Three surprises: By far the biggest surprise here is the fact that Cristian Santana is listed as an outfielder. A catcher for his entire – but short – pro career, Santana was looked at by some teams as a centerfielder when he was an international free agent just a few years back. But Santana's move to the outfield may not be a permanent one. He has struggled with injuries – including missing the entire 2006 season after shoulder surgery – and this may be a way to keep some of the constant stress off his arm. Either way, it is interesting to see Santana patrolling the outfield for Clinton. Whether or not Santana will still catch occasionally in 2008 remains to be seen.
It also appears that 19-year-old fireballer Fabio Castillo will begin the season in the Clinton bullpen. Castillo is not likely to stay there, but the move was probably made to help ease him into full-season ball. After pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2006, Castillo had only 62.1 innings with short-season Spokane last year. Don't expect the righty to work in short relief, though. It would make sense for Castillo to be a long reliever, allowing him to still get three-to-four innings of work per outing.
The only surprise from a personnel standpoint is the omission of first baseman Mitch Moreland, who spent much of the spring working out with Clinton. Moreland could go to Bakersfield, but he hasn't been known as an extremely advanced hitter and Mauro Gomez will be the everyday first baseman for the Blaze. Outfielder Tim Rodriguez reportedly had a strong spring, but he also wasn't included in the opening day roster. Rodriguez played with short-season Spokane last year, but the Clinton outfield is already loaded with five strong prospects.
Three stories to follow: As previously mentioned, the Clinton outfield will be one of the strongest positions in the organization this year. Although only two of the outfielders – Engel Beltre and Cristian Santana – were top 50 prospects this offseason, the other three [Miguel Alfonzo, David Paisano, and Tim Smith] were not far off. Both Alfonzo and Smith have done some impressing on the back fields of the Rangers' minor league complex. Alfonzo appeared to be one of the AZL Rangers' more advanced hitters last summer while Tim Smith opened eyes at instructs this past offseason.
Jonathan Greene has arguably the most raw power of any 2007 Rangers draftee. Greene's numbers with Spokane last summer were a bit misleading, as he had never worked as a full-time catcher until he signed with the Rangers. Greene's body wore down and he batted just .189 in his final 95 at-bats of the year. But Greene hit .306 with nine doubles and seven home runs in 108 at-bats through June and July. With three catchers in the Clinton roster – not including Cristian Santana – and no natural third basemen, Greene could see the majority of his time at the much less-tiring third base position this season.
The L-Kings have an organization-high six top 50 prospects on their pitching staff. That includes four [Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Jorge Quintero, and Evan Reed] in the starting rotation. Feliz and Reed are well-known as top prospects, but Derek Holland and Jorge Quintero could join them by the end of the year. Holland placed second in the Northwest League with 83 strikeouts last summer and Quintero posted a 1.45 ERA between the rookie league and High-A Bakersfield.
One to watch: Kennil Gomez. When people run down the list of high-talent pitchers recently signed out of Latin America, Gomez rarely – if ever – is mentioned. But the righty, who turns 20-years-old about a week after opening day, has outstanding stuff and should not be overlooked. Gomez has a strong low-90s fastball with good movement and a plus slider, which could be the system's most underrated pitch. He posted dominant numbers out of the bullpen in rookie ball last year and the Rangers felt he was advanced enough to skip past Spokane.
The L-Kings open their season with a home game against Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 3. First pitch will be at 7:00 p.m. Central.
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