RMLN – Beltre shows his polish

METAIRIE, La. – Right-hander Omar Beltre was perhaps Oklahoma City's most impressive performer in the club's recent series at New Orleans. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the games, including an in-depth look at Beltre's latest Triple-A start.

• The Texas Rangers have announced that right-hander Omar Beltre will start against the division-rival Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday evening.

Beltre's story is well-documented at this point––a marriage fraud incident relegated him and fellow pitcher Alexi Ogando to the Dominican Republic for five full seasons, limiting them to pitching in the Dominican Summer League and Dominican Winter League.

And less than halfway into the 2010 season, both pitchers have reached the major leagues.

The 28-year-old Beltre was excellent in his final Triple-A start before the call-up, working five scoreless innings against New Orleans last Thursday; he allowed just two singles while walking zero and fanning six.

Not only was Beltre effective, but he was also efficient; the prospect needed only 56 pitches to complete the five innings, throwing 42 strikes.

With a fastball that sat between 93-94 mph and reached as high as 96, Beltre showed plus velocity, but it was the movement and impeccable command that made him appear major league-ready.

Beltre consistently attacked the bottom-half of the strike zone with a fastball that had some late action. The command has allowed him to post over two groundouts per flyout in Triple-A this season, and he has yielded just one home run in 37.2 innings with the RedHawks.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound hurler hasn't worked more than six innings in any game this season, and he probably won't be allowed to go deep into Wednesday's start in Anaheim, but he has the command to succeed.

Beltre's top secondary offering is a mid-80s splitter with sharp drop and some cutting action. He uses the pitch to both left- and right-handed hitters, but it has been particularly effective against southpaws, who are just 12-for-55 [.218] against him with 21 strikeouts this season.

He also mixes in the occasional low-80s slider, which has been a primary focus in the minors this season. The pitch shows some promise, but it sometimes breaks early out of the hand and his command of it is a bit inconsistent.

In last Thursday's outing, Beltre racked up his six strikeouts on three splitters [all swinging], two fastballs [one swinging, one looking] and one slider [swinging].

At this point, there's little doubt that Beltre is prepared to pitch in the big leagues; keeping him healthy is the primary issue. The Dominican Republic native dealt with a tender elbow this spring, and he was recently on the DL at OKC with discomfort in his side.

Whether Beltre has success in his difficult assignment on Wednesday obviously remains to be seen, but he has both the stuff and command to succeed in the big leagues over the long run.

Fastball command is the key for Phillips.
• Left-hander Zach Phillips tossed two scoreless innings in his lone outing of the series. He allowed three softly struck singles without walking or striking out a batter.

Phillips was working without his best stuff––his curveball wasn't particularly sharp and he threw just two changeups––but he still got by. The 23-year-old flashed an 88-91 mph fastball, an upper-70s curveball, and a low-80s changeup.

His two secondary pitches are both solid, and Phillips' success at the Triple-A and big league levels will likely be determined by his ability to get ahead in counts and command his fastball down in the zone.

• While Pedro Strop surrendered a run on two hits in his only inning of the series, the stuff looked strong. Strop threw his fastball between 95-97 mph with a low-80s slider and a power splitter that touched 90 mph.

The 25-year-old former shortstop has improved command of all three pitches this season, but the fastball has been the key. He has posted a 2.79 ERA in 29 innings, allowing 23 hits while walking 10 and fanning 33.

Strop didn't have a great spring, as his fastball sat at 93-94 mph and he was consistently working up in the zone, but he appears to be firing on all cylinders so far this season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia's occasional issues behind the plate in Triple-A have been well-documented, but he didn't have any trouble getting the ball back to the pitcher against the Zephyrs.

Saltalamacchia looked just fine while throwing the ball both to the bases and back to the pitcher. He has had the occasional trouble in late-game situations in recent weeks, but he appears to be improving. The catcher didn't appear to be over-thinking or babying his throws at any point.

Gregorio Petit isn't a speed demon, but his great athleticism, soft hands, and strong arm make him an excellent defender at shortstop. The former Oakland A's prospect has one of the better gloves in all of minor league baseball, and he saves plenty of runs for the RedHawks.

Not normally known for his bat, Petit had a career night at the plate on June 22, belting a pair of grand slams in one game against the Zephyrs. He was 3-for-5 with two home runs and eight runs batted in.

Moreland's strong arm is playing well in right field.
• On the heels of a phenomenal performance in Spring Training [at both minor and major league camp], Mitch Moreland's offensive campaign in 2010 has been decent but unspectacular.

However, the left-hander has shown solid improvement in right field, where he continues to play every day. Moreland doesn't have great speed and he won't make many spectacular plays with his glove [he still must improve his route-running while going back on balls], but he has a legitimate plus arm from either corner spot.

At Double-A Frisco last season, Moreland often got by on sheer arm strength––the former two-way player touches 93 mph on the mound. But this season, the Mississippi native has been firing balls to the bases with pinpoint accuracy. Moreland has 10 outfield assists on the year, second only in the system to Bakersfield's strong-armed outfielder David Paisano, who has 11.

• With left-handers Darren Oliver and Matt Harrison currently in the Rangers' bullpen––and 40-man roster southpaw Zach Phillips in OKC––Clay Rapada is more than a little roadblocked this season, but he is quietly putting up outstanding numbers with the RedHawks.

The sidearming southpaw has posted a 1.73 ERA in 29 relief appearances at Oklahoma City. More importantly, lefties are just 8-for-63 [.127] with zero extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts against the former Cubs prospect.

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