Minor League Monday – Opening Week

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Welcome to the Opening Week edition of Minor League Monday. Every Monday during the 2015 season, the folks here at Shutdown Inning will provide you with the a complete rundown of the entire Rangers minor league system. We will provide you with a weekly recap, the current standings, and the current stats of all players so that you can get all of your minor league information with one stop.

Minor League Coordinator Brice Paterik will be covering the short season Spokane Indians, the High A High Desert Mavericks and the AAA Round Rock Express. Minor league writer Austin Dietz will be covering the AA Frisco Roughriders, and prospect guru Grant Schiller will be your go to guy for the Low A Hickory Crawdads.

Click on any minor league teams logo to be taken to their team page (team page will open in a new window).

 

Spokane Indians

Northwest League

Short Season Class A

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spokaneThe short season Spokane Indians are entering their 13th season as the Rangers short season affiliate after successfully renewing their contract for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

The Indians season will start in late June. Due to the Indians not starting their season for another few months, I will save their preview for a later date when the roster becomes less nebulous.

 


Hickory Crawdads

Carolina League

Class Low A

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Texas Rangers Low-A ball returns to Hickory for the 2015 season. The last couple years have witnessed the breakout seasons of Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Ryan Rua and a few others. With some of 2014’s top draft picks on the pitching staff and an extremely interesting lineup, more breakouts should be expected. Here is a breakdown of the Crawdads’ Opening Day roster.

 

SP Nick Gardewine (7th rd pick/2013)

SP Reed Garrett (16th/2014)

SP Brett Martin (4th/2014)

SP Luis Ortiz (1st/2014)

SP Kelvin Vazquez (2011 J2 signing)

 

RP Chris Dula (25th/2013)

RP John Fasola (31st/2014)

RP Jefri Hernandez (2015 MiLB signing)

RP Ariel Jurado (2012 J2)

RP Trey Lambert (2015 MiLB)

RP Kevin Matthews (1st/2011)

RP Adam Parks (33rd/2014)

RP David Perez (2009 J2)

RP Collin Wiles (1st/2012)

 

Major Prospects: SP Luis Ortiz

 

Others to Watch: SP Brett Martin, RP Kevin Matthews, RP David Perez, RP Collin Wiles

 

Notes of Interest:

  • Brett Martin drew positive reviews this spring and now sees his first full-season action after spending his 2013 season in the Arizona League. Martin throws a low-90s fastball and also features a very promising curveball.
  • After missing all of 2013 and most of 2014 with an injury, 2011 first rounder Kevin Matthews is back in action, and is at least worth keeping an eye on. Reports aren’t super positive and he is now a reliever, however.
  • The mystical David Perez cracks his first full-season squad in his sixth year in the organization. Perez is well-known for his impressive stuff and … less impressive control/command profile. The righty had his first dose of even moderate success in 2014 with a 3.90 ERA in 27.2 innings of short-season ball. Perez will not be a minor-league free agent after this season since Texas was given an extra year of control due to injury.

 

C Kevin Torres (45th/2008)

C Jose Trevino (6th/2014)

1B Ronald Guzman (2011 J2)

2B/3B Travis Demeritte (1st/2013)

INF Josh Morgan (3rd/2014)

SS Michael De Leon (2013 J2)

INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa (4th/2013)

OF Jairo Beras (2012 J2)

OF Jose Cardona (2011 J2)

OF Eduard Pinto (2011 J2)

OF Luke Tendler (29th/2014)

 

Major Prospects: 2B/3B Travis Demeritte, INF Josh Morgan, SS Michael De Leon, OF Jairo Beras

 

Others to Watch: C Jose Trevino, 1B Ronald Guzman, INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa, OF Luke Tendler

 

Notes of Interest:

  • Travis Demeritte is unsurprisingly repeating Low-A. The 1st rounder had a very uneven 2014. He hit 25 bombs, but at the same time slashed just .211/.310/.450 and struck out in 36.7% of his plate appearances. Once he shows development in that portion of his game, he’ll be on to the hitter’s paradise of the California League.
  • Ronald Guzman is three-peating in Hickory. At this point, it’s not looking good for the first baseman to pan out. The bat speed isn’t what it used to be, the hole in his swing on down-and-in pitches persists and production has steadily regressed. Guzman is 20 years old, and has time to turn his career around, but the returns to this point have not been promising.
  • Josh Morgan drew raves from just about everyone who took a trip to the Surprise backfields this spring. Last year Morgan slashed .322/.436/.347 in 56 games between rookie ball and Spokane. Be ready for another big season from 2014’s 3rd round pick.
  • Notice two players who aren’t on this roster: infielders Yeyson Yrizzari and Ti’Quan Forbes. In many organizations these two would be on the Low-A squad. This is an example of the Rangers middle infield depth pushing players down a level in the system. Yrizarri is ready for full-season ball from what I’ve seen, and Forbes has the makeup to handle the struggles that would come with the promotion well. Both will be up at some point this year.

 


High Desert Mavericks

California League

Class High A (Advanced)

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high desertPlease welcome in the new kid on the block: the High Desert Mavericks. No, Dirk isn’t assigned to this club, but there is still a plethora of offensive studs on this roster to watch. For the next two years the Ranger farmhands will play their High A ball in the California league after 3 years with the Carolina League Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The arid air of southern California, and higher elevation adds for significantly increased offense. As a result, look for major pitching prospects to avoid significant time in High Desert like what happened while affiliated with Bakersfield. I’m looking at you Lulu. I shudder to think what Mr. Gobbles could have accomplished long ball wise with a couple of months in the homer heaven Cal league. Alas, talking prospects isn’t the time to dream on what could be. Ha! Wow yes it most definitely is. Even though these Mavs don’t have any top 3 prospects, they have 3 of the most intriguing offensive prospects in the system.

 The Big 3: First on this list of intrigue is a squatter who burst back onto the prospect scene this winter down under, setting an Australian League record 16 home runs during the off season. The man I’m talking about is Kellin Deglan. His catching credibility and power potential got him drafted 22nd overall in 2010. The power had been limited by a subpar hit tool (career MiLB average of .232, but OBP of .314). That homer record was set in 42 games, and helped with a slash line of .287/.347/.631. Backstops take extra time to stew in the developmental dutch oven, so be patient with the 22 year old Canadian. My hope is that this dude is worth the wait; catchers who excel with the stick and the glove are a rarity in this world.

Next on this list is a tad obvious, but still ultra intriguing: Lewis Brinson. The lanky Florida native has 3 to 4 plus tools depending on which scout you ask rearding his arm. He makes quick reads off the bat. He’s very fast and quick on the bases with a career 73.5% stolen base success rate. And he can hit the tar out of a good fastball. Brinson has quick hands that generate his power and give him the potential for a plus hit tool in the future, but a scout told me he needs to improve the bat path in order for that potential to be fulfilled. They also expressed that they had more faith in Brinson utilizing his hand speed than Nick Williams. Another source thought the key to Lewis’ improvement as a hitter would be in refining his plate discipline. He cut down on K’s last year and had that torrid stretch in Hickory that cooled off after his Myrtle Beach promotion. The glove, speed, and arm alone are enough to earn him a bench role in the future. If he can put it all together the ceiling looks like a faster, lower average version of Adam Jones. It’s a fun thing to dream on, and if he can hit above .250 in the bigs, he will be a first division starter.

Last in the group of intrigue is recent convert to the short stop crew, Ryan Cordell. Over the last few years the Ranger farm system has transitioned its position player depth from middle infielders to outfielders. Thus, Ryan Cordell as a corner outfielder fell behind the shadows of names like Mazara, Williams, Brinson, and Beras. The 6’4″ corner outfielder made the transition a few months ago to short stop. Though he hadn’t played the 6 spot since high school, JD and co. decided to transition the athletic 23 year old and spice up his prospect profile. Cordell even before the transition was announced was picked by Baseball America’s Ben Badler as the most underrated Ranger prospect. According to Badler, Cordell has “the power to hit 20 or so homers, hits to all fields, understands the strike zone, makes consistent contact, and surprises people with legitimate plus speed…” The defensive transition will be fun to watch this year. If he can stick at short, defensively I’ve heard comps to one or both of the Seagers, which would be an excellent ceiling to dream on.

Pitching?

As I stated earlier, the California League is a hot zone where dingers are prevalent. This could easily scare pitchers off of challenging hitters with high heat. Big league parks aren’t usually so homer happy as the Cali league, so look for the Rangers to keep Ortiz in Hickory a little longer than we’d all like. Who knows, he might even skip High A all together Mazara style. For now there aren’t many big names to watch, but if you would like you should keep some eyeballs on Frank Lopez’s four pitch mix, the Ledbetter brothers, and Cole Wiper. There’s just something about Wiper that catches my eye every time I watch him pitch.

On the DL 
Before you get upset, I mean the down low not the disabled list. There are a few not so huge name guys to keep an eye on here in Cali. Everything I heard, read, and saw of Seth Spivey, I liked. His plate discipline is well beyond his years and there is even a little pop that caught my eye in Spokane last year. He plays mostly 2B/3B, but also spent some time at SS last year. The dude has some of that ‘edge’ Newberg is always talking about, and he isn’t intimidated out there. Also, look out at shoed Joe Jackson, ancestor of the shoeless one. The man can make contact. Plus prospects with relatives who had successful big league careers warrant extra attention. See what Bobby Bonds’ kid did.

 


 

Frisco Roughriders

Texas League

Class AA

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When Chuck Greenberg and Scott Sonju purchased the Frisco Roughriders last summer, not many people could have guessed how soon the big changes would be taking effect. It took him one off season to give the club an entire new look and feel. The uniforms are brand new, President Teddy Roosevelt is the face, and several new improvements to Dr Pepper Ballpark are in store for the 2015 season. Top it off with names like Joey Gallo, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, and Nomar Mazara on the roster, and you have a recipe for one heck of a Friday Night this summer. As part of our kickoff for Minor League Monday, it’s time to break down and preview just about everything that’s set to debut this year.

For starters, gone are the old red and black unis that this writer actually thought was a decent look. In with the new scorched red and powder blue colors. Greenberg mentions that the parent club Rangers main colors are red, white, and blue, so this is their own unique spin to stick to that combination. Along with the new unis are the Smiling Teddy, and Swinging Teddy logos. Obviously, as the former leader of the Roughriders, Teddy Ballgame is the obvious choice for face of the club. Most minor league teams only have three uniforms- a home, away, and an alternate. Chuck thinks a little big bigger, and thus Frisco will have four this year as he adds an extra alternate. Of course you can find all the new gear you can ever want in (you guessed it) the brand new team store located behind home plate.

Speaking of a new team store, there’s many more improvements that Chuck and company have added to the park to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. To start, there’s a huge new Intouch Grille that moves from the old location to the left field line. It provides founders club members a better view of the game, and more of a feeling of still being in a ballpark than a sports bar with the open patio area. I had access to this nifty amenity one night and I had to get up and head to home plate for another frosty adult beverage thus missing the action. This new location eliminates that headache. Next they plan a big time area for the kids that get burnt on the game after five innings because they don’t recognize anyone on the field from the guys on their walls or baseball cards. The crew has combined all the playground areas together to give it a carnival atmospheric vibe. What kid doesn’t like a carnival? Even adults may wander over as they have activities like Cornhole planned. Perhaps my favorite addition will be that food trucks are coming. That’s right, food trucks. Different local companies will be pulling in to that same area and serving up their specialties. To top it off, a huge sports bar is in the works that anyone may walk up and use. I mean if the park has food trucks it has to have a bar right? I’m sure Chuck still has some surprises left in store for us along with several awesome promotions scheduled including the addition of Dallas’ own Michael Gruber running “Thirsty Thursdays’. Ready to get up to Frisco yet?

If the juicy talent is what tickles your fancy, the Riders will have plenty of that too. Frisco has generally fielded a good team, but the 2015 bunch has a chance to be really special as long as JD doesn’t ruin it and do something like promote them to the next level. The best modern day Minor league team may be the AAA Albuquerque squadron back in 1981 when they had a ho hum .712 winning percentage. I don’t think this club will be doing something like that, but with this roster, there is no reason to think a playoff trip isn’t obtainable by winning the first half division and then topping it off by winning the second half.

The regular lineup will begin primarily looking like Jorge Alfaro C, Drew Robinson 1B, Tyler Pastornicky 2B, Luis Mendez SS, Joey Gallo 3B, Nick Williams LF, Jake Skole CF, and Nomar Mazara RF. That is a lot of power hitting lefties. Feel good story Guilder Rodriguez is also scheduled to be on the roster as he will start the year on the DL. I imagine he will be almost acting as a player coach as the kids soak up his stories from his time with the big club last year. Just imagine an opposing pitcher’s mindset when he sees he has to navigate a Williams, Mazara, Gallo, and Alfaro middle of the order.

The starting pitching will include Jake Thompson, Andrew Faulkner, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, and Victor Payano. If you read SDI’s top prospect countdown, then you should be very familiar with Jake, but don’t sleep on Faulkner or Asher. The latter got a bit of major league taste when he came in relief against the Mets on Saturday, and was touched up, but he still slots in as a decent 40+ FV prospect. The bullpen will feature former big time prospect Cody Buckel, who is back from Australia and wants another chance to get back to prior form. Perhaps the switch from Starter to Reliever will do some good. Other bullpen pieces include Jose Leclerc, Will Lamb, Josh McElwee, Jesus Pirella, Francisco Mendoza, Kyle Lotzkar, and Chad Bell.

The Frisco Roughriders were honored as Forbe’s 4th most valuable minor league franchise back in 2012, and with everything that’s happened in the past year, it would not surprise me if they ended up in the top five this year. Gallo will be hitting long homers, Thompson tossing sexy sliders, and the scouts will be aplenty. Frisco has always had fantastic attendance and with all the new changes, perhaps Chuck should have added more seats to accommodate the growing number of fans that will be packing the stands.

 


Round Rock Express

Pacific Coast League

Class AAA

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rreRound Rock Express, I have faith in you this year. The last couple of seasons have been treacherous for top prospects in Round Rock. Last year the PCL smacked Luke Jackson in the mouth to the tune of a 10.35 ERA in 40 innings. The year before it was Mike Olt’s eyes hanging up a now predictable .197 average. But no more! Chi Chi will break the Round Rock curse of Nolan! I apologize. I saw the opportunity and I had to take it. Chi Chi will start off the season a touch north of Austin and hopefully won’t be shattered by Kris Bryant in his first and last 2 weeks as a regular for the Iowa Cubs. If Chi Chi pitches anything like he did this weekend, he will force himself up to the majors in no time. No time coincidentally is how much time I’d like to see him spend in AAA. Sadly, JD never returned my calls or random shoutouts to his twitter alter ego (assuming he follows me). I look forward more to the possible mid season call ups than the current roster, but I’m still fascinated by Hanser Alberto’s magic leather. While the bullpen is loaded, the bench looks a little thin. This roster will probably change several times between Monday and Wednesday, but the big name dudes are relatively set in stone. Here are some of the major storylines to watch for in Round Rock this year.

What happened to Luke Jackson last year?

2015 will be an integral season in Luke Jackson‘s development. Last year Jackson dominated Texas League hitters and earned himself a promotion down 35. After that, things turned sour for Luke. AAA hitters don’t swing quite as freely as AA ones. Jackson found that out the hard way. The BB/9 were more than doubled, and his HR/9 actually quadrupled after the promotion. This burrito loving man has looked different in spring training than the burrito loving man of 2014. His willingness to use his changeup more often, coupled with the emergence of a passable slider, helps his profile as a starting pitcher. From the video I’ve seen of Lujax, his mechanics appear more consistent. This was one of the main problems ailing Luke last year. Another correction writers noted about Jackson was his newfound ability to slow down the game instead of letting it get out of hand in key moments. If Luke repeats his 2014 season, a bullpen role is a near certainty. I don’t expect that to be the case. Look for Jackson to regain the moxie he had in Frisco and push to steal starts from Nick Martinez.

Chi Chi flippin Gonzalez.

I don’t need to say any more. But I will. Chi Chi Gonzalez will start a game for the Texas Rangers this season. If you didn’t watch Chi Chi’s outing on Saturday, you missed an absolute beauty. The biggest knock on Gonzalez is that he doesn’t strike out enough hitters. When I talked with him last year, he was more concerned about missing barrels than missing bats entirely. Every pitch he throws has movement, nothing is straight. This induced many a ground ball, but scouts and observers didn’t think Chi Chi could reach back and K hitters when he really needed to. In 18.2 spring training innings, Chi Chi racked up 23 strike outs. Yes, I know for the most part spring stats don’t mean anything, but I watched him carve up hitters for eight Ks in five innings Saturday, and I couldn’t look away. As much as we would love to see Gonzalez in the opening day rotation, we all know he could use a little polish in AAA finishing school. Don’t worry though, Chi Chi will be in Arlington before you know it. He will be worth the wait.

Bullpen Bonanza

As optimistic as I am about the Ranger’s chances in 2015, the main reason I hold my hopeful tongue is because of the bullpen. I liked what I saw from Spencer Patton last year in limited big league action, as well as this spring. Patton has good promise (thanks, Royals), but needs to refine his command before he’s ready to be an MLB bullpen regular. I’m disappointed, but not surprised at Claudio’s demotion from big league camp. If Claudio is going to earn one of those limited lefty roles in the bullpen, he’s going to have to learn to be more effective against lefties. His herky jerk delivery hides the ball well from righties, but allows lefties to pick it up early on in the delivery. I don’t have faith in Ross Detwiler as a lefty specialist reliever. It isn’t a role he’s ever been in. Detwiler would have more success as a starter, where he’s been the majority of his career. The bullpen is the most likely place for a AAA call up, so a successful Round Rock pen would mean great things for the Rangers.

Other Notes

When will Joey Gallo get here? I’m uncertain since Thad Levine never returned my snap chats, snail mail, smoke signals. Look for a similar time table to last season. If Gallo tears up Frisco early on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the front office wait a couple months to send him down south. If Joey sees Arlington before September, things are either in the crapper, or Joey has become a transcendent being who  made a deal with the baseball Gods to be able to hit high inside heat. Who is Jared Hoying? Jared is a man who, if not for DeShields’ speed, would be on the 25 man roster. He is a poor man’s Joc Peterson. Jared doesn’t draw as many walks, and isn’t as aggressive on the bases, but he is overlooked by many. Why isn’t Adam Rosales in Round Rock? Well, Greg Tepper, it’s because you angered Jon Daniels somehow. Hanser Alberto has one of the slickest gloves in the minors, and isn’t bad at the dish either. If he has a solid beginning of the season, or there is a significant injury to an infield starter not named Prince (knock on wood), Hanser could see time in The Show for a good portion of the year. Also, I’m not sure what to blame Michael Choice’s struggles on besides Billy Bean/A’s magic. There are legitimate reasons I will get into at a later date. If you’d like to know now, send me a morse code message, a homing pigeon, a tweet @80gradewhitt.

Whether the Rangers win 50 or 150 games this year, I’m going to enjoy the heck out of watching the farm this year. We will be with you all year squealing over ever Gallo bomb, Jorge back pick, and Nick Williams walk. All three of them. Rangers start in a few hours and the farm starts up on Thursday. Baseball is here and summer is within reach. So let’s plant our rears on those bleachers before the Texas sun sets them ablaze. Let’s go out and earn that opening day sunburn that puts us in a baseball frame of mind. Let’s settle in for the long haul because finally: It’s time.

 

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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