Every year on this trip there’s a handful of moments that seem to make the entire trek worth while. Not that the whole exercise isn’t super fun, but like any other vacation, there’s really only 2 things you’ll remember: 1) the overall vibe and 2) 3 or 4 remarkable moments. Leody’s walkoff will be in the latter group. As will David Garcia’s 1.82 pop time. And a late entrant into the memory cache will be most of today’ bumper car action. My pal and yours, Scott Lucas and I spent the entire afternoon caromming from field to field because finally, on my last day in Surprise, the heat really came out. The names you know and the ones you soon will seemed to all be in action somewhere today. Speas, Ragans, Enright, Taveras, Palumbo, Martin, Morgan, Tiedemann, Cody, and Roberts. All doled out varying levels of “look at me” today. It was an absolute blast.
Before I go any further, I’ve got to once again implore all of you to pencil in this trip next year or sometime soon. It’s the best. I’d also like to thank all the scouts and front office folks (particularly the Rangers guys) who put up with my bizarre obsession. Truth is, I’m not much more than a mouthy fan and they all seem to tolerate it. So thanks. Now go Fly A Flag, dammit.
On to the juice. I’ll cut right to the chase. Joe Palumbo was the most impressive Rangers pitcher not named “Cole Hamels” I saw on this trip. I’d heard all about the progress he made in Hickory last year and the weight and strength he’d added—all leading to a bump of about 6mph on his FB. Heard it all. Now I’ve seen it all. He looked like a future MLB starting pitcher. Not a superstar, but a guy who’s gonna get there and compete. The FB sat 93-94 and touched 96 twice in 3ip. He got two swinging Ks with the CH and at least one with his CB. The CB is truly nasty and safely projects as a plus offering. He commanded the FB well and held his velo. Seemed poised and to have a plan. Also, he has a lot of tattoos. Not necessarily a tall kid, but he gets decent plane and good movement on his FB. Get this dude a knife and fork and let him start eating innings. Reps and experience will be key over the next 2 seasons, but if I woke up from a coma in 2020 and 25 year-old lefty Joe Palumbo was Texas’ number 4 starter, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Cole Ragans is straight out of central casting. The reports of his Hamels hankering are accurate and I got a chance to chat with Ragans about that for a little while and I couldn’t be happier he has Hollywood to try and emulate. Ragans is as polished as they come for his age and experience level. Affable and polite on non-pitching days, I saw a decidedly different demeanor today. Focused and workmanlike. He threw all FBs in a live BP session and they were 89-92 and it had plenty of shake and wiggle. In warmups, he snapped off some of the patent--pending CHs he’s learned by watching Hamels. It’s gonna be a plus pitch. An easy 6’4” with room to add weight to what I’d guess is about 200lbs, he’s exactly what it looks like. Gonna be a fun few years tracking this kid.
Brett Martin threw 4 frames and was mostly 91-93 with the FB and the damn thing comes off a mountain top. Serious extension from his 6’5” frame. His velo has a chance to play up because of the angle he creates. It’s pretty awesome. He wasn’t particularly sharp until his final frame when he became a whiff machine with both his 84/5mph CH and his 79-81mph bender. When he has all 3 going, he can strike out 15 batters in 7 innings of a playoff game. He’s got a couple more years to go, but could be prettayyy prettayyy salty when he gets there.
Alex Speas threw in the same live BP session that Ragans did, and he too was on an all-fastballs diet. But he has juice. Serious juice. He threw easy 93-95 and ran out a handful of 96s. He can pump it into the upper-90s anytime he wants. He throws very hard. As I mentioned previously, he’s pretty raw mechanically, but his arm speed is a sight to behold. Or to not see at all. It’s moving that quickly.
Pedro Payano threw and he’s a guy to keep in the back of your mind because he throws 4 pitches and will most definitely get to the upper levels. He’s fully healed from the broken forearm that ended his season prematurely last year and he’s ready to eat innings. Way crazier things have happened in this game than a guy like Pedro Payano collecting a few big league check(s) before it’s all said and done.
I asked around and it seems likely my favorite 17 year-old switch-hitting catcher David Garcia is likely ticketed for the Dominican Summer League. Former UTA Maverick and Mansfield High alum Chad Comer is a coach down there and he is a highly respected catching instructor, so it appears the powers that be are gonna stash my lil’ buddy in the DR for 2017. See you next year, kid!
Here’s a name not many people are talking about- Kyle Cody. I’d heard good stuff about him this spring from a couple of scouts and got a chance to see it in action for a few innings today. It’s good. Real good. Really promising. A hulking 6’7” 22 year-old former Kentucky Wildcat, Cody appears to be a near lock for a rotation spot in Hickory. And why the hell not? He sat 93-96 today and broke off a few mega-legit SLs. It could very well be a plus pitch. He threw a fair number of CHs and that’ll most definitely be his “working on this” offering for 2017. But there’s plenty to be excited about. He touched 98 and seemed to be able to manipulate the depth on the SL a bit. More reps and more reps can only help and I’d love to see this kid make 18-20 starts this season.
Demarcus Evans is interesting because he’s a 20 year-old big bodied righty (6’4” 240lbs) who gets massive extension on his arm and seems to spin the holy hell outta the FB. I say that because he misses bats in the 91-93 velo band and misses them by a fair margin. That’s sometimes attributable to spin rate and when you see how high his release point is and how massive his hands are, it all kinda makes sense. ‘Member that name.
Kyle Roberts is another name to sock away. He’s left handed and threw 94-95mph today. Last summer’s 5th round pick is, unlike Demarcus Evans, not 6’4”. He’s 6’6”. 100% certain Texas would win a prospect pickup basketball tournament.
Tyree Thompson has a bit of helium as well. The 19 year-old righty, and New Orleans native, signed for $100,000 after being taken in the 26th round last year. He’s listed at 6’4” and 165lbs. Now, as you probably know, the listed weights are often inaccurate and usually on the low side. Occasionally, they’re wildly inaccurate—on the low side. In this case, I’d say it’s probably just about right. Regardless of his weight, I know his velocity is accurate because I saw it being measured by several different devices today and it was routinely 91-93.
You know who I’m hopeful for this summer? Yey Yey, that’s who. Yeyson Yrizarri has tools and will probably play in the big leagues because he can play on the left side of the infield and can throw with jet propulsion. But last year in Hickory, he was far from fearsome with the stick. He hit .269, but drew 9 walks in 479 plate appearances and posted a .681 OPS. I think he’s better than that. And he needs to be better than that. He just turned 20 years old, so there’s more than ample time, but I’ve always said I’d like Yey Yey to get on that back leg a bit and try to lift the ball. I know he can do it because I’ve seen it. Here’s a long F7:
Here he is getting positive encouragment from some other baby sluggers all trying to pump bombos. (He hits first and leeeeeans back)
Miguel Aparicio was held out of game action after picking up a slight shin cut when he met a spike sliding into second base, but I was soundly impressed by what I saw. Basically, he’s Leody Taveras-lite. Which still makes him a prospect. Possibly a very good one. He’s not big and only turned 18 a week ago, but the ball leaps off his bat. A centerfielder, he runs very well and is most definitely a name to remember. This time next year, Miguel Aparicio might be a dude of notable order.
Josh Morgan caught again and he’s lightning quick back there. Took a foul ball square off the mask, so it probably wouldn’t have been a good day to ask if he loved catching. But he did well back there and handled some really good arms in Cody, Palumbo, and Thompson. He posted a 2.09 pop time and nearly caught former Oregon Ducks centerfielder Austin Grebeck at 2B. Josh remains a very intriguing prospect, even without catching. Adding catching to his game makes him a VERY intriguing prospect. Have I mentioned he can hit?
So that’s it. That’s all she wrote for another year in Surprise. I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing me implore you to get out here for a few days in March, but until I meet and shake the hand of each and every one of you on a backfield, my mission will remain incomplete. I’ve uploaded a bushel full of videos to my YouTube page, so feel free to check them out and dream a little dream. Until we meet again, Surprise. Farewell, my love.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!