Rangers' top young arms waiting for their turn

Rangers' top young arms waiting for their turn

Rangers' top young arms waiting for their turn
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish, with a couple hundred people watching him, pitched one scoreless inning during Friday's intrasquad game on Nolan Ryan Field. Following the game, the Rangers rounded up the usual supporting cast -- hitters, manager and pitching coach -- to parade through the interview tent and dissect the outing.

Not much notice was paid to Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez. People paid about as much attention to their one inning as they did to Robbie Ross the day before. Friday was the latest episode in the Yu Darvish Show.

"I don't mind," Perez said. "It's easier for me and good for him. He's a good pitcher and a good person. I'm just learning how I can help my team."

Times are changing in Texas. There were times in the past when three promising young arms would have been the talk of Spring Training. There would have been speculation as to which one of the three had the best chance of making the rotation, and how long it would take the others to get to the big leagues.

Instead, in the wake of Yu-Mania, the crown jewels of the Rangers' farm system get their work done in relative obscurity while enjoying their first Major League camp.

"It has been great," said Ross, who is ranked No. 5 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Rangers prospects . "I'm just enjoying it and soaking it all in, learning different things and seeing what happens."

That is a bit of a mystery at this point. The Rangers, basking in the glow of having great pitching depth, do not have an opening for any of these three guys. The rotation is set with Darvish, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz, plus Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman in reserve.

Their only chance to make the team is as a reliever, but that's highly unlikely, even in the case with Perez, who is ranked second on the Top 20 list. All three are almost certain to begin the season in the Minors and await their turn to crack one of the youngest and most talented rotations in the big leagues.

"I honestly try to stay away from thinking about that," said Ramirez, who is ranked eighth. "I know these guys are talented, but I have to focus on what I have to do every single day. If you think about that, you put added pressure on yourself."

A trade is always a possibility. All three attracted interest last summer, but the Rangers maintained their grip while trading pitchers Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin to the Padres for reliever Mike Adams, and right-hander Tommy Hunter and first baseman Chris Davis to the Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara.

"We're excited about their future," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We view all three as having a chance to start in the big leagues, but we'll also be open if they can help us otherwise at some point. We've shown in the past we're not afraid to put young starters in the bullpen. It's not our first choice, but we'll consider it if it's necessary."

Perez has been mentioned as a candidate for the bullpen, but club officials are seriously downplaying it. He is also the one guy that the Rangers reply "no chance" to when other clubs ask about him.

Perez, who doesn't turn 21 until April 4 and has already pitched 10 games at Triple-A, is a left-hander who can hit 92-95 mph with a tremendous changeup. His breaking ball can be above-average at times, but it is his changeup that is often compared to the one thrown by two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Fastball command and staying under control are the two biggest keys for Perez, who has been the youngest player in his league all through the Minors and has a tendency to get excited and over-throw. He allowed a run on two hits and a walk in the All-Star Futures Game last summer. But if he maintains his poise and keeps his delivery under control, he can be dominating.

Perez is ranked 29th by MLB.com in the list of Top 100 prospects in all of baseball.

"That makes you feel good when people say nice things," Perez said. "But I can't get caught up in that. If I do good, I'll get the opportunity. If I don't, I won't get the opportunity. That's part of the game."

Ramirez, 22, drafted 44th overall out of high school in 2007, is a hard-throwing right-hander who was 5-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 25 starts at three different levels last season. He began the season at Class A Myrtle Beach, made one start and then was summoned to Triple-A for what should have been a spot start. But he pitched so well -- going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his first five starts -- that the Rangers decided to leave him there.

He had to go on the disabled list in July because of shoulder fatigue and that kept him from having a complete breakthrough season. But he was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in August with Double-A Frisco. The two biggest issues are regaining the feel for a "hammer" curve, which he seemed to lose because of the shoulder problems, and cutting down a career rate of nearly four walks per nine innings.

"I just need to stay healthy and show I can pitch every fifth day," Ramirez said. "Consistency is the name of the game, being in the strike zone and showing I can throw three pitches for strikes. I'm working on a cutter, too."

Ross, drafted out of high school in the second round in 2008, isn't as overpowering as the other two. His secret is working quickly and throwing strikes with three pitches. His fastball has late movement, but he still has some work to do on his curve and changeup.

Ross was 9-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 21 outings at Class A Myrtle Beach, and then went 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts late in the year for Frisco. Between both places, he walked 1.84 batters and struck out 7.48 per nine innings. Ross was named the Rangers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

That got him a ticket to big league camp. A trip to the Majors will likely take longer for all three. The Rangers no longer have to rush young pitchers.

"It's just good to know this is an organization that has a lot of great pitchers," Ross said. "You just hope to be a part of it, whether it is this year or next year or down the road."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.