On Wednesday August 8th 2012, I watched the Fort Worth Cats and Edinburg Roadrunners of the North American League. Why watch an independent game you ask? Every week in Matt Eddy's indispensable Baseball America minor league transaction report, you see several teams signing independent ball players to help fill their minor league rosters. Examples of it working include Joey Gathright playing in a few games for the Red Sox last year, and Steve Delabar for the Mariners (now the Blue Jays). Also geography plays a role. While Texas is a hot bed for College and High School baseball, it really isn't great for minor league baseball. The only two teams in relative driving distance are the Rangers' AA and AAA teams. I have already watched the whole Texas League and Pacific Coast League this year. While I would like to go scout the AZL, the GCL, or even the New York Penn League, that simply isn't an option. So without further ado:
Matison Smith spent 4 years at Lamar College, mainly as a starter. His K rate wasn't very impressive at 5.29 K/9IP with a few too many walks at 3.11. He was undrafted but pitched in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League with the Astros in 2010 and 2011. While looking at shortseason statistics are sometimes dangerous, he was good. His FIPs were 2.49 and 2.67 (2.51 SIERA), while he was a little old for the level. In 13 starts for Edinburg, he hasn't been all that good with a 6.8 K/9IP and 4.2 BB/9IP.
He is a guy who could get another chance in affiliated ball. The smallish (6-0) first two pitches were hard hit balls. He can throw a breaking ball for strikes and would work backwards at times. The pitch provides him with some good speed differential, even though it doesn't have big movement. It really only got hit hard once. It was best when he threw it in the dirt, that was really the only consistent time he got whiffs (and he did a much better job of locating it as the game went along). His fastball was getting hit pretty hard though. There was just too many in the middle of the plate.
Stantrel Smith is maybe the Roadrunners best position player. At age 28, he has been in Independent ball since 2008 and has been mediocre with the bat (.289/.325/.384). He was originally drafted in the 16th round by the Angels way back in 2003. He flamed out in A ball thanks to awful hitting statistics. He has always been a stolen base threat though. He is tall and skinny and noisy at the plate with a lot of wiggle. It seemed to set him up to struggle with inside fastballs and he hacked at the first breaking ball he saw. He played left field which is not where his bat profiles. He is pretty speedy looking, but is an awkward runner (I timed him at 8.09 on a double, which is not incredibly fast). He did smack a couple of line drives.
I liked centerfielder Vincent Blue better. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Tigers, but that was all the way back in 2001. He has been in independent ball since 2007 after getting all the way to AA only to really struggle. His timing at the plate was off, but he has a good contact tool. The left handed batter showed off a good eye, which isn't surprising considering his decent walk totals in the minors. He also has good speed as well, as I timed him at about 4.00 to 1st base.
Wilmer Pino originally signed with the Yankees (NDFA) in 2005. Now 26, he never made it out of A ball, and has been in Independent ball since he was 21. He has pretty good size and I really liked his defensive range at 2nd base. The arm was a problem, but other than that he was really good out there. He also squared a ball up pretty well.
Carlos Hereaud was drafted in the 9th round in 2005. From what I kind find, he never made it out of the Arizona League and he didn't even embarrass himself out there. However, it is pretty obvious that they missed on the pick. He has below average speed and had some real bat speed issues. He was late on fastballs, it is just not a quick swing. My guess is that the scouts saw him in Arizona and saw that it clearly wasn't going to work out and cut him quickly.
Osiel Flores was the catcher and he showcased a really good throwing arm. He had a quick release and some real zip on the ball. Offensively, he had problems with the breaking ball but did hit an okay line drive. After playing for a couple of small colleges in Texas, he signed with the Indians. He played just 26 games in the organization before moving to independent ball.
Tim Battle, despite good speed ratings on the Baseball Cube and Fangraphs, did not look like a good runner to me. He was originally a 3rd round pick by the Yankees but never really hit enough to make it to AA. He wasn't impressive to me at all, and he was blown away by fastballs out of the plate.
Derek Perren is small and was fooled on the breaking ball. He was clearly relying on going the other way. Despite a big senior year at USC (after a poor junior year), he went straight to independent ball.
Felix Molina had what looked like a good swing and squared up on the ball well. It doesn't look like his bat speed or power is plus (or even average) but he hit a hard double. He is a little hefty for shortstop and he didn't have very good range. He was originally drafted by the Twins in the 21st round back in 2001 and made it all the way to AAA (only 3 games though). He also had a stint in the Astros' AA where he hit just .239/.310/.368 in 70 games in 2009.
The Roadrunners also had a player named Luis Zumosa. I hope I am spelling that right, as he is not listed on the roster and I can't find him anywhere else. He is not real big (compared to many 1st baseman) but he really cranked a ball just foul. It was the farthest hit ball in the game.
The first reliever for the Roadrunners (who kept Smith in the game far too long) was Robert Roth. Roth was picked in the 19th round by the Philadelphia Phillies and never made it to AA, walking over 5 batters per 9 innings in his minor league career. He seemed to be throwing pretty hard. He was just pumping fastballs by hitters and there wasn't much they could do with it. He change speeds with a decent breaking ball. His command wasn't great, but it gave him good speed differential and movement.
Paul Koss had a decent looking straight fastball he can throw low in the zone for whiffs. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round and made it to AA where he pitched well with a 3.48 FIP. He started the next year in High A anyway and was terrible, with a 5.44 FIP in 2010. He then went to independent ball, and was awful in 2011. He looked more like the good AA pitcher when I saw him.
Fort Worth Cats:
Casey Russell had some success in St. Edwards but wasn't drafted. In 4 outings (2 starts) previous to this outing, he struck out just 2.6 batters per 9 innings and walked 3.7 per 9 innings. He is listed at 6-1 200. He was throwing hard and while he goes both high and low with the fastball but doesn't have good command of it. It seemed a little difficult to square up some of them for the hitters, as many of them looked like sinkers. They weren't fooling anyone though, and he can't miss bats. He had an occasional really slow breaking ball that he had no feel for. It was his most effective pitch when it was near the zone.
Jose Ruiz is a big first baseman from Cuba that was originally signed by the Rays for their AA team. After a .706 OPS in 23 games, he joined the Rangers organization in 2011 where he split time between AA and AAA. He hit a little better, but his OPS was still under .800, not really acceptable for a first baseman. He had some real problems with breaking balls when I saw him. He has some power though and was surprisingly good defensively, making a good scoop and then really flashing the leather on a hard liner he had to dive for.
C.J. Beatty was the Cats leadoff man, which makes sense with his build, but he also DH'ed, which made less sense. He has some pop, but was consistently getting under the ball with his upper cut swing. I don't think his power is good enough for him to continue to do that. He was a 26th round pick in 2009 by the Cardinals but was released after 2010, never reaching AA. He was really good in college with the bat but just mediocre in the minors.
R.J. Harris played center and didn't have a good arm. He showed off a good eye at the plate though. He was not drafted out of the University of Texas at Arlington (where he was terrible) and went straight to independent ball. Chuck Caufield has a plus arm and is a big guy with a RF profile (which is what he played). It looks like he has some power and really hit a ball hard. His speed is a little bit below average, but he looks decent defensively. He was picked in the 39th round by the Brewers and had a long run in the organization, getting to AAA for 4 games and 221 games in AA. He never really showed off the power in AA in the large sample size with just a .379 SLG.
2nd base for Fort Worth is anchored by recently signed indy ball veteran Antoin Gray. Gray was drafted by the White Sox in the 25th round in 2003. He reached AA quickly and was okay with a .727 OPS. Since then, he has been putting up pretty big numbers for different independent ball teams. He scorched a ball and walked twice despite being fooled bad on a breaker and whiffing bad on a fastball. He doesn't have real good speed, especially defensively.
Shelby Ford played shortstop and is pretty tall but doesn't have great range (along with below average speed, getting to 1st in 4.3-4.4 seconds). He also has some bat speed issues, with some swing and miss in his game. After being drafted in the 3rd round by the Pirates, he made it all the way to AAA, but was terrible there. I didn't like either of the former 3rd round picks in this game.
Brandon Jones was a 42nd round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2002 but never played for the organization as far as I can tell. He played 3rd, despite being too big for it and really lacked the range and arm (the left side of the infield for Fort Worth did not have a good night). He has a weird stance where he keeps his hands low but he has some bat speed. He swung and missed a lot and was fooled badly on breaking balls.
Out of the bullpen, Kane Holbrooks has good size and a reasonably hard fastball. He works both low and high, and despite it being straight it was getting some ground-balls. It was certainly best when he used it low. He didn't show a breaking ball and didn't appear to have swing and miss stuff. He was drafted by the Twins in the 21st round in 2009 and pitched just 1 game in AA. In 2011, he spent all of the year in advanced class A, and had a 4.45 FIP and 5.03 SIERA, both well worse than league average.
Former Major Leaguer Rick Bauer was the next reliever out of the pen. The tall right-hander had a little bit of cut and sink on his fastball. The velocity wasn't as good as Holbrooks, and the last time he pitched in the Majors (2008!) it was just 91.5 MPH. A pitch down the middle was hit pretty hard. His breaking ball is a soft sweeping slider, but his pitches were really being squared up and then he struggled to throw strikes. He then broke out what looked like a curve (something he didn't throw in 2008) that he could throw for strikes. His 2nd inning was much better.
T.J. Bozeman was undrafted out of a couple of relatively small Texas colleges and joined Fort Worth in 2011. He has a weird arm action and was throwing a lot of changeups. He comes over the top in a deceptive way and it makes his fastball looks better. While his change has good break, he doesn't quite have the fastball to offset it. He threw one change right down the middle to Hereaud that should have been a homer. Instead it was a weak popup.