Sunday, April 7, 2013

Frisco RoughRiders Preview

This should be quick as the  Frisco club is full of org guys this year.  Furthermore, at least for position players, there won't likely be a lot of mid-season promotions from the HighA side given the uber youth movement that has taken Myrtle Beach by storm coupled with the surprising (to me) promotion of Hanser Alberto, so, yeah, he's already there.  The only guy that looks primed for a promotion is Zach Cone and that is only if he does well enough to merit one, which is no sure thing.  So let's take a look at the position players.

HITTERS
Let's meet the org guys:   Buchholz, Zaneski, Telis, Strausborger, Hoying, Chiang, Guilder, Selen, Nicholas, Marquez Smith (likely on reserve list).  Some might make the argument that Hoying has a chance to be a 5th OF but most people don't seem to like him much in CF and even though he had a nice ST, he's unlikely to be anything more than an org guy.  Strausborger is a terrific defender who has even been tried at 2b to see if he might turn into some sort of 26th man but he can't hit and can't play short so, yeah.  The org, the pitchers and the coaches all love Zaneski as a backstop  by all accounts and all orgs love having decent organizational catchers make it to the upper minors who can both hit and catch, but, well, org guy. 

Telis, well, I thought Telis might be kept in the reserve/DL/extended purgatory in which he is the emergency catcher in the low minors  and short season/extended (of which there are always 3-4 by necessity), what with Deglan, Cantwell, Lyon, DiFazio, Zaneski, Maloney and Alfaro all crowding in around him.  He didn't  have a good year at the plate in HighA and he isn't a good catcher even though he's catchability improved last year.  Well here he is.  He gets pushed forward because there is no longer any room to get pushed backward in a deeply talented low minors system.  Guilder, what can you say about Guilder.  Texas loves this kid and will keep him in the upper minors and keep him in the JIC squad each ST as long as he can walk. He is the model org guy with the etched "model org guy" plaque to prove it. 

Selen is a masher with hands of stone.  I will be really interested to see if he can make consistent contact in AA because every minor league club needs a middle of the order bat that can keep a club competitive.  Those kinds of bats, even if they can't progress past highA or AA, are a necessary part of putting together positive, competitive, winning teams, and clubs are always looking for them.  Brett Nicholas could be another one of those guys.  He got a long look early in ST and as a JIC guy so he either did well or is a hard worker that the club likes. 

Before we move on to the actual prospects versus the org guys, please permit a slight digression to talk about the "process" (or a rhizome from it) by way of Brett Nicholas, a 2010 draftee.  Nicholas was one of the first non-Division I kids who I can recall Texas taking in the top 15 or so rounds.  I guess  this was a Preller-Welke-Fagg move as they are in love with their "process".  It was a strange shift in philosophy but it seems to have the following logic.  Rounds 6-15 are usually limited to finding org guys for depth, HS reaches who will sign for slot, and bullpen arms (outside of guys he fell).  The position players in that range are all decent college players but the seniors lack any projection so you pick up any signable juniors left on your board and then move on to the seniors. 

Texas seems to have reconfigured the landscape just a bit by trying to squeeze any last bit of projection out of it by keeping an eye on colleges outside of Division I sports.  As an organization who believes that is is only the ABSENCE of their own vaunted development process that stands in the way of turning a tool shed with no particular feel for baseball into a ML regular, you can understand why the private religious schools in the backwoods of Appalachia might have had some appeal for them.  Now given that we didn't see many of these types of kids selected in the 2012 draft, one might write the trend off as a passing fancy, written off by the Texas development staff upon review.  But the madness to their method might just have hit on something even if the payoff is only slight, or, at least, slightly different, and only with respect to finding productive run-producing org guys to anchor mid-level teams, or to put it a different way, to anchor winners.  

In 2011, Texas chose a number of these kids:  Maloney, Adams, Rua, Grayson.  None of them are prospects per say but the election by the club to choose these raw players of many seniors and some juniors has paid some dividends for the club.  If Nicholas can hit AA pitching, he might be the kind of run producing bat that full-season clubs love to have.  The same applies to Maloney and Adams and Rua and less so for Grayson, though he brings something different to the table with his atheticism (though he's instincts in the field are poor).  It is probably the case that the new 2012 draft rules put an end to any further mining of this strange little market inefficiency.  I guess we'll know more after the draft and after the season as we check in on our small school sample size.

Now let's meet the players with some projection.  Let's do Hanser last as he is a little bit of a puzzle to me, maybe only to me.  Let's start with two of the most underrated players in the system, David Herrera and Teo Martinez (T-mart).  Both former j2 signs hit for average and a little pop as 20 year olds in HighA but no one seemed to notice.  Both players are above average defenders at up-the-middle positions.  Hererra gets dinged as he flopped at shortstop last year.  That experiment ended at mid-season and likely negatively affected him at the plate but it might serve him well later if he gradually improves enough to be considered a UTINF candidate in a couple of years. 

Maybe he won't improve enough to man that role, and if not, he'll have to hit to be something more than a very good org guy.  Most pundits suggest that Herrera won't hit enough to become a fringe-average second basement, and that would be his ceiling.  I think it is too early to say whether his hit tool is maxed out or not.  I will say that he likely turns into the next Solarte, a 2b/LF type, or stated another way, the 26th man.   

As for T-Mart, he showed surprising pop in HighA for such a small kid and that pop may or may not show up in AA this year or next, assuming he gets stronger.  His ceiling would be a 5th OF on a NL club, another 26th man kind of kid.  So while T-Mart is less intriguing to me that Herrera, he's a kid to keep an eye on. 

The rule of thumb for me when it comes to j2 signs is this:  Any kid you sign for under 200k likely only has a ceiling as a fringe-average starter.  Most will never make it past AA while many more won't make it our of SS ball of event the DSL.  If you have a few kids like T-Mart, Dubel, Selen and T&T who make it to AA and still have some projection left then it was a wildly successful signing.  Scouting a 15yo and moving him through to AA is a mean feat.  After all, look at some of the other j2 kids who just missed this year (Yefrey Castillo, Jhonny Gomez, Santiago Chirino)  and you'll see how hard it is to make it out of HighA and just how good the post-2006 Rangers were at finding these sub-500k gems.   Only later did they become real players for prospect bling, the 7-figure cats.

Ok this is already much too long, but I have Hanser and pitching left to mine, so here goes:   Hanser Alberto.

 When Alberto first came into the system people marveled at his barrel awareness, quick hands and contact ability (.841 OPS, DSL, Instructs and ST wunderkind).  Though he swung at everything, he hit it too, and he was young, so he would learn.  Later, he got fat, and slow, and didn't look like a SS anymore and people, but especially opposing pitchers,  started to see some holes in his hit tool (.629 OPS, A-), as his poor approach, over-aggressiveness and lack of pitch recognition seemed much more vulnerable as the repertoires advanced against him.  More recently (Last year: .849 LowA, 62g), he looked like a shortstop again, though his squatty frame had never been ideal for the position, people believed he could stick there for now, and at the very least be able to lock down a spot as a 25th man some day.  Then he got promoted to HighA (.635 OPS, 66g; 2bb/27so).  He flopped.

 His approach didn't work there and his walk to strikeout ratio, in addition to his counting #s took a huge hit.  So count me as surprised that Hanser got promoted to AA.  Either he was another instructs/ST superstar, which may or may not translate into actual performance vs much better talent, or the club had to move him a long to make room for the high projection kids.  I thought he would stick in HighA for the first few months. 

Remember that HighA to AA is the hardest level jump in the minors and his #s suggest he is not ready and furthermore that he probably doesn't have the ceiling to start rather he is likely, like Herrera and Teo, a prospect with a reserve ceiling, but unlike Herrera, he might have the higher likelihood to snag a UTINF role down the line because of his ability to play short - unless he gets fat.  But more interesting to me is this:  Between 'Dubel and 'Berto, which could do you think will have the highest OPS by season's end?  I'm going to go out on a limb and say 'Dubel will do it, despite his SO rate in HighA.  There I said it.  But then, 'Berto is a bit of an enigma for me. 

ROTATION
OK so this will be relatively quick. Cody Buckel,  is the only starter prospect.  That is all. 

Despite the fact that the kid had an abysmal ST and a terrible first start, struggling to throw strikes in every appearance, it is still very uncharacteristic of him.  What is wrong with him?  I'm assuming he is mechanically out of wack and that is all but only time will tell.  This isn't Matt Thompson here, at least, not yet.

The other members of the roto are journeyman Pucetas and Feierabend with Pimentel and NeRa being the bullpen arms soon to be moved to the pen when Jackson and some other candidate get promoted from HighA (or from within).   So let's just group NeRa with the bullpen group and talk about that much more interesting group of kids.

BULLPEN
So basically, this group of kids, is really, 'nowdays, the meat of the Texas pitching depth.  And that is kind of sad right?  I think so, but taking a glass half full approach, they have a lot of hard-throwing arms in the system right now.  Taking the half-empty approach, a lot of these arms are unlikely to become late inning arms - or at least closers - due to their command profiles.  

Command profiles change when moving from a 4 pitch pitcher to a 2 pitch pitcher (for one inning), I know, so you could argue there is still room to be hopeful.  But then, do you have confidence in Tanner Scheppers to become a closer?  I don't.  What about a setup arm?  I don't.  But that is just me and he has already be awarded a co-setup role by default already so you could say that I've already been proven wrong.  But I'll stick to my guns and say that his command profile will be erratic this season and that he is and will be best suite to a 7th inning role with 8th-inning mop-ups when he is "ON".  This is likely the same fate for many of the hard-throwing guys in the system (perhaps every system), but I guess I'll take the plus plus fastball in the 7th than not at all. 

So, my  presumption for NeRa, even before his erratic Spring (preceded by an erratic season, and before that by half of half a season of inefficient over-hyped flashes of brilliance in AAA) was that he would be in the AAA pen. I don't think he would be in the AA roto, if the team had the rotation depth to fill those spots with other pithers.  Basically, NeRa's fate will be the same as Font's and Brigham's.  Brigham has labored as starter and been poked and prodded and revised and recalibrated for a couple of years beyond his shelf value as a starter and NeRa is now at that point.  NeRa's breaking ball has regressed along with his mechanics but his velo is back and his changeup might just still be there.

  Whatever he is, he is a bullpen arm.  What kind of bullpen arm remains to be seen but the club should fast track him into a bullpen role so he can pitch out solely out of the stretch, get comfy with whatever secondary pitch works for him and start blowing heat by bewildered hitters.  Is it really that complicated?  The club's realization about Brigham came slowly and we'll finally get to see if Brigham can throw strikes with 97mph gas or not.  I only ask what took the org brain so long to tell the PROCESS to fuck off?  It didn't take it long to fast-track Roman Mendez, but maybe only chronic injury is enough to to reboot the PROCESS' big brain.  At least it listens on occasion but I'd sure like to have seen Brigham and NeRa trying to close out games the last couple of years rather than hoping the figure it out tin the roto.  But, hey, that's just me.  

Roman Mendez's chronic shoulder issues in both 2010 and 2012 necessitated a mechanical reboot last year after which he pitched out of the pen.  Coupled with his recent elbow fracture in October (similar to Strop I think) the reasons for moving Mendez into the pen full time may have become undeniable and that will prove to be a good thing.  With a plus plus FB out of the pen and a slider that flashes plus, I expect to see Mendez real soon, or at least in AAA, and then again, in September. 

Font is a little different story.  Font's success last year was both real and a bit of a mirage.  Font pitched most of the year as a 1 pitch pitcher.  Normally that would be disadvantageous but when you one pitch clicks in at 99mph, well, there are exceptions.  Font's manly fastball overpowered the kiddos, in this his second go 'round in HighA, so, despite the fact that he had no feel for his secondaries, and didn't throw them, he was promoted, and, yet still, no one could scarcely touch his one-pitch reperoire.  EXCITING.  And unnerving.  Would he get a feel for his secondaries?  Would his changeup reemerge as is second pitch?  Would he have to ditch his CB for a slurvy thingy?  The vedict is still out. 

However, it appears that, whatever the plans might have been for the Org's brain to stick the process and put Font back in the roto for another year or two, his poor spring (if not poor offseason) and his age, likely thwarted any inclination to linger on any FONT AS TORP fantasies and simple hope that he could command his FB and find some semblance of an off-speed pitch.  We are still waiting. Will Font flame out with that MANLY fastball, losing confidence to dominate folks even when he doesn't need to  command it well in he zone to do so as he continues to fail with his secs?  Time will tell but he started the Spring behind the hitters with bicep tendonitis so maybe the manchild will burst onto the scene in a couple of months take AAA by storm and pitch in the show by 8/1.  One can dream, as long as it is not of FONT THE TORP; FONT THE MANCHILD will suffice.

Texas scouts loved Randy Henry when they acquired him from Baltimore for Teagarden, what with his starter's repertoire and pitchability.  They gave him a shot at the roto and while he fared OK he didn't excel with his FB playing down in that role.  He's back in the pen and he should still be a prospect with some upside who has decent velo.  Of the remaining guys, Texas seems to love the submariner Rowen, with Jimmy Reyes likely being an LH org guy (who is, did I mention, LH), while Ryan Rodebaugh might be the man of mystery on the staff.  I expected him to make the AAA staff if not compete for a 7th-inning role on the ML staff after he dominated AA last year but I heard nary a peep about him during the Spring.  Maybe he was injured, was scuffling, or regressed unexpectedly. 


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OK, thankfully, that is is all for AA folks. 

Cheers!


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