Jim Callis

Rangers' Beras, Jones use instructs to continue pitching transition

Rangers' Beras, Jones use instructs to continue pitching transition

The stress-free environment of instructional league makes it the perfect place to experiment with players at different positions. During the Rangers' four-week camp in Surprise, Ariz., former outfielders Jairo Beras and James Jones continued their transition to the mound.

Beras, 22, controversially signed for $4.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in February 2012 after submitting an older birthdate than he had previously. Some teams believed he did so to circumvent upcoming bonus restrictions in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and when MLB couldn't pinpoint a true birthdate, it allowed his contract to stand but suspended him until July 2013.

His raw power and arm strength earned Beras that hefty bonus, but his long swing and overly aggressive approach prevented him from showing consistent success at the plate. He did hit a career-high 22 homers in high Class A in 2016, but he also batted just .262 and had a 27 percent strikeout rate in the hitter-friendly California League. When he batted .227/.278/.376 with 52 strikeouts in 42 games in high Class A this year, both he and the Rangers decided he should pursue pitching full-time.

Texas had discussed making the move last offseason and was going to have him begin doing some bullpen workouts by the end of May. Before that could happen, he wound up taking the mound in a blowout loss on May 16. The right-hander pitched a perfect eighth inning, throwing nine of 14 pitches for strikes and hitting 99 mph with his fastball.

"He loved being a position player and we didn't force him to do anything," Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said. "Ultimately, it was his career and his decision."

Beras spent the last two months of the season pitching in low Class A, where he posted a 5.40 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He worked from 95-99 mph with his fastball and started adding a slider in late August.

"His instructional league focus has been on his slider, and he's picked it up quickly," Tingler said. "His fastball plays. He's a back-end-of-the-bullpen type."

Rangers dynamic outfielders impressing at instructs

Jones, 29, was a two-way player in college at Long Island. Though most clubs preferred him as a pitcher because he was a lefty who could reach 95 mph, he had more success as a hitter and the Mariners drafted him in 2009's fourth round as an outfielder. He spent most of 2014 and part of 2015 in Seattle but batted just .238/.268/.296 in the big leagues.

Acquired from the Mariners in a five-player trade that sent Leonys Martin to Seattle in November 2015, Jones batted .232/.297/.330 in Triple-A during the first three months of the 2016 season before shifting to the mound. He made three pitching appearances that August before injuring his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery.

Jones returned to game action this August in the Rookie-level Arizona League and added more much-needed innings during Texas' instructional league program, which ended last Friday. Interestingly, the Rangers may use him in a dual role as needed

"We're shutting him down after instructs so he can have a full offseason and be ready to go in Spring Training," Tingler said. "We've seen 92-94 mph pretty consistently, pretty good strikes, pretty good secondary pitches. We're open-minded about a lot of things. We don't rule out that he can pitch and come in and play the outfield late in the game, pinch-run, pinch-hit, things like that."

Texas had another interesting conversion project in instructional league. Former Virginia and Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert, who hadn't played baseball since he was a high school freshman in 2009, signed with the Rangers as a right-handed pitcher in July but didn't appear in a Minor League game.

Lambert, 23, set an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record for single-game completion percentage by going 24-for-25 (96 percent) in 2015. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder shows an 89-92 mph fastball and the makings of a curveball and changeup.

"He spent instructional league working on his mechanics and delivery," Tingler said. "He's incredibly raw but he has a lot of aptitude, intelligence and competitiveness."

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.