Well, hello there. Nice to see you. Let’s chat a little ‘bout some minor league goings on, shall we?
I’m feeling particularly organized today, so we’ll go in ascending order of affiliates.
Extended Spring Training
-Some notable names are trying to get their grooves back. Ronald Guzman is returning from Spring Training knee surgery and hopes to join Hickory in a few weeks. Nick Williams left his scorching start (.303/.333/.618 in 18 games) in North Carolina after hurting his shoulder diving for a ball in left field. MRI results were negative but he’s been sore and out of action since April 24th. He’s in Surprise getting some work in and I expect him to rejoin his Crawdad buddies soon. Cody Buckel is in extended as well. I’ve written a bunch about him and you already know what the deal is. I’m rooting for him as a kid, but you should root for him as a player. He’s got the stuff to be a middle-of-the-rotation contributor at the big league level and he’s only 20 years old. We’ll see.
-Some other notable names getting in some learnin’ time include teenage hitting sensation Eduard Pinto, curveball prince Collin Wiles, lanky lefty Yohander Mendez, and international man of mystery Jairo Beras. I expect (read: hope) these guys to be a part of Spokane’s roster when they begin play June 14th. Except Jairo, of course, who has to wait on the starting block until July 1st before diving in. I’m not sure Jairo will be headed to Spokane rather than the Arizona Rookie league, but I know if they feel he’s ready for a challenge they’ll send the oversized spider up to the great northwest. He is super-fun to watch and I paid close attention to him in Surprise this Spring. He’s exactly what you think…except taller…and faster. His batting practice displays of power and possibilities are well-matched with his in-game showings of flailing and whiffing. He’s got a lot to learn and a ridiculous frame he’s figuring out how to handle. Physically, he’s going to be akin to Michael Jordan. Seriously, MJ was listed at 6’6” 215lbs. Jairo isn’t far from that now. Let that sink in for a second, 'cause it's weird but true. It’s an incongruous sight and the frame and motor drive him down the line in about 4.2 seconds while using what appears to be 2.5 steps. He’s going to be a fun prospect to track and one whose progress might be incremental.
-Lots has been written and said about this crew, so I won’t beat a dead horse. They strike out an absurd amount and hit home runs at a comical clip. The end.
-Jorge Alfaro: If he keeps this up, he’ll be the #1 prospect in the entire Texas system going into the 2014 season. 9 homers in 43 games is nearly double the 5 he hit in 74 games last season. More importantly, he will soon eclipse the number for most games he’s caught in a season. In 2012, he caught 29 games for Hickory and he caught 36 the season before in Spokane. In 2013 that number currently stands at 34. This is key. He’s been a passed ball machine, but who cares, because he’s learning the position. Catching is hard as hell, which is why fellas who can catch, never really die. Catchers are DFA’d, reassigned, promoted, and demoted everyday. But they never die, because it’s hard. I spoke at length with a scout who has seen him for the last couple of years and already this season. According to him, Jorge’s problem is that his hands are stiff. That isn’t something that will really change, but it is something that he can improve. His footwork is vastly improved, as is his game calling/management. And the arm is a gift, just a gift. I asked the scout the same question I always ask, “can he be a big leaguer at his position?” “Yes. He can be an All-Star there someday.” Okey dokey.
-Let’s talk about Ryan Rua for a moment. Rua, a 6’2”, rock solid 180lb, 2011 17th round pick from Lake Erie College in Pennsylvania, is old for his level. He’s 23. That’s not his fault. He also currently sports a .248/.364/.614 line and has the same number of home runs (13) as Miguel Sano and George Springer. One more homer than teammate Joey Gallo. I don’t know what to think of the kid and haven’t spoken with too many scouts who’ve seen him this season, but you hit like that, as a second baseman, and we’re going to notice. No matter how old you are. You’re on the map Rua.
-This might be the most fun team in the whole system. They can pitch, they can hit, and they have a few kids really taking the next step in their development.
-Alec Asher has the most complete Colby Lewis starter kit you’re likely to find. I don’t mean wild-ass, pre-Japan, mid-to-upper 90’s Colby. I mean post-Japan, big presence, low-mid-90’s, commanding and locating Colby. The club had Alec, last year’s 4th round pick, skip Hickory and we now know why. Only 21, but having been through some stuff, he’s mature and has a plan. Basically, he looks like he’s not more than a few years away from being a middle/back of the rotation starter for a big league club. That’s a lot to project on a kid in low-A, and he needs to stay healthy, but if you needed to peg someone as the next Justin Grimm/Nick Tepesch-type of pitcher, Alec would be my pick.
-Luis Sardinas, who turned 20 last week, (.300/.356/.371) and Roogie Odor, age 19, (.291/.358/.468) make up what is one of the most exciting, young, middle-infields in all of minor league baseball. They can hit, they can run, and they can play defense. They’re fun, and I don’t care if they’re traded, I’m likely to always root for them. And if they are traded, it won’t be for something cheap.
-Myrtle Beach reliever Ryan Harvey has a very good slider. Another 2012 draftee (18th Round out of Seton Hall) who, like Asher, skipped Hickory. Harvey walks a few too many guys right now, but he has a nasty pitch, and that's what you need to stand out as a reliever. I’m watchin’ ya Harvey. Quite a ways to go, but I'm watchin' ya.
I’ve been to nearly all of the Rough Riders' home games this season, and it’s the pitcher’s time. There are some good arms there, and many of them are in the bullpen. If you get a chance to roll out to Dr. Pepper Park, stick around 'til the 'pen gets goin'.
-Neil Ramirez is looking like a starter again and he's been really working hard on the mental part of the game. That said, I asked him last week what he thought about pitching out of the pen, and he said, “I like it.” Then I had a scout tell me he didn’t think Neil was tough enough for a big league bullpen. I don’t know about that, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Neil pitch a little more aggressively. He’s a fairly big guy with a big fastball and I honestly wouldn’t care if he accidentally hit a batter in the first inning. Regardless, it’s something to keep in mind given his mid-upper 90’s velocity.
-Ben Rowen (0.79ERA over 22.2ip in 18apps) continues to get guys out, which he’ll have to do since no one is going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, Wilmer Font and Roman Mendez keep plodding along towards big league bullpen jobs. I get a chance to speak with a lot of scouts and front office guys at these games and the thoughts on Font and Mendez are generally the same- they’re not ready. Wilmer still can’t quite harness a secondary pitch, or secondary pitch-es. Roman is still leaving some of his sliders up. His changeup has been coming along nicely and his fastball is still 94-96. As a scout told me, “at the big league level, a slider up is a slider out.”
-Randy Henry has been on the DL for a couple of weeks with an elbow issue, hopefully he’s back fairly soon as he was pitching really well.
-Following Tommy John surgery, Justin Miller has begun his journey back to the top of the prospect heap and he’s looked pretty good in his first two outings following more than a year on the shelf. Fastball has touched 96 and the slider has some nice depth to it. I’m very anxious to see more of him. As he regains his health, he could be a very viable possibility to help the big league club sooner rather than later.
-Hanser Alberto arguably has the best hit tool on the roster. He is also the youngest player on the roster (youngest player in the entire league- actually) and he’s been as inconsistent as you imagine he might be. Defensively, the speed of the AA game has jumped up on the young shortstop a few times and the scout’s consensus is still that of a utility profile. If you’re not going to be a regular, you better have at least one really loud tool. His calling card will be hitting. He just needs to level that out a bit.
-Mike Olt hasn’t played since April 25th when he was hitting .139/.235/.236 with 32K in 81 plate appearances. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m not sure the club or Mike know for certain either. I’ve asked around a little to no avail, and there’s really not much else to say at this point. We’ll see him when we see him. I'd really like to stat writing good stuff about him again.
-Martin Perez was fantastic on Tuesday night. Arguably, the best I’ve ever seen him pitch. Commanding his fastball which twice earned a 97 reading on the stadium gun and tossing a heavy changeup that was fooling everyone including left-handed hitters. He looked very confident and one might even say, a bit pissed off. If he pitches like he did Tuesday night, he is ready to challenge big league hitters.
-Engel Beltre is doing Engel Beltre. That is, playing outstanding defense and getting on base and scoring runs. He isn’t, however, hitting for much power. A year after hitting 17 triples and 13 home runs in AA, he has yet to crank either of those extra base hits this season. Nada one. Strange. His 55% success rate while stealing bases is also significantly below his 78% rate from last season. He’s on pace to strike out well more than 100 times again, but has drawn a few more walks this season.
-Lisalverto Bonilla is a very promising 22-year-old arm with an out pitch in his changeup. He is also still attempting to be a pitcher who relies on a secondary pitch as his primary pitch, and that doesn’t work out very often. He’s got a live arm and runs his FB into the mid-90’s, but seldom seems confident with it, so he goes back to the CH and sometimes, it gets ugly from there. If he begins to harness and command his FB, the CH will make people look silly and he’ll be a big league reliever for a long time.
Anyway, that’s nearly 2,000 words on some players I've been thinkin' 'bout. So, I’m tired now and you don’t want to hear me prattle on anymore anyway.
As always, enjoy baseball! Love Ya!