RMLN – Pimentel holding his own with Blaze

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – The Blaze have some of the youngest players in the High-A California League, but many of those prospects are holding their own against more advanced competition. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from Bakersfield's recent series against Visalia.

• Right-hander Carlos Pimentel normally has excellent control, but he fell out of sorts at times against Visalia, leading to a career-high five walks in six-plus innings pitched.

Pimentel's walks came in packs––he issued two consecutive free passes in the fourth before walking three of the four hitters he faced in the seventh inning.

In a system loaded with pitchers that have electric stuff, Pimentel sometimes gets overlooked, but he has a solid three-pitch mix that is only improving. He worked at 89-90 mph [hitting 91 a few times] in Sunday's start––sitting a bit higher than last year––and he has been up to 92 mph with the occasional 93 this season.

As the 6-foot-3, 180-pound prospect matures physically, his fastball has become a bit heavier with a little more late life. When he works down in the zone, his fastball is difficult to hit. But Pimentel still elevates at times, and that's when he struggles.

Pimentel's biggest improvement last season was the development of his 80-82 mph changeup with excellent life. It was arguably his most effective pitch last year [and in Spring Training this year], but he struggled to consistently find the feel for it on Sunday.

His most effective offering against the Rawhide was his curveball, which he will throw between 76-82 mph. The pitch has plenty of depth and had a tighter, sharper break than it has in past years. Pimentel threw 14 of his 19 curveballs for strikes, getting eight swings and misses, three groundouts, two called strikes, and a flyout.

At 20-years-old, Pimentel is among the youngest players in the hitter-friendly Cal League, and he is more than holding his own. He has a 5-1 record with a 3.52 earned-run average through 11 starts. In 61.1 innings, he's surrendered 56 hits while walking 27 and fanning 44.

Engel Beltre made things interesting all around––not only with his play, but also with his theatrics after Monday's walkoff home run.

On the year, Beltre is batting .308/.359/.453. He is still an aggressive hitter that will need to become more selective as he moves up the ranks, but he's definitely being smarter at the plate. The 20-year-old isn't expanding his strike zone nearly as often as he used to, and he isn't swinging out of his shoes.

Beltre is taking what pitchers give him, and that means he's serving up lots of singles, using his speed to get on base, and driving fastballs he gets on the inner half of the plate.

The Dominican Republic native started a bench-clearing brawl after his walkoff homer against the Rawhide. The Visalia team took offense when he watched the shot all the way out of the park before tossing his bat high in the air. He was met by the pitcher and third baseman as he approached third base, and both benches quickly cleared. Beltre is currently serving a five-game suspension.

There will be more to come on Beltre in an upcoming feature story and extended scouting report within the next week.

Felix has been tough on base stealers.
• The Rangers like 21-year-old backstop Jose Felix because of his defensive game. Regarded as one of the hardest working players in the system, Felix doesn't have the strongest arm, but he gets the most out of his tools. Cut from the same mold as former Rangers prospect Manny Pina, Felix would likely reach Double-A even if he didn't improve much as a hitter.

In fact, for the season, Felix has gunned down 29 of 44 attempted base stealers––an incredible 65.9%. That's up from 26% [34-of-131] last season. Felix helps his arm strength play up through smooth mechanics, a quick release, and accurate throws.

He also looks better than last season offensively. Felix is still pulling his front foot out at times––cutting off practically all of his power––but he showed better bat control against Visalia. Though the Mexico native wasn't driving the ball, he was poking it to all fields and taking his base hits.

Felix shows a little more power during batting practice than he does in game situations, and that may continue to develop as he matures. In all, he is off to a nice start offensively, hitting .283 with 10 walks and 12 strikeouts in 40 games. He went 3-for-4 with a walk during the Sunday night game against Visalia.

Andres James entered the 2010 season with a career .220 batting average and 22 extra-base hits in 782 at-bats over four seasons. Despite the offensive struggles, the diminutive 5-foot-9, 150-pound shortstop broke camp with High-A Bakersfield because of his defense and speed.

The switch-hitting James is also providing some offensive help to the Bakersfield club, going 30-for-92 [.326] with four doubles this season. The 22-year-old was hitting fastballs hard against Visalia––something he had never done in past years––but he still didn't show much discipline, chasing lots of breaking balls in the dirt. In fact, James has only two walks all season [versus 20 strikeouts], and both have come in his last three games.

• Reliever Mark Hamburger has a live arm, and he is putting together a solid campaign at the back end of the Bakersfield bullpen. He generally sits in the low-90s with some life, reaching 94 and 95 mph on occasion.

Hamburger, who has become the team's closer since the departure of Cody Eppley, has five saves and a 2.78 ERA. In 22.1 innings, he has allowed 21 hits while walking seven and striking out 21.

The 6-foot-4 hurler commanded his fastball well in two scoreless innings against Visalia, and he also threw one good-looking changeup.

Hamburger has struggled to get much break on his hard slider this season, but it shows some potential when he gets on top of it. Overall, he'll need to show more consistency with his secondary stuff to have success at the higher levels.

• When former 42nd round pick Shane Zegarac joined the Bakersfield club in late-April, he was only supposed to be filling a spot for a few days. But he quickly pitched his way into a full-time gig with the High-A club.

Zegarac has a good fastball for a left-handed pitcher, working between 88-91 mph and getting up to 93 on occasion. Fastball command was his issue last season, and while it has improved, he still has problems with it at times.

The 24-year-old tossed two scoreless innings against Visalia, and he has a 2.35 ERA in 15.1 innings with the Blaze.

Andrew Laughter has spend the last couple years at Double-A Frisco, but he joined Bakersfield after beginning the season in Extended Spring Training with a shoulder injury. Laughter lost his 91-95 mph velocity last year, and he began throwing sinkers at 86-88 mph.

During the May 30 contest against the Rawhide, Laughter threw a scoreless inning with improved velocity. The righty had some command issues, but he threw his four-seam fastball between 90-92 mph with a slider at 81-83 mph.

The 6-foot-4 reliever was off to a good start up to that game, but he has had plenty of troubles since. Over his last three appearances, Laughter has surrendered eight runs on eight hits and three walks in just 3.2 innings.

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