I’m home in Big D and Spring Training is all but over. It’s game time. So let’s put a bow on this thing with some thoughts from my final day in Surprise the state of the farm, as I see it.
Yohander Mendez continues to mystify. He had some struggles in 2017, but remains a 6’4” lefty who at times looks more than capable of working through a big league lineup. Then, not so much. He’s noticeably thicker and looks stronger than I’ve ever seen him, and while still only 23 years old, he’ll likely be a mainstay of the Round Rock rotation. He should also be an oft-mentioned name with regards to call-ups and spot starts, or even a regular rotation spot should a current big leaguer get injured or be ejected to the moon or something. In his outing on Thursday, he snapped off a few of the best SLs I’ve ever seen from him. That pitch has come a long way in the last year or so, and he’s gonna need it. The CH is still a very good pitch, but the FB once again sat 91-92, so I’m not sure there’s any more additional velo in the tank with Yo as a starter. That seems to be the speed band he’s gonna live in. And that’s cool, but it certainly eliminates room for error and he’s gonna have to sharpen up the command to a razor’s edge in Round Rock in order to slice and dice at the ultimate level. He was nasty at times in his outing, that’s for sure, and here he makes quick work of Yohel Pozo including a nasty CH to seal the deal:
It was great to see former Frisco closer Adam Parks on the mound again. Adam had the second Tommy John surgery of his career in June of 2016 and was 90-92 T93 on Thursday and still had plenty of the familiar snap on his SL that made it a nasty weapon late in AA games. Two TJ surgeries is no joke and the fact that this man has persevered and appears to be on his way back to being a healthy dude is admirable to say the least. I’m wishing nothing but the best for him and if he’s healthy and can command that SL again, he’s most certainly a dude. Here’s Parks getting in some tosses, wedged between Brady Feigl and Yo Mendez:
Austin Bibens-Dirkx came to the back fields for some work against the A-ball kids and reminded most of them that even without premium velocity, command of the FB can be a lethal weapon. Here’s an AB against young catcher Melvin Novoa where ABD just kept raising the height of his FB throughout the at-bat and finally simply put one where Mel a) couldn’t do damage had he hit it and b) was likely to take the bait.
Easily one of my favorite under-the-radar pitchers is Tyler Phillips. Broad shouldered and already 6’5” and about 225lbs, I think he’s finally growing into his body and learning how to pitch. This will be Tyler’s 4th season of pro ball, but he was so young when he was drafted that folks tend to overlook that he’s only 46 days older than Cole Ragans. He’ll pitch all season in 2018 as a 20 year-old. He sat 93-95 T96 for 4 innings on Thursday, and his CH generated 7 whiffs that I counted. I’m told by those in the know he also throws a sinker that comes in at the same speed as his CH (84-86), and he has a loopy CB that sits in the high 70s. I think there could be another tick or two of velo on the FB in coming seasons and more than a few tidbits about his development remind me of Jerad Eickhoff, including the fact that Jerad was a 15th rounder and Tyler was a 16th rounder. Getting a starting pitcher in those rounds is a dream for a front office and I’m carrying the flag that Tyler fulfills that dream. Also, the boy was simply blessed by the hair gods:
Cleaning up on some random jot-downs from my notepad:
-Kole Enright looks comfortable at 2B. He made all the routine plays and a couple of the not-so-routine ones. Seems like that’ll be his spot for the time being.
-Opposing scouts are less bullish on Pedro Gonzalez than we are. He’s most definitely 1st Team All Bus and damn sure looks the part, but there’s a good deal of swing and miss in his approach and he didn’t exactly sting it in the 8 or 9 ABs I saw. Cross your fingers.
-Texas remains steadfast in not moving fast. Players will be promoted and challenged at new levels when they reach and maintain a series of goals at their current level. You gotta earn a promotion and you gotta earn it with consistency and results.
-Speaking of not moving fast, I expect a slow road with both Chris Seise and Hans Crouse. The former because of a slight injury and the latter because he’s a pitcher and Texas is committed to their plan of changing the way they develop pitchers. I don’t know if that means a spot in Hickory’s rotation to begin the season or not, but we’ll know soon enough.
-Other teams have noticed the catching cadre Texas has acquired, but there’s absolutely zero consensus as to which of these guys is gonna break out over the next few years and look like a possible everyday option.
Not gonna lie, the backfields felt different this year. Scott Lucas and I talked about it a lot. While there’s a huge discount to the fact that we are different, personally, than we were in 2010, 2012, and 2014, there’s little denying the fact that the farm is different. It’s not elite. The garishly loud tools of the groups that rolled through 4-5-6 years ago are more difficult to find these days. There are some complete players, but even the most optimistic of us (me: guilty) requires some rose colored glasses to cull potential big league impact. But while the backfields were crawling with many of the same faces, there were enough new mugs to have hope for the future. And I don’t mean players. Coaches and scouts are new. Some front office folks are new. Some trainers and analytics folks are new. And they’re hungry.
Hunger is what drove the first round of Rangers draft picks and international signings that turned into wave on wave of big league talent over the last few years. Such is life that some of the players have succeeded in uniforms other than Ranger whites, but those drafts and signings of ~2009-2014 were flat-out weapons grade. Texas was out-scouting nearly every team in baseball, and it showed. I don’t know if that’s still the case on the amateur side- time will tell, but I do know the youth influx that drove the first wave has been rekindled. Sure there’s plenty of the same faces, but there’s most definitely new voices in the room and that’s a good thing. A very good thing. Baseball moves faster today than ever before and the successful teams are getting out on the front foot with youth and aggression and an unbridled passion to win the World Series. I understand Jon Daniels has his fair share of critics, but IMO, as long as the head of the snake remains attached, it’s still capable of a kill. I spent a couple innings with him this week and watched him walk and talk quite a bit, and I didn’t get one inkling that he’s anywhere near satisfied with the current state of the farm, or frankly, the big league club. He’s uniquely wired and I’m convinced any pain and heartbreak we’ve suffered as fans since October of 2011 has infested and infiltrated his every bone to a level we can’t possibly imagine. He wants to win, and he wants to win in Texas.
So what’s the plan? I don’t know, because no one is just coming right out and saying it. But a good guess can be had by taking a look at last year’s action. They took some chances last year and grabbed some high ceiling low floor guys. I’m a big fan of this mindset. You can find a damn utility player in free agency. Joey Gallo can change games. June Calhoun can change games. Nomar Mazara can change games. Jamie Jarmon didn’t. And sometimes that happens. High ceiling, low floor. Hans Crouse might be able to change games. Julio Pablo Martinez? Let’s hope. Bubba Thompson might turn into a rangy CFer with a plus arm, plus speed, and plus power. Let’s keep that mojo going. Boring players are boring. I saw Bubba homer last week and it was electric. I saw Mikey Match light up 97s and it was electric. I saw Tyreque Reed flick his wrists and hit BP balls 400’. We need more of that. This note goes out to the young bucks in the office: get more of that. Bring us the heat. Bring us the mojo and we’ll love you forever. Because that’s how long flags fly.
Go crazy everyone, it’s baseball season.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!