Texas Rangers Prospects: Joseph Wieland and Matt Thompson

May 20, 2009 • Scouting

Joseph Wieland. RHP, 6' 3", 175 lbs, Born: January 21, 1990. Normally, when you talk about a skinny high school pitcher with an 88-91 mph fastball, you expect a certain amount of projection. A scout for the Major League Scouting Bureau said, "There isn't much to project; he's not going to be a very physical guy." I'm definitely not a fan of the overly generic and often hedged Scouting Bureau draft reports, but this comment left me confused.

After being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 4th round of the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Wieland had a very strong debut with the Arizona Rookie League Rangers. By the time fall instructionals arrived, Wieland's fastball was consistently 90-93 mph - a modest but solid 2 mph gain in only 4 months. There may or may not be more where that came from, but there's definitely room for projection.

The scout also pegged Wieland as an above average strike thrower, and that certainly has been the case so far in his professional career. In his 43.2 innings in 2008, Wieland averaged a meager 1.65 walks per 9 innings. What was really impressive was the rate at which he missed bats. In those same 43.2 innings, Wieland allowed only 32 hits while striking out 41.

Wieland recently made his 2009 debut with low A Hickory. The following video was shot during spring training.

Wieland has an easy, powerful stride. He lands fairly closed, but twists his landing leg to point his toe directly at the plate. There is some awkwardness when his back leg comes off the rubber. Because he lands closed, Wieland's back hip and leg are driving "through" his front hip. This is an example of a stride cutting off hip rotation.

Interestingly, his hip rotation doesn't seem to affect his shoulders. He gets good forward flexion, and his shoulders rotate as a single unit rather than separately.

Good shoulder rotation usually leads to a controlled follow-through, but Wieland's arm flies across his chest. This tends to stress the posterior capsule of the shoulder, particularly the supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff.

Joe Wieland, hook/grab.
Joe Wieland, hook/grab.

Wieland flexes his wrist toward 1B.Wieland takes his elbow pretty far toward first base, and even flexes his wrist in that direction. Though some people don't like this type of wrist flexion, I tend to view it as more of a quirk than anything else. The movement toward first base leads to forearm flyout when he drives his elbow back to the third-base side to throw the baseball.

When Wieland's front foot lands, his pitching forearm is nearly vertical, and active external rotation has already stopped. Though he picks up the ball with his elbow, he avoids an inverted arm position.

A reverse forearm bounce is present, but since the ball and his elbow aren't travelling in oppposite directions, it is fairly small.

Wieland appears to pronate pretty well on both his fastball and his curveball and very well on his change up.

Matt Thompson. RHP, 6' 3", 210 lbs, Born: February 10, 1990. A 7th round pick in last year's draft, Thompson recieved a signing bonus worthy of a 2nd round pick. He impressed the Rangers in a pre-draft workout at Rangers Ballpark with a fastball that flashes into the mid-90s and a sharp curve in the 74-77 mph range.

Thompson is a local product from Burleson, TX and attended Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, TX - practically in the Rangers' backyard.

He had an awful debut statistically. In only 8.1 innings, Thompson allowed a staggering 25 hits. He walked 4 hitters as well but struck out 12 to maintain a 3:1 K:BB ratio.

Thompson was really impressive at spring training, but he might not make his 2009 debut until Spokane takes the field in June.

Thompson has a high leg kick, gathers himself without drifting, and then goes into sort of a modified drop-and-drive stride. He lands just a bit closed - somewhere between my offset camera position and the plate - and keeps his shoulders closed extremely well.

Thompson flexes his trunk and rotates his shoulders simultaneously, and he does so while staying fairly tall. This description is similar to what I said about Neftali Feliz's trunk and shoulders, and even though Thompson does this very well, Feliz does it much better.

He limits but does not eliminate lateral movement of the baseball - both toward first base and toward third base - and tilts his shoulders to raise his elbow. These actions can help prevent forearm flyout and allow Thompson to use his triceps to apply force to the baseball.

At foot plant, Thompson's forearm is barely above horizontal, so he is still engaged in active external rotation. Because he is still actively externally rotating his pitching arm the baseball is moving toward first base when his elbow starts moving toward third base. This is a more extreme example of reverse forearm bounce, when the elbow and baseball move in opposite directions.

Thompson does not actively pronate on either his fastball or his curveball. On a more positive note, there is no evidence of supinated releases either. I wasn't able to identify any change ups from the pitches I captured.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Martin Perez and Juan Grullon

May 13, 2009 • Scouting

Martin Perez. LHP, 6' 0", 165 lbs, Born: April 4, 1991. Venezuelan Martin Perez has been the left-handed pitching prize of the 2007 Latin American free agent class. The Texas Rangers won the bidding for Perez and held him back until they unleashed him on the Northwest League in 2008 against players that were typically 3-4 years older than the then 17-year-old Perez.

Walks were a small problem for Perez, and he was hit at a .274 clip, which isn't bad but isn't anything to brag about either. This resulted in a 3.65 ERA and a rather large 1.52 WHIP. His strikeout rate was very good.

He threw only 61.2 innings in 2008, so I don't expect him to jump past 100 this season. That said, he's already surpassed 25 innings in 2009. In that short sample, still against players much older than he is, Perez has lowered his walk rate (from 4.1 per 9 innings to 3.0), dramatically lowered his hit rate (from 9.6 per 9 innings to 5.7), and improved his already solid strikeout rate (from 7.7 per 9 innings to 10.5).

Still only 18 years old, Perez has some serious projection left.

You can see in the video several things that I mention quite often when talking about pitching mechanics. He strides slightly closed, drags his back foot, and has a little bit of a reverse forearm bounce. Perez picks up the ball well, but doesn't supinate as part of his pick-up. As a result, he doesn't rely on forceful external rotation to put his arm into throwing position, but he still has a late forearm turnover.

Perez has a very large back bend, similar to that of Tim Lincecum and Derek Holland, from which he drives his shoulder directly over his landing hip. This gives him a straight-line shoulder drive, but I am not a huge fan of the way Perez pulls his trunk down into his front leg.

This pull-down is a tenet of Jaeger Sports' long-toss program, and it can lead to good arm actions, but I worry about the stress it might place on the landing hip and spine. Of course, Perez didn't spend time with Jaeger Sports, he's from Venezuela, but the point still stands.

This pull-down leads to Perez's fairly uncontrolled follow-through. His initial finish is high, but he still has a violent-looking wrap across his body. This type of follow-through tends to stress the posterior capsule of the shoulder and can lead to rotator cuff issues, specifically in the infraspinatus and supraspinatus muscles.

Dr. Mike Marshall advocates throwing breaking pitches with pronation instead of with the more traditional supination. This works well in his pitching motion and for his pitchers, but some critics have suggested that throwing these pitches is difficult or impossible for pitchers with more traditional mechanics.

Martin Perez, pronation curve,  frame-by-frame.
Martin Perez, pronation curve, frame-by-frame.

I hereby offer Martin Perez as an example of a pitcher with traditional mechanics rather easily throwing a pronation curveball. Take special notice of his palm as he approaches release and immediately after release. Perez's palm clearly turns from inward, to forward at release, and to outward during follow-through. [Click the image to enlarge.]

Perez pronates like this on each of his pitches - fastball, curveball, and change up - and it is excellent for both health and performance. Pronation allows for better ball rotation (more spin therefore more movement) and helps protect the elbow from forearm flyout. This is a good thing because Perez doesn't get his arm nearly as vertical when he throws his fastball and change up compared to when he throws his curveball.

Juan Grullon. LHP, 6' 0", 185 lbs, Born: March 4, 1990. I dug around for information on this guy, and there simply isn't much to be had outside of his 2008 Dominican Summer League statistics which are pretty exciting.

The Dominican lefty threw 48.0 innings and allowed only 37 hits while striking out 67 and walking 25, a few too many. Grullon did not allow a homerun. His efforts were good for a 6-1 record and a 2.44 ERA.

We could see Grullon stateside this year with either Spokane or the AZL Rangers. He will be 19 years old all year.

Grullon is extremely compact. He doesn't doing anything flashy, and it almost looks like he's not trying.

His front leg is actually pretty active through his stride. Grullon seems to almost kick into his landing. This action applies force in the direction opposite to the pitch, but it also gives Grullon leverage to rotate his hips.

Grullon picks up the baseball in almost exactly the same manner as Martin Perez (above). He essentially uses a pendulum swing motion but lacks the supination action. As with Perez, this reduces the required external rotation torque required to lay his forearm back but still leads to a late forearm turnover. The important part is that the resulting reverse forearm bounce is very minor compared to most other pitchers with traditional mechanics.

As Grullon opens his shoulders to throw the pitch, his glove arm just sort of hangs there. He maintains a firm front side, but he could be using this arm to actively contribute to more powerful shoulder rotation. The lazy glove arm makes it look like Grullon is using a pull-down like Perez, but Grullon stays taller through his delivery.

Grullon has some forearm flyout as well, but it is hard to determine to what extent he pronates his pitches. The evidence is less convincing than in the Perez video. Having looked at my raw footage of Grullon, it looks like he definitely pronates on a few of his pitches, but for the most part, he does not pronate. I found no evidence of supinated releases.

The simplicity of his motion allows Grullon supreme control over his follow-through. Under such control, Grullon's pitching arm stays on the pitching arm side of his torso; it does not wrap across his body. His pitching arm is decelerated so well by his latissimus dorsi that his elbow actually winds up tucked in next to his rib cage as he finishes his follow-through.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Wilmer Font and Evan Reed

May 6, 2009 • Scouting

Wilmer Font. RHP, 6' 4", 210 lbs, Born: May 24, 1990. The Texas Rangers signed man-child Wilmer Font out of Venezuela during the 2006 international signing season only a couple of months after he turned 16. Font is an extremely raw talent still, but parts of his game are starting to show signs of polish.

Font can run his fastball into the upper 90s, and he has shown very promising off-speed pitches in his change up and curveball. The part he has struggled with to this point has been control. In just over 65 innings of stateside work, Font has allowed only 53 hits while striking out 82, but he has also allowed 35 walks. That's not all. More than 20 batters, possibly 30 or more, have reached base via hit-by-pitch against Font. (Does anyone know the actual HBP numbers? I couldn't find them.)

There's no questioning his stuff, though. Still not quite 19 years old, Font has plenty of time to work on refining his it. Those signs of polish I spoke of? Over Font's last two appearances (both of them starts, with limited pitch counts) spanning 8.2 innings, Font allowed only 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8, hitting 0 batters, and throwing only 1 wild pitch.

This 210 fps video is from a March 19, 2009 spring training appearance in a Low A game.

The first two things I noticed were the large reverse rotation of his shoulders and how far he takes the ball toward first base. In this video, you can very easily see what pitch Font is about to throw. At full speed, I know this is harder to see, but his change up still has to be a dead give away.

Font's stride is slightly closed, and his back leg appears to be driving across his landing leg pretty powerfully. In the video, it almost looks like the front of his back leg is driving into the side of his landing leg. Pitchers typically put a lot of torque on their landing hips, but Font seems to be pushing the limit. I have no way to measure it or even estimate it, but I know it looks bad.

His front foot lands slightly open despite his closed front hip. Font had a knee injury last season. This little quirk could either be the result or the cause of that injury.

He pulls his front shoulder a little bit before driving his pitching shoulder forward, but the timing is still pretty good as evidenced by his mid-to-upper-90s fastball.

Because of his massive reverse shoulder rotation, Font has to drive his pitching shoulder a long way toward third base before it really starts moving toward the plate. As a result, his elbow and hand have even longer paths to travel. The short of it is that Font has extreme forearm flyout, and since his release is in a low-3/4 arm slot, his ulna's olecranon process is at the mercy of his eccentrically contracting brachialis.

At 210 frames per second, Font's hand is still moving too fast for me to conclusively say whether he does or does not pronate through his release, but it looks like he does not pronate on any of his pitches.

I like his follow-through a lot. It is similar to that of Neftali Feliz (featured previously) and that of Evan Reed (below). Thanks to strong shoulder rotation, Font avoids wrapping his arm across his trunk. His primary deceleration is handled chiefly by his latissimus dorsi, and afterward, very little deceleration is required to bring the arm to a complete stop.

Evan Reed. RHP, 6' 4", 225 lbs, Born: December 31, 1985. Drafted out of Cal Poly by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Evan Reed had been a closer, but he was promptly pushed into the short-season Spokane rotation after a quick start. Reed earned a promotion to Low A Clinton after only 7 appearances. His strikeout rate dropped from 11.7 per 9 innings to only 5.0 per 9 innings, but his results improved everywhere else.

2008 saw Reed struggle in the High A Bakersfield rotation. He has special stuff, but he struggles to control it. His fastball is typically a 92-95 mph pitch that often looks like it's moving faster when it gets to the plate than when it left his hand - amazing life. Reed's off-speed pitches have looked like pitches with plus potential at times, but more often than not, he has struggled to harness the two.

Walks and deep counts hurt Reed's pitch counts and his ERA, so the Rangers moved him back to the bullpen for 2009 - for now, at least. Still only 23, Reed has the stuff to make up ground and jump back into a rotation, but he needs to find a way not only to control his stuff but to command it as well.

Reed has a very powerful looking stride, but if you pause the video at foot plant, you can see that his power is directed at the [off-center] camera instead of the plate. This is inefficient but pretty common. A closed landing like this can cut off hip rotation, but Reed pulls himself forward and is able to open his hips almost directly toward the plate before he releases the ball. Try pausing the video at pitch release, and then look at his hips.

Thanks to his excellent hip rotation, Reed is able to get excellent shoulder rotation as well. Part of his excellent shoulder rotation is due to the way he flexes his trunk across his driveline. Because he strides closed, he has to drive across that stride line to get the ball to the plate. This is more inefficient than it is injurious, but it can add stress to the landing hip and lower back.

His pick-up is a little better than average, but it isn't particularly close to the pendulum swing that I like. Reed pushes down, straightening his pitching arm, and away, but instead of continuing the swinging action, he picks the ball straight up with some active external rotation.

Reed's arm is up and ready by the time his shoulders start to rotate, but the external rotation from his pick-up creates some layback inertia that is amplified by his rotating shoulders. This results in a reverse forearm bounce where the ball is moving toward first base while Reed's elbow is moving toward third base.

From that point forward, Reed's mechanics look to be well above average. His shoulder tilt helps him pick up his arm into a more vertical position to help reduce the effects of forearm flyout, and he seems to pronate through the release of every pitch in this video. Reed's follow-through is very good thanks to his excellent shoulder rotation. His arm wraps across his torso rather gently after his back and rotator cuff have taken care of primary deceleration.

Reed also bears an uncanny resemblence to fellow Texas Rangers RHP prospect Thomas Diamond.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Brandon McCarthy and Ezequiel Rijo

April 29, 2009 • Scouting

Brandon McCarthy. RHP, 6' 7", 200 lbs, Born: July 7, 1983. Okay, he's not a prospect, but I'm not renaming my series because of one guy.

Since coming to the Texas Rangers, McCarthy has struggled with two things: health and command. It's a little early to declare either of those as "overcome," but so far this season he looks healthy and strong.

McCarthy's fastball has generally been an 89-92 mph offering which, by itself, is nothing special. Two other elements make it a pretty special pitch, though. His high release point gives his pitches a great downward plane to the strike zone, and he gets excellent "rising" action from a crazy amount of backspin. The combination of these two gives his fastball a unique look for the batter.

For someone with a soft landing on a flexed front leg, McCarthy gets very little power from his legs. In this case, when his front foot lands, his legs stop contributing to forward movement and the following hip rotation is purely inertial. His trailing hip even drags his back foot like an anchor.

McCarthy has a tendency to drag his arm behind his body when he throws his fastball. Arm drag occurs when the pitcher's body gets too far ahead of the arm. In other words, the arm lags behind the body. This is mostly a timing issue, but it can lead to health problems in the shoulder. Performance-wise, arm drag tends to lead to poor command and a preponderance of pitches that are high, outside, or both.

In this video, his front shoulder opens a little early, but he keeps his pitching arm from lagging behind.

When McCarthy pulls his front shoulder, he's using a large number of his trunk muscles. To drive his pitching shoulder forward, he uses the rest of his trunk muscles. By breaking his shoulder rotation into two separate actions, McCarthy's trunk muscles do not work in concert. The result for McCarthy is slower, less powerful shoulder rotation with a large degree of forward flexion in his trunk.

For an example of someone who uses his trunk insanely well, Neftali Feliz has both a powerful shoulder rotation and a large degree of forward flexion (see Texas Rangers Prospects: Neftali Feliz and Tae Kyung Ahn for more details). Notice that Feliz's shoulders rotate together as a single unit, not separately. Also notice that he stays fairly tall, while McCarthy sort of bends in half at the waist.

Rangers blogger Mike Hindman suggested that McCarthy has an inverted W. McCarthy's arms, though, are well past the inverted W shape when his front shoulder starts to open up. He still has a late forearm turnover and a reverse forearm bounce.

It's hard to tell from this angle, but McCarthy's reverse forearm bounce might be exaggerated by some elbow flexion. By this, I mean that he picks his elbow up high enough that gravity plus natural elbow flexion - rather than inertia - appear to be causing some of the ball's downward motion. This view is inconclusive, but I don't believe his ulnar collateral ligament would hold up for very long if inertia alone caused a bounce that large.

As McCarthy drives into his release, he lifts his elbow just above the line across the top of his shoulders. At release, his humerus usually approaches vertical. This prevents forearm flyout - even though he takes the baseball toward first base during his pick-up - and allows McCarthy to powerfully contract his triceps brachii.

McCarthy pronates into his release on each of his pitches, and if you look closely, you can see his elbow pop-up early in the follow-through. This is fairly similar to the pop-up in Dr. Marshall's arm action that he has demonstrated to be a result of using the latissimus dorsi to both extend and internally rotate the upper arm (see Dr. Mike Marshall on MLB Network).

His follow-through is not spectacular but is fairly standard for traditional pitching mechanics. One negative aspect is that he falls so dramatically toward first base after every pitch. (When he pulls his front shoulder, he's also moving his center of mass in the same direction which causes a balance shift.)

In summary, I think McCarthy could get much better results from his legs and core, but I like his arm action. If he can have success with these mechanics and stay healthy, though, there's no reason to change them.

Ezequiel Rijo. RHP, 6' 4", 190 lbs, Born: September 12, 1990. Rijo pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and posted some interesting numbers including 48 hits (only 2 homeruns) and 41 strikeouts in 71.0 IP. I don't recall anything about his stuff, though his numbers suggest a fastball with decent movement but not overpowering velocity. In the video, you can see three pitches being thrown: a fastball, a change up, and a slider that you have to look closely to see.

I went pretty long on McCarthy, so I'll keep Rijo's report nice and short. Let's take a look at the video.

Rijo's leg drive is shockingly similar to McCarthy's, but Rijo's looks more intense and appears to lead to better hip rotation.

Interestingly, Rijo also pulls his front shoulder before driving his pitching shoulder. Rijo's glove arm is only slightly more aggressive than McCarthy's glove arm, and his result is the same as McCarthy's - poor shoulder rotation with extreme forward flexion of the trunk.

Rijo has a very sound ball pick-up. We can't see his whole pick-up, but we do know that he doesn't take the ball behind his back and that his elbow doesn't reach shoulder height before the ball. Unfortunately, he still has a late forearm turnover and a large reverse forearm bounce.

Forearm flyout is another potential issue for Rijo since his arm isn't really close to vertical except for his change up. His pick-up helps limit his forearm flyout risk. Because he never takes the ball laterally toward first base, his lateral acceleration of the ball toward third base is very minor.

His follow-through is fairly average, and he gets himself almost immediately into an excellent fielding position.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Michael Main and Kyle Ocampo

April 22, 2009 • Scouting

Michael Main. RHP, 6' 2", 170 lbs. The Texas Rangers selected Michael Main 24th overall in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft. An extremely athletic two-way player in high schol, Main was on several draft boards as an outfielder.

I became a Main fan well in advance of the draft and thought the Rangers missed their chance at him when they selected Blake Beavan with the 17th overall pick. I was thrilled that he was still on the board at #24, and I was ecstatic when they called his name.

Main has been impressive since being drafted, but at instructs this past fall, Rick Adair, in an interview with Mike Hindman, had the following to say:

He's throwing an extremely high percentage of major league-quality pitches right now. Michael just has the ability to take in coaching, information and come up with ideas. His makeup is tremendous. Mentally he's easily the most polished guy out of high school I've ever been around.

Coming into this season, Rangers fans were more excited than ever to have Main in the farm system.

Main might have the latest forearm turnover in the history of baseball. When his front foot finally plants, his elbow still hasn't reached driveline height, and he's in a borderline inverted L position. This is usually a flag for more serious elbow torque, but he appears to almost completely avoid the reverse forearm bounce pitfall.

Like Tae Kyung Ahn, Main lands with a lot of weight on his front leg, but what Main does differently is very important. Main keeps his hips and shoulders closed very well unlike Ahn, and he manages to keep his center of mass moving forward where Ahn's momentum was more dramatically slowed at landing.

You can see that Main pulls off the rubber fairly hard without dragging his foot. It's likely that he's pulling himself forward with his front leg and therefore creating more ground-reactive force for his pitch. A lot of pitchers push back to help their hip rotation, but Main's "pull" doesn't seem to negatively affect his hips. The lack of a foot drag definitely helps his back hip come forward freely.

Main's arm doesn't appear to be doing a whole lot of work. That's usually a good thing, but Main's arm does all of its work in a shorter period of time than just about every other pitcher on the planet because of his extremely late hand-break and ball pick-up. This leaves less room for error and can lead to timing issues that adversely affect command and velocity when the timing is just slightly off.

Main pronates into his release very well.

His initial arm deceleration is good, and he drives his shoulder all the way through release to help ease rotator cuff stress. His final follow-through is fairly average with a little bit of arm wrap but no major red flags.

Kyle Ocampo. RHP, 6' 3", 195 lbs. Another right-handed pitcher, Ocampo was also a member of the 2007 draft class. Taken in the 13th round, Ocampo was a raw pitching talent with some herky-jerky mechanics. He signed too late to play in 2007, and made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League as a 19-year-old in 2008: 52.0 IP, 47 H, 19 BB, 56 K, 3.29 ERA, 1.27 WHIP.

At instructs after the 2008 season, Jason Cole of LoneStarDugout.com posted an interview with Kyle Ocampo (subscription required). In the interview, Ocampo breaks down his pitching arsenal - 4-seam fastball, 2-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and change up - and discusses the adjustments he's making to become a better pitcher.

Ocampo has a very noticeable head jerk, but overall, his mechanics are much smoother and cleaner than when I previously saw him at spring training in 2008. He still has a lot of wasted back-and-forth movement. For example, he kicks his leg out, picks it up, and then tucks it back where it would have been if he'd just picked it straight up. Like most pitching coaches, I tend not to like wasted movement because it represents an unnecessary expense of energy.

As long as his command remains decent, the Rangers aren't likely to mess with his delivery too much.

Ocampo's leg drive is very energetic, but once he lands, his legs are done. His back leg sits there as dead weight while his front leg does nothing more than create a trunk pivot at his front hip.

He picks the ball up late and has a pretty late forearm turnover, but he, too, appears to avoid a significant reverse forearm bounce. Ocampo does this by picking his elbow up pretty steadily to his release point; this also helps limit forearm flyout and gives him a near-vertical forearm at release. (A vertical forearm allows a pitcher to throw a greater variety of pitches. From there, a pitcher can safely create back-spin, front-spin, side-spin in either direction, and anything in between.)

Ocampo doesn't appear to pronate into his release on either his fastball or his change up, though he clearly pronates after release.

His follow-through is fairly clean, but his forearm appears to slam into his front hip. This shows a lack of body control, but since his forearm takes the beating, it shouldn't lead to shoulder issues.

Ocampo is still a work in progress, so I expect continued refinement of his mechanics over time. He's got the stuff, and it's just a matter of keeping him healthy and of finding consistency and command of enough quality pitches to keep moving through the system.

Note: The last pitch in Ocampo's video is a change up. His mechanics look a little different to me when he throws it. I doubt that it's as obvious at full speed as it is in slow-motion.