RMLN – Lane impressive as EST Rangers fall

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The Extended Spring Training Rangers dropped a 6-5 decision to Seattle on Saturday morning, but there were plenty of intriguing things both on the mound and in the field. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the game.

Extended Rangers 5 – Extended Mariners 6

Endy Chavez, DH (0/5, K)
Teodoro Martinez, CF (0/2, BB)
Santiago Chirino, SS (1/2, 2B, HBP)
Oduber Herrera, 2B (1/2, 2B, HBP)
John Whittleman, 1B/DH (2/9, 2 K)
Alinson Perez, C (1/2, K)
Christian Villanueva, 3B (1/3, K)
Braxton Lane, LF (1/3, HR)
Luis Sardinas, DH/SS (1/1, HBP)
Junior Payano, RF (1/3, K)

Jhonny Gomez, 1B (0/2)
Yefry Castillo, C (0/1)

• In typical Spring Training fashion, the Rangers used two designated hitters in the game, and Endy Chavez and John Whittleman took plenty of at-bats. Chavez led off the first five innings of the game, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout. He took a fastball to the warning track in dead centerfield to start the third inning.

• Whittleman batted in all nine innings, and he appears to be just a bit off. Whittleman is just barely missing very hittable pitches––he's either just getting under them or slightly missing the barrel. It's the same issue that plagued him in Frisco earlier this season, and he is set to report to Bakersfield, where he'll look to right the ship.

Herrera roped a double.
• Left-handed hitting second baseman Oduber Herrera has a quick bat that should give him some nice gap power. The 18-year-old turned on a first-pitch fastball up for a double into the right-center field gap, and he lined a ball foul down the left field line in his next plate appearance.

With 38 errors in 53 games in the Dominican Summer League last year [mostly at shortstop], Herrera has some work to do defensively, but he certainly has some tools. He figures to see most of his time this year at second base, with Luis Sardinas and Santiago Chirino carrying the AZL Rangers torch at short.

• The AZL Rangers infield is going to be extremely talented this season, all around the horn. 1B Jhonny Gomez, 2B Oduber Herrera, SS Luis Sardinas and Santiago Chirino and 3B Christian Villanueva are all very nice prospects that are worth keeping an eye on. Villanueva may be the most advanced player of the group, in terms of both physical maturity and refined in-game skills.

• After striking out 33 times in 65 at-bats with the AZL Rangers last season, speed demon Braxton Lane is likely headed back to the rookie league this year, but he is showing some progress.

Hitting from the left side, Lane turned on a fastball and crushed a two-run homer to right field. He also hit a home run from the right side on the previous day. The former wide receiver prospect also took a good hack in his second at-bat, but the pitch got in on him a bit and he flew out to right field.

• Batting left-handed, Luis Sardinas flashed his speed by beating out a routine grounder to third base for an infield single early on. He left after being plunked on the wrist in his second plate appearance. Sardinas went straight to the clubhouse afterward.

• Centerfielder Teodoro Martinez isn't very big, but he is an impressive player that stands out among his peers. The 18-year-old makes consistent contact and works the count, showing an advanced approach for his age. He also has a strong arm defensively and moves around well in the outfield.

Richard Alvarez: 3.1 ip | 5 h | 5 r | 2 bb | 4 k
Aaron Thompson: 0.2 ip | 1 h | 0 r | 0 bb | 0 k
Paul Strong: 4 ip | 2 h | 1 r | 5 bb | 5 k
Ovispo De Los Santos: 1 ip | 1 h | 0 r | 1 bb | 1 k

Alvarez has plenty of confidence in his changeup.
• Richard Alvarez was a bit erratic, but overall, he showed the ability to throw three solid pitches––the quality that makes him a rare breed for a 17-year-old hurler.

Alvarez's velocity has been inconsistent this spring, working between 83-86 some days and higher on others. It was higher in this game, as he pitched anywhere from 84-90 mph, mostly sitting in the 86-88 range [hitting a lot of 88s]. His fastball command came and went. At one point in the second inning, he hit a batter, walked one, and then plunked a hitter on a 3-0 pitch, consistently missing up with his heater.

Most pitchers at the lower levels don't have enough confidence in their changeup to throw it righty-righty or lefty-lefty, but that's exactly what Alvarez does. The Venezuela native threw a bunch of righty-righty changeups at 79-81 mph, and he got plenty of swinging strikes with it. He has advanced command of a change with excellent natural movement, and it projects as a definite plus pitch.

Alvarez didn't show much feel for his low-70s curveball early in the game, as it was breaking out of the hand and he wasn't able to get it over the plate very often, but it began to sharpen near the end of the second inning. His changeup is more advanced, but the curve should also develop into a strong––potentially plus––offering.

The pitcher got his four strikeouts on a 79 mph changeup [swinging], an 88 mph fastball [looking], a 71 mph curveball [swinging] and a 90 mph fastball [swinging]. He's more of a projection guy with his fastball, as the Rangers hope that he'll eventually work in the upper-80s and touch the low-90s with some consistency as he develops. And if he does that, given his promising secondary stuff, Alvarez has a chance to become a real nice starting pitching prospect.

• Australian right-hander Aaron Thompson finished out the fourth inning after Alvarez reached his pitch count. He gave up a slow bouncer to third for an infield single and hit a batter, but he got out of the frame with a pair of groundouts.

The 19-year-old threw his fastball between 83-87 mph, and the pitch featured some armside run and sink. He mixed in one changeup at 78 mph, hitting a right-hander up and in.

Thompson is slated to pitch in the AZL this season after working in the Dominican Summer League last year, where he posted a 4.50 earned-run average in 50 innings.

• It appears that left-hander Paul Strong is going to need some time to develop, and he is likely headed for the rookie-level Arizona League when it opens in a couple weeks. But he is an intriguing arm with some projection.

The California native has had issues with inconsistent velocity [a normal problem for any high schooler in his first full season] and fastball command. He walked five in four innings in this game. Strong worked between 83-88 mph and was at 86-88 for a good bit of his outing, but he has also been in the low-80s at times this season.

He broke off a curveball that ranged anywhere between 70-75 mph. The big-breaker was sort of loopy in the low-70s but it was tighter and sharper when he ran it in the 73-75 range. Strong's curveball showed some potential, and he should find some more feel for it as he matures. He picked up three strikeouts with the 12-to-6 breaker, including two looking on pitches that dropped into the zone over the outer half to right-handers.

Strong didn't throw many changeups, so it was difficult to get much of a feel for the 80-ish mph pitch.

• Bringing the heat has never been an issue for Ovispo De Los Santos, but he'll need to work on his secondary stuff before he can really start moving up the organizational ladder.

De Los Santos finished out the game for the Rangers with a scoreless inning. With a free-and-easy motion that resembles that of Neftali Feliz, De Los Santos has some natural movement on a fastball that sits at 94-95 mph and reaches the upper-90s. He finished the frame by getting a swinging strikeout on a 98 mph heater. He reportedly hit 99 in an outing earlier this month.

The Dominican Republic native threw just one slider in the inning, coming in at 83 mph and landing out of the strike zone.

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