Throughout the minor league season, we'll take a look on the farm at Rangers prospects that are drawing attention for one reason or another. This week we have an update on two Frisco RoughRiders prospects and one Hickory Crawdad.
Ryan Rua spent most of last year as a second baseman who unexpectedly went homer-for-homer with Joey Gallo in Hickory, before being promoted to Frisco in August and looking slightly overmatched by the age-appropriate level. At the beginning of this season, it looked like more of the same. Rua didn't collect a hit until the fourth game of the season, and while he only struck out once, his plate appearances were sloppy and unimpressive. However, if one were to only watch Rua in the last five games or so, it would be hard to guess that he started out the season looking like a non-prospect. So far, in 16 total games, Rua is hitting .375/.462/.625 with three homers, eight walks, and only nine strikeouts.
Defensively, Rua looked very tentative in the few looks at third he had last season. He's been a utility player most of his professional career, seeing time at first, short, and left, in addition to the major time he spent at second last season. In Frisco, though, Rua looks more like an actual third base prospect, making more good decisions and strong throws. He'll probably never be a defensive whiz, but it's likely he could have a third base-centric utility career, making him a valuable bench bat for major league teams.
Of course, all of this is in a short sample. If Rua keeps hitting, and walking, like this, he could see some time in AAA Round Rock by the end of the season. Ideally, he'll continue to show adjustments to his new full-time position, as well as adjustments to more talented pitchers in a league where he's not 'too old.'
Yohander Mendez recently turned heads when the 19-year-old lefty struck out 10 batters through 6.0 two-hit innings on April 18th with Hickory. Signed out of Venezuela on July 2, 2011, Mendez pitched 2012 with the Dominican Summer League, before spending 2013 with short-season Spokane. In Spokane, Mendez pitched 33.1 innings to the tune of a 3.78 ERA with a 15.2 percent strikeout rate and a 11.3 percent walk rate, none of which are numbers that draw large amounts of attention.
So far in Hickory, however, Mendez has pitched 15.1 innings, only allowing three total runs. Notably, his innings total during the first month of the season is nearly half his 2012 total. In the 9.1 innings not contained by the April 18th game, he's struck out six and walked one. Mendez throws a 89-91 MPH fastball that could potentially gain an additional two or three miles per hour as his frame fills out. He also throws a changeup that some view as having major potential, and a varying curveball in the mid-70 MPHs.
Of course, it's far too early in the season to draw any kind of absolute conclusions from his pitching performances, but current trends are encouraging.
Currently, catcher is not a position where a high level of offensive production is expected. It's nice, when it happens, but it's not something that has to be there, unlike the corner outfield positions or first base. Pat Cantwell is unlikely to break the mold, offensively. The 2012 third round pick out of Stony Brook hit .253/.318/.316 last year in Myrtle Beach, tepid numbers for any position. A righty, Cantwell has hit a painful .121/.167/.152 in 10 games, with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Where Cantwell shines is his defense. He's consistently shown both a good manner with pitchers, and a good ability to block pitches in the dirt. Cantwell also has excellent game awareness. This season he's thrown out nine of 16 would-be base stealers, and a few of the successful runners were aided by miscues on the receiving end of a throw. Though he allowed an anomalous 16 passed balls in Myrtle, four of those errors came when the Rangers' nascent knuckleballer, Kevin Pucetas, was pitching, with another happening later in one of those games. So far in Frisco, Cantwell has only allowed one passed ball in his 10 games.
Ideally, Cantwell will find a way to make more contact during this season, as well as improve on previously abysmal walk rates. Cantwell is fast, not just for a catcher, and could be decent on the bases if he could just find his way to first. If the offense doesn't improve, Cantwell will likely stick around in the minors for several years as a defense-first catcher.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.