Minor League Monday – End of Season

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Welcome back to ShutDown Inning’s Minor League Monday’s! Here you will find a detailed report of each and every one of the Texas Rangers’ farm teams.
We will have stats, players of the week, players to watch, weekly recaps, and more! Be sure to check back every Monday for a new report so that you can be on top of your game when it comes to the up and coming Texas Rangers.

Be sure to click any affiliates team logo to take you to their team website for more detailed information. (Team site will open a new browser window)

You will notice under some of the affiliates that their record has reset and they are in the second half of their season. For a complete rundown of how the minor league standings, first and second half of the season works, please follow the links to their homepage and click standings.

Spokane Indians
Short Season Class A
15-22 (-5.0) (Second Half)
40-35 (-5.0) (Overall)

First-Half Division Champions

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Spokane is eliminated from the second half officially, but never fear. The club is headed to the playoffs, thanks in large part to a stellar first half of the short season. The action starts on Tuesday, in Vancouver. They will play three games, the winner advances on to the league championship round. The winner of that final is the 2014 NWL Champion. Let’s all cheer on the Indians and hope that they can bring the Rangers system a championship ring.

The offense was spearheaded by several different players and the group was a balance of new talent and repeat players from the 2013 draft. It was nice to see Zach Cone reach his rehab goals and work his way back up in the system. Marcus Greene also put together a fantastic season and absolutely earned his current place in Hickory. The new college players jumped right in and helped Spokane start off like a house of fire, and it will be fun to see where Seth Spivey, Jose Trevino, and Luke Tendler start and end their respective seasons in 2015.

The pitching was up and down for the club, but there were some gems tossed as well. One of the pitching highlights was seeing the 11 inning, no hit bid completed by Derek Thompson, Shane McCain, Adam Parks and Luis Pollorena. Richelson Pena also emerged as a starter to keep track of, and several bullpen pieces jumped out as well. Overall, the bullpen was one of the highlights for the club, and should provide the system with good depth over the next couple of seasons.

A special salute goes out to 2014 draftee, pitcher Nick Dignacco. Nick finished his season with a 5.09 ERA over 17.2 IP. He was mostly used out of the pen, until his last outing, a five inning affair. It turns out that that would be his last appearance for the foreseeable future. Nick was drafted out of West Point and has just recently been called to fulfill his call to military service to our country. We at SDI wish him the best of luck during his deployment.

Second Half Final StandingsPicture

Final Overall Standings

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Hickory Crawdads – A (Low)
39-31 (-4.0) (Second Half)
80-59 (-6.5) (Overall)

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It’s officially over. The Hickory Crawdad’s season will end today in bittersweet fashion. They finish with at least 80 wins for the fifth time in franchise history and also mark the first time an 80-win team misses the playoffs (h/t Mark Parker @crawdadsbeat).  Although they don’t get to participate in the playoffs this year, it’s easy for me to call this season a success. In his second full year as the Hickory skipper, 35 year old Corey Ragsdale did a terrific job keeping a team on the flux focused and ready to play every night. Hitting coach Bobby Rose, pitching coach Oscar Marin and all of the roaming coaches in the Rangers organization continued to develop very young talent in Hickory which resulted in the promotion of several players who figure to have an impact with the Texas Rangers at some point in the future. In high-A ball, so much is about molding raw talent. Taking player’s natural skills and turning them into productive baseball ability is part of what makes watching this team so fascinating. Shortening a leg kick during a swing, changing the position of a pitchers landing foot or even breathing techniques in high leverage situations are all part of the beautiful little nuances of minor league baseball.

There were so many offensive standouts this year. Travis Demeritte led the South Atlantic League with 25 homeruns this year. Nomar Mazara burst onto the scene as one of the most promising prospects in the entire organization and made his way straight to Frisco where he continues to improve. Ryan Cordell slugged over .500 with Hickory, moved to Myrtle Beach, and is now slugging .690 in 15 games. The player that really stood out this year, among all those greats, was center fielder Lewis Brinson. Brinson cemented his status as a “prospect to watch” with a .335/.405/.579 slash line and fantastic outfield defense. As is usually the case, the ‘Dad took the four hour trip south and got himself acquainted with the all-you-can-eat crab legs and mini golf of Myrtle Beach.

Pitching at this level of the minor leagues is always tough to evaluate. If you do, you’re usually looking at raw talent rather than results because there is so much being tweaked and shifted to get a good idea of how a particular pitcher would fare against major league hitting. That being said, there were some really promising performances this year. Cody Kendall was consistently good all year. He pitched in a lot of high leverage situations and ended the year with a 1.02 ERA and a tasty 1.13 WHIP. Tyler Smith had a very congruent 125 strikeouts in 125 innings pitched. My pitcher of the year was Frank Lopez. I’ve written about him before, but this year he started 15 games and ended the year with a 2.82 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, 80 strikeouts and only 23 walks. He was impressive this year and may have shown signs of a guy with starter potential.

Thankfully, we’ll get to enjoy Hickory as a Texas Rangers affiliate through 2018 thanks to a newly signed extension.  Come April 9, 2015 we’ll start another year of endless optimism and the merry-go-round of players in and out of the team will start spinning once again. We’ll get to see if catcher Joe Jackson can continue to show some offensive prowess that he hasn’t shown before. We’ll get to find out if first round pick Luis Ortiz is as polished and talented as he appears to be. We’ll get to see another round of teenagers fighting to claw their way into the consciousness of all those Texas Rangers decision makers while still trying to figure out who they are as human beings. Sure it’s been a rough year to be a Rangers fan, but if you look just a little deeper, you’ll see why it’s so easy to be excited about 2015 and beyond. See you next year, go have a catch.

Second Half Final Standings

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Final Overall Standings

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Myrtle Beach Pelicans – A (High)
37-32 (+1.5) (Second Half)
81-56 (+12.5) (Overall)

First-Half Division Champions
Second-Half Division Champions

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As of this writing, Myrtle Beach is a win away from clinching the second half division title, which would also ensure them a complete season division victory. They’d be only one of two possible Rangers clubs to achieve this, the other potentially being Frisco. The birds have endured roster upheaval out the caboose, which is a testament to how many of their players improved over the season. Their playoff run will be fun to watch, especially for the guys who have fought the whole season through to get to this point. Let’s all cheer them on!

The starting roster looked like a dream, with Gallo, Alfaro, and Williams as the highlights. Those three, at various points, burst out and earned promotions to Frisco, where they are now leading that club into the playoffs as well. After them came Cordell, De Leon, and Brinson – young players who still have a ways to go, but made great strides to get up with the Pelicans and lead them in the playoffs as well. It’s with the promotions of Gallo, Alfaro, and Williams that the depth of the farm starts to reveal itself and what Rangers fans can look forward to in the not too distant future.

The biggest pitching stories to come out of the starting roster were Andrew Faulkner, Alex Gonzalez, Alex Claudio, Will Lamb, and Keone Kela. All five found themselves in Frisco and each has more than earned the promotions this season. Faulkner was the sneaky, dark horse who emerged as a pitcher with stuff to watch each outing. Gonzalez is doing extremely well, showing a certain ability to use his stuff well and to also get out of jams if needed. Lamb and Kela are big parts of the Frisco bullpen and rare is the outing where they are a cause for concern. Alex Claudio jumped levels at an astounding rate, lest we forget that he and his changeup started in South Carolina and now reside in Arlington, Texas. This pitching depth can’t be understated, especially in a season such as this for the big club.

Special shout out goes to pitcher Cody Buckel. He has found a way to climb out of a very odd set of circumstances that set him back tremendously the season prior. He now at appears comfortable pitching a baseball and has been steadily working on command the past several weeks. He seems bound for a relief role, but that is an infinitely better prognosis than what he faced just one year ago. The sincere hope of many people is that this newest turn leads to the next step in his return to prominence in the Rangers system.

Second Half  Standings

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 Overall Standings

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Frisco RoughRiders – AA
39-30(E) (Second Half)
79-59 (+2.5) (Overall)

First-Half Division Champions

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It was a big year in Frisco. 2014 was a year filled with prospects, developments and success. On to the majors are Tomas Telis, Ryan Rua, Rougned Odor, Jake Smolinski, Luis Sardinas, Alex Claudio, Jon Edwards, Phil Klein, Matt West and Nick Martinez. New to the team are top prospects Nomar Mazara, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson and Jorge Alfaro. Through all the movement, some things never changed. The Frisco RoughRiders never stopped having a roster filled with talent, and they never stopped winning. After a 40-29 first-half, the Riders clinched a playoff berth. Now at 38-30 in half number two, Frisco is two wins away from winning the full-season division title.

There were many players who developed over the course of the 2014 season and there are a few I want to highlight. C Pat Cantwell, the former 3rd round draft pick out of Stony Brook, is the most defensively skilled catcher in the Rangers system. From a top-notch framing ability to an above average arm to plus quickness and speed, Cantwell is well-rounded behind the dish. Cantwell is going to be a big league catcher for this reason. Jeff Mathis is currently enjoying his 10th big league season despite a .196 career batting average. Defensively-skilled catchers make for good major-league backups. However, where the 24-year-old has developed in 2014 is at the plate. After hitting .216 over the first half of the season, Cantwell has succeeded to the tune of .288/.396/.359 slashline over the second half. The changes in numbers correlate with a mid-season change in approach. Over the last couple months, Cantwell has switched to a more patient, contact-oriented, gap-to-gap approach and it has worked. How well he hits will determine if the New Yorker will be a career backup or something more. The developments this year are promising.

2B Odubel Herrera leads the Texas League in batting by 18 points. More importantly, his plate discipline is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in 2013. This aspect of his hitting is still a work in progress, but the 22-year-old Venezuelan is no longer swinging at anything that moves. The numbers back this statement up, as Herrera has improved his BB% to 7% after a measly 4.1% in 2013. With an extremely level swing and an ability to line the ball to all fields, several scouts have major-league grades on “Doobie”.

RP Keone Kela has shown an incredible amount of growth since an early-season promotion. When the 6’1” righty arrived in Frisco, he sat 95-97mph with his fastball and showed a curve with average potential. Now Kela sits 98-99 and touches triple-digits with his fastball that also features considerable sink and owns a curveball that has become a straight-up nasty, hammer, insert-superlative-here curveball that is a true out pitch. Once Kela improves his control, which he already has to an extent in 2014, he will not only be big-league ready, but he will be ready to be one of the premier relievers in baseball. With the amount of development he has shown in 2014, don’t discount the Hawaiian making that scenario come true sooner rather than later.

As always, don’t panic over 3B Joey Gallo’s Double-A struggles. He is 20-years-old, an age most prospects are still in A-ball. He has one of the best makeups in the system, the stereotypical first-in last-out guy. With how hard he works, Gallo will be able to adjust. His .233 average and 39.7% K-rate while in Double-A this year are not a reason for concern with a player of his profile.

The playoffs start on September 3rd against the Oakland-affiliated Midland Rockhounds. With a rotation filled with five prospects, a lineup which contains three of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball and a bullpen featuring hard-throwing prospects Keone Kela and Will Lamb, there are more than enough reasons to visit Dr. Pepper Ballpark. Enjoy this team, because a roster this stacked is a rarity.

Current Second Half Standings

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Current Overall Standings

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Round Rock Express – AAA
70-74 (-9.0)

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As the season wraps up today, this is going to be the last of the reports of the year from  us here at SDI. It went much too fast but I’m sure we’ll have plenty of information on the Express and all the other affiliates during the off-season. As Walter White once said, “We’re just getting started.”

Round Rock was eliminated from playoff contention this past week and they’re just playing out the stretch now. Their record sits at 70-73 so they won’t be a .500 team this year. The Memphis Redbirds (78-64) claimed the division and will advance on to likely face KC’s affiliate the Omaha Storm Chasers. It just wasn’t in the cards for Round Rock as their roster seemingly changed every other night with all of the call-ups and moves the big club was forced into making. The fact that they stayed in it as long as they did was fairly impressive. A rough August did them in as they went 13-19 during the month. This past week was especially rough as they were swept in a 4 game set by Las Vegas who scored 32 runs in those 4 games. Their final game is today at Dell Diamond against Nashville at noon.

I’m not going to choose a hitter for the week on this final report, but rather one for the year and the choice is pretty obvious. Your 2014 Express’ hitter of the year is Jared Hoying. The dude was a stat sheet filler and broke out big time over the last few months. Jared’s slash line as it stands with a game to go is .271/.325/.517. He has 26 homers, 86 runs scored, 78 RBI, and 20 SB. He led the team in HRs, RBI, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples, Outfield Assists, and games played. Jared becomes the 4th Texas MiLB’er to join the 20/20 club in a season in the new century joining Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Lewis Brinson. The dude from Toledo deserves a shot this September.

So my pitcher of the year was not so obvious but I ended up giving it to Ben Rowen and Phil Klein. Okay, so co-pitchers of the year. Both men had fine years pitching exclusively out of the Express pen. Rowen appeared in 34 games and through 47 innings has a 3.45 ERA, 31 strikeouts, a 1.19 WHIP, and he only allowed 2 homers. Klein was simply spectacular in his shorter stint with Round Rock. He appeared in 9 games and tossed 18.1 innings of scoreless relief. He had 28 strikeouts and a sparkling 0.71 WHIP. The big fella was an imposing force in multiple ways when he toed the rubber.

The players I will miss watching the most and look forward to next year are a rejuvenated Luke Jackson, a healthy Corey Knebel (he may actually win a job with the big club in ST), Luis Sardinas and his defense, and Brett Nicholas’s versatility. Some players from the lower levels who could be up as well include that Gallo dude you may have heard of, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Keone Kela (VELOCITY).

Final Overall Standings

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SDI Minor Leagues
The SDI Minor League Staff is led by Minor League Coordinator Grant Schiller who covers Spokane, High Desert, and Frisco. Minor league enthusiast Travis Smith covers the Hickory Crawdads and Round Rock Express. Occasional contributions are courtesy of Billy Casey.

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