After the jump, we continue by taking a look at the #16 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, righthanded pitcher Roman Mendez...
Roman Mendez is a 6'2", 180 lb. righthanded pitcher who turns 22 years old in July. Mendez was signed by the Boston Red Sox in July, 2007, out of San Pedro de Macoris* in the Dominican Republic for a signing bonus of $125,000.
* Bill James once wrote that there were so many players who came from San Pedro de Macoris that a generation of kids growing up reading the back of baseball cards would think it was bigger than Brazil.
Mendez spent 2008 pitching in the Dominican Summer League, posting a 2.65 ERA in 51 innings, and then came stateside in 2009, putting up a 1.99 ERA in the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year old, striking out 47 in 49.2 innings and walking just 8 hitters and allowing a lone home run. Baseball America listed Mendez as their #12 prospect in the Gulf Coast League after the 2009 season, praising his control and his mid-90s fastball, and quoting another manager in the league as saying that his slider was a strikeout pitch.
Mendez did not build on that success in 2010, however. Starting off the year with Greenville in the low-A Sally League, Mendez was awful, going just 15 innings in 6 starts, walking 10, allowing 29 hits (including 5 home runs) and hitting 4 batters while striking out 10, resulting in an ugly 11.40 ERA. Boston demoted him to Lowell in the short-season A New York Penn League, and while there was some improvement, Mendez still walked 19 and allowed 5 homers in 33 innings, putting up a 4.36 ERA.
Mendez's stint with Lowell came to an end on July 31, 2010, when he was traded to Texas, along with Chris McGuinness, Michael Thomas, and a couple of sacks full of hundred dollar bills, for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Mendez was considered the prize of that package, a player who Boston wouldn't have parted with in such a deal a year before, but who the Rangers were buying low on after his 2010 struggles.
Mendez finished out the 2010 season with three starts for Spokane in the Northwest League, and then was sent back to the Sally League by Texas in 2011 to pitch for the club's low-A affiliate at Hickory. Mendez spent the year there, and had, on the surface, something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde season. While overall Mendez posted a respectable 3.31 ERA in 117 innings, striking out 130, walking 45, and allowing 7 home runs, he posted a 1.78 ERA in 25.1 April innings, and then a 1.40 ERA in 45 innings from July on. In between, however, Mendez put up a 3.81 ERA in May, followed by a gruesome 9.33 ERA in the month of June.
It is worth noting that Mendez's FIP didn't show near those levels of spikes, sitting at 3.66 and 3.91 in May and June, while being under 3 the rest of the year, so an optimist could say that Mendez was just the victim of bad defense in the middle of the year. On the other hand, a pessimist could say that Mendez was the victim of his own poor command, resulting in more hits allowed.
I mentioned while we were doing the rankings that there were about fifteen players after the top 5 that you could rank anywhere from 6 to 20, and make a reasonable argument for doing so. Mendez is a perfect example of that...while we ranked him at #16, Baseball America has him even lower, at #19, and Jamey Newberg at #23. However, Jason Cole has Mendez at #7, Jonathan Mayo at #6, and Jason Parks at #12. I don't know that there's another player in the system who would generate such a wide spread.
Mendez's calling card is his fastball, which is generally in the mid-90s, but which can touch the upper-90s at times. Mendez's slider is his best secondary pitch, while his changeup still lags well behind. There's some thought that Mendez's future is as a reliever, where he could probably bring his fastball in at 97 mph in short stints while using his slider as his second pitch. The Rangers are holding out hope that his command and change can progress enough, however, that he can be a viable major league starter.
Mendez will likely start the 2012 season with Myrtle Beach in the high-A Carolina League, and given his youth and rawness, it wouldn't be surprising, or disappointing, if he spent most of the season there. What the Rangers are likely going to want to see from him is more consistency with his command and to see his offspeed pitches, particularly the changeup, continue to progress. If he does that, he would be poised to go to AA in 2013, and potentially be a candidate for the major league rotation in 2014.
On the other hand, if the Rangers decide to utilize Mendez as a reliever, he could move much more quickly. Added to the 40 man roster this past offseason, Mendez, like a lot of the Rangers' young, hard-throwing righthanded pitchers, could end up in the majors relatively soon if he's moved to the pen.
In terms of ceiling, as a reliever, there's some thought that Mendez could be a closer, particularly if he continues to improve his slider. As a starter, he's probably, best-case, a #3/#4 guy.