The Rangers' High-A affiliate opens the season with 13 pitchers, two catchers, seven infielders, and three outfielders. Five Bakersfield pitchers were included in Lone Star Dugout's top 50 Rangers prospects.
1) Phillips and Reed in the bullpen.
The Blaze have an incredibly talented starting rotation, and unfortunately that has caused a couple of talented pitchers to move to the bullpen this season. Both hurlers could benefit from the switch to the ‘pen by moving though the system quickly. Zach Phillips, a lefty, has a good two-seamer to go with an above-average curveball and an underrated changeup. Evan Reed, the Rangers' third round pick in the 2007 Draft, has a great pitcher's frame and he works between 92-94 mph as a reliever. If his slider continues to improve and he stays in the ‘pen, Reed could be a late-inning relief prospect.
2) Brennan Garr moving down.
Garr has been one of the Rangers' most promising relief prospects for the last couple of years, but he has officially taken a step back. The right-hander missed some time in 2008 because of arm troubles, but he returned and finished the season on a high note with Double-A Frisco. However, Garr had a very rough Spring Training, causing the Rangers to send him back to High-A Bakersfield, where he has not pitched since mid-2007. If Garr returns to form with the Blaze, the Rangers probably won't hesitate to re-promote him, but this current stint in Bakersfield could make or break his professional career.
3) Michael Kirkman.
Kirkman's inclusion in the Bakersfield rotation isn't much of a surprise, but because he's been on-and-off the field so much during his four previous professional seasons, the lefty may be the most forgotten about talent in the organization. Kirkman has a good upper-80s, low-90s fastball to go with a solid assortment of offspeed stuff. The 6-foot-4 sotuhpaw proved to be over his past control issues with Clinton last season, and he could be primed for a breakout season in 2009.
Three stories to follow
1) Corey Young's movement.
Left-handed reliever Corey Young could easily become the Rangers' first 2008 draft pick to reach the Major Leagues. Young, who throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, has a plus curveball and is incredibly tough on left-handed hitters. The Seton Hall product had an outstanding Spring Training [he didn't allow a single baserunner] and the Rangers probably won't be shy about moving him quickly, especially since there is a shortage of lefty relievers in the organization.
2) Tim Murphy: This season's Tommy Hunter?
While Young is likely the Rangers' most polished reliever from the 2008 draft class, Tim Murphy is probably the most developed starter. A former UCLA Bruin, the 21-year-old Murphy has a low-90s fastball and a good curveball. The Hunter comparison may not be fair -- Murphy is highly unlikely to watch the Majors this season -- but he has an excellent chance to be in Frisco before the first half is over.
3) The health of Kennil Gomez.
Gomez missed much of the second half last season with a shoulder issue, but after some much-needed rest and rehab, the 21-year-old was able to avoid surgery and break camp in the Bakersfield rotation. The Rangers may want to keep a watchful eye on Gomez's workload this season, and the sinkerballer's progress with the Blaze will be interesting to watch. If he is fully healthy, and stays healthy, Gomez should have little problem with the California League.
One to watch
Tim Smith is exactly the type of player that could have a breakout season in the California League. The 6-foot-3 outfielder has a solid approach, above-average raw power, and decent speed. Smith could potentially bat .300 with 20-25 home runs and 15 stolen bases if he spends all season in the Cal League.