Obviously this question was sent in before the trade deadline, since Salty is out of the picture now.
I think the short and quick answer is that Jose Felix doesn't project to be a starting catcher, but he could be a nice defensive-minded backup. Think along the lines of a Manny Pina-type catcher. Felix doesn't have the natural tools (particularly arm strength) that Pina has, but I think Felix is a more advanced player technically.
Even though Felix doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, he's mechanically sound and efficient behind the plate. He's also a hard worker that should get the most out of his ability. The 22-year-old has gunned down 54-of-95 (57%) attempted base-stealers between High-A and Double-A this season. The number is particularly impressive given that A-ball pitchers aren't always the best at holding baserunners.
Felix doesn't project to be anything special as a hitter but he has improved. He often pulled his front foot out of the box last season, cutting off what power he does have and leading to a lot of softly hit balls. When I've seen him this year, he was staying in more often and serving singles into the outfield by hitting the ball where it was pitched.
The Mexico native is pretty aggressive, but he makes plenty of contact with the help of excellent hand-eye coordination. Felix has struck out only 29 times this season in 354 plate appearances (8%).
|Villanueva is a legitimate prospect. b>|
This one makes me think. I haven't yet seen Alberto in person (though he will almost certainly be in Arizona for Fall Instructional League), but I have heard that he was the most advanced position player out there in the DSL.
I want to lean toward Teodoro ‘Cafesito' Martinez. Especially if he grows some. Cafesito is about 6-foot-0 on the dot right now, but his father (who played in the majors) was 6-foot-5 and his brother (who plays in White Sox system) is also 6-foot-5. So there should still be some growth to come from the 18-year-old.
I like Cafesito though because he's got a nice package of tools to go along with some advanced baseball skills for a guy that turned 18 in mid-March. He has a pretty good approach for a youngster, a little gap-to-gap pop, plus speed, and he plays a very good centerfield. He has a strong arm and is a mature outfielder in that he tends to get pretty good reads and jumps on balls.
With Martinez's skills and tools, he would have been a big-bonus guy had he simply been bigger. He was about 5-foot-7, 134-pounds when he signed, and now he's at 6-foot-0, 160-pounds. He's fun to watch, and with a .308/.356/.408 slash line in the AZL to go along with 19 steals, he has really produced.
None of those guys mentioned are particularly high-ceiling talents, but they are all advanced baseball players with some nice tools mixed in––guys that, if they develop, have a chance to play in the majors someday.
And that seems to be what the Rangers are going after in the Latin American market, particularly with the sub-seven figure signees. Cafesito, Chirino, Herrera, and Villanueva all fit that mold of hard-working guys that may not have sky-high ceilings, but they have advanced baseball skills. The 2008 July 2nd class included those four and they're moving up together and succeeding together thus far.
If you're wondering where the ‘Cafesito' nickname originates, Teodoro's father (Carlos Martinez) played in the big leagues and was known as ‘Cafe.' So Teodoro basically goes by ‘Little Cafe' in Spanish.
Do we as fans give up too easily when a prospect struggles?
Probably, but I think it's human nature when you're only seeing a player's development through statistics. When a player has a rough season, I think mental makeup becomes an even bigger factor. Some can bounce back from it and some can continue to fall into the hole.
I have to admit that I'm guilty of it at times. Though Engel Beltre was extremely young for the Cal League last year, I was discouraged by his lack of improvement in general plate discipline. I ranked him 18th in the system, which seems ridiculous less than a year later.
This season, Beltre went from a guy that would hack at first-pitch curveballs in the dirt to a player that (while still aggressive) doesn't expand the zone nearly as often. And that's how he has only struck out 48 times in 443 plate appearances this season. On top of that, he has learned his game and is doing a better job of hitting the ball on the ground, bunting, and utilizing his speed.
I guess the moral of the story is that, particularly for young players, just give tools time. Sometimes a disappointing season or two doesn't necessarily signal the end of the road.
I haven't seen anything from RHP Justin Jamison so far this year. Is he hurt? Or is he just being held back in extended? What's his stuff? His he very projectable?
The Rangers placed Jamison on the suspended list at the start of the Arizona League season. Since nothing was ever announced from MiLB, I'd have to assume it's a team rules issue of some sort. He hasn't been with the Surprise Rangers rookie ball club this summer.
Jamison is a big guy at 6-foot-8, 225-pounds, and his fastball can reach the low-90s at times. But he was mostly flashing upper-80s with very little control during his debut summer in the AZL and at Fall Instructional League. For a guy as raw as he is, missing this season would seem to be a pretty big blow to the 19-year-old's development.
|Ramirez is throwing strikes with plus velocity. b>|
All the pitchers you mentioned are at least decent prospects with good stuff. I'll have to go with the middle two that you mentioned though. I think they're the perfect example of guys that are impressing scouts and coaches more than their numbers would show. And this is a good time to answer this, since I was in Hickory about 10 days ago.
Scouts have been high on Thompson all year as a good projection guy. A scout gave Kevin Goldstein an extremely glowing report earlier this year, and I've gotten a couple similar reviews as well. Thompson throws 88-92 with a little natural movement (more than he had when he signed), shows a future plus curveball, and a very strong feel for his changeup. Most scouts believe that, as Thompson moves up, matures, and develops as a pitcher, he'll become tougher to hit. He needs to refine his command within the strike zone, but he throws strikes and misses bats with good stuff.
Neil Ramirez's results have been better lately. The buzz on him around Hickory was all extremely positive. In the start I saw, he sat at 92-93 mph and topped out at 95-96 a couple times. His old velocity was back. He didn't have his best curveball in that game but I've heard good things on the whole. He also had much more feel for the changeup than he did last year. In my interview with Crawdads pitching coach Brad Holman, he talked how much Ramirez had improved both mechanically and mentally to get to where he is now.
When it comes time to do my offseason top 50 prospects list, I suspect Thompson and Ramirez will both be ranked higher than one would suspect from their numbers this season. The stuff has been solid, and they're both hard-working players that are showing nice development.
What are your top three stats to look at for minor league pitchers?
I'm not sure there's one clear-cut answer to this because I think it really depends on the pitcher and the level he's pitching at. Depending on the type of pitcher (ground ball guy, strikeout guy, etc.), there are different things you want to look at.
Stats are obviously more important at the upper levels. The lower levels are more about development than numbers. It's certainly nice for a guy to post Robbie Erlin-like video game stats in A-ball, but when a guy gets hit around a bit like Matt Thompson, it's also far from the end of the world.
In general, though, I think strikeout rate is probably most important. I think everyone realizes the value of a guy that can fool hitters and miss bats.
At the lower levels, a pitcher with a good ground ball rate is also intriguing. While a nice lower-level ground ball rate doesn't mean much by itself (they generally shrink as players climb the ladder and face more mature hitters), it's generally a product of a pitcher having some fastball movement and working down in the zone.
If I had to pick a third stat, I think I'd go with strikeout-to-walk ratio. A low walk rate by itself is great, but it's doubly great when combined with the ability to miss bats.
Allow me to take this time to pimp the excellent piece BBTiA.com's David Brown (and Jason Parks) recently did on K-BB monster Matt Thompson. You can find it at this link.
|Perez should become a household name soon. b>|
David Perez was the first guy that came to mind when I saw this question. His numbers have been excellent this season and he has matured into a leader of a young DSL Rangers pitching staff.
More important than the current numbers is the potential he possesses. Perez is a 17-year-old with a loose arm that currently sits in the 89-91 mph range, touching as high as 93 and 94 mph on occasion. He has already gained some velocity and projects to add more as he continues to develop physically.
Perez throws strikes, commands his repertoire, and generally works down in the zone. His manager, Kenny Holmberg, talked about him in a recent Q&A. He signed for a reported $425,000 bonus and could be a major bargain.
Is there anything to worry about with Martin Perez?
Overall, I don't think so.
Perez is having the normal ups-and-downs of a 19-year-old pitcher. But for the most part, he's also shown the great potential stuff that has made him one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game. He still throws his fastball between 91-95 mph most nights (sitting at 92-93) while flashing a promising curveball and changeup. The feel for both has come and gone at times.
I think Perez's main issue is that he's having to learn how to become more of a pitcher. When I see him, he often gets ahead early before nibbling his way into a deep count. It's something he'll learn to improve upon as he matures. His stuff is good enough to go after hitters more often and not always chase the strikeout.
There is a good chance he ends up back at Frisco next year, and I wouldn't see that as a red flag if he does. He doesn't turn 20-years-old until the end of Spring Training next year. Even with the inconsistencies, his stuff is still missing Double-A bats at a very young age. He just needs to mature on the mound.
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