It's no secret that 2012 is a make-or-break year for Double-A Frisco outfielder Engel Beltre––at least as far as his spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster is concerned. Now 22-years-old, Beltre is in his second season as a member of the club's 40-man roster. He's coming off a disastrous 2011 campaign in which he batted .231/.285/.300 in 118 games at Frisco.
While Beltre's offensive development came to a screeching halt last season, he continued to progress in the field. He's an above-average defender who covers plenty of ground and has an easy plus arm, giving him the ability to play all three outfield positions. He's also an above-average runner.
But none of that will matter much if Beltre doesn't develop as a hitter. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty swinger has always possessed the tools necessary for success. But his highly aggressive approach at the plate has also always left something to be desired. Although his hand-eye coordination enables him to make consistent contact, Beltre too often swings early in counts with little hint of a plan at the plate. He simply wasn't swinging at pitches he could drive last season, and the result was often weak contact.
The Dominican Republic native came into camp this season with a little more bulk in the mid-section of his body. While the added muscle has caused him to lose a tick of speed––he's not a burner, but still a good runner––it appears to be helping him put more of a charge into the ball.
Beltre's plate approach has also been better––both during spring training and early in the regular season. He's being more selective early in at-bats, which is putting him in more hitter-friendly counts. That will (and is) allowing him to see more pitches that he can drive into the gaps with his raw power.
On April 8 at Arkansas, Beltre went 1-for-4 with a triple and walk. He worked a nine-pitch free pass in extra innings before stealing second base and ultimately scoring the game-winning run. The normally free-swinging prospect saw 28 pitches in his five plate appearances during that game (5.6 per PA).
Beltre went 3-for-5 with two home runs and six RBI on Tuesday––another encouraging performance. Through six games, he's already tripled his home run total from all of last season. The strikeouts are a bit high right now (nine in six games), but his approach is still improved.
Now, the key for Beltre will be proving that he can maintain the improved approach throughout the season. If he does so, with his talent, the results should follow. But Beltre has never showed a consistently strong approach during his career––he actually set a career-high with 28 walks in the 118 games last season––so it'll be something worth monitoring throughout the year.
L - Snyder (0-1)
HR - Bianucci (4)
2-4, 3.0 GB
The Express played their longest game in terms of both innings and time since becoming a Triple-A franchise. Round Rock and Omaha needed 16 innings to decide the winner, and the game took five hours and 24 minutes to complete.
Speedy Storm Chasers outfielder Jarrod Dyson ended a string of 11 consecutive scoreless half-innings with his walkoff RBI triple against lefty Ben Snyder in the bottom of the 16th.
Despite being stuck with the loss, Snyder pitched well in long relief. He gave up just that one run in 3.2 innings.
Omaha did most of its damage against righty Mark Hamburger, who scuffled for the second consecutive start. Hamburger coughed up seven runs in three innings, allowing six hits, walking five, and striking out only one.
Tyler Tufts (2.2 IP), Michael Kirkman (1.1 IP) and Derek Hankins (2 IP) all followed with scoreless relief. Veteran Sean Green yielded one run in three innings, scattering six hits.
The Express offense did well to stay in the game, particularly during the early innings.
Third baseman Tom Mendonca had his best game yet in Triple-A, going 4-for-7 with a double. He also struck out three times. Yangervis Solarte (2/8, 2 2B) doubled twice while Joey Butler (1/5, 2B, 3 BB) added a two-bagger and walked three times.
DH Mike Bianucci, who was 2-for-8, launched his fourth home run of the young season––a three-run blast in the third inning.
Leadoff man Leonys Martin had three singles and a walk in eight plate appearances, and he also added an outfield assist at second base.
W - Grimm (2-0)
HR - Beltre (2, 3)
4-2, 1.0 GU
Frisco centerfielder Engel Beltre topped his 2011 home run total in one game on Tuesday evening. The prospect went 3-for-5 with two homers––including a grand slam––and six runs batted in. He now has three round-trippers on the season after hitting only one all of last year.
On the mound, Justin Grimm worked into the seventh inning while throwing 85 pitches (58 strikes). He yielded a run on four hits in 6.1 innings, walking two and striking out two.
The 23-year-old Grimm has the following line in two Double-A starts––11.2 ip, 6 h, 1 r, 3 bb, 12 k. He also induced nine groundouts versus four flyouts on Tuesday.
While Beltre had both of the RoughRiders' extra-base hits in the game, seven of the other eight hitters in the lineup got at least one knock.
Third baseman Mike Olt (2/5) singled twice while Brad Hawpe (1/3, BB) and Guilder Rodriguez (1/3, BB) both singled and walked once. Rodriguez added his first stolen base of the season.
Through six Double-A games, Olt is 6-for-24 (.250) with a home run, three walks, and 11 strikeouts.
Right-handed relievers Ryan Rodebaugh (1.2 IP) and Johan Yan (1 IP) threw strikes while tossing up scoreless ball to preserve the victory. Rodebaugh threw 16 of his 21 pitches for a strike, and Yan recorded 11-of-15.
L - Hendricks (0-1)
HR - Richmond (2)
2-2, 0.5 GB
The Pelicans and P-Nats combined for eight errors––four apiece––on Tuesday.
Five of Myrtle Beach's six runs would be unearned behind two miscues from shortstop Odubel Herrera, one from third baseman Christian Villanueva, and one from left fielder Jared Hoying.
Pelicans starter Kyle Hendricks allowed five runs––only one earned––in 3.2 innings, giving up five hits, walking three, and striking out two. Randy Henry then yielded an unearned run in 2.1 frames.
At the plate, nine-hole hitting right fielder Josh Richmond provided some pop by going 2-for-4 with a solo home run, his second of the year.
Tomas Telis (1/4, 3B, BB) and Christian Villanueva (1/4, 3B) both tripled while leadoff man Odubel Herrera singled three times in five plate appearances.
Making his first-career High-A appearance, righty reliever Ben Henry––the Rangers' 30th-round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft––fanned two in a perfect seventh inning. Joe Van Meter then recorded three strikeouts in two blank frames.
L - Faulkner (0-1)
HR - Akins (1)
4-2, 1.0 GB
Hickory got phenomenal long relief from righty sinkerballer Randol Rojas, but it wasn't enough to negate starter Andrew Faulkner's spotty control.
Faulkner, who was making his first official appearance above the rookie-level Arizona League, issued six walks and hit a batter in only 2.2 innings. The southpaw gave up four runs on two hits, striking out one.
Rojas followed by holding the Drive to just a lone single in 5.1 innings. He struck out four and walked one while inducing seven groundouts to one flyout.
The biggest offensive news for the Crawdads was right fielder Jordan Akins' first home run of the season––a solo shot in the eighth inning. He was 1-for-3 with a strikeout.
Centerfielder Chris Grayson raised his average to .400 with three singles in four trips, and he also stole his first base. Jorge Alfaro (2/4, 2B) and Luis Sardinas (2/4) also picked up a pair of hits.
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