1) Randol Rojas jumps into the Spokane rotation.
Rojas’ inclusion in the Spokane rotation isn’t a surprise as it currently stands, but when he signed with the Rangers, he certainly wasn’t considered among the club’s top young Latin American arms.
The 19-year-old signed just prior to the 2009 campaign for a few thousand dollars. While working in the Rangers’ throwing program, his low-80s fastball jumped into the upper-80s, and he showed plus command with advanced secondary stuff. The end result was an 8-0 record and a 0.80 ERA, leading to Co-DSL Pitcher of the Year honors.
Rojas has plenty of life on his entire arsenal, which includes an 89-91 mph fastball with late run and sink, a mature 76-79 mph curveball, and an 80-82 mph changeup. Rojas shows some feel for his change, but it’s the beyond-his-years curve that makes his arsenal impressive. The breaking pitch is a sharp, tight spinner with good depth and late drop.
Overall, the Venezuela native doesn’t have a top-of-the-rotation ceiling, but he is advanced and should succeed with the Indians.
2) Other Dominican Summer League players jump above the AZL.
In addition to Rojas, pitchers Denny Peralta and Francisco Mendoza and catcher Yefry Castillo will also skip past the rookie-level Arizona League. Peralta and Castillo in particular aren't considered top prospects, but both are advanced players given their level of experience.
Peralta turned heads with a superb performance at Fall Instructional League after last season. Despite his 6-foot-4 frame, the right-hander doesn’t get much angle on his fastball. Regardless, he pounds the strike zone with his 87-90 mph fastball, sharp 76-79 mph curveball, and excellent low-80s changeup.
The 20-year-old commands his curveball extremely well in that he can throw it for strikes and bury it in the dirt to chase strikeouts when necessary. His changeup may be his most impressive offering, with plenty of deception and movement. Because Peralta’s fastball is far from overpowering, his ability to spot the pitch down and on the corners will likely dictate his success.
3) Johan Yan gets back to Spokane––as a sidearming reliever.
After posting a .207 batting average with 176 strikeouts in 126 career games over three summers at the rookie-level AZL and short-season Spokane, the Rangers turned Yan into a pitcher.
Yan got his first game experience as a pitcher last summer, putting up a 9.36 ERA in 25 innings. He allowed 31 hits while walking 17 and striking out 21. The Dominican Republic native worked in the upper-80s with some sink, but he didn’t have much command or feel for offspeed stuff.
This year, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound specimen is trying it from the sidearm angle––and the early results have been strong. During an outing against Cleveland late in Extended Spring Training, Yan tossed 1.2 hitless innings, walking one and striking out four.
Sidearming Latin American pitchers aren’t typical, but Yan just might have a little Cody Eppley in him. He can lose his arm slot from time to time––which isn’t surprising given that he’s still learning––but the stuff is decent. The 21-year-old throws his fastball anywhere between 84-88 mph with plenty of sink and run into right-handed hitters. He also has a sweeping 76-79 mph slider.
Yan’s command from the sidearm angle has been better than it was overhand. He remains a long-shot, but the change is an improvement and has been intriguing.
1) How will Jurickson Profar perform against much older competition?
Profar is certainly the number one topic and top question on everyone’s mind regarding the Spokane club. After signing with the Rangers for a club-record $1.55 million bonus last summer, the 17-year-old has been impressive in complex leagues.
The club feels the Curacao native is advanced enough to handle the Northwest League because of his on-field maturity. Profar has an advanced approach, and while he struggles to square up breaking balls, he knows his limitations well and his swings and misses are few and far between.
Profar is a mature hitter from both sides of the plate, although he has plenty more pop from the right side and is more of a slap-singles guy left-handed right now. As a young hitter, Profar should improve from the left side with experience, but only time will tell.
He’ll play every day at shortstop, where his above-average [but not quite elite] range and arm strength should allow him to stay through his career. With a physically mature body for a prospect that just turned 17-years-old in Spring Training, Profar probably won’t be overmatched in the short-season league.
2) When will the Rangers’ top draft picks reach Spokane?
When first-round picks Jake Skole and Kellin Deglan signed last week, Rangers GM Jon Daniels announced the club’s expectations that both prospects would play in Spokane at some point this summer. But both players are starting in the Arizona League, and nobody is quite sure when they’ll reach the NWL.
Supplemental first-round selection Mike Olt, a third baseman from the University of Connecticut, is sure to join the Indians when he signs. The same goes for fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-round picks Justin Grimm [RHP – Georgia], Brett Nicholas [C – Missouri] and Jimmy Reyes [LHP – Elon].
3) Can Ovispo De Los Santos harness his stuff?
Ovispo De Los Santos has perhaps the most powerful arm in the Rangers’ minor league system. His fastball typically sits in the mid-90s, touching 98 and even 99 mph on occasion. He can evoke comparisons to Neftali Feliz, as his hard fastball has good life and his effortless motion is very Feliz-like.
But as there are many promising aspects of De Los Santos’ raw arm, he’s also much more of a thrower than a pitcher. The 22-year-old often doesn’t spot up with his fastball, and he tends to fall in love with the pitch. De Los Santos must learn to use his secondary stuff [including a low-80s slider and mid-80s changeup] both more often and more effectively.
One to Watch
Francisco Mendoza – The right-hander has not only come out of nowhere, but he’s also an excellent story. Mendoza had his career halted in 2008, when a truck ran over his leg in the Dominican Republic. At the time, Mendoza was told that he may never walk again.
The 6-foot-0, 175-pound hurler eventually got back on the mound, initially throwing in the low-70s when he began bullpen sessions. But with each time on the mound, Mendoza began picking up strength and velocity. He eventually began working in the low-90s and was impressive while returning to game action with the DSL Rangers last summer, posting a 1.45 ERA with six walks and 38 strikeouts in 37.1 innings.
During Extended Spring Training, Mendoza has been getting his fastball into the 93-94 mph range with consistency, even bumping 95 at times. The 22-year-old has a fast, loose arm, and he commands his fastball well. He also attacks hitters with a sharp, late-breaking slider that looks like a promising swing-and-miss pitch.
Mendoza is older than most prospects coming out of the Dominican Summer League, but he has overcome quite a bit just to reach the short-season A level, making himself into an intriguing relief prospect along the way.
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