Had every intention of getting another day on the Surprise backfields watching the AAA and AA clubs. Was gonna get a close and personal view of my old buddies Alfaro, Gallo, Mazara, and Williams. Then at morning BP, I saw the pitching lineups for the Low-A and High-A games; Luis Ortiz, Yohander Mendez, Brett Martin, Jose Valdespina, Felix Carvallo. Yep, I'm driving over to Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
The White Sox and Dodgers facility is really fancy. It has water features and looks like one of those desert golf courses Phil Mickelson has won some scrilla on. Glendale has money problems, but they also have fancy ballparks and stadiums and minor league fields. Not much shade out there, but the whole place got cooler every time Gabe Kapler sauntered up in a poured on royal blue workout shirt and long, loose fitting team issued shorts. I have no idea how he'll perform as a front office member, but as soon as I left his presence I went searching for kale chips and a smoothie. Anyway, on to the bullet points from the days action.
-Yohander Mendez is fun to watch. He's a lanky 6'4" and is listed at 178lbs, but I'd say he's tipping right about 200lbs these days. It's not an overwhelming FB, but he can move it around a bit and it gets some sink between 90-92mph. He got some whiffs with his high 70s CB today and the feel he has at age 20 for his sinking CH is impressive. I didn't realize until seeing him in person that he has a strange pause as he starts his windup. He's gonna get some guys out and frankly, his 3-pitch mix and advanced feel are impressive for a kid his age. Throw in his size and left-handedness and you've got a dude. Yohander has to stay healthy. We all know that and so does he. Healthy Yohander is Yo-handful.
-Let's talk about Luis Ortiz for a while. This is gonna get NSFW. Sometimes you see a guy who may not have elite-level stuff, but he goes right after hitters and pitches like a mad motherfucker. Those guys are incredibly valuable and often have prosperous baseball careers. Then everyonce in a while, you get someone who does have elite level stuff...AND pitches like a mad motherfucker. They become stars. Luis Ortiz can become a star. The FB sat 93-95 for most of his outing. Carl Crawford was getting in some ABs and was allowed to hit 2nd in every inning for the Dodgers. Luis gave zero fucks. Here's the sequence the first time they faced off. (the third letter: C=called, F=foul, S=swinging, B=ball)
FBC 93, SLB 85, FBS 94, FBS 95 K
The second time:
FBB 93, FBB 92, FB 94 1UA
The third time:
CHB 86, FBC 94, CHS 84, FB 94 squirts up the middle for a single.
The first changeup Luis threw the whole game was to Carl Crawford. So was the next one, and it faded and Crawford missed it. I know you're probably thinking "but it's Carl Crawford!", well, fuck off because this time last year, Luis was pitching at Sanger High School and he has a grand total of 7(!) low-A innings of full-season ball on his resume. And it's not just the stuff, it's the mojo. You should be excited about Luis. He got knocked around a bit as his start progressed, and that's gonna happen. He throws hard and if he makes big mistakes, some dudes are gonna get good wood on it. But I'm betting he makes few and fewer mistakes as he gets older. Gonna head to Hickory to start his climb while getting guys out all over the South Atlantic League. I asked him about the CHs after the game and he just shrugged. I said "The first change you threw was to Carl Crawford?". "Yeah." Polite. Not scared. Not in the least. Lulu is gonna be fun.
-You know who else is gonna be fun? Brett Martin. Put the name towards the top of the list when it comes to Rangers pitching prospects. 6'5" 200lbs, 19 years old and taken in the 4th round last year out of Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. Let's just speak clearly, he struck out 6 guys in 3ip today. He induced a double play and lots of whiffs with a 90-93mph FB he moved at will around the strike zone and an upper 70s breaking ball some call a SL, others call a CB. I'm going with CB, but it has a bit of horizontal twist as well as a vertical drop. Whatever it is, it was good and induced two looking Ks by bending back into the zone and freezing the hitters. Really nice, clean mechanics and a LOT of downhill plane add a lovely frame to the pretty picture. After his start, his arm wrapped in ice and his workout sneakers unlaced on his feet, I asked him what size the cleats were in his left hand. "14". Like the paws of a Rottweiler puppy. I think Brett joins Lulu in Hickory and turns a lot of heads in 2015.
-Jose Valdespina was today's Vic Payano. Great stuff, moderate control, poor command. FB 94-96, good bendy SL in the mid-80s. Not completely sure where either of them are going once they leave his hand. Listed at 6'6" 220lbs, he's heavier than that and looks as though he could play a wicked good defensive end.
-My man Ti'Quan Forbes made a few nice plays at 3B. He rushes his throws a bit, but he has soft hands and gets quick jumps. I expect him to primarily play 3B this season, probably for Hickory and improve a great deal. The bat looks to have a fair amount of swing and miss right now, but Forbes has struck me as one of the hardest workers I've seen this week, so I imagine he'll struggle, then bust ass to improve. Here's a couple ABs. Judge for yourself.
Random footage of Jorge Alfaro taking BP. These were crushed. His BP looks like a big leaguer's BP. He is strong, and he is spending 2015 in finishing school. In March of 2017, you'll be able to get his jersey at Dick's Sporting Goods. Maybe. I think. Probably.
A few swings from Lewis Brinson. Enjoy.
-I did get eyes on Felix Carvallo and I liked what I saw. Thick bodied 21 year-old with a lefty reliever profile featured a good FB at 92-93, a low 80s SL, and a potentially really good CH. He's a bullpen dude headed for an A-ball assignment, but he's left handed, so you have to remember his name.
-Luke Tendler hit .316/.390/.531 with 11 homers in 67 games for Spokane last year. Texas drafted the Wilmington, North Carolina native in the 29th round after he finished 4th in the nation in doubles while at North Carolina A&T. No idea what the "A" & the "T" stand for. I could certainly look it up, but it's way more fun to guess what it might stand for. Anyways, I like his swing, and he can sting it a bit. Here he jumps on the first pitch and hammers it the other way. Don't blink:
Isiah Kiner-Falefa has some excellent baseballing skills and can play all over the diamond. The Hawaiian has the twitchiness you look for in a shortstop, and the quick stick and overall speed that helps raise his profile. He also has a last name that bends nearly from belt loop to belt loop. Just turned 20 on Monday. Good kid, good player.
I wanted to mention something else about Travis Demeritte. Kid is uniquely locked in during games. Not all youngsters are totally focused on the game, and very few are recognizing the game within the game. Travis is. Standing behind him when he's in the on-deck circle and you hear him not only rooting on the batter, but changing his tone when the count changes. For instance when the batter went from 1-1 to 1-2 in the count, Travis changed his words of encouragement from "C'mon man, get something to drive." to "You got this, protect your zone, you got this." He's aware, that's rare. Here he is pushing a 4.4 down the line. Not bad for a guy with his power.
Centerfielder Darius Day can really fly. Already 20, the speedster drafted by Texas last year out of Simeon High School in Chicago will rely on his speed and defense to continue moving up the ladder. I shoot these Oscar-caliber clips with a 3 year-old iPhone, so any footage of him stealing a base will have to come from someone with a better setup than me, but I can show you how he gets on first base. The zoom, zoom, zoom comes later.
Phew! Not gonna lie, I'm pretty tired. Love, love, love this stuff, but I'm ready to go home. I'm ready, more than anything, for the season to start. Not nearly as much as the coaches, trainers, and front office guys who've been out here away from their families for 2 months, but I'm ready. Perhaps no one is more ready than the minor league players themselves. If not for the chance to finally play competitive night games, but the most important reason many are looking forward to the season beginning- a paycheck. The first check of the year will arrive a couple of weeks after the season starts, and most of the minor leaguers have been living pretty tight since arriving in Surprise the first week of February. While it'll only be between $380-$850 for two weeks work, it'll be something, and that's good. The boys headed for Frisco have new duds to look forward to. The Hickory kids have the challenges of full-season ball to navigate. The Round Rock guys are dispatched to Central Texas knowing full well they're only a rolled ankle or "forearm tightness" away from the big call. And the guys headed to High Desert know they're going to High Desert. They've got exactly one week left, as the final intersquad games take place against the Royals farmhands next Thursday. Then, for a lot of the US-born kiddos, it's home for a couple of days before beginning the drive out to their affiliate. I don't anticipate we'll know the assignments until about this time next week, maybe Wednesday even, but it'll be around that time, so cool your jets between now and then. It's almost here, folks. It's almost here.
Gonna catch one more round of BP today, before grabbing one final Four Peaks beer at the airport. Thanks to everybody for reading and following the farm. More than a few scouts and front office folks, both from the Rangers and other clubs, have told me how knowledgeable and passionate the commenters are 'round here. We can take pride in that, and usually I just reply with a polite "Thanks, that means a lot.", but I always add, "We're mostly just here to have a good time and keep the Rangers on their toes."
As Always, Enjoy Baseball! Love Ya! and Viva 2015!!