There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? The news reports are trickling in. The radio hosts are filing out to the dessert. The universe is reminding you there’s no such thing as “too much pitching.” All of the signs are there. It’s happening. The force is getting stronger. BASEBALL IS BACK!
I’ll be a part of the herd making an annual trek out to Surprise to get a peek at the new faces, check on some familar ones and overall, simply begin gearing up for another fun season on the Rangers farm. Per usual, my pre-Arizona planning includes a long list of kids I aim to get some video of, a shorter list of kids I wanna chat with, and a few dozen beers I need to drink with some scouts and other scribes. That said, every year I put a tiny star next to the names of a few kids on my long list as “can’t miss”. A short list to my long list, if you will.
Spring Training is a very fluid situation, so I’m not always able to get eyes on every kid on my short list, especially the pitchers. I’m only there for 5 days and they might simply be pitching a closed bullpen, or a game on the other side of Phoenix- but I usually get most if not all of my marks. So without further ado, here’s my marks for my March 20th trip. (This can also serve as a warning to theses players. I’m coming to stalk you. In a healthy, friendly way. Mostly.)
- Cole Ragans. Last year’s 1st round pick is incredibly intriguing to me. Every scout I’ve spoken with really loves the kid. He’s somewhat rare as a high school draftee in that he’s rather polished for his age. He pitched on the showcase circuit for years and used his lanky 6’4” frame and left-handedness to develop a borderline obsessive imitation of Cole Hamels; this is, frankly, kick ass. A low-90s wiggling FB with plenty of downhill plane is complemented by a CH & CB, both of which project to be big league-caliber offspeed pitches. He’ll add some weight to his 195lb frame over the next few years and continue to refine his ability to get guys out, but this is basically what a mid-rotation starter looks like at age 18, so there’s plenty to dream on. Likely headed for a spot in the Hickory rotation, this is the type of player for whom you can honestly cross your fingers for a rather uneventful 3-4 year development arc. See you soon, Baby Hamels!
- Jon Hernandez. Jon is a lottery ticket, and I’ve been known to snap up a few prospect scratch-offs from time to time. He pitched the entire season last year as a starter in Hickory and didn’t turn 20 until July. He doesn’t have gaudy strike out numbers, doesn’t have a big repertoire of pitches or any single offering you’d currently look at and project as a plus pitch. But he’s 20 years old, he’s a starter and he was still touching 97 at the end of the season. So I’ll buy it. It probably won’t work out, but if any of the CH/CB/SL come along in 2017 and 2018, you could at least be looking at a big league bullpen piece.
- Anderson Tejada. We knew who Anderson was before 2016, meaning, we knew he existed. But we didn’t know he could do THAT. The 18 year-old shortstop showed uncommon power for a player of his size (5’11” 170lbs) and position (SS), not to mention his age. Finishing the season with 99 plate appearances in a short-season league littered with players 2, 3, and 4 years older than him, AT clubbed 8 homers and posted a SLG of .553 for the mighty Spokane Indians. That’s pretty salty. I’ve seen his swing on video and spoken to a few scouts who’ve seen it in person and there’s no doubt he sells out for power. Little man uses a mighty-mega leg kick and probably has the fastest bat speed in the system, but it remains to be seen if he can continue to use those tools as he advances along in his career. Can’t wait to get some video of this kid.
- Joe Palumbo. There’s no other way to say it: dude flat came out of nowhere last year. I didn’t see Joe last spring, but I saw him the spring before and he was 87-90 with a hammer CB that was undoubtedly his best pitch. He was listed at 6’1” and 165lbs when I saw him in 2015, but honestly, might have been thinner. Last year he came into the season a new man. Renewed focus on his diet and offseason training added strength and durability and holy moly did it cause the FB to tick up. Normally sitting 91-94 (and regularly touching 95/6) throughout the year, Joe posted a freakish line of 33BB/122K in 96.1ip in 2016. That vaulted him into dude-status and put him squarely on the radar of prospect hounds everywhere. The hammer CB is still there and it gives him a legit swing-and-miss offspeed option. The CH came along nicely in 2016 and I expect that offering, and FB command, to be a significant focus for Joe this upcoming season. Likely ticketed for Down East in April, I wouldn’t rule out a Frisco promotion in July if 2017 looks anything like 2016 for Long Island Joe.
- David Garcia. Yeah, I know, terribly surprising I’ve included a catcher. David was Baseball America’s # 7 ranked player available in last year’s J-2 signing period, so here we go. Honestly, I’m not even sure he’ll be in camp; he’s very young and might simply be dispatched to the Dominican facility for a while, but I hope he’s in Arizona and healthy. David lassoed $800K from the Rangers and I’ve been told internally they’ve been very pleased with how heady a kid he is and they think he’ll develop into a top-flight game caller. He can swing the bat a bit as well, and did I mention he’s a catcher? In addition to all of these attributes, the young Venezuela will also become the first professional baseball player we’ll root for who was born in the year 2000. So, yeah, we’re old, and I hope he’s good.
There you have it. Just a few names I hope to track down in Surprise in a couple of weeks. As usual, I’ll be writing dispatches from my time there and bombarding you with videos and thoughts about what I’m seeing. Always a good time in Surprise and I expect 2017 to be no different. So until I’m in the desert- later.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!