Wilmer Font Scouting Report: Wilmer Font ranked #13 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 31 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 31. I've done this the last couple of years, and I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so some of this will be a repeat of what I've written before, particularly regarding draft history or performance pre-2013. Also, this is not based on my personal observations -- I'm not a scout, and haven't seen most of these guys. I'm just aggregating the numbers and what others say about these players.
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at Wilmer Font...
Wilmer Font is a 6'4", 230 lb. righthanded pitcher who the Rangers signed in the summer of 2006 out of Venezuela, one of the first prominent signings the Rangers made after Jon Daniels made a priority out of re-establishing the Rangers' presence in Latin America.
Although Font turns 24 in May, and has spent almost eight years in the Rangers organization, Font is still something of an enigma. He missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surguery, logging just 237 innings as a professional before that surgery, and has been trying to make up for lost time since then.
Font made his U.S. debut in 2007 with the Rangers' complex team in the Arizona Rookie League as a 17 year old. Font struck out 61 hitters in just 45.2 innings, but also walked 24 batters and gave up 33 runs. Font showed enough to be named the #5 prospect in the Arizona League by Baseball America after the 2007 season.* Unfortunately, 2008 was a lost season for Font, who was plagued by injuries and threw just 4.1 innings in the Arizona League.
Also making BA's list for the Rangers...Engel Beltre at #2 overall, and Cristian Santana at #9 overall. Future Ranger Mason Tobin was #11. One of the things looking back on these lists is leading to me believe is that Rookie League prospect lists are pretty useless.
2009 saw Font spend the entire season with the Hickory Crawdads of the low-A South Atlantic League, and Font had a solid bounceback year, going 8-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 games. In 108.1 innings, Font struck out 105 batters, although he walked 59, hit 9, and had 16 wild pitches.
Font went back to Hickory to start the 2010 season and, while his 5.16 ERA over 29.2 innings was ugly, he had 10.0 Ks per 9 against 3.9 walks per 9, and earned a promotion to high-A Bakersfield in the California League. Font put up a 3.86 ERA in 49 innings in the Cal League, striking out 52 and walking 32, before elbow soreness ended his season. It was determined that he had ligament damage in his elbow, and Font underwent Tommy John surgery in October, 2010, which wiped out his entire 2011 season.
Font spent most of the 2012 season in high-A Myrtle Beach, working his way back after the surgery that cost him the 2011 season. Font mostly pitched as a starter for Myrtle Beach, starting 19 of his 23 appearances, throwing 83 innings, striking out 109 and walking 37 while posting a 4.21 ERA. Font got a late season promotion to AA Frisco, where he put up a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings, striking out 29 batters and walking 7. Font earned a September callup to the majors, and ended up pitching 2 innings over 3 games for the Rangers.
Font dominated the minors in 2013, putting up a 1.04 ERA in 52 innings split between AA and AAA, striking out 71 and walking 34. Font got a mid-season callup when the Ranger bullpen needed reinforcements in July, and appeared in a pair of games in the majors in 2013.
Despite the injuries and limited performance history, there's a lot to like about Font. He's big and has a good pitcher's body, and he can throw in the upper 90s, which means he'll get lots of chances to succeed as a pro. However, Font's command is still a problem, and neither his slider nor his change is much of a weapon. Right now, he gets hitters out by blowing them away with his heat.
The 2014 season is a critical one for Font. Assuming he doesn't spend the season in the majors (which is very unlikely), he will be on his last option, meaning that he'll have to stay in the majors starting in 2015 or be exposed to waivers. Font will likely start the year in Round Rock, while being one of the first pitchers the Rangers turn to if they need reinforcements in the major league pen during the season. The team is going to want to see improvement in Font's command this year, so that they can feel like they can keep him in the major league bullpen next year and trust him to get hitters out...otherwise, you can expect to see him moved during the summer in a deal where the Rangers would prefer to get something from him now rather than lose him to waivers next spring, much like they did with Pedro Strop in 2011.
Font is almost certainly destined for a bullpen role going forward. With his velocity, he can be a weapon in the late innings if he improves his command and his slider. Even if he doesn't, he could stick around in a middle relief role for a team that prizes velocity.