The Texas Rangers are only going to become a viable contender at the Major League level by developing and promoting talent up through the minor league system. If this is indeed the case, it should relieve Rangers fans to know that not only do we currently possess the best farm system in the history of the organization, but that men like Don Welke and A.J. Preller will be keeping the farm stocked with young talent for years to come. Feel better? You should.
The ultimate convergence of this minor league talent can be found in the Fall Instructional League. Where else can one see the likes of Martin Perez playing on the same field as Justin Smoak and Tomas Telis? Or Tim Murphy throwing to batterymate Leonel "Macumba" De Los Santos? Where else could you see a double-play combo of Leury Garcia and Marcus Lemon? It simply doesn't get any better than this.
I had the privilege of attending the FIL last week and I'd like to share some of my observations on the players whom I was able to either see play in game/simulated/side action, speak with personally, or gather information about from the players/scouts in attendance.
Tae Ahn: I saw him throw a side session. Big, strong kid. Thick lower half. Projectable. His mechanics were a little funky. Flashed a few breaking balls that seemed to have promise. He is a bit of a pie-thrower though. Obvious command issues.
I spoke with him through an interpreter, but I didn't really get enough info for an interview piece. He basically said that he was really excited to be in camp with the Rangers and that he wants to work hard to improve. Standard stuff.
Blake Beavan: Lots of Beavan during my trip. He closed out the Friday game by uncharacteristically walking two batters, one on four pitches. He ended up getting out of the inning by striking out two batters, but he wasn't that sharp. In his one inning of work, Beavan threw 29 pitches, with 26 of them being fastballs. Considering the average velocity of his fastball was 90.3 mph, I assumed he was only throwing two-seamers. However, when I was discussing the game with Beavan, he told me he was only throwing four-seamers and that he didn't throw a single two-seamer. Odd.
I have enough for a good interview with Beavan, but I think I'll wait until the spring to bust it out. Enough has already been made of his velocity drop and I'd rather not recycle the same subject matter. I will say this: Beavan is quite aware of his velocity dip, but feels confident that it will return to the 92-95 mph level.
Wilfredo Boscan: Boscan is a very impressive player. I was only able to watch a side session, but I was blown away at how fluid he is. He has a very good grasp of what he wants to do and is very consistent in the execution. Most of the scouts I spoke with had nothing but praise for Boscan. His fastball isn't a velocity monster, but he has command of it and it has movement.
His curve and change-up are way more developed than most pitchers his age. He might not ever be considered a "top of the rotation pitcher," but I think he has what it takes to be a very good Major League player and that is pretty phenomenal considering how young he is.
I was able to conduct a lengthy interview with Boscan and will have that posted at some point in the next few weeks.
Fabio Castillo: Castillo was a little shaky in the first of his two innings of work. He has a slight hesitation in his delivery and struggles to repeat it. He is a big guy that comes over the top with his arm producing an intimidating image on the mound. He pounds the zone with a heavy fastball and possesses a promising slider, but his change-up still needs work.
He was hit pretty hard when he left his fastball up in the zone and wasn't able to locate it until his second inning of work. At that point, the promise of Castillo was evident. He was able to keep his low-90s heater down in the zone and on the corners. He flashed a few above-average breaking pitches; he was mostly just pounding that heater. When he finally found some mechanical consistency in his second inning, he was pretty impressive.
I was able to conduct a brief interview with Castillo, but will probably hold off publishing it until later on this fall/winter after I get a chance to follow-up with him.
Miguel De Los Santos: I'll just be honest and admit that I will probably never be able to have an objective stance when it comes to Miguel De Los Santos. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him both on and off the field, and to put it simply, Miguel is a remarkable person. It's not easy to work in a professional environment in a foreign country, and it's even harder to do so when you are attempting to return from an arm injury that threatened to end your place in that profession.
It would have been easy to just give up. Miggy decided to work harder.
De Los Santos had some control issues this past season in the Arizona Rookie League (not surprising considering he was returning from injury), but was still able to strike out a grotesque 54 batters in only 34.2 innings. The 6? 1" lefty will pitch the majority of the '09 season as a 20-year-old, and regardless of my stated bias, I honestly think De Los Santos is a major breakout player next season.
Neftali Feliz: Didn't see him pitch, but I did have the chance to speak with him and observe him around his teammates. Star quality. Every single player I spoke with said Feliz had the best fastball they had ever seen. He was already a Major League player to some. He was walking proof of what could happen to them. It was really cool to witness.
Wilmer Font: I saw Font throw a side session and I came away impressed. He is a very large man. The coaching staff was working with Font on his leg lift and stride. His fastball is pretty serious. The sound of the ball hitting the mitt at that speed is distinct. It sounds like a gun going off. Font's fastball is pretty serious.
I actually saw him fire off a few breaking balls as well. Not bad. He's definitely raw, but his natural ability is very obvious. I had the privilege of speaking with Wilmer and hopefully I recorded enough material for a piece. If not, I plan on speaking with him again in the spring.
Geuris Grullon: Interesting arm. I saw him in game action and was impressed despite an inconsistent showing. Grullon has a lively fastball, but he struggles to command it. He has a bit of a slingshot motion and his release points are all over the place. His breaking stuff is still raw, but he did spin a few decent pitches. Grullon has a very good move to 1B, and actually looks quite comfortable on the mound.
Grullon took a line drive in the stomach and was forced out of the game, but flashed enough raw stuff to raise a few eyebrows. While Grullon is probably the least polished of the heralded international class of 2006, he is definitely a player to watch over the next few seasons. He needs to fill out a little (6' 5'', 185 lb.) and he needs to gain mechanical consistency, but you can see why Grullon was considered one of the best left-handed arms in the class of '06.
Kasey Kiker: Looked sharp, then average, and then sharp again in his game appearance last Friday. Kasey's fastball was sitting in the 88-92 mph range, but his change-up was the pitch to pay attention to. Kiker, known for his tenacity on the mound, was noticeably upset with himself after his up-and-down performance.
I wasn't paying much attention to the first part of Kiker's inning of work (I was watching a side session on the neighboring field), but according to those who did see it, Kiker was very sharp. He was locating his fastball and using his change-up to confuse hitters. Then, when his mechanics started to falter, so did his performance. Kiker struggled to locate his fastball and was falling behind in the count.
After a mound visit and some instruction, Kiker was able to right the ship and once again flashed that first-round talent by finishing up the inning with force. I spoke with Kiker after the start and he wasn't pleased with his performance, but that stuff doesn't stay with him. He was already looking forward to his next appearance and focusing on what he needed to do to improve.
Next year will be a huge season for Kiker. He should start the season in the Double-A Frisco rotation alongside the power duo of Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz.
Michael Main: Wow. Where to begin?
Main turned in perhaps the most exciting performance so far in Surprise by pitching three dominant innings of one-hit ball. Main's fastball is obviously a plus pitch, sitting in the 93-95 mph range with explosive movement. His curve, another potential plus pitch, has excellent depth and a tight rotation that he has very good command of. He only flashed a few change-ups, but his arm action remained consistent and the pitch, although the weakest of his three, still showed some promise.
I charted Main's three innings:
|Michael Main Pitch Chart - Fall Instructional League|
|1st||A||- - -||- - -||- - -|
|93 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Swinging|
|94 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Swinging|
|C||93 mph||Fastball||Fielder's Choice|
|87 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Swinging|
|94 mph||Fastball||Strikeout Looking|
|93 mph*||Fastball||Strikeout Swinging|
|Note: Main's final pitch (denoted by a *) registered at 96 mph on the Rangers' radar gun.|
As you can see, Main can change speeds with his fastball, he can locate his pitches, and when the situation calls for it, Main can reach back and blow hitters away. Very impressive.
I'll say this about Main: he has a cool confidence that most young pitchers don't have. He has a certain swagger, but it doesn't read as cockiness. It's a delicate balance, but one that Main handles with a natural ease. He's a very special player and he knows it. The thing with Main is that he doesn't seem to care if you notice it or not. He's not trying to champion himself. Main talks with his arm, not his mouth.
After watching Main's performance, speaking with other players and coaches, and speaking with the Mannish Boy himself, I can safely say that Michael Main is a top-five prospect in this system and definitely one of the brightest pitching stars in the minors.