May 1, 1991 was the day that Nolan Ryan threw his last no-hitter—a gem against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he recorded 16 strikeouts while only walking two. Since then the Texas Rangers pitching staff has not had much to brag about (aside from a Kenny Rogers perfect game).
During that time the high-powered Rangers offense—anchored at different points by the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira—was stuck in the cellar of the American League West, outside of a few playoff appearances, because they simply could not carry a team that lacked pitching. Sure they made efforts, signing free agents Kevin Millwood and Chan Ho Park to big contracts, but they ultimately fell well short of expectations.
But the tide is beginning to turn in Arlington, Texas. Last year's World Series run has given this team a new identity coupled with the emergence of C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando as reliable, shutdown arms in the rotation. The real hope though might be found in the talented young arms they have in their minor league system.
Where were prospects Neil Ramirez, Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin and Martin Perez the day Nolan Ryan threw that record seventh no-hitter?
Ramirez was getting ready to celebrate his second birth day.
Wieland was just beginning to walk.
Erlin’s age was still being counted in months.
Perez was only a month removed from his mother’s womb.
Despite their young age these prospects are tearing up mounds from Round Rock, Texas to Myrtle Beach, Virginia and everywhere in between. Yet only one of them came into the season on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list—Perez at No. 24.
So who are these guys and just how good have they been?
Let’s start with the more widely known name in Martin Perez. The hard-throwing southpaw from Venezuela was signed by the Rangers in 2007 for $580,000 and has impressed at every stop, usually being the youngest player on the field.
Is he any good? He has been compared to Johan Santana and Greg Maddux, not much else is needed to be said—but I’ll still give you the stats anyway. This year he has a 2.31 ERA while striking out 48 batters with a WHIP of 1.29 in 46 innings.
In his third start this year, Perez threw a five-inning perfect game.
He has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, topping out as high as 96. He also possesses a sharp curve, and an excellent changeup. He pitches to contact when needed and is a much more polished pitcher than most his age. He has all the tools to be a potential ace with a call up to the big team expected as early as 2012.
Neil Ramirez was drafted by the Rangers in the first round, No. 44 overall, of the 2007 Amateur Draft out of high school. The tall righty has been arguably the most surprising pitcher early on in the season. Not because he came out of nowhere, he was after all drafted in the first round, but because he is shutting down Triple-A batters with no previous experience over Single-A.
After a couple of mediocre seasons at single-A Hickory, Ramirez began the season by pitching 4.2 innings of one-hit ball while striking out nine for High-A Myrtle Beach. He followed that with a spot start for Triple-A Round Rock filling in for the oft-injured Eric Hurley.
Ramirez shut out the Omaha Stormchasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, who own the best farm system in the game. This from Scott Lucas, who covers the Rangers' minor league teams:
“He utterly manhandled the Storm Chasers for six innings, allowing three singles, walking none, and striking out five including the last three batters in a row. Courtesy of two double plays, he faced one batter over the minimum. Ramirez pitched with absolute confidence against a prospect-loaded lineup: five of the Royals' top 30 per Baseball America, and three of the top nine per Baseball Prospectus.”
Since then Ramirez has solidified his spot in the rotation at Round Rock by going 3-1 in nine starts striking out 48 batters in just over 43 innings. He owns a 3.38 ERA between Round Rock and Myrtle Beach this season with a WHIP just over 1.3. He is expected in Arlington in 2012 if he keeps this up although a late call up this season is not totally out of the question.
He has an above average fastball that sits in the low 90s but can hit 95 miles per hour at times. He also offers an above average to plus curve ball that sits in the 70s and even mixes in a good changeup.
All Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland have been doing all year is forming one of the best pitching duos in all of the minors. They are pitching just as good, if not better, than such top prospects as Jake Odorizzi and Drew Pomeranz.
In the Carolina league, Wieland is first in ERA, second in WHIP, second in strikeouts, and fifth in innings pitched. He is also one of two pitchers to throw a complete game shutout in which he only allowed two hits.
Not to be outdone, Erlin is first in strikeouts, first in WHIP (an otherworldly 0.55), third in innings pitched, and fourth in ERA. He has had three games this year in which he has gone at least six innings allowing only one hit in all of them.
Combined between them they have pitched just over 106 innings and have only allowed eight walks. Wieland’s 20.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio is first in the league, Erlin is second.
These two pitchers have done just about all they can do at Myrtle Beach and it won’t be long before they get promoted to Double-A Frisco.
This is just a sample of the Rangers rich and deep farm system. There’s not even a mention of right handed pitcher Tanner Scheppers, considered one of the top prospects in the organization. There’s also no talk of Cuban defector Leonys Martin who is running wild in Frisco. Or Engel Beltre, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. This is the same team that traded top prospects such as Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and Michael Main just last summer.
The future looks bright for the Rangers but only time will tell how these young pitchers progress.