Well, here we are, my least favorite article to write. I try to stay upbeat, and I'm not a scout, so sometimes I fancy the pie-in-the-sky possibilities. Hell, half the time I'm not even trying to give you realistic expectations for some of these kids. If you listen to me, a couple of them might turn out to be Babe Ruth. I really just want folks to appreciate and understand the minor league experience and for you to know a bit about these kids before they don the white "T" (or the pastel "M" for that matter). Happily, most of the time I get to write the good stuff, but that's dumb and unrealistic, so let's do this. Time to rip off the band-aid.
The injured: Zack Cone, Kevin Matthews, and Roman Mendez. The 2011 draft ain't gonna be a shiny one for the Texas brass. In fact, arguably the current top prospect to come from Texas' 51 selections was taken in the 48th round...and will pitch for the Cubs. Got a little mojo in rounds 11, 15, 17, and 18 with Sadzeck, Eickhoff, Rua, and Martinez, but the top of the chart has yet to scream success. Kevin Matthews, Texas' first 1st rounder (33rd overall), didn't hurl a single pitch this season. Diagnosed with a shoulder exostosis, described via respected medical journal Wikipedia, as "the formation of a new bone on the surface of existing bone", Matthews underwent surgery to eliminate the new bone around the time of Spring Training, then sat out the season. Matthews is left handed and will be 21 in November, so things could be looking up for him. Jon Daniels was quoted by T.R. Sullivan conveying a similar sentiment: "In some ways, this might be a blessing in disguise for Matthews," Daniels said. "He's struggled since we signed him and this may be a significant reason why. It's not the labrum or cuff, so we're hopeful he can get back to pitching the way that encouraged us to draft him." See you in Surprise young man.
Zack Cone was a pretty big bummer of a story this season. Poised for an important year, the second 1st rounder of the 2011 draft (37th overall) played in a total of 7 games for Myrtle Beach. Rounding first and sliding into second for a double turned out to be the final play of his 2013 season. A torn achilles sidelined the toolsy outfielder for the rest of the Pelican's run, and cost him some very valuable development time. He'll be 24 in December and was already primarily limited to a LF role. Before the year began, I wrote that I was rooting for him, but that it was time for him to get goin'. Unfortunately, that never really happened.
Roman Mendez is another hard luck injury. A member of the 40-man roster, the then 22 year-old was pitching well for Frisco again in 2013. 11BB/24K in 24.1ip (2BB were intentional) when disaster struck on May 28th. A leadoff walk in the 8th put a runner on first and Mendez was summoned from the bullpen. A double play and another out quickly got the 'Riders out of the 8th, and Mendez came on in the 9th to complete a 2 inning save. 2 more quick outs were followed by one of the shittiest sights you can see at any ballpark. 9 consecutive pitches missed the strike zone. The 9th pitch resulted in a passed ball and Roman trotted in to cover home in case the advancing runner was going to try to take 2 bases. Time was called and Roman dropped his head and walked back toward the mound, then straight over the mound, past the rubber, and onto the grass behind the hill. He bent at the waist with his hands on his knees as Frisco's trainer, Carlos Olivas, hurriedly ran out to him. Then he pointed to his elbow and every scout surrounding me, especially the former pitchers, grimaced. Some literally groaned. One gestured to me, as if I wasn't watching the same thing he was, and began shaking his head side to side with his mouth turned decidedly downward. Roman was discovered to have a stress fracture in his pitching elbow, the exact same injury that had ended his season a year before. Not much else to say about it. I believe he's recovered and hopes to pitch for Toros in the Dominican Winter League, but 2013 wasn't cool. At all.
Cody Buckel isn't someone I'd like to talk about. Been there done that. Really hope to see him filling the zone again soon. The end.
Hanser Alberto is a hitter who didn't hit. With Frisco, Hanser was the youngest player in the Texas League and a player whose hit tool and infield versatility profile well for what could still be a good career as a big league utility player. He raked in low-A for the first half of 2012 and more than held his own in high-A for the second half of that season. A solid stint in the Arizona Fall League gave every indication he was somewhat prepared for the big jump to double-A. He wasn't. .213/.257/.287 in 100 games got him demoted back to Myrtle Beach. He hit a bit better on the beach, .258/.301/.309, but I'm not sure it was enough to unseat one of the players he switched places with. A tentative start in the field eventually gave way to a competent AA shortstop and one who earned very solid reviews from visiting scouts, but he's gotta hit. He played winter ball last year and I anticipate he'll do so again. Last year he played 3B in the Dominican- could be well served to get some more reps there this winter too. The kid's makeup is off the charts, so if I had to bet on anyone on this list to bounce back to prospect status, it would be Hanser.
Odubel Herrera was on the same flight from Frisco back to Myrtle Beach with his double play partner Hanser. Unlike Hanser, Doobie hit well, .295/.398/.368, upon his return to the Pelicans. In 412 plate appearances with Frisco, he drew 17 walks. In 115 plate appearances with Myrtle Beach, he drew 16 walks. That's a sign that maybe something started to click. Unfortunately for Doobie, baseball is a tough, tough business. He's a left handed, 21 year-old Venezuelan, limited to 2B, who struggled with double-A pitching. That sounds fine until you realize that he lost his position to a left handed, 19 year-old Venezuelan, limited to 2B, who proceeded to hit .306/.354/.530 against double-A pitching.It's not often teams look to get older at a position.
Keone Kela can launch lightning bolts out of his right arm. The rest of the speculation around his 2013 will have to remain that, speculation. Baseball America's 26th ranked prospect in the system came into the year with a good bit of buzz. He throws baseballs 95-97mph with movement; that gets you some buzz. What a weird season. Keone, a 12th round selection in 2012, pitched in the second game of the season, April 5th, for Hickory, having pitched last year for the Arizona Rookie League team. He left that game mid-batter with what Crawdads' beat writer Mark Parker said was a little tightness in his arm, while also indicating that the move was purely precautionary. Well, Keone didn't pitch again until May 19th and over the next month, he appeared in 11 games, racking up 20K against only 6BB in 18.2ip. Then he didn't pitch for a couple of weeks, only to resurface back with the current Arizona Rookie League team. 3 appearances with the rookies led to a promotion, but not back to Hickory, rather to short-season Spokane. He played the rest of the season with the Indians, and again used premium velocity to rack up impressive numbers 6BB/26K in 16.2ip. A really, really live arm doesn't guarantee success. As Jason Garrett is fond of saying, "it's a process."
Lewis Brinson's strike outs freak me the hell out. Tools out the wazoo don't matter if you can't make consistent contact. Smart, hard working kid though and I'm expecting adjustments, otherwise, this time next year, I'm just going to cry.
That's enough. I need a drink.