RMLN - 'Cafesito' shines as AZL Rangers fall

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The AZL Rangers lost a 6-3 decision to the AZL Royals on Saturday night, but a couple young prospects had impressive showings in the contest. Lone Star Dugout has news and notes from the rookie-level Arizona League action.

AZL Rangers 3 – (@) AZL Royals 6

Martinez, CF 4 1 4 2 0 1 1 0 .342
Chirino, 2B 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 .333
Telis, DH 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .188
Herrera, PH-DH 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .238
Greene, 3B 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .222
Perez, C 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .188
Vitale, C 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .250
Robinson, SS 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 .417
Meiners, RF 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .167
Gomez, 1B 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .231
Lane, LF 4 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 .333

• The Rangers faced the difficult task of going up against Robinson Yambati, who has began his AZL season by allowing one run and striking out 18 in 14.2 innings. The 19-year-old is a hard thrower with a fast arm and the makings of a plus hard slider. He worked in the low-90s with some late action on Saturday, but he has been up to 96 mph at times this year.

The Dominican Republic native didn't disappoint against the Rangers, as he tossed five scoreless innings against them for the second time in three outings, this time walking one and striking out six.

• The only AZL Rangers player to hit regardless of who was pitching was leadoff man and centerfielder Teodoro Martinez. ‘Cafesito' [he earned the nickname from his father, who was known as ‘Cafe' Martinez and played in the big leagues] had a big night, going 4-for-4 with two singles, two doubles, a walk, and two stolen bases.

None of the hits were cheap, either. He crushed a first-pitch double on a 91 mph fastball to lead off the game, took a walk and stole a base in his second at-bat, beat out an infield single to third, hammered a double down the left-field line before stealing third and taking home on a wild pitch, and then smacked a hard single to center in his final plate appearance. It was a busy night.

The 18-year-old Venezuela native has some tools to go with advanced baseball skills, but the primary issue is his size. Martinez's father stood at 6-foot-5. His brother, who plays in the White Sox system, is also listed at 6-foot-5.

However, Teodoro himself is just 5-foot-11, 155-pounds, and the Rangers certainly hope his family's history is a sign that he'll still grow.

Martinez has an advanced approach at the plate for his age, as he shows some discipline and isn't just a free-swinging hacker. He can spray the ball to all fields while showing some gap-to-gap pop. Overall, he has good top-of-the-order skills.

Defensively, the speedy centerfielder covers quite a bit of ground, generally takes good routes, and has a surprisingly strong arm.

If Martinez were a bit bigger, he may be considered among the top position prospects in the system. But he's still a player worth keeping an eye on, as is any prospect with a mixture of legitimate tools and baseball skills.

• Speedy outfielder Braxton Lane was 12-for-65 [.185] with one extra-base hit and 33 strikeouts with the AZL Rangers last season. The Georgia native began picking it up late in Extended Spring Training, and he is off to a 7-for-21 start with three doubles and just five punchouts so far in the AZL.

The 19-year-old switch-hitter simply appears to be slowing the game down. He no longer looks overmatched at the plate––he looks like he belongs, and he's not swinging and missing very often. Lane had two singles in four trips on Saturday.

• Catcher and first-round pick Kellin Deglan hasn't played since June 28 because of a minor injury to his throwing hand. He was catching pitchers in the bullpen on Saturday, but he wasn't throwing the ball back to the pitcher.

• After hitting .197 in 43 games with the AZL Rangers last summer, the Rangers are moving 20-year-old outfielder Edward Alfonzo to the mound. Alfonzo is currently inactive––on the disabled list––as he makes the transition.

Alvarez 1.2 3 4 3 2 2 6.75
Thompson 1.1 2 1 1 1 0 3.86
Claudio 2.0 1 0 0 0 1 0.00
Strong 2.0 3 1 1 0 2 4.50
G. Grullon 1.0 1 0 0 1 1 3.00

• It was a rough night at the yard for 17-year-old righty Richard Alvarez, who didn't record an out until the sixth batter he faced.

On the positive side, Alvarez's velocity appears to be improving. He had previously worked in the 84-88 mph range before ticking up slightly in Extended Spring Training. On Saturday, he mostly worked between 86-89 mph, even touching 90 a few times.

The primary issue was that Alvarez simply wasn't commanding his fastball well, causing him to consistently fall behind hitters. He did eventually settle down and began placing his heater down in the zone after the second walk of the first inning.

The Venezuela native didn't use his promising changeup very often, but he was going to his low-70s curveball quite a bit. He got burned when he hung a 72 mph bender to catcher Jin-Ho Shin for a two-run double in the first.

He got both his strikeouts on fastballs––one swinging at a high heater in the first inning, and one looking at a well-placed pitch down in the zone to start the second.

Just as it appeared that Alvarez had settled down, he was forced to leave the game with a knee injury. He appeared to turn the knee while attempting to tag a runner out at first base. It didn't seem to be too serious, though, as his knee was wrapped and he was walking around with little issue after the game.

Overall, it was a somewhat typical outing for Alvarez stuff-wise. His fastball is hittable when he's not commanding it, and he has promising––but raw––secondary stuff. Though is he repeating the Arizona League, Alvarez won't turn 18-years-old until late in the season.

• The club selected Puerto Rican left-hander Alexander Claudio with their 27th round pick in last month's draft. Scouts like Claudio's raw arm, but he's a project with plenty of room to grow. Claudio is listed at 6-foot-3, 160-pounds, and he clearly has a lot of filling out to do.

The 18-year-old southpaw worked two scoreless innings on Saturday, giving up one hit, walking zero, and striking out one. His 83-85 mph fastball had some action on it, and it was sneaky fast due to his 66-68 mph changeup that baffled the rookie-level hitters––it almost appeared too slow to hit.

Claudio showed plenty of confidence in his three-pitch repertoire and threw all his pitches for strikes––the fastball, the changeup, and a 65-68 mph curveball. He had good action on all his stuff, but worked away to every hitter––likely a product of his less-than-overpowering arsenal.

The hope is that once Claudio fills out and develops, his offspeed stuff will add some firmness. Claudio hung a 65 mph curveball to rehabbing outfielder Shane Costa, who drilled the ball straight off the wall in right field.

Paul Strong is another project that could spend two years in the Arizona League, but he is an interesting arm with a three-pitch mix. The California native dominated in his first inning, getting two groundouts and a strikeout while living off an 86-87 mph fastball.

In the second frame, Strong's velocity dipped to 85-86 mph, and his command dropped off a bit. He only threw one low-70s curveball in the game, mostly sticking to the fastball and upper-70s, low-80s changeup. The offspeed pitch looks a little like a split-change, with some drop but not much side-to-side movement, and he has trouble throwing it for strikes.

• Tall left-hander Geuris Grullon's arm slot is a little bit lower than it has been in the past, now flirting between low three-quarters and sidearm. His velocity was normal, sitting between 88-92 mph.

When Grullon places his fastball––which has outstanding natural cut––on the outer half of the plate, it can dominate right-handed hitters. But he doesn't hit his spots very often and was fairly erratic on Saturday. Grullon didn't throw a secondary pitch in his inning.

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