Scouting the Breakout Game between Reds and Rangers, other spring notes — Keith Law

MLB’s Breakout Games kicked off on Thursday in both Arizona and Florida, as all 30 teams will field rosters stacked with their best prospects and play at least one game each against another team’s prospect squad in big-league spring stadiums. I was at the first game in Arizona, which pitted the Reds prospects — who’ll play a second Breakout Game on Saturday — against the home Rangers prospects in a contest won by the Reds’ youngsters.

The star of the show was easily Cincinnati right-hander Rhett Lowder (No. 60 overall, No. 3 Reds prospect), who threw two hilariously efficient innings, working quickly in the great Cincinnati tradition, á la Tom Browning. Lowder, the Reds 2023 first-round pick out of Wake Forest, was 94-95 mph with the fastball. He also had a plus changeup at 86-89 and a plus slider that was sharper than it was last spring in college, attacking hitters with all three pitches. He struck out two and the only batter who reached base did so on an error. Also, Lowder’s hair remains tremendous, even stronger than his changeup.



Reds 2024 top-20 prospects: Noelvi Marte, Cam Collier lead the way

The Reds’ 2022 first-rounder, Cam Collier (No. 50 overall, No. 2 Reds prospect), hit the game’s lone home run, showing huge opposite field power in taking a 96-mph fastball out to left field, but he then struck out on fastballs in his next two trips to the plate. The first came after he whiffed on two low-90s fastballs from a lefty, and the second was against a right-hander, who came middle-in with 96 and got Collier to swing through it. Collier has really gotten thick around the middle and it’s impacting his defense at third; he was a little slow on a soft grounder from Anthony Gutierrez, then rushed the throw because he realized he was late and his throw pulled the first baseman off the bag.

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Brock Porter got the start for Texas. (Norm Hall / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Texas started Brock Porter (No. 5 Rangers prospect), their 2022 fourth-round pick (but their second selection in that draft), and the recipient of a first-round bonus after they went under slot to sign Kumar Rocker (who has apparently looked very good in his rehab from Tommy John). Porter was 91-94 mph with the fastball from a high three-quarters slot with some effort, with a plus changeup at 81-82 and fringy slider. He was hit on the leg or foot by a comebacker and walked the next guy on four pitches, after which he seemed to right himself.



Texas Rangers 2024 top 20 prospects: Wyatt Langford, Evan Carter lead the way

Sebastian Walcott (No. 40 overall prospect, No. 3 Rangers) led off for the Rangers at the tender age of 17, which I say with a hint of irony as Walcott is enormous, 6-foot-5 with shoulders so broad you could show a movie on his back. I saw Walcott on Tuesday in a minor-league spring game and in the Breakout game. He has crazy bat speed and strength, and had a very hard-hit single off Reds starter Julian Aguilar’s 95-mph fastball on the outer third and an equally hard-hit double on the back fields two days prior. He runs well for his size, but I have a very hard time envisioning this frame staying at shortstop when he hasn’t even begun to fill out. He did swing and miss too often in 2023, but even against good arms in the Breakout game he put the ball in play in every at-bat.

The Rangers’ bullpen just vomited velocity all game, as if fastballs of 97+ are some sort of invasive weed around the Surprise sports complex. Emiliano Teodo (No. 12 Rangers prospect) was 96-100 with an arm that looks faster than should be physically possible, although his mid-80s slider was just okay. I don’t think he spins the ball that well, and he might be backing off the arm speed to try to get more break on the pitch. Maybe he should try a cutter and just throw the heck out of it. Izack Tiger, who I am definitely going to call “Daniel” at some point, was 96-98 with some life on it and at least a 55 slider at 87-90. He was the Rangers’ seventh-round pick last year out of a two-year college, pitching well in a brief stint in the Cape Cod League, and I think all he has to do to get to the majors as a reliever is try, try, try.

Marc Church was 95-97 from a high three-quarters slot with a very fast arm and a 55 slider. He’s had issues with his control since he was drafted in 2019 but was around the plate on Thursday. Skylar Hales, Texas’ fourth-round pick last year out of Santa Clara, was 97-99 with a plus slider at 86-87, with a very short arm action. These guys are all relievers but he’s the most reliever-y of all of them. The one guy who didn’t throw that hard was lefty Mitch Bratt (No. 16 Rangers prospect), who struggled to throw strikes in his first inning but was better as the outing went on, mostly 91-93 with a decent slurve. I’m not trying to make excuses but he may have been off his game since Texas used all of these guys in one- to two-inning looks, and Bratt is a true starter who succeeds more with feel than overpowering stuff.

Aguilar (No. 17 Reds prospect) was 93-95 on his sinker with a solid-average changeup and below-average slurve, throwing strikes and mostly keeping the ball on the ground when it was put into play. He showed a little more velocity on Thursday than he did last year.

Only two hitters collected more than one hit in the game, Texas’ Cam Cauley and Cincinnati’s Carlos Sanchez. Cauley smoked a double the other way to the base of the right field wall, but his other hit was a routine flyball that the left fielder just missed, with Cauley ending up on third base. Sanchez broke his bat on a 92-mph fastball in and then beat out an infield single, while in his next at-bat he hit a sharp groundball down the left field line and busted out of the box enough to end up on second base.

One last observation: Cincinnati catcher Alfredo Duno got just one at bat as the DH, ending the game in the on-deck circle, but the 18-year-old Venezuelan is enormous. I do not believe his listed height of 6-2 or weight of 210 are accurate. I thought someone put Godzilla in the batter’s box.

Other notes from the backfields

• While on the back fields to see Walcott on Tuesday, I caught an inning of Jack Leiter (No. 14 Rangers prospect), who was 95-97 with what looked like a shorter, cleaner arm action and better use of his lower half. He showed two breaking balls, both of which looked above-average, and walked one guy while allowing one bloop single.

• Dodgers outfielder Andy Pages missed nearly all of 2023 after shoulder surgery, which I feared would then impact his swing even into this year, but he is not concerned with such petty considerations. He hit two massive home runs in a Triple-A game against Kansas City on Thursday, the second one coming off a curveball from a right-hander. I think my concerns were wildly overblown and I should have had him on the top 100 as I had the year before, because he looks as good as he did before the injury, if not better.

• Speaking of looking better, Kansas City outfielder Gavin Cross appears to have regained the muscle he’d lost last year while dealing with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial disease spread by ticks. His bat speed was back to where it was in his draft spring as well. The Royals took Cross in the first round in 2022, and he was very impressive in his debut that summer, but his 2023 season was a disaster in pretty much every way, from contact rate to contact quality to power. I’m hopeful this will be a bounceback year for him.

(Top photo of Cam Collier after his home run: Norm Hall / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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