SURPRISE, Ariz.—Just as it is during the regular season, judging a day’s work in spring training requires a magnifying glass.
Take these pitching lines from Tuesday, for example.
We’ll call them Player A and Player B.
Player A: 3 1/3 IP, 4 hits, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks
Player B: 4 IP, 2 hits, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks
Had these been the lines of starting pitchers walking a tightrope as spring training inched closer to its breakaway day and teams head north, the performances might have been met with raised eyebrows back in the coaches’ offices.
There are several pitchers still trying to earn spots this week, guys that survived Cut 1 and then Cut 2 and suddenly find themselves within reach of an airline ticket out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, from which I am filing this report.
For a handful of pitchers, such as college senior signs that know their respective organization will grow tired of them bubbling along in Class A ball, it must feel like being cattle-prodded ever closer to the chopping block.
Fortunately for our subjects at hand, they hold the ultimate trump cards, already assured assignments to the low Class A South Atlantic League and the other to the high Class A California League.
You’ve probably heard of them, Rangers prospects both.
Player A is lefthander Martin Perez; Player B is righthander Michael Main. We at BA have ranked them as the Nos. 5 and 8 prospects, respectively, in this year’s handbook.
No, their lines on the surface don’t appear incredibly spectacular, nor overly worrisome.
On a sunsplashed afternoon on the northwestern edge of metro Phoenix, with only a smattering of eyes on them, the mound time by Perez and Main may not have registered much to the naked eye or caused anyone to make one of those too-giddy phone calls back to the office to brag about what played out.
Which is now an ideal time to bring in that magnifying glass, to separate numbers from actual development after they were matched opposite Royals prospects.
Let’s start with Perez, a 6-foot, 165-pound, soon-to-be 18-year-old signed out of Venezuela for $580,000 in 2007. There were times when balls got left up and got sent to the outfield, with a misplay complicating the day. Another throwing error didn’t generate a run but did prolong the outing.
Yet take a look at Perez’s other line: 16 batters faced, 10 first-pitch strikes. He twice faced Royals 2008 first-rounder Eric Hosmer, whose first trip resulted in a swing-and-miss strikeout on three fastballs. The next time around, Hosmer reached on a double, on a ball that got over the center fielder’s head.
All in all, call it a snapshot of his outing, and low Class A Hickory pitching coach Brad Holman will take it.
“I thought his fastball command was good, considering everything,” Holman said. “As things speed up, his youthfulness comes out. He wants to push it a little bit. But I thought, in and out, he was good, especially with offspeed.”
To Holman, the smooth delivery was there. So, too, were Perez’s mid-90s fastballs buzzing in, sometimes just about the shoelaces of righthanders that couldn’t jerk back their bats in time.
Seize on that for a moment. Throwing inside will become an emphasis as Perez meanders through the minors. He threw 62 innings last year at short-season Spokane, striking out 53 and issuing 28 walks.
“His fastball is fine. It’s mid-90s. He repeats it well, and he doesn’t very often miss badly.” Holman said. “With Martin, he’s going to have to throw the ball sometimes not for strikes. He’s going to have to attack that inside a little more.”
It was then when Holman rightfully pointed out Perez’s youth, also noting that college and high school pitchers coming into pro ball have a similar learning curve, a result typically of facing aluminum bats.
“It’s something you have to make them do. And it’s not even for strikes,” Holman said. “It’s to take away hitters’ comfort.
“But he’ll do it.”
Meanwhile, pitching on a field about 40 yards away, Main hummed in his low 90s fastball, challenging everybody, even the other Royals big hitting prospect, Mike Moustakas.
And look at the other line: 13 first-pitch strikes, six groundouts, two flyouts and, to erase one of those walks, a pickoff. That was, a pickoff immediately after nearly picking off his target.
Main will be fun to follow this spring. He’s not quite in the stratosphere of the Rangers’ other top starting pitchers, righthander Neftali Feliz and lefthander Derek Holland, who coincidentally remain in big league camp.
But having turned 20 last December and a high schooler this time two years ago in DeLand, Fla., Main would appear ready to make one of those mad dashes, perhaps as Feliz and Holland showed last season in climbing the low Class A Midwest League on Opening Day to starring roles on prospect-laden Frisco in the Double-A Texas League playoffs.
A year ago, he overcame a cracked rib, joined low Class A Clinton in June and then struck out 50 and issued 13 walks in 45 innings. Sure, there are raves about the mid-90s fastball and his curve that always tends to spike, not bend, for strikes.
Yet his backstory this time next year could center on an adopted, over-the-head motion to kick-start his delivery.
“He’s a real athletic kid, and played center field in high school,” said farm director Scott Servais, who may be the only farm director in spring training not in slacks but wearing baseball pants, cleats, a windbreaker and ballcap.
“His fastball’s got life, late life in the zone. There are times this spring it’s been up to 95,” Servais said. “(The over-the-head) helps him get going in his delivery, as a timing mechanism.”
Main appeared very comfortable with it, working quick innings, burying his fastball down in the zone. It’ll be key, especially as he begins to work in a changeup, a pitch many Class A pitchers have been adding this spring before being set out into the wild.
“It’s been OK. It’s going to be a work in progress for him all year,” Servais said.
All in all, for Perez and Main, Tuesday was a pretty nice day.