SURPRISE, Ariz.—The Rangers organization has added talent through the draft, international signings and trades in recent years, making their camp the place to be during instructional league in Arizona this fall.
“Our scouting department has done an outstanding job the last few years,” said Rangers camp coordinator Dave Anderson. “We’ve got some really, really, good players.”
For the second straight year, the Rangers’ fall roster resembles a prospect all-star squad. Highly-touted players like Neftali Feliz, Michael Main, Neil Ramirez, Martin Perez, Engel Beltre, Justin Smoak, to name just a few, are spending a month at the Rangers’ complex. Unlike last year, when many instructional league players were newcomers to the organization, a majority of this year’s participants spent the 2008 season with one of the Rangers’ minor league affiliates.
“We’re a lot younger this year,” said Anderson. “One of the things that we accomplished this year is we had four teams in the playoffs, five teams if you count the Dominican Summer League. We had a lot of guys playing for a long period of time, so we eliminated some of those guys because of the innings they pitched and the time played. So we went really, really young this year.”
Anderson is especially pleased with several of the young pitchers in camp for the first time, specifically 2008 fourth-round pick Joe Wieland, second-round pick Robbie Ross and seventh-rounder Matt Thompson.
“We’ve got some kids that we really, really like a lot that are going to pitch in the big leagues,” said Anderson. “We’re really positive about them.”
Anderson believes the Rangers are trying to build a winner the right way and is pleased with the direction the organization is taking.
“Our goal is to win at the major league level, obviously, just like everyone else,” said Anderson, “but we try to do that within our organization. We sent 12 new guys to the big leagues (in 2008). It’s an exciting time for the Texas Rangers right now.”
Hosmer Back On The Field
Eric Hosmer’s professional career with the Royals organization didn’t start the way he envisioned it. After the third overall draft pick from Florida’s 3-A state champion American Heritage High signed his contract on Aug. 15 and played three games with Rookie-level Idaho Falls, he went into limbo while Major League Baseball sorted out the details of the well-documented deadline signing snafu.
Hosmer was finally cleared to return to the field in time for instructional league. The lefthanded hitting first baseman has been making up for lost time at the Royals’ camp in Surprise.
“I’ve already gained a lot out of this,” said Hosmer. “It’s been two weeks and I’ve already learned so much about the game . . . Just the whole experience out here—I love it.”
The Royals are equally pleased with what they’ve seen in Hosmer, who would have been in Arizona anyway had he gone to college at Arizona State instead of signing.
“This kid is unbelievable,” said Royals instructional league manager Julio Bruno. “He’s a professional hitter. At his age, you don’t see many guys his age that have the approach he has right now.”
Hosmer’s attitude wasn’t negatively affected by the forced time off while the deadline deal issues were being resolved.
“I had no control over it,” said Hosmer, who signed for $6 million, “so there was nothing to worry about. (I was) just sitting back and waiting, and finally the deal got done and I’m happy to be out here playing.”
The Rockies are always on the lookout for fleet center fielders capable of covering the expansive territory in the middle of the Coors Field outfield. Their latest find, 19-year-old switch-hitter Delta Cleary, is taking part in instructional league in Tucson after completing his first season at Rookie-level Casper of the Pioneer League.
Cleary is a multi-talented athlete who was drafted by the Rockies in the 37th round and signed for an above-slot bonus of $250,000. The Arkansas native, who has plus speed and plenty of athleticism, has been very impressive so far.
“He has maturity beyond his years, especially at the plate,” said Rockies outfield and baserunning instructor Trenidad Hubbard. “He may develop fast and see the big leagues sooner than most. He is a pleasure to work with and he receives information well. His ability to apply instruction learned in practice to the game is remarkable.”
Cleary, who helped Louisiana State-Eunice JC capture the Division II Junior College World Series championship this year, is just soaking it all in this fall.
“It’s a great camp,” said Cleary. “It’s good to be around this group of guys. Coming into instructional league, you’d think it would be frustrating, but actually the coaches have made it a whole lot of fun. I’ve learned something every day.”
October Not All Bad For Cubs
It didn’t take long for Cubs outfielder Brandon Guyer to start turning heads this fall. The fifth-round pick out of Virginia in 2007 homered in consecutive days during the first week of the season, including a scorching line-drive shot over the 20-foot high fence at the Cubs’ Fitch Park facility in Mesa.
Guyer’s performance comes after a solid season at low A Peoria in which the righthanded hitter batted .269/.331/.498 with 14 home runs and 22 stolen bases after starting the season late while recovering from a spring shoulder injury. Guyer isn’t surprised by his performance.
“I had the power when I played in Peoria this year,” he said. “I think it’s just a combination of me getting healthy right now. I feel like when I’m healthy I can compete with the best.”
He’s also striving to be a more complete hitter.
“I want to work on becoming a more patient hitter and using the whole field,” he said. “I’ve been making progress at that.”
Cubs instructional league manager Jody Davis, who manages the Cubs’ high A Daytona affiliate, likes what he’s seen from Guyer this fall.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Davis said. “He was banged up in spring training or he would probably have made a higher club ‘¦ probably would have been with me in Daytona. He looks like he’s made great strides this year.”
Guyer played more in left field during the regular season, but is working primarily in center field this fall. One of his goals for instructional league is to get used to the position and improve his routes to the ball. Davis believes that Guyer has the range to be a center fielder but also that he should have enough power to play one of the corner outfield spots.
Martin Gets Back To Mound
Ethan Martin had to wait longer than expected to make his professional debut. The Dodgers’ first-round pick signed in early July and reported to the Dodgers’ Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate. His first scheduled start was rained out, and then the Georgia high school product injured his knee in a pitchers fielding drill, sidelining the righthander for the remainder of the regular season.
Martin, BA’s High School Player of the Year, returned to action on Sept. 27 with two scoreless innings against the Padres’ instructional league squad. Working mainly with his 94 mph fastball, Martin showed excellent command by throwing 20 of 29 fastballs for strikes. He also mixed in a few changeups, but mostly was working on spotting his fastball.
“I felt really good,” said Martin after his first start. “I was just trying to get back on the mound. I went out and did my job and it just felt good to be out there.”
Dodgers pitching coach George Culver liked what he saw in Martin’s debut.
“The thing I was impressed by the most today was he wasn’t nervous,” said Culver. “He went out there totally in control of himself and threw a lot of strikes . . . He’s obviously got a long way to go, but what we saw today was very, very exciting.”
Martin’s time on the sidelines while healing from his knee surgery wasn’t a total waste. He spent the time, “just watching the games . . . just studying hitters and the way they stand in the box . . . just watching other pitchers to see what I can learn off of that.”
Culver also believes that there are plenty of lessons to be learned by a young professional like Martin even if they’re not on the field.
“The first year is mostly about learning how to be a pro, how to be on time, how to put your uniform on, how to act,” said Culver. “He’s a very professional guy . . . we’re very impressed with him.”
• Angels’ second-round pick Tyler Chatwood’s debut season was a mixture of both good and bad. The righthander finished the year in the Rookie-level Arizona League with a 3.08 ERA and limited opponents to a .195 average while striking out 48 in 38 innings. However, he gave up 36 walks.
Pitching coach Trevor Wilson said Chatwood’s command problems in the AZL stemmed from giving the hitters too much credit and not realizing how good he could be. Chatwood, the Angels’ first selection in 2008, is now facing more advanced hitters in instructional league and Wilson believes he’s making good progress. “I don’t think he’s giving batters as much credit,” Wilson said. “We’re working on fastball command. He’s got three pitches right now; it’s just a matter of dialing them in and being consistent with them. “He’s facing better competition and he’s the type of guy who’s going to step up to the challenge.” Chatwood added, “I’m trying to pitch more to contact now, trying to get more strikes and get ahead of the count, and trying to pitch to contact and get more groundball outs—quicker innings and less innings.”
• Jemile Weeks, Oakland’s first-round pick out of Miami, is in instructional league camp but will not see any game action until next spring. The second baseman is rehabilitating a hip flexor injury that occurred while he was playing for low Class A Kane County against Peoria on July 29 at Wrigley Field.