Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MLB Players to Watch: Alexi Ogando

Breakout Player? The Collective thinks so
The defending American League Champion Texas Rangers, run by an all-time pitching great and coached by the brother of an even greater all-timer, open this year with the unenviable task of living up to standards they set a year ago, but doing so without Cliff Lee.  Because of his loss, they have been left to patch together a starting rotation that will rely on C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to lead a staff that really lacks upside.  They were 10th in the majors last season, with a collective 3.93 ERA, but many doubt that Wilson (3.35 ERA) or Lewis (3.72) can be much better than they were a year ago.

The Past

As Keith Law wrote a year ago, "The Texas Rangers waited five years for right-hander Alexi Ogando to receive a valid work visa that would allow him to resume his minor-league career -- and now I can see why. Right-handers who throw 93-96 with a chance for two above-average secondary pitches are worth that kind of wait."

Before arriving in Arlington last summer, Ogando had enjoyed great success in the minor leagues -- like, 126 strikeouts and only 23 walks in four seasons good -- primarily as a reliever.  He did start three games in Double-A Frisco, with a 1.15 ERA in about five innings a start, but to this point in his career, he has made his money coming out of the 'pen.  He was lights-out last year down the stretch last season, (1.30 ERA in 41.2 innings as a rookie), but "really wanted" to start this year, according to G.M. Jon Daniels, and injuries to Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman allowed that wish to come true.  

With the the loss of Lee and injuries to an already depleted staff, many hoped for Nolan Ryan and Daniels to move a reliever into the rotation, but that was closer, Neftali Feliz, not Ogando.  After all, it was Feliz who came up through the minors as a top starting prospect and features the repertoire and easy delivery that portends success as a starter.  But, while that is still in the plans for next season, according to everyone in the organization, the team (and likely manager Ron Washington) feels more comfortable leaving him as the closer and giving Ogando a shot to start.

The Present

Ogando will start his first career Major League game today, and boy, should it be a good one.  He will face Seattle super-prospect, Michael Pineda, in one of the young season's most exciting pitching matchups.  We will see how his slender frame is able to handle the rigors of starting, but facing the Mariners' lineup is about the best way he could hope to try.  As Law pointed out, he has an electric fastball in addition to a slider and changeup, just the kind of mix that could lead to real success in the rotation.

The Future

The Rangers organization has been up front with its desire to make Feliz a starter next season.  Had they been more comfortable with their options in the 'pen this year, it's possible that he, not Ogando, would be the one in the rotation.  As it stands now, there is no reason why both can't be there next year, considering the tantalizing potential that both possess.  Managers may tend to take comfort in having a reliable relief corps, but we all know -- and thankfully so do Daniels and Ryan -- that starters have the ability to provide way more value over way more innings.  Either way, we expect the Rangers offense to give them a bit of a cushion, but with guys this physically gifted, it should be fun to see how it turns out.

1 comment:

John Hendrie said...

These MLB posts are tempting me to come out of the cave and start following baseball again.