Surprise report, v.3.

At some point each March I write about the sensory overload that the back fields will hit you with between the eyes, as four diamonds are buzzing with activity simultaneously, while four or five pitchers are busy throwing sides just a hundred feet away.  You just can’t see everything you want to see, and each year lately there’s more you’re sick about missing.

The scene Monday morning around the Eagle’s Nest on the back fields was ridiculous.  With minor league camp just a few days old and games not set to get underway until Thursday, pitchers have been getting their work in by warming up in four-barrel bullpen mode and then taking the hill on one of the four fields, pitching to hitters in what are called “tracking sessions,” simulated pitcher-to-hitter confrontations where the bats stay on shoulders.  Part of the objective is to get hitters used to seeing pitches for a few days; the other is for pitchers to get their early work in with more than just a catcher on the other end.

The Rangers had half of the minor league pitchers in camp throw tracking on Monday, close to 40 arms that moved swiftly in groups of four, first alongside each other in the bullpen and then each to one of the four fields fanning out from the Eagle’s Nest, with motorized efficiency.  This was “Group II” on Monday, and I’d be shocked if there are more than a couple organizations in baseball with as deep a stable of pitching prospects as yesterday’s half of the Rangers’ mound inventory that got their work in.  Martin Perez threw yesterday morning.  As did Michael Main.  Blake Beavan and Wilfredo Boscan.  Joe Wieland, Kennil Gomez, Corey Young.  Braden Tullis, Richard Bleier, Richard Alvarez, Edwin Escobar, Matt Thompson.  Robbie Erlin and Chad Bell and Tanner Roark, Beau Jones and Randol Rojas and Nick McBride.  To name a few.

Maybe the most celebrated onetime two-way player among the Rangers’ pitching prospects is Main, who had teams interested in drafting him in 2007’s first round as a center fielder.  Certainly the least heralded of the players Texas has converted from the field to the mound is 21-year-old Tim Steggall, who is four months older than Main but has yet to play a professional inning.  Three years after Main was the Rangers’ second first-round pick, the unimposing Steggall is in camp as an undrafted free agent signed toward the end of the 2009 season after a career as an infielder for the University of Puget Sound, Central Arizona Junior College, and UTA.  Nobody drafted the .255-hitting shortstop.  But Texas scout Jay Eddings liked the arm.  

Main and Steggall got loose alongside each other as part of one of the first foursomes.  Once they moved to the fields, Main to the southwest diamond and Steggall to the northwest, I headed straight for Main’s field to see how he looked (he remains a favorite, even though he has yet to put together that breakout season I’ve been hoping for), but found myself darting a glance over at Steggall’s field several times.  Main didn’t have his top command but looked physically strong (key for him) and had his fastball life back.  Steggall didn’t strike the same figure, nor should he have.  He’s a project without much projection, but there’s some pop in that arm, and while any anticipation of what he might do pales substantially in comparison to what Main might do in 2010, he’s an intriguing story nonetheless, a guy fighting to prove a scout and an organization right as he tries to make himself a prospect in a system as heavy on pitching prospects and as light on soldiers as it’s ever been.

Watching Martin Perez pitch, no matter the nature of the drill, is an exercise in astronomy.  As for this scene:


It isn’t going to last much longer.  Perez can still blend into a crowd.  For now.

As Perez was warming up, 100 feet away Alvarez (whose comparisons to Perez are as unfair as Perez’s to Johan Santana) looked like he’d put on a few pounds since last summer and was sitting a tick or two higher on his fastball.  

Boscan is definitely bigger.  Good bigger.  Still love watching that guy pitch.

Ever sat around a table in a quiet, methodical, business-like meeting at work, come up with a reasonably good idea before the group, and everyone unexpectedly started hollering and laughing in celebration?  Your good idea would have been the equivalent of a Matt Thompson curve ball.  

I don’t know how much bigger the 5-foot, something-inch righthander Rojas (the 2009 Dominican Summer League Co-Pitcher of the Year: 8-0, 0.80, 48/6 K/BB in 67.1 innings) is going to be, but the 19-year-old Venezuelan was impressive in his tracking session.  Rojas may be more polish than projection, but there’s something there.

Among the hitters who stood in against Rojas was fellow 5-foot, something-inch, 160-pounder Teo “Cafe” Martinez, an interesting center field prospect whose father, Carlos Martinez, was just as skinny but played in the big leagues at 6’5″.  Have to wonder if Cafe, who turns 18 today, isn’t finished growing.

Neil Ramirez didn’t throw yesterday, but his name is coming up a lot this week.  In a positive way.

Observations on three lefthanders: (1) Erlin may not be generating as much buzz as a guy like Ramirez, but I’m not sure he shouldn’t be.  The Robbie Ross comps are practically inevitable given his size and handedness, and if Erlin were to flourish in his first full season (2010) the way Ross did in his (2009), it won’t surprise me at all. (2) It’s unfair of me to keep saying I wish lefthander Escobar were three inches taller.  (Hey, I wish Julio Borbon threw better, too.)  There’s a real good chance I’m wrong about Escobar. (3) Bell isn’t the kind of pitcher who will dazzle in a bullpen or tracking session, but he’s impressive.  Deep assortment, good size with maybe a little projection, mound savvy.

Jason Parks has been posting his own Surprise scouting reports on Rangers prospects at  Always worth checking out what Professor Parks has to say.  These aren’t your average fan observations, or even your above-average fan observations.  These are scouting reports.

This is one of the bigger days in camp as far as roster battles are concerned.  C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz are each slated to go four innings against the Cubs as they try to sustain their shots at a rotation spot.  On the to-do list for Wilson: greater first-pitch strike efficiency.  On Feliz’s: better command of his secondary offerings.

I didn’t see Rich Harden’s effort last night, but it sounded like a mixed bag, better late than early in his 3.32-inning, 80-pitch (50-strike) effort.  The Harden ERA is now 9.72, but he and Ron Washington sound less concerned with the results than the upticks in velocity, pitch counts, arm strength, and consistency.

X-rays on Josh Hamilton’s left wrist (after he’d been drilled by Giants starter Madison Bumgarner) came back negative.  He’ll likely be held out of action a couple days.

Ben Sheets allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in Oakland’s game against Cincinnati yesterday, getting chased without recording an out.  His spring ERA is now 31.15 (15 earned runs in 4.1 innings).

Texas decided not to make a first round of reassignments yesterday, as had been speculated
in several local reports.  Other teams are a couple days into widespread options, and the Rangers should follow suit later this week.

Among the Braves’ first cuts: reliever Steve Marek, optioned for the second straight March to Atlanta’s AAA club.  He was half of what the Braves got for Mark Teixeira, along with Casey Kotchman, one year and two days after they’d shipped Elvis Andrus, Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Beau Jones to Texas for Teixeira and Ron Mahay.

Arizona signed Kris Benson to a minor league contract.  The Dodgers reassigned Eric Gagne to minor league camp.  Milwaukee did the same with A.J. Murray, and the Mets did so with R.A. Dickey.

The Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association released outfielder Anthony Webster

I believe the tracking sessions give way to live BP on the back fields this morning.  Should have more hitter observations for you tomorrow.


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(c) Jamey Newberg
Twitter  @newbergreport

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