Over the next nine days I will profile the nine players that I encourage you to pay attention to during the '09 season. These players were not included on BBTiA's Top 25 Prospects list, and they all played in the Arizona Rookie League and above during the '08 season. I excluded all players that were not stateside in '08, but I will focus on the Dominican Summer League prospects before the minor league season begins.
The prospects that will be profiled might not be the biggest names, or have the highest ceilings, but they are the players that I think have a chance to take big steps forward during the '09 season. Who is on your list?
On my list so far:
Kennil Gomez doesn't really fit the description of an under-the-radar prospect (BBTiA ranked him 25th in the system this past June), but a shoulder injury ended his season in early July and basically removed Gomez from the off-season prospect discussions.
Despite the injury setback, Gomez's '08 season was anything but disappointing. After logging only 34.1 stateside innings in '07, Gomez made the jump from the AZL to full-season ball to start the '08 season. Not an easy assignment for the young 20-year-old.
In Clinton, Gomez found himself in a rotation that would soon produce two of the most promising arms in all of minor league baseball in Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland. While certainly eclipsed by their rise, Gomez's on-the-field performance was hardly dwarfed by the duo. In 88 innings, Gomez managed to produce a solid K/BB ratio (70/20), a .232 batting average against, and a ground-to-fly ball ratio of over 2-to-1. Basically, Gomez didn't dominate the competition, but his effectiveness was on par with the other top arms in the system.
Gomez has a sneaky fastball that usually sits in the low-90s, but appears much faster thanks to his arm action. That lightning-quick arm also helps generate tremendous movement resulting in weak contact and missed bats. His breaking ball, which is often identified as a curveball, slider, and/or slurve, has above-average potential. When thrown from a high three-quarters arm angle, the pitch has a tight rotation and vertical movement that suggests to me it is a curveball.
Some observers seem to believe he throws a slider, because the pitch will break horizontally and have slightly more velocity than the "curve." Honestly, it depends on the angle and the action. Due to his mechanical inconsistencies, his breaking ball can take on the characteristics of both a slider and a curveball, yet remains an effective pitch despite the varying arm angles. His change-up made progress during the season, and should give Gomez an above-average arsenal to work with as he continues to develop and refine.
While the weak shoulder that put Gomez on the shelf in '08 is a concern, his work ethic during the rehab was very encouraging. I spoke with Gomez at the team facility in Surprise and he said that he is working hard to be 100 percent by spring training. I think Gomez will start the season in the High-A Bakersfield rotation, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers hold him back in extended spring training to start the year.
Assuming the injury is behind him, I think Gomez has the arsenal and the make-up to take a big step forward in '09. Honestly, he is one of my favorite arms in the system. I don't think he is going to be a star, but I think he has a very good chance of reaching the major leagues.