Right or wrong, you’re worried about the bullpen. You probably should worry about more important things in life, but it’s there for you to fret over, so you’ve taken the wrapper off the worry-candy and tossed it between your cheek and gum. There are some guys on the farm you have questions about, who also have spots on the 40-man, and as we know, the 40-man trumps all. I have no idea about Soria or Feliz because I don’t watch big leaguers much because they are all very good and that’s just boring, but I’m guessing when they’re fully healthy, Soria and Feliz are going to be good again. Anyway, bullpens are nebulous creatures that often shapeshift enough to make Mystique blush, so I thought I’d take a moment and blabber on about some of the farm arms. Plus, if nothing else it gives us all a chance to say “farm arms”.
There’s a guy in Round Rock with serious scalps on the wall. Neal Cotts is treating left-handed hitters like Leatherface treats curiously clumsy co-eds. I can’t explain it; no one can. But seriously, who gives a shit how he’s doing it? I think he’s the first lefty option and he’s 33, so Wash will love him! You’re talking about MLB.com’s “Setup Man of the Year” in 2005. A guy who pitched in ALL 4(!) World Series games that year for the White Sox, earning the win in Game 2, and earning a big-ass, fancy ring in Game 4. Tommy John surgery in ’09 sent him on a weird, circuitous track to this point, but whatever, he’s here now and he's been drop-dead kryptonite to AAA left-handed hitters.
As for the guys who are also options later this season, you’ve mostly got greenhorns:
Wilmer Font: Everybody knows I [makes heart symbol in the air] The Fontster Monster. He’s looking good again this season in AA. He has 26K in 18ip and an ERA of 0.50. More importantly than the stats, his stuff is coming around. FB has mostly been 94-96 lately, touching higher, and still with that late sink that makes it a possible ++ pitch. He’s been throwing sliders and changeups too. Neither of those pitches are very good right now, but frankly they don’t have to be very good at AA. Those pitches just back the kids off his FB. At the next level he’ll need to refine them. He told Nathan Barnett on the Frisco broadcast that he wants to throw them both and doesn’t want to just pick one. That’s a nice idea, but if he just sharpens one to a dull enough point that it keeps more advanced hitters from sizing up his fastball: SUCCESS!
Cory Burns: Like Cotts, Cory’s been a big leaguer before, but unlike Cotts it wasn’t for very long…and it damn sure didn’t result in him winning the World Series(he was on the Padres-not his fault). And like Cotts, Burns is going to be a big leaguer again. Big butted dude(excellent!) with scraggly facial hair, ridiculous deception, an aggressive pitching style, and the stuff for a big league bullpen. If you haven’t seen Cory yet, just know that when he’s in the wind-up, he turns his back in such a way that the hitter can undoubtedly read every letter in “BURNS”. That’s pretty cool when you think about it, and should provide ample marketing opportunities: BURNED AGAIN! HAHAHAHA! Anyway, his changeup is nasty and a scout who has seen him often, even going back to his college days told me “it doesn’t move like other changeups. It’s almost like a screwball.” His FB is 90-93 and his command is good enough to where hitters need to respect it, then he gives them a spoonful of the "almost-screwball". Cory’s right handed and to a right-handed hitter, after the windup, the ball appears to be launching out of his ear.
Roman Mendez: Slider: Hard, 82-85 breaks on two lovely, sexy planes. Fastball: 93-96 it’s fast, but kinda straight. Makeup: separated at birth from Nick Tepesch. He’s like a loaf of bread that’s been in the oven for a few hours. You can take it out now and it’s going to be edible, maybe even pretty good, but if you leave it in there for a while longer, it might end up at the State Fair.
Josh Lindblom: Josh is a bigger guy than you think. He’s thick. And tall. A certain member of the Rangers front office with the initials of “J” and “D” described him to me as being “kinda Kevin Millwood-like” physically. Like his Round Rock teammates, Cotts and Burns, Josh has been a big leaguer as well. Heck, big fella pitched in 101 games in the show over the last two years. Here’s the kicker, none of those big league appearances came as a starter. As a matter of fact, until this season, he hadn’t started a game at any level since 2010. But he’s got the frame for it, and his stuff appears to translate as well. A 4 pitch mix of FB, CH, SL, and CB has allowed him to not only start, but be down right nasty at times in AAA. He’s another guy who goes right after hitters and mixes his pitches well. Over 7 starts and 43.1 innings, Josh has surrendered a very salty 23 hits and is sporting a 2.08 ERA. They’re stretching the big fella out and he’s gone 8 innings in a start. I think the intention was to eye him as a long-man-type of dude, but now is he simply a starting pitcher? You can never have too many of those, right? I have no idea, and thankfully I don’t have to make that call, but someone does.
Ready for the bullpen X factor? Neil Ramirez. I spoke with Neil for a while on Wednesday and he said his shoulder feels better than it has in a long time. Perhaps that’s why he has 55K in 43 innings this season. Or perhaps his shoulder’s strength is what helped him bloody the noses of the Midland Rock Hounds to the tune of 11 strike outs over 7 innings Tuesday with an absolutely overpowering array of 4 quality pitches. His fastball touched 98 in that start (sitting 93-96), an event he greeted with nonchalance “I don’t really pay attention to that, really”. His curveball is back to being a + pitch and the continued development and deployment of his slider and changup, give him a full starter’s arsenal. The soon-to-be 24 year old will be a starter for a while, but he was briefly moved to the pen for last year’s AA playoffs. I asked him on Wednesday what he thought about pitching in the pen, “I like it”. Okey dokey then. I’m just sayin’…
And there you have it, a comprehensive, abbreviated, loosely worded, tightly wound, curt, long, abridged, engorged break down of some of the 40-man knuckleheads who could have those front row seats in Arlington at some point. Those are strange lawn chairs out there that look as though they might have been lifted from the pool area of a Burleson apartment complex, and at least a couple of these fellas are going to be all-too-happy to plop down in ‘em soon enough.
As always, enjoy baseball!