A sobering but easy two-part Saturday morning exercise: first, check the Rangers' Cactus League record (hint: it's 6-15-1, the worst mark in the league), then recall the SI.com piece linked earlier this month in which statistician Sky Andrecheck concluded thusly: "In a nutshell, if your team is having an extremely surprising spring training (for good or for bad), you would do well to adjust your expectations accordingly by about three games." Prevailing baseball wisdom holds that spring training games don't matter, but in the team-projecting sense, maybe they do, and this is probably something that needs to be monitored ... whether we want to admit it or not:
● Rich Harden issued a mixed response to those who had been fretting over his pre-season velocity/results, running his fastball up to a spring-high 93.1 mph and finally acquiring some degree of command over his do-it-all change-up during his 5.2-inning, 102-pitch performance on Friday afternoon; on the flip side, scouts still deemed his command "erratic" overall, and he yielded five walks (T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com)
[Out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, I went back and checked out some in-game commentary from Harden's final spring training start last year with the Cubs. The consensus was that he looked utterly terrible, with his fastball sitting in the mid-to-high-80s -- sound familiar yet? -- seeming to imply that a disabled list visit was in order. The final outcome? Twenty-one innings pitched in the month of April 2009, comprising a grand total of 35 strikeouts (or an insane 39.3 percent strikeout rate), and an average fastball velocity of 91.7 mph. Maybe this velocity-focused apprehension on my part really was superfluous, after all.
In light of several reports voicing concern over his rigid mechanics, however, I don't think one can completely ignore the ongoing command/control issues. The thing about Harden is that he's not particularly adept at avoiding walks (actually, he's below average in this regard for his major league career, tip-toeing around the 4.0 BB/9 mark), and he's already fly ball-prone, meaning that if he's still missing his spots badly once the "bell rings" or, even worse, missing his spots badly up in the strike zone, he's going to end up behind in counts, he's going to end up getting banged around a little bit, and he's not going to be able to fully leverage his devastating change-up. Just one more thing worth monitoring.]
● Miscellaneous spring notes: Doug Mathis reportedly has the edge on the final spot in the Rangers' bullpen, with Brandon McCarthy almost certainly joining Derek Holland in Triple-A Oklahoma City's starting rotation ... Joaquin Arias leads Esteban German in the utility infielder roster battle, although Texas continues to monitor external options (including Augie Ojeda, whom the Diamondbacks don't seem too desperate to trade) ... The Rangers haven't yet decided whether to roll with Max Ramirez or Matt Brown as the backup first baseman; the organization's interest in Mike Lowell has cooled (T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com)
[Lends even more credence to the oft-referenced "gentleman's agreement" which holds that teams simply don't claim other teams' players off optional waivers; McCarthy, for better or for worse, doesn't even seem to be in the long-relief conversation, with manager Ron Washington recently citing the need for McCarthy to maintain his "routine" by starting. Well, okay then. Neither of the Arias/German and Ramirez/Brown battles really capture my interest, primarily because I can't fathom either winner being granted much leeway. I'll be mildly shocked if a victorious Arias retains a major league roster spot beyond June 1st. Brown can buy a little more time if he socks lefties, as he's apt to do.]
● ESPN.com's Keith Law on Martin Perez, whom he scouted earlier this week: "In his outing on Tuesday, Perez was 90-94 [mph], touching 96 [mph] on one pitch, dialing up for those 94s when he needed it. His change-up, ordinarily his best pitch, was inconsistent, and he overthrew the majority of them, leaving them straight and anywhere from 84-87 mph, although he did flash one plus change-up at 78 mph with good arm speed and outstanding late fade. His curveball was slow at 73-75 mph but had good rotation and true two-plane break.
"The Rangers have been working with Perez this spring on his feel for pitching, getting him to leave the big velocity in his pocket for when he needs it and avoid overthrowing that good change-up. He repeats his delivery well and was aggressive in attacking hitters; the physical comparisons to Johan Santana stand up well. He's a special prospect but I think 2011 is the earliest you might expect to see him in the majors." (Keith Law, ESPN.com)
[Other Insider-only scouting items from Law available here and here. Seems like an appropriate time to publish Jason Parks' abridged OFP (overall future potential) report on Martin Perez, which assigns present and future grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale (click here for more information): "Martin Perez: (55/63) with 60/65 fastball (91-94 mph; max 96 mph), 60/65 curveball, 50/60 change-up, and 60-grade control. Projection: Solid No. 2 starter at the major league level." That report and more coming up in the third weekly installment of "Professor Parks' Scouting Notebook" on Monday.]