Surprise report, v.6.

At 3:58 Thursday afternoon, on the batting practice field behind the Batting Practice Field, Vladimir Guerrero stepped in against Ron Washington to take his cuts in preparation for the night’s game.

Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  

Just 150 feet away, on the nearest of the four bullpen mounds, stood Alexi Ogando, stepping to the hill to get loose for entry into the B game that was a little more than halfway done.

Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.

Today the 35-year-old slugger and the 26-year-old hurler from Dominican towns 60 miles apart have little in common other than the sound of bat on ball and ball on mitt, but that wasn’t always the case.

The December 11, 2005 Newberg Report, days after that winter’s Rule 5 Draft:

Outfielder Alexi Ogando, whom Texas acquired in the AAA phase of the draft out of Oakland’s system, is fascinating.  Not long ago, he was ranked right with and sometimes ahead of A’s outfield prospect Javier Herrera, who went into the 2005 season as their number three prospect.  But the player that some scouts have compared physically to a young Vladimir Guerrero missed the 2005 season due to visa problems and there remains a risk that he won’t be able to cure them for the 2006 season.  Still, it’s a terrific $12,000 risk for Texas to take.  His power to all fields is judged to be major league average right now — despite the fact that the 22-year-old has yet to play above Short-Season A — and his right field arm is among the strongest in organized ball.  The 6’5″ outfielder hails from shortstop hotbed San Pedro de Macoris.

The Rangers planned at the time of the draft to take Ogando and make a pitcher out of him.  Bet they never envisioned that they’d have Guerrero in a Texas uniform before they could get Ogando to the States, but they’re both here now, and both are going to make an impact on the big league club in 2010.

Between 2006 and 2009, Ogando — quarantined in his homeland and denied re-entry into the United States due to the visa-marriage scam he got caught up in, and even rumored at one time to be considered for sale to the Japanese leagues when Texas wasn’t sure the immigration issue would ever get cleared up — put up absurd Dominican Summer League stats that were the pitching equivalent of the offensive numbers Guerrero terrorized the Rangers with over the same period.  In 81 relief innings, featuring crazy command of a lively upper-90s fastball and a devastating slider, Ogando allowed 65 hits (.223 opponents’ average), including just one home run, and issued only 10 unintentional walks, striking out 114.  That’s one walk per nine innings, and nearly 13 strikeouts per nine.  Tack on 2.4 groundouts for every flyout (a ratio that actually sat at 10:1 in 2009).  Sensational, despite the level of competition.

I’d seen Omar Beltre pitch years ago before he was lost to the same immigration snafu, but I’d never seen Ogando pitch, and there was a reason I had him near the top of my list of “32 Things” a week ago today:

2.      Alexi Ogando.  Omar Beltre, too.  But Ogando has a better chance to make me come away from Surprise with the same feeling I got after seeing Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland, and [Tanner] Scheppers for the first time in camp.

As Ogando got loose, I paid little attention to the Guerrero BP session (though the systematic report was hard to ignore) or the difficult inning Edwar Ramirez was fighting through in the B game that Ogando was preparing to enter.  I was watching the lanky righthander throw bullpen pitches.

He was standing on a remote mound in a remote part of a spring training complex in a remote town in Arizona.  I can’t begin to imagine how uniquely surreal that moment, because it was on United States soil, might have been for the 26-year-old, if he took a second to think about where he was and what he was doing as he finished his bullpen work and waited for the home half of the inning to wrap up.

The crowd for this informal Rangers-Brewers matchup, for which the scoreboard was never turned on and which featured at least two innings that rolled before three outs were recorded, featured lots of Texas and Milwaukee braintrust (including Brewers GM Doug Melvin and Assistant GM Gord Ash) and lots of media and lots of fans, many of whom had presumably carved out a plan to see Scheppers pitch.  He was impressive if a little inconsistent in his inning and two-thirds — keeping the ball down, showing an impressive slider and curve, touching 97 with his fastball — but Ogando gave the surprising crowd an extra reward for being there.

He needed 10 pitches to retire Milwaukee in order.  Nine were strikes.  Three swings and misses (two on the slider, one for strike three), a couple called strikes (both on the slider), two fouls back, a fastball low and in, and a couple harmless flyouts to right field.  

He’s going to help this year.  Scheppers will, too, and everyone is writing about that and making back field appointments to chronicle his ramp-up.  You won’t see many (any?) mainstream media writeups on Alexi Ogando this morning, even though he relieved in the same B game that Scheppers relieved in, but that’s a mistake.  They are both wildly part of the picture here, and soon, though neither has thrown so much as an official minor league pitch stateside.

There’s a reason that Scheppers and Ogando remain in big league camp, while Beltre and Kasey Kiker and Zach Phillips and Clay Rapada have been reassigned to the minor league side.  It’s no knock on the latter four, who weren’t going to make this club out of Surprise and are in need of innings that are becoming more scarce, but it says something about Scheppers and Ogando, who, like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland a year ago, are being kept around big league coaches and teammates and games just a little bit longer, by design.

One last trip to the back fields this morning, and I’ll dump some final spring training notes on you (as well as thoughts on the potential implications of the Tommy Hunter strained ribcage muscle and Matt Harrison performance last night) in the next report.

Stateside Alexi
Quietly making his case
For a short farm stay


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(c) Jamey Newberg
Twitter  @newbergreport

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