Tim Murphy: Yet another player that I will struggle to remain objective about (see a developing pattern here?), Murphy has a very mature approach to the game of baseball. He is extremely focused and possesses the ability to disregard a poor performance and proceed as if nothing happened. He has a closer's mentality, but I'm hoping the Rangers give him every opportunity to make his name as a starter.
Murphy pitched one inning, and was in control during his appearance despite allowing two baserunners:
|Tim Murphy Pitch Chart - Fall Instructional League|
|93 mph||Fastball||Bunt (Fielder's Choice)|
|91 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Swinging|
So, basically Murphy got himself into trouble and then promptly got himself out of it. His fastball showed serious life with an average velocity of 92.2 mph. Murphy is not afraid to challenge a hitter, as he likes to live on the inside part of the plate. His curveball is a serious pitch. He will throw it in any count, and absolutely buckled the knees of the fifth hitter on the first pitch. It was filthy.
Murphy is still relatively new to pitching, but should be a fast riser in the system. I wouldn't be shocked if he started the season at High-A Bakersfield and finished the season playing at Double-A Frisco. His stuff is very good, and his maturity and approach are even better.
The bottom line is this: Tim Murphy, despite being fairly new to pitching, already has a firm grasp of what he wants to do on the bump, and has the ability to translate his raw talent into on-the-field production. He's going to be in my top 25 that I submit for BTiA, and I think we will start seeing his name on more prospect lists as he continues his ascent to the majors. I think he's going to make it.
The only question in my mind is the role: starter or reliever?
Martin Perez: Exceptional player/person. I watched Perez throw a side session and I was really impressed with his stuff. His clean, repeatable mechanics in combination with excellent raw stuff point to a pitcher that far exceeds the 17 years of Martin Perez.
His fastball has excellent life and sources say he can already run it up to 94 mph. His curveball, perhaps his best pitch, is a serious hammer. He can drop it into the strike zone at will. His change-up shows promise and will end up giving Perez an arsenal of three above-average pitches to choose from.
I had the privilege of conducting a lengthy interview with Perez, and I can honestly say that it was one of my favorite ones ever. Perez is extremely confident in his ability, but, like Michael Main, doesn't feel the need to wear it like a badge on his sleeve, or as a chip on his shoulder. He is also one of the smartest players I have ever talked to.
The cool thing is that his knowledge isn't limited to just the baseball diamond. Perez can speak intelligently about anything you throw at him. I really can't say enough about this kid. I have a feeling that he could end up being one of the top prospects in baseball at some point. No joke.
My interview with Perez should be ready to go later on this fall.
Carlos Pimentel: Projectable pitcher with a lively fastball. I saw him throw a side session and was impressed with his size and his ability to repeat his delivery. To be honest, at the time I was focusing on Perez and Wilfredo Boscan (who were throwing sides next to Pimentel), but after watching the video I shot, I came away pleasantly surprised with Pimentel. He has good stuff. It's obvious that he still needs refinement and I wasn't overly impressed with his secondary stuff (snapshot analysis), but Pimentel is still very interesting to me.
My gut feeling is that we are either going to see Pimentel "get it" or flame out rather quickly. If he can harness his breaking ball and improve on his fastball command, we could be looking at yet another monster pitcher in the Texas system. Of course, I should show a little more patience with Pimentel. He doesn't even turn 19 until December!
Omar Poveda: Before I left for instructs, I had basically convinced myself that Poveda had the best change-up in the system. Well, after speaking with several of his teammates and seeing more of the pitch in person, I no longer need any convincing. It's a really good pitch. It's a Major League pitch. It's a pitch that other players remember.
Despite not having another plus pitch to go along with his change-up, the rest of Poveda's arsenal is still impressive. He doesn't light up radar guns, but his fastball does have some life to it. It usually sits in the 88-92 mph range, although the knock against it has been that it tends to lack movement. I also saw him flash a few quality breaking balls during his side session. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to speak with Poveda in Arizona, but hopefully I will have a chance to next spring.
Neil Ramirez: Very disappointed that I didn't have the chance to see him pitch. Ramirez broke a bone in his pitching hand in a freak accident right before the start of the instructional league. Don't worry, he told me he was getting the brace off in a week and will be ready to resume baseball activities soon after.
Robbie Ross: I didn't really know what to expect from Ross. Obviously being a high draft choice would set the bar high, but it's hard to properly gauge a player's talents from watching MiLB.com's draft video. After finally seeing Ross pitch in person, it's pretty evident why he was considered by many to be the top high school lefty in the draft class. The kid can pitch.
Ross, who shares a body type with Kasey Kiker, doesn't look very intimidating on the bump. In fact, he looks more like a catcher than a pitcher. Of course, looks can be deceiving. Ross is definitely a pitcher.
Ross flashed excellent fastball command during his 25-pitch simulated game. He was able to paint both corners with the baseball and showed the ability to ratchet up his velocity when pressed to do so. He also showed a handle on his secondary pitches, as he was able to stay on top of his breaking ball and throw his change-up off of his fastball.
He labored a bit in the 106-degree heat, but I'm not going to fault him for that. Through it all, Ross was able to execute minor league pitching coordinator Rick Adair's directives, and stay focused on the simulated-game situations that were being called out to him after every batter stepped in the box.
Ross is a high-character guy and will definitely push himself to get the most out of his skill set. He isn't flashy on the mound, but I wouldn't start assuming that his ultra-polite off-the-field demeanor will translate to a lack of competitiveness on the bump. I was able to speak with Ross, and will publish our interview later on this year.
Matt Thompson: I was able to watch Thompson fire an uneven inning last weekend, but I did come away very impressed with his curveball. Thompson has projectable size (6' 3'', 210 lb.), but doesn't throw very hard. His fastball was in the 88-91 mph range and lacked movement. His curveball, on the other hand, was a very promising pitch.
I was able to chart Thompson's inning of work:
|Matt Thompson Pitch Chart - Fall Instructional League|
|91 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Looking|
|80 mph||Curveball||RBI Hit|
|80 mph||Curveball||Strikeout Swinging|
As you can see, Thompson is not afraid to throw his curveball in any count. It's a legit pitch. The three pitches thrown to the sixth and final hitter were just nasty. His fastball, on the other hand, isn't so nasty. In fact, it's very pedestrian. His average fastball velocity was 90 mph, and as I mentioned above, it lacks movement.
Thompson will be an interesting arm to watch in '09. If he can improve his fastball command and encourage some movement, it will form a nice one-two punch with his curveball. I only charted one change-up, so I can't really speak to how effective the pitch is.
Johan Yan: I saw Yan take the mound and efficiently dispose of three hitters by throwing only nine pitches. He looked comfortable on the mound and didn't strike me as a failed position player branching out in a new direction.
|Johan Yan Pitch Chart - Fall Instructional League|
|C||76 mph||Breaking Ball||Ball|
Well, not a lot of data to dissect. Yan's two-seamer had some movement and it obviously induced ground ball outs. The one breaking pitch he threw was a bit of a mystery; it looked a little like a knucklecurve, except it didn't really have much of a break. It looked like Yan threw it underhanded. Strange.
So basically, Yan was better than I thought. He looked comfortable on the mound and his mechanics were fairly consistent. He doesn't have much command at this point and his one breaking ball looked like a mistake, but overall I was encouraged by his performance.
Corey Young: This guy has effective LOOGY written all over him. Deceptive motion, excellent curveball, life on his fastball, the ability to locate three pitches, and a very promising ground-to-fly ball ratio. What's not to like? Look for Young to move fast next season. His stuff is excellent and he only stands to improve.
Leonel De Los Santos: I was pleasantly surprised that Macumba's skill set didn't pale in comparison to his already larger-than-life personality. His work behind the plate was hard not to appreciate. Macumba might have the strongest arm of any catcher in the organization. His throws are lasers that are usually placed with surgical precision directly over the bag.
He isn't limited to just an arm, either. Macumba has quick feet and is able to put himself in a sound position to block balls. Also, according to his batterymates, De Los Santos is easy to work with and calls a good game.
His offensive performance is not as favorable. He still seems somewhat lost at the plate and easily fooled by breaking balls. He will play the entire '09 season as a 19-year-old, so he still has plenty of time to improve his offensive skill set.
Tomas Telis: Very intriguing player. Switch-hitting catchers that have strong arms and good plate discipline don't exactly grow on trees. Telis, who won't even turn 18 years old until next June, stood out as a player to take notice of.
First of all, his receiving skills are still very raw. Not surprising, considering he is new to the position after being signed out of Venezuela as a shortstop. But he isn't exactly embarrassing himself either. Telis is a very athletic kid with a strong arm and good fundamentals.
His bat is even more impressive. He has quick wrists and a good compact stroke that should translate into more power as he continues to physically mature. He gets happy feet in the box and will pull his head out, but he didn't seem that overwhelmed despite being a 17-year-old playing against more advanced competition. Lots to like with this kid. Follow him.
Leury Garcia: The diminutive infielder (5' 7'', 153 lb.) made his debut for the rookie-league Arizona Rangers this season as a 17-year-old. Despite only managing to put up an OPS of .529 in 41 games, Garcia turned enough heads to get a coveted invitation to participate in the FIL. He continued to turn heads once he arrived.
Garcia, at least at this point, doesn't look much like a professional athlete. In fact, he looks a lot like David Eckstein's younger, more Latin American brother. That's not to say that Garcia only gets by on guts and the good face. Garcia is extremely athletic and flashes more tools than his slight appearance would indicate.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Garcia take a big step forward next season and solidify his place as yet another legit prospect in the deepest farm system in baseball.
Marcus Lemon: Perhaps the hardest player in our system to properly categorize, Lemon is, on the one hand, a very polished player with the intangibles to play at the highest level, and, on the other hand, a player that might have already reached the limitations of his skill set.
As a defensive player, I was very impressed with Lemon's play at second base. His arm is strong, but not exceptional, and his pivot is fast and his throws are accurate. His range is above-average, thanks in part to his excellent first-step quickness - especially towards his glove-side.
Lemon is also the only player I saw at instructs that would gladly work a walk. He has a very advanced approach at the plate and simply won't allow himself to get cheated. He has a nice line-drive stroke, but I don't think he is going to develop much in the power department.
The finest thing about Lemon's game is his baseball intelligence. He is very rarely out of position and his focus on the field is second to none. He doesn't showboat and goes all out on every play, in every game.
As I mentioned, Lemon's skill set already appears to be reaching maturity. His offensive value lies in his patient approach at the plate and his ability to keep pitchers honest when he gets on base. His defense at second base is probably above-average as a whole, but nothing so spectacular that he can still be a viable starter without the offensive chops.
But Lemon is a very smart ballplayer and that, coupled with his defensive versatility, should make him an attractive utility infielder at the Major League level. Next year will be huge for him.
Justin Smoak: Wow. Where to begin?
Let's start with his offense. Smoak has a beautiful stroke from the left side of the plate. He has light-tower power to go along with an elegant, Blalockian swing (although more compact) that can produce ropes that dent walls, yet never get more than five feet off of the ground. His stroke shortens up a bit from the right side (only noticeable on off-speed pitches), but his power still translates.
It's been said before and I'll echo it again here: from the right side, Justin Smoak looks like Chippper Jones. His approach at the plate is advanced, and projecting a classic Major League line of .300/.400/.500 is not really that big of a stretch.
Smoak's defense is quite impressive as well. Everything about his defensive play is smooth. His footwork is graceful, his arm is strong and accurate, his glovework is above average and his reaction time is outstanding. He reminds me a lot of Casey Kotchman with the glove.
Yet another thing that Smoak brings to the table is maturity. Smoak, despite receiving a signing bonus of $3.5 million, didn't stroll into the Clinton locker room boasting about his new Porsche 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt. Smoak, according to several of his teammates, showed up for work and checked his ego at the door. It's encouraging that the Rangers are stocking their system with high-character guys. It's even more encouraging that those high-character guys also have ridiculously high ceilings.
To me, Smoak is a lottery ticket with three winning numbers already disclosed. He's arguably the closest player this organization has to a "sure thing," and the only real question remaining is how many more numbers on this ticket will the Rangers hit on.
I wouldn't be shocked if Smoak moves faster through the system than expected. What does that mean? Well, I don't think I would rule out starting Smoak at Bakersfield and moving him up to Frisco after the first month. At that rate, Smoak might be in Arlington as soon as September of '09. Crazy.
Mitch Moreland: I didn't see Moreland play in the field or even hit in the cage, but I did see Moreland throw a bullpen session. He looked pretty sharp. He definitely has a legit fastball, but I can't speak on his secondary pitches. He's a max-effort type of guy, so if Moreland takes the bump in '09, it would be in relief situations.
Esdras Abreu: In a sea of older competition, it is always a challenge to keep perspective when trying to analyze a 16-year-old. Abreu is very, very raw, but the tools are evident.
The day before I arrived, my good friend Jamey Newberg was able to witness some of Abreu's rawness firsthand, as he made a few routine errors in the outfielder. The day after, coach Wayne Kirby, probably the funniest coach I have ever had the privilege of being around, spent the morning working with Abreu on routes and angles to the ball. Not that improvement was immediately noticeable, but what I did take notice of was the attention that Esdras was giving to Coach Kirby. He reacted to Kirby's words with effort, and, despite making mistakes, never seemed to let the overwhelming pressure of his environment affect him. At this stage, isn't this what we want to be seeing in a young player?
Abreu's calling card is his stick. The kid can already send ropes to all fields, and despite not even being close to reaching physical maturity, the already 6' 3", 185-pound Abreu is very strong and very coordinated. Impressive.
I don't think Abreu is going to explode on the prospect landscape for a few more seasons, but if he can build upon his already impressive raw skills, this could end up being a player we all sit up and take notice of.
Engel Beltre: Very exciting player. In fact, Beltre might be the single most exciting position player we have in the system. He is basically the Neftali Feliz of center field. Of course at this point, Beltre is more of a promise than a reality.
Let's start with his defense in center field. Beltre is a very, very good defensive player. He has a thunderbolt arm and his range is impressive. The negatives at this point are the occasional bad route and the tendency to lose focus during a long inning.
Beltre's offensive ceiling was the subject of debate for several scouts in my vicinity. The debate's main focus was whether Beltre could live up to the comp that they all seemed to agree was the most fitting: Ken Griffey Jr.
Now, I don't really want to wade too far into this debate, so I will just say that Beltre's offensive ceiling is off the charts. He has all the tools to become a legit power threat at the very highest level. He has strong wrists and flexible hips that help generate tremendous bat speed. When a pitcher foolishly leaves a ball up in the zone, his swing is a thing of beauty to witness. Of course, because he likes to swing the bat, he is often susceptible to breaking balls out of the zone. His pitch recognition should improve, but I doubt he will ever be considered a patient hitter.
Although far from a sure thing, Beltre has one of the highest ceilings of any player in minor league baseball. He has a lethal combination of all the parts that make up a Major League superstar. He has the potential to be great.
Jared Bolden: Perhaps I caught Bolden during a rough stretch, but I really wasn't overly impressed with his performance. He struck me as being athletic, yet that athleticism didn't really translate to the field. He looked very pedestrian in the outfield, allowing a few balls to get behind him and missing the cutoff man on another occasion. His bat wasn't much better. He looked lost, and when he did make contact, he didn't get good wood on it.
As a player who will turn 22 before the start of next season, I expected to see a little more polish and a little more promise. Like I said, perhaps I just caught Bolden during a rough stretch.
Joey Butler: Solid all-around player, although I'm not sure how far his skills will take him. Butler is a very good defensive player with good speed and a strong arm. He has some pop in his bat, but I didn't come away thinking he had a Major League bat. In fact, his approach at the plate might be his strongest offensive weapon. As I've noted before, Butler is a high-character guy and I think he will make an excellent coach when his playing days come to an end.
Eric Fry: I was watching Fry hit in the cage and I was simply blown away at his power. Tremendous power. Ridiculous power. Unfortunately, I didn't see any of this power translate over to the game.
His defense wasn't turning any heads either. He wasn't wearing his sunglasses and he badly lost a ball in the sun. It was little league bad. Needless to say that the Eric Fry rule was implemented the next day and every outfielder was required to have their glasses on when they were on the field. One of my favorite moments from the trip had to be listening to Coach Kirby verbally bulldoze Eric Fry for losing that ball in the sun. Priceless stuff.
Cristian Santana: I didn't get to see much of Santana, but I was impressed with what I did see. Monster power generated by a stout lower half and ultra-quick hands. I actually saw Santana work a walk! Very confident. Cocky, but he wears it well. Make-or-break year approaching. Santana will either start his ascension to the higher levels, or he will prove to have an A-ball ceiling.
Julio Borbon: I had a chance to speak with Borbon while he was working out in preparation for his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Exceptionally intelligent. Strong leadership qualities. Borbon is a glue guy. Thanks to his unique history, Borbon is able to hold court with players from all backgrounds.
What's funny is that he has a bit of a southern drawl when conversing in English, and a very pronounced Dominican accent when speaking Spanish. Players look up to him. He will play for the Rangers at some point in '09. I'll have a Borbon interview posted later on the fall/winter.
Please let me know if there is a player you would like to see interviewed/profiled and I will do my best to make it happen. As always, your questions or comments are appreciated.