On Wednesday, I was so pumped by what I saw out of Wilfredo Boscan that I was sure I’d just witnessed the best pitching performance I’d see on this trip.
On Thursday, Wilmer Font was even more impressive, and Martin Perez was right there as well.
On Saturday, a day on which the organization schedules games at 10 a.m. so that the players can have the second half of the day off, a whole battalion of pitching prospects gathered at about 9:30 to throw sides. Boscan and Font and Carlos Pimentel made up the first group, Perez followed with another half dozen guys, and 60 feet away stood Don Welke, and it occurred to me that it must have felt like Picasso standing in a museum featuring his own work. The international talent that Welke and A.J. Preller and their crew have brought into this system is phenomenal, and the pipeline keeps flowing. There’s no better time or place to appreciate that than at fall instructs.
What tends to get lost, unfairly, amid the Latin American signings and the trade acquisitions and the emergence of a guy like Derek Holland is how much upside there is in a guy acquired in the traditional manner like Michael Main. It turns out that his effort on Saturday was, along with the daily Justin Smoak Show, the best thing I saw this week.
Scott Eyre got the morning start and was really, really good, setting the Mariners down in order in two innings of work, striking out three and not letting a ball out of the infield. All his pitches were working. Healthy again, he’s someone you shouldn’t write off.
Main took the ball in the third and retired Seattle in order, throwing nothing but fastballs, sitting 92-95. He was overpowering. He broke out the curve in the fourth and kept everything down, giving up a groundball single but nothing else. He came out for the fifth — the only pitcher in the four games I was at who was given three full innings — and he made quick work of the Mariners, inducing a routine grounder to third and striking out the next two hitters, the final one looking.
Typically the handful of coaches on the field will stand from their chairs along the chain link fence and shake hands with a pitcher whose work is done out here when he reaches the dugout. When Main was done, however, every coach met Main halfway between the foul line and the dugout, shaking his hand with bigger smiles on their faces than the 19-year-old had on his. It wasn’t until the final handshake that Main let his game face relax into a smile of his own.
He was heyday Tim Hudson.
The contrast between Main’s three innings and Johan Yan’s one was evident, but there’s a lot to like about Yan’s potential. On what was his 20th birthday, the lanky righthander faced four hitters and retired three on the ground.
Not unexpectedly, the ball explodes out of Yan’s hand, and mechanically he doesn’t look completely out of place. The breaking ball is very rudimentary, though, and this is going to be a process. But if he has the aptitude to learn how to be a pitcher, there’s some upside. The arm is electric.
Tim Murphy touched 93 with deception in his ninth-inning appearance, and showed a great pickoff move. His own error on a bunt down the first-base line gave Seattle a 3-2 lead, but he escaped further damage with a swinging strikeout and an inning-ending 4-3-2 putout, as a Marcus Lemon throw pulled first baseman Chad Tracy off the bag but Tracy was able to turn and cut down the runner from second trying to score on the play.
Lemon led off the bottom of the ninth with a base on balls, after which Engel Beltre popped out to third and Jared Bolden fanned, but Tracy, who reports to the Arizona Fall League in about a week, ended the game in walkoff fashion with a majestic blast over the fence in left center field, giving Texas a 4-3 win and a 4-0 record with me in the stands.
(The big club improved to 4-0 during the same span, too. Just about everyone did something notable tonight. Hank Blalock didn’t homer again but he did chip in with the club’s record-setting double. Josh Hamilton reclaimed the big league lead with 130 RBI. Chris Davis has hit .311 with 40 home runs and 128 RBI between Frisco, Oklahoma, and Texas.)
Another highlight of the morning was seeing Jake Brigham throw a side, healthy. He was really good his first two seasons before surgery wiped out 2008.
A workout or game in Surprise just wouldn’t feel right without Wayne Kirby being Wayne Kirby.
Root for a Mariners win or Nationals loss on Sunday, to ensure that the M’s don’t outdistance Washington for the first pick in the 2009 draft. We’re better off if Seattle doesn’t end up with Stephen Strasburg.
Truthfully, the best possible outcome would be if both Seattle and Washington lose, because a Mariners loss means Oakland will have won, and if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather have the A’s drafting 12th than any higher.
Prediction: the Angels will get the Rangers’ first-round draft pick in 2010.
My therapeutic four-day stay has ended, and I’m on my way back. The Rangers tee it up one final time with the Angels tomorrow afternoon, trying to finish the season with 80 wins (and five straight) and to deny Los Angeles its 100th. Then it’s time to start thinking about next season, and what changes will be made to the roster, particularly the pitching staff.
Of the 29 pitchers I saw throw out here, there are five at most who I think have even an outside chance to show up in Arlington in 2009.
But more than half of the pitchers I saw look to me like they are going to be in Arlington one day, and if not there then somewhere else in the big leagues. The pitching talent here is deep, is legitimate, and is spread out in several waves. The columnists in town who write a baseball piece once for every two dozen Cowboys columns won’t bother to focus on what’s happening on the minor league pitching mounds as the Rangers stay true to a plan that’s gaining momentum and gaining strength, but have faith: this thing is headed in the right direction.
You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.