Prior to 2010, former Boston Red Sox and current Texas Rangers prospect Roman Mendez entered the season with significant helium. After falling flat in his first taste of the South Atlantic League, Mendez was dealt as part of a package for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and became a reclamation project for the Rangers organization.
Fast forward a season and Mendez is once again a pitching prospect to watch after posting a 3.06 FIP in Hickory including a stellar 10 strikeouts per nine innings. The young right hander also drastically improved his control as his walks per nine fell from nearly five in 2010 to a shade under three and a half this past season. With Mendez earning mid-summer buzz once again, I ventured three hours to Greenville to scout him versus Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Jacobs, and the rest of the single-A Red Sox.
Video after the jump
Lean and wiry, Mendez’ listed dimensions of 6-foot-3, 192 pounds pass the eye test leaving room for additional projection should he find a way to add an additional 20-30 pounds to his frame. This may prove difficult as he lacks natural size through his core, lower half and shoulders to envision a clear path into the 200 club. Additionally, Mendez’ build, along with the top end velocity generated with effort in his delivery will result in a split decision amongst scouts in terms of starter versus reliever based on perceived injury risk.
The 2011 version of Roman Mendez reminds me a bit of Julio Teheran circa 2009 as a pitcher who generates excellent arm whip from a slight enough frame that one is forced to question whether the arm will hold up. In Teheran’s case, he added a bit of size, smoothed out his arm action and his lower half is now able to help generate mid-90′s velocity taking stress off of the elbow. Mendez will need to do the same if he wants to eliminate “bullpen” from the prospect conversation.
From a velocity standpoint, Mendez’ four seam fastball sat 92-95 MPH, touching 96 MPH. He creates excellent arm speed and one is able to envision his velocity stabilizing in the mid-90′s with further physical development. With his height, Mendez creates downward plane which is of vital importance when projecting how a fastball will play at the Major League level. However, in the sixth inning, Mendez’ velocity fell off of a cliff and his velocity dipped to 90-92 MPH which once again alludes to his needing to add size to increase durability.
One concern about Mendez’ fastball is that he shied away from it in run scoring situations. Instead, he doubled and tripled up on sliders at times when the situation called for 95 MPH on the hands. For me, it was perceived as a lack of confidence in the pitch which will need to be turned on its head. Mendez has a strong slider, but he’s simply not a finesse guy. Power pitchers throw fastballs and he will need to develop the pitch to the point where it can be thrown with confidence in any situation.
Additionally, it appeared as if he was toying with a cutter at times in the 90 MPH range. With two seam fastballs generally tailing in on the hands, Mendez’ offering cut to the outside corner against right handed hitters.
At 79-83 MPH, touching 85, Mendez appeared to throw two variations of the slider. The first being a slower “slurve” type offering to keep hitters off balanced. His true slider is a potential out pitch with tight, late break which Mendez used liberally. In working out of a second and third situation with no out, Mendez doubled up on sliders for a strikeout, earned a weak ground ball to the first baseman for out number two and then doubled up on sliders once again for a backwards “K” to end the inning. When Mendez tired in the sixth inning, his breaking balls lost their crisp bite and he began overthrowing to compensate. One of those sliders was a full count “hanger” to Xander Bogaerts which he deposited over the center field fence for a 430′ home run.
Mendez’ changeup was a pleasant surprise as he flashed excellent arm action at times. At 80-84 MPH, the pitch featured heavy sink when down in the zone and has promise. However, he did have a tendency to slow down his mechanics at times tipping the pitch. It’s a work in progress, but has the possibility of paying significant dividends.
At present, Roman Mendez is still more lottery ticket than legitimate starting pitching prospect. The raw stuff borders on electric and it’s easy to dream on his fulfilling his potential. For me, Mendez would make for a perfect Atlanta Braves prospect as he loosely reminds me of a current and former pitcher in the organization. If Mendez stagnates, current Astros reliever Juan Abreu would be a good comp as a high velocity bullpen arm with command/control issues and two pitches which flash plus.
Should Mendez develop as the Rangers hope, he’s a bit of a Julio Teheran-lite as he’s the same age as the Braves top prospect who has already made his big league debut. However, both pitchers did have similar stuff, strengths and weaknesses at the South Atlantic League level. And if Teheran profiles as a front of the rotation starter, Mendez has mid-r0tation possibilities after adjusting for age-versus-level.