped off the weekend with a round-tripper to the deepest part of the park on Sunday.

In his first 18 games this season, Bianucci has seven walks versus just 13 strikeouts––a sign of improvement for a player that whiffed 69 times in 50 games with the Blaze last season. There are some bat speed concerns with Bianucci, but he has the raw strength to hammer balls out of the park when he makes contact. If he makes consistent contact in Bakersfield, he should reach Double-A Frisco at some point this year.

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