Rangers farm system watch: Sidearm pitching

Rangers farm system watch: Sidearm pitching

Rangers farm system watch: Sidearm pitching

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by KATE MORRISON

WFAA Sports

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 8 at 1:06 PM

Dedicated Ranger fans will remember Former Ranger Great™ Darren O’Day and his side-arming ways, or the other lower-arm-slot dudes who have drifted through the Arlington bullpen. Though not all of the pitchers discussed below currently project as regular major leaguers, all belong to that funkily-delivering reliever club.

Closest to the major league pen is the ground-brushing RHP Ben Rowen, whose submarining approach confused batters to the tune of a 0.69 ERA across double and triple-A in 2013. Rowen has a low-80s fastball with heavy sinking action, a sweeping low-70s slider, and also claims to throw a “rise-ball” that plays off the groundball inducing motion of his main pitch. This arsenal leads to batters beating balls into the dirt – in his four years of professional baseball, Rowen has given up a grand total of four home runs. Of the 174 balls put into play against Rowen last season, a staggering 128 of them were groundballs, and they weren’t all from right-handed batters. In 2013, right-handed batters hit .178/.226/.209. Lefties? .176/.250/.206.
Depending on his spring training and the competition, Rowen could begin the 2014 season in either Arlington or Round Rock, but his extreme effectiveness from a unique arm slot earned him a 40-man roster spot prior to the Rule 5 draft this winter.
Round Rock’s other sidearmer, Johan Yan, comes from an infielding background, and has called outer Austin his baseballing home for the last year-and-a-half. The right-hander’s repertoire induces groundballs, though not at quite the same absurd rate as Rowen, and Yan has been in the Rangers system as a pitcher since 2009, and was a position player for a few years before that. He rose through the system quickly after dropping to the sidearm slot in 2010, but has had mixed results at the triple-A level. He posted a 4.68 ERA across 44 innings in Round Rock last season, and struck out batters at a fairly average rate of 20.5%. With the non-sidearming talent the Rangers have in the bullpen, both in Arlington and in Round Rock, it’s hard to see Yan reaching the majors in 2014, barring major improvements.
Further down the sidearming depth chart we find Frisco changeup-artist-in-residence Alex Claudio. Claudio, a 21-year-old lefty who split last season between single-A Hickory and double-A Frisco, has three pitches from a more traditional sidearm angle, though his party piece, the aforementioned changeup, has resulted in more thrown bats than Josh Hamilton. Claudio had a 1.15 ERA with Hickory, before being promoted to Frisco, where he finished the year with a decent 2.84 average. Traditionally, left-handed sidearmers are used as one-out guys, the bits of the bullpen used maybe twice a week. However, Claudio’s changeup gives him a weapon that can neutralize right-handed bats despite his low arm slot. He turns more to his sinking mid-80s fastball and slider against his fellow southpaws, and while there is a definite difference in his effectiveness, it is less pronounced than for typical sidewinders. He allowed right-handers a paltry .208 average, and stifled left-handers more, keeping them to .179. Claudio could see triple-A this year, but it is more likely that he’ll be a part of Frisco’s bullpen coming out of the spring.
Francisco Mendoza may not utilize a true sidearming action, but his motion moves close enough to count him for the purposes of this exercise. Mendoza may have the most velocity on his fastball of any of the Rangers’ sidearmers, touching 93 mph in an appearance with Myrtle Beach in July, and he pitched well enough to be promoted to Frisco in August, where he topped out at 96. Mendoza demonstrates the splits typically expected of a right-handed sidearm reliever, holding fellow right-handers to a .223 average, while allowing left-handers an even .300 average across 2013. He will most likely start the year in Frisco, depending on spring training results and need across the organization. 
Left-handed sidearmer Cody Ege was drafted by the Rangers in the 15th round of last year’s draft out of the University of Louisville. Coming into the system as a 22-year-old, he had a shorter timespan to prove himself at the lower levels, and managed to pitch his way through three levels in 17 games. While a sample size of 17 professional games really isn’t enough to discern anything about Ege’s future in the system, his rapid rise to high-A makes him a sidearmer to keep tabs on. Ege will probably start the season with Myrtle Beach, as he only pitched 3.1 innings with the Pelicans.
Hickory’s Joe Burns isn’t a strict sidearmer, though he uses the lower angle to his advantage. The left-handed 2012 28th-rounder managed decent results in 2013 by mixing a low-to-mid-80s fastball from the sidearm with slightly higher velocity from a 3/4th slot, a sweeping mid-70s slider and a fading mid-70s changeup. The most interesting thing about Burns, other than the fact that he’s still pitching in the organization, is a 61-67 MPH “floater” pitch he started throwing midseason, according to Nathaniel Stoltz. Burns is a good example of a pitcher who may not have the best “stuff,” but has kept himself in professional baseball by exploiting every possible advantage. Burns will most likely repeat with Hickory in 2014.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freeelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic. 
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