Ace Ventura: From the Texas League to the World Series

Ventura cardWhen Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura takes to the mound at Kaufmann Stadium tonight with the hopes of an entire fan base weighing on his slim frame, he can take comfort in one indisputable fact: at least he won’t have to face Brett Nicholas in tonight’s Giants lineup. While the former RoughRiders first baseman, who played his college baseball in the Show Me State, won’t be confused with Buster Posey or Hunter Pence, he is one of only 13 players who have a perfect 1.000 batting average in multiple at bats against Ventura. Nicholas was a perfect 2 for 2 versus the hard-throwing righty in Ventura’s sole Texas League start against the RoughRiders back on April 7, 2013 while pitching for the Royals-affiliated Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

I remember talking with Frisco hitting coach Jason Hart about Ventura before the game and he (based on what he saw in spring training) compared him to Pedro Martinez, an observation that has been made on Fox’s World Series telecast over the past week. I even wrote in my game notes that day that the 5’11”, 178 lb. native of the Dominican Republic had been nicknamed “Lil Pedro” (despite being about ten pounds heavier than the future Hall of Famer). Looking at their age-23 seasons, the comparison is even more apt. In 1995, when Pedro was 23 and throwing for the Expos, he went 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA, 174 strikeouts, 66 walks (in 194.2 innings), 123 ERA+ and a 3.90 FIP. As for Ventura’s 2014: 14-10, 3.20 ERA, 159 strikeouts, 69 walks (in 183 innings), 125 ERA+ and a 3.60 FIP. Lil Pedro, indeed.

On top of being a heralded prospect (ranked #3 going into the 2013 season by Baseball America), he had a killer nickname: Ace Ventura. Of course, it works on a baseball level in addition to a pop culture one, though I would doubt if Yordano knows if Finkle is Einhorn or not (he wasn’t even three years old when the pet detective hit theaters).

As for Ventura’s outing against the ’Riders, it was a solid start to begin a season that would later see him make his major league debut. After a perfect first inning, he allowed a single to Nicholas in the second before inducing a double-play ball off Alex Buchholz’s bat. He finished the inning with a strikeout of Chih-Hsien Chiang and tossed another scoreless frame in the third, yielding a harmless two-out single to Teodoro Martinez.

With pre-knuckleballin’ Kevin Pucetas putting up zeros in his first three innings, the ’Riders finally got to Ventura in the fourth. Hanser Alberto nicked his countryman for a single to right field and moved up to second on a deep flyout by Jared Hoying. Then Nicholas lined a 1-0 pitch down the left field line for a run-scoring double to get Frisco on the scoreboard. Two pitches later, he scored on a single by Buchholz to make it 2-0 .

Ventura came back with a 1-2-3 fifth inning to mark the end of his day. The 72-pitch outing featured five strikeouts and no walks over five frames. Ventura was let off the hook for a loss thanks to Naturals runs in the fourth and fifth innings, but Alberto’s sac fly in the sixth pushed the RoughRiders ahead for good in a tightly played 3-2 victory.

That sunny day in Springdale, Arkansas sticks out because it was the only time I saw Ventura pitch until catching him in a Royals uniform on television later in the season (because Frisco and Northwest Arkansas play in different divisions, the teams don’t match up frequently). He looked as sharp as advertised, with a fastball that hit triple digits on the RoughRiders’ radar gun several times in addition to a hard curveball and a solid changeup. While there were questions as to whether or not his body could hold up to be a starting pitcher, he certainly looked the part of a starter that afternoon and since hasn’t made anyone think twice about Kansas City’s move to keep him away from the bullpen.

(Fun fact about that game: the only other future major leaguer to play in the contest to date was 2014 Ranger Ben Rowen, who earned a hold by tossing a scoreless eighth inning for the ’Riders.)

The hope here is to see Ventura pitch well enough for the Royals to win and get us all to a Game Seven tomorrow night. Then maybe we can ask someone who was in the Texas League in 1999 to write a retrospective piece on Tim Hudson’s three starts that season for the Midland RockHounds.

A look at the scorebook from Yordano Ventura's start against the Frisco RoughRiders on April 7, 2013.

A look at the scorebook from Yordano Ventura’s start against the Frisco RoughRiders on April 7, 2013.

  • Alex

An update from the desert – Keeping tabs on the AFL

2014-AFL

We are past the halfway point in the Arizona Fall League and RoughRiders have plenty of representation in both former and future players out in the desert, so let’s look at how they are all doing. Last year the Rangers’ “affiliate,” the Surprise Saguaros, won the AFL Championship and through Sunday’s games, Delino DeShields Sr.’s team was 18-12-1. Before we dive into the individual numbers, a little context on the AFL.

You may have heard a lot about the Rangers’ new Advanced-A affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks, and the favorable offensive climate at Mavericks Stadium. Because of the relative ease in scoring runs out in Adelanto, California, evaluators and fans will need to take stats generated there with a grain of salt. The impressive offensive numbers we are likely to see there this season may end up being a mirage after a promotion to Frisco. Likewise, we are due to see some pretty garish ERA’s and other pitching statistics from hurlers out there, so we can’t be too harsh in judging the rough numbers that will undoubtedly hit the box scores.

Now, conditions in the AFL don’t exactly mimic the more hitter-friendly locales in the California League, but the thin air and wind there will help the batters more often than the pitchers, so you always see some bloated numbers for both sides.

There is another reason for this, one you don’t hear quite so much about: the AFL isn’t really it’s all made out to be. Don’t get me wrong, you have a very nice collection of good players there, but it is not the concentrated gathering of elite prospects that Minor League Baseball would lead you to believe it is. Many teams do not send their best prospects out to Arizona, especially on the pitching side. Typically, organizations decide to send their pitchers who did not get enough innings under their belt during the regular season, be it for injury, lack of opportunity or developmental speed bumps (i.e., Houston’s Mark Appel). Not every one of these pitchers is potential star and many are there simply to get in some work, regardless of the results. In that sense, it is a little like spring training for Major League veterans.

The Rangers are not much different from most teams in not sending their very best prospects to the AFL. If that was not the case, you would see Chi Chi Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, Jake Thompson, Luis Ortiz and Keone Kela (among others) suiting up for the Surprise Saguaros this year.   Texas was satisfied with all of those pitchers’ workloads during the regular season and elected to send others to the AFL instead. I’m not suggesting that all of the pitchers out in Arizona are non-prospects, simply that the AFL does not typically get the cream of the crop when it comes to pitching.

Another reason to consider the AFL being a bit watered down is that there are so many other leagues in action at the moment. From Venezuela to the Dominican Republic to Australia, Mexico, Colombia and Puerto Rico, there is a lot of competition from other winter/fall leagues and those circuits guzzle up a considerable of minor league talent. Sure, a lot of players in those leagues are veterans (many former big leaguers stay active this way), but young minor leaguers like Jorge Alfaro, Teodoro Martinez and Nomar Mazara occupy their off-seasons in these leagues too.

If you needed another reason not to take too much stock in the stats you see for individual players, keep in mind that five weeks of baseball in October and November is a relatively small sample size in the context of the full season we see from April through Labor Day. We are all glad we did not make any long-term evaluations of Mazara after his first five weeks (sub-.200 average with one homer in Hickory), right? In addition to the sample size issue, it is the end of a long year for many of these players. It is not uncommon for them to be worn down, masking their true potential. Last year Ryan Rua hit .175 in 17 games for Surprise, two points lower than AFL teammate Jonathan Schoop. Can’t remember if either guy did anything of note in 2014…

The AFL has once again tilted in the direction of the hitters, as through Sunday’s games offenses were averaging more than five runs scored per game and the league ERA was 4.51. The Rangers have seven players on the Saguaros roster this season:

PITCHERS

Lisalverto Bonilla made his big league debut this season with the Rangers. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Lisalverto Bonilla made his big league debut this season with the Rangers. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

RHP Lisalverto Bonilla: 3 GS, 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 11.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, 11 SO, 2.43 GO/AO, .222 AVG

Bonilla, a RoughRider in 2013, did not put together eye-popping numbers for Triple-A Round Rock in the regular season, but his performance was enough to earn him a promotion to Arlington, where he won his first three big league starts and posted a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 innings. The Rangers want to see how he can hold up as a starting pitcher, which is not a bad idea given his tools (excellent changeup, solid slider and a low-to-mid-90s fastball. He will compete for a spot on the big league team in the spring and will begin the season either there or in the Pacific Coast League.

RHP Cody Kendall: 6 G, 0-0, 5.68 ERA, 6.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 SO, 0.33 GO/AO, .296 AVG

The 24-year-old Kendall (he will be 25 in December) had a tremendous year out of the bullpen for both Hickory and Myrtle Beach, going 8-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 56.2 innings. He was not a huge strikeout guy (51 whiffs), but limited runners (1.06 WHIP). Given his age, the Rangers will likely push him to Frisco in 2015, perhaps to start the season, and see if the 2012 eighth rounder is capable of matching his success against more advanced hitters.

RHP Josh McElwee: 6 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1.25 GO/AO, .143 AVG

The South Carolinian has picked up Arizona right where he left off following his successful late-season Double-A cameo. He is tied for the best ERA in the AFL and is eighth in WHIP (0.75). McElwee is exactly six months older than Kendall and is in a similar position in needing to prove himself against top hitters. After an up-and-down stint with Hickory to start the season, he did just that in Myrtle Beach (0.42 ERA in 21.2 IP) and Frisco (1.00 ERA in 9 IP). He flashed a good breaking ball and kept his sinker away from the good part of the bat when we saw him in August. The affable McElwee posted a 2.25 ERA and a 92-25 SO-BB ratio across 66.2 minor league innings this season and should be back in the Texas League to begin 2015.

RHP Sam Wolff: 6 G, 0-0, 9.45 ERA, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO, 2.00 GO/AO, .323 AVG

Some in the Carolina League attested that Wolff was the most impressive pitcher in the circuit at times, but he suffered a second half swoon in his first full professional season (not uncommon at all), finishing 9-5 with a 3.37 ERA in 120.1 innings. After three scoreless outings to begin his AFL stint, Wolff has struggled in his last three, allowing eight runs in 2.2 innings. A favorite of Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews (they are both from South Dakota), I would expect the right-hander to pitch for the RoughRiders at some point in 2015.

 

HITTERS

C Patrick Cantwell: 6 G, .200 (4 for 20), 1 R, 1 RBI, 0 XBH, 4 BB, 6 SO, .333 OBP, .200 SLG, .533 OPS

Cantwell spent all of 2014 with Frisco and surprised many with a solid offensive campaign after a very slow start. He finished with a .268/.360/.341 line while excelling defensively behind the plate. Cantwell is a contact hitter/get-on-base guy and has great intangibles. I would expect to see him spend a lot of time in big league camp spelling Robinson Chirinos & Co. in spring training games, then either head to Double-A or Triple-A to begin the season.

SS Michael De Leon: 7 G, .231 (6 for 26), 3 R, 2 RBI, 0 XBH, 1 BB, 5 SO, .259 OBP, .231 SLG, .490 OPS

17-year-old Michael De Leon played in one game for Frisco this season. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

17-year-old Michael De Leon played in one game for Frisco this season. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

The youngest player in the history of the AFL, De Leon does not turn 18 until January (his birthday is January 14, 1997 if you would like to feel old). He has held his own after doing the same (and sometimes more) in his time with Frisco, Myrtle Beach and Hickory. After making his regular season pro debut as an emergency fill-in with the RoughRiders in May, he spent the bulk of his season with the Crawdads before a late-year promotion to the Carolina League, where he was one of the Pelicans’ top offensive performers in the postseason. De Leon hit .248/.307/.314 across all levels, flashed some of the potential that led Texas to award him a mid-six-figure bonus in 2013 and showed everyone what a 160-pound player physically looks like (rough approximation would be Pablo Sandoval ÷ 2). He may be in High Desert for the entirety of 2015.

OF Nick Williams: 15 G, .267 (16 for 60), 4 2B, 3B, HR, 9 HR, 5 R, 0 BB, 16 SO, 0-1 SB, .290 OBP, .417 SLG, .707 OPS

The Galveston native has carried the water for the Rangers hitters on the Saguaros, as he has the highest batting average and is the only one with an extra-base hit (he has six). Williams is tied for fourth in the AFL in hits, tied for ninth in RBI, third in total bases (25) and tied for second in strikeouts (with no walks). The lefty batter oozes potential at the plate and is considered by many to be the best pure hitter in the farm system. As the former second rounder out of high school ball matures, he will need to develop a more controlled approach. When he does, he will really be a special player to watch in the batter’s box. Williams should spend 2015 with the RoughRiders after finishing up the season in Frisco (.226-0-4); he hit .283/.331/.462 for the season (the bulk coming in Myrtle Beach).

 

- Alex

Giving back through baseball

Keeper of the GameEvery year in July we try to bring attention to a very worthwhile cause with the Diamond Dreams organization.  Diamond Dreams was established to honor the late Mike Coolbaugh by promoting safety in the game of baseball and organizations with goals that Mike shared.  You can read more about Mike Coolbaugh’s story in this ‘Riders Insider Blog post from July.

One of the many things Diamond Dreams does as an organization is present its annual “Keeper of the Game” award to someone in the North Texas baseball community.  The first winners of this award were Jamey Newberg and Chris & Jill Davis.  But “Keeper of the Game” is more than just a yearly honor; its mission includes “providing athletes with disabilities and special needs unique baseball experiences that foster the growth of those individuals and their love of baseball.”

To continue to expand its reach and impact as well as connect with fans all over, Keeper of the Game is now on Facebook.  We encourage you to “like” it on Facebook and continue to help the game give back to the community.

Click here to visit the Keeper of the Game Facebook page.

- Alex

(Don’t) Wake Me Up When September Ends

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

September signals the beginning of many things. The weather (hopefully) is soon shifting from sweltering summer heat to cooler fall temperatures. A new school year is beginning with fresh classes, professors and teachers, and new faces. Football season is just getting started and there’s already un-calming debate on how the local team will do this year after a shaky start (I’m not naming names, but you get the picture). In baseball, September call-ups are getting the opportunity to show their franchise what the future may hold and are accumulating valuable big-league experience.

Some of these call-ups only wait two or three years before they bust onto the scene and take the professional stage by storm. And then there’s a guy by the name of Guilder Rodriguez.

G-Rod, as many call him around the office, has spent his last 14 seasons in the minor leagues. Can you imagine that? I haven’t been around long enough to say I have an understanding for what minor league life was like 15 or 30 years ago. However, after working for a minor league club for parts of the last six years I do understand what the average day consists of for these players.

Some can make the argument that they play too many games in too many days without enough off days, or that the pay isn’t good enough if you aren’t one of the top prospects in your organization’s farm system. Some would say that five years without getting called up would be considered a waste of time and that it’s time for a career change.

And then there’s a guy by the name of Guilder Rodriguez.

Congratulations, G-Rod, for achieving your dream. You’ve faced every challenge thrown your way and have displayed just how important it is to love what you do. In an industry of nay-sayers and doubters you’ve refused to quit. For the last 14 years you’ve arrived at practically every minor league ballpark in America from Frisco to Ft. Lauderdale with the same attitude, passion, and overall love for the game, and you’ve made it to The Show.

I had the pleasure of watching this guy show up to the ballpark every day with the motivation and positive attitude that made an impact on everyone around him and I’m very thankful for that. No matter how old we get we should always remember to take lessons from anything we encounter and use them to improve our lives, and the stories such as the one of Guilder Rodriguez need not be few and far between.

When September ends, the curtain will fall on an unexpected 2014 season that was historically terrible for the Rangers.

When September ends, the gates in Arlington will lock so another winter can roll through North Texas.

When September ends, we’ll begin counting down the days until our team’s Opening Day.

When September ends, Guilder Rodriguez will return home, to Venezuela, where his 61-year-old father and brother play all winter long. And they will celebrate a dream coming true.

Don’t wake up, G-Rod.

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Writing to you from the corner of Hicks and Diamond Drive,

Cameron Varnau

SDCS Game Three Notes: Do or Die


Miss the last RoughRiders game? Catch up on the action or relive the highlights with ‘Riders Rewind, a daily capsule of yesterday’s big moments. Listen to previous editions of ‘Riders Rewind here.

A 3-2 win for the Midland RockHounds in game three sets up a must-win scenario for the RoughRiders in game four of the Texas League South Division Championship Series. Click here to read the Game Two recap.

Much has attention has been paid the RoughRiders for their “prospect-packed” roster, and deservedly so. But a pair of prospects on Midland’s veteran-laden lineup have played a key role in the outcome of this series. Daniel Robertson, the number one prospect in the A’s organization, drove in a run in his Double-A debut to give Midland a 1-0 lead. Fellow infielder Matt Chapman, in his first full year of professional baseball, batted 2-for-3 on Friday with two RBI, a double and a back-breaking home run off Alec Asher in the seventh to snap a 2-2 tie. Chapman’s home run was a particularly sharp dagger because the ‘Riders had managed to tie the score in the top of the inning.

It’s not like the A’s are stacking Midland’s roster for a playoff push, either. Robertson arrived after his Advanced-A Stockton squad fell in the California League playoffs. He replaces Hiro Nakajima, who broke his wrist in game one at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Chapman, meanwhile, takes the place of Jefry Marte, who was shut down on the final day of the regular season with an oblique injury.

Star of the Game: 2B Odubel Herrera – 2/3, R, 2B, RBI, BB, 2 SB, SO

Odubel has had a great series with five hits in three games. He also has three RBI, three walks, a double and a home run. The ‘Riders will need him to stay hot to have a chance in game four.

In case you missed it:

-Frisco outhit Midland 9-8.

-The ‘Riders had a chance to score early with men at the corners in the first inning. They stranded both runners and abandoned men on second and third in the seventh with the score knotted at 2-2.

-The RoughRiders scored another unearned run on a throwing error by Max Muncy in the third inning. There has been at least one unearned run scored by either team in all three games of the series.

-Nick Williams has a hit in all three games of the series.

 

Game two starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff shares his thoughts about what went right and what went wrong against the RockHounds in a 6-3 loss on Thursday:

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

SDCS Game Two Notes: Balk


Miss the last RoughRiders game? Catch up on the action or relive the highlights with ‘Riders Rewind, a daily capsule of yesterday’s big moments. Listen to previous editions of ‘Riders Rewind here.

The ‘Riders crashed from their Game One victory high and fell from grace in a hard way. Midland took a grueling game two 6-3 on Thursday as the series shifts to Midland for the next two nights. Click here to read the Game Two recap.

Let’s hope the RoughRiders just needed to get a game like this out of their system. At times, it was flat out ugly. The ‘Riders committed four errors, including three alone on catcher Jorge Alfaro. Midland also drew eight walks and placed a total of 20 men on base (more than two per inning on average).

At that rate, it seemed like the RockHounds constantly had runners in scoring position with their paws on the RoughRiders’ throats. And yet, the game was tied at 3-3 in the ninth when, alas, the ‘Riders lost their composure. Midland scored a run on a wild pitch and another on a balk and really did not have to do a whole lot to take the win away from the ‘Riders. It was given. Furthermore, Jason Wood was ejected after second base umpire, Clay Park charged Erik Hamren with a balk that allowed Jeremy Barfield to score and put the Hounds up 6-3. Afterwards, as Park walked back to his position, he allegedly caught some verbal flak from Odubel Herrera and ejected the RoughRiders’ second baseman as well.

As disappointing as it was to see the ‘Riders unravel, the came out in the bottom of the ninth and loaded the bases with two outs. The RockHounds had to haul their closer Jose Flores out of the bullpen, so the ‘Riders certainly made Midland sweat a bit at the end.

Ultimately, the game was a clunker for the bullpen and did not end on a high note for the starter, Jerad Eickhoff. The righty slogged his way through his first five innings but had grudgingly allowed just one unearned run and stranded six runners on base. But he walked his final batter faced, Matt Chapman, a call-up from Low-A in just his second Double-A game. Eickhoff could not close out the Hounds in the sixth and the bullpen proceeded to blow a 3-1 lead. Ryan Rodebaugh walked the lone man he faced (the nine hitter) and Joseph Ortiz gave up consecutive run-scoring hits and the two-out rally brought Midland right back into the game.

Star of the Game: SS Hanser Albert0 – 2/4, R

Hanser continues to build off a strong end to the regular season. He has three hits in two postseason games with a double, a run and two RBI.

In case you missed it:

-Midland did not hit a ball out of the infield in the ninth inning.

-A total of three balks were charged in the game (two to Frisco).

-The RoughRiders left the bases loaded in the first and the ninth innings.

-Nick Williams has been red hot at the plate in the playoffs, but continues to be a liability in the field. On Thursday, he drove in two runs on a single to left, but was thrown out trying to sneak into second on the back end of the play to end the inning. Nick also dropped a can of corn in center field in the eighth inning. Jake Skole replaced him in the field in the eighth inning.

-After the ‘Riders scored on a suicide squeeze play in game one, Midland answered with a suicide squeeze of its own on Thursday. The Hounds also socred on a safety squeeze by Conner Crumbliss in the sixth inning.

-There has been at least one unearned run in both games of the series.

 

Game one star Odubel Herrera chats about his strong performance in the playoff opener:

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

SDCS Game One Notes: ‘Riders Strike First


Miss the last RoughRiders game? Catch up on the action or relive the highlights with ‘Riders Rewind, a daily capsule of yesterday’s big moments. Listen to previous editions of ‘Riders Rewind here.

An attack plan of aggressive hitting and baserunning, coupled with sturdy situational pitching, propelled the RoughRiders to a 7-3 win in the opening salvo of the Texas League South Division Championship Series. Click here to read the Game One recap.

Those with a tendency to overreact (guilty) may have grown concerned when the RockHounds put the first two men on base with nobody out in the first. Chi Chi Gonzalez exonerated himself well and picked up three straight outs (good situational pitching) to ferry the game to the bottom of the first when all of a sudden…BANG! The ‘Riders put a six-spot on the board and took control of the game.

Odubel Herrera’s leadoff home run opened the scoring, but Trever Adams turned the tide when he pushed a bunt brilliantly up the third base line. It caught the RockHounds completely off guard in an example of the aggressive hitting tactics employed by Jason Wood’s squad. Joey Gallo then reached on an error by first baseman Hiro Nakajima and Midland suddenly looked rattled. After J.T. Wise bounced out, a wild ball four to Nomar Mazara brought home Adams and the levy broke. The bottom of the order rattled off three straight run-scoring hits and before you could blink, the scoreboard read 6-0 ‘Riders.

Star of the Game: 2B Odubel Herrera – 1/3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB, 2 SO, SAC

He may have been the Texas League batting champion, but few expected Odubel to turn on Nate Long’s 0-2 offering and send it way out of the yard to right field. The native of Zulia, Venezuela only cracked two long balls in the regular season with Frisco, but discovered a pitch in his wheelhouse and delivered the first postseason home run for the RoughRiders.

After the RockHounds chipped away at the lead and made the score 6-2, Odubel came through again on the bunt side of a perfectly executed sacrifice squeeze. It reestablished a five-run advantage for the ‘Riders in the fifth inning and helped discourage any thoughts of a Midland comeback. Odubel helped his team in a multitude of ways at the plate in the form of flashy power and yeoman finesse.

In case you missed it:

-The ‘Riders scored six runs on five hits in the first inning. Five runs scored after Nakajima’s error in the first inning and thus were unearned.

-San Antonio was the last team in the Texas League to score six or more runs in the first inning of a playoff game. The Missions dropped seven run on the RoughRiders in game four of the South Division Championship Series on September 10, 2011.

-The half dozen runs in a single inning is tied for the second-highest run total for the RoughRiders in team history. The ‘Riders also scored six runs in their inaugural season against the Wichita Wranglers on September 4, 2003 in game three of the East Division Championship Series (the divisions were realigned prior to the 2006 season).

-Frisco posted a seven-run fourth inning in game three of the East Division Championship Series against the Tulsa Drillers on September 9, 2004. The ‘Riders would go on to capture their lone Texas League crown later that month.

-Frisco batted around in the first inning and sent ten men to the plate.

-The RoughRiders racked up all eight of their hits in the first three innings…

-…But that didn’t stop the ‘Riders from scoring in the fifth. In an impressive display of small ball, Nick Williams drew a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hanser Alberto. A throwing error on third baseman Max Muncy allowed Alberto to take two bases and move Williams down to third. Jason Wood boldly called for a sacrifice squeeze and Herrera dropped the bunt right into no man’s land between home plate and the mound. Williams bolted home and scored before the RockHounds even fielded the bunt. It was another unearned run for the ‘Riders.

-Midland first baseman Hiro Nakajima was injured on the Alberto sacrifice and left the game in the fifth inning. Nakajima reached to his left to reel in a wide throw from Muncy at third when his extended arm was clipped by Alberto as he raced to beat the throw. Chad Oberacker replaced Nakajima at first for the rest of the game.

-Midland’s last chance came in the eighth inning. Will Lamb, who pitched a flawless seventh, ran into trouble when Kenny Wilson tripled to start the frame. Lamb then walked Muncy, which brought Josh McElwee out of the bullpen. McElwee allowed an RBI single to Kent Matthes and then walked Jeremy Barfield to reload the bases. Uh oh. But in the finest example of situational pitching last night, McElwee retired the next three batters in order to strand the bases full and hold the Hounds to just one run in the frame. McElwee suddenly turned the corner when he struck out Dusty Coleman on three pitches. D’Arby Myers popped out to short on the second pitch of his at-bat and Oberacker went down swinging to retire the side. McElwee ended the inning on eight straight strikes and flashed a very impressive slider that fooled Midland considerably.

-Jake Skole replaced Nick Williams in center field for the ninth inning.

 

Double-barrel action in the bullpen today featuring Jason Wood and Wednesday’s starter Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez:

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

South Division Championship Series: Statistical Comparison

The Texas League South Division Championship Series kicks off tonight. The best-of-five season commences at 7:05 p.m. with Dr Pepper Ballpark serving as the venue for the first two games. A quick glance at the schedule:

  • Game 1 – Tonight, 7:05 p.m. at Dr Pepper Ballpark
  • Game 2 – Thursday, September 4, 7:05 p.m. at Dr Pepper Ballpark
  • Game 3 – Friday, September 5, 7:00 p.m. at Security Bank Ballpark
  • Game 4 (if necessary) – Saturday, September 6, 7:00 p.m. at Security Bank Ballpark
  • Game 5 (if necessary) – Sunday, September 7, 6:05 p.m. at Dr Pepper Ballpark

Now a look at the team stats for Frisco and Midland along with their records against each other in 2014. Texas League rankings included in parentheses. A bolded statistic means a higher ranking compared to the other team:

Frisco RoughRiders: South Division Champions (80-59 overall)

Batting average: .266 (1)

ERA: 3.39 (3)

Runs scored: 642 (2)

Runs allowed: 538 (2nd fewest)

Home runs: 114 (2)

Home runs allowed: 89 (T-3rd fewest)

Stolen bases: 85 (8)

Caught stealing: 57 (2)

Strikeouts: 1069 (4th most)

Walks: 419 (7th most)

Opponent strikeouts: 1136 (2nd most)

Opponent walks: 465 walks (3rd most)

Midland RockHounds: South Division Wild Card (77-63 Overall)

Batting average: .252 (T2)

ERA: 3.71 (5)

Runs scored: 628 (3)

Runs allowed: 592 (5th fewest)

Home runs: 107 (4)

Home runs allowed: 98 (5th fewest)

Stolen bases: 137 (2)

Caught stealing: 43 (fewest)

Strikeouts: 1154 (most)

Walks: 541 (most)

Opponent strikeouts: 981 (7th most)

Opponent walks: 460 (4th most)

2014 Regular Season Series: Frisco won 16-12

At Dr Pepper Ballpark: 9-5 Frisco

At Security Bank Ballpark: 7-7 split

Playoff Series Notes:

Frisco brings an all-time postseason record of 22-20 into the series. The ‘Riders are 14-9 all-time in the Division Championship Series. Midland, meanwhile, is 23-26 all-time in the playoffs. Neither team qualified for the postseason in 2013. This is Frisco’s first appearance since 2012 and Midland’s first since 2010. This series is a rematch of the 2010 South Division Championship Series in which the RockHounds defeated the RoughRiders three games to one. The Hounds lost to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the Texas League Championship Series that year.

Be sure to listen to our interview with Game 1 starting pitcher, Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. He chats about his postseason preparation and past experience pitching with the season on the line:

 

Thanks, as always, for tuning in. Here’s to a great postseason run with the RoughRiders!

-Chris V.

2014 RoughRiders Second-Half Awards

By: Cameron Varnau

Hitter: INF Odubel Herrera

Odubel Herrera watching it fly.

Odubel Herrera 

The native of Zulia, Venezuela scorched opposing pitchers on his way to the Texas League batting title in 2014. The lefty batted .319 in 67 games and notched 33 runs on 82 hits with 12 doubles and 31 RBI. He walked 24 times and had a slash line of .319 BA/.379 OBP/.393 SLG. His closest competitor for the 2014 batting title was Brain Hernandez of the Arkansas Travelers in the North Division, who finished 13 points behind, but Herrera was at one point up by at least 50 points and cruised to the achievement. Herrera was also named both a 2014 Texas League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star.

Pitcher: RHP Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez

"Chi Chi" prepares to throw home.

Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez

“Chi Chi” joined the RoughRiders in 2014 after making 11 starts for Class-A Myrtle Beach and was a very productive bell-cow for Jeff Andrews and the Frisco pitching staff. Gonzalez, a native of Boynton Beach, Florida, pitched his way to a 6-3 record with a 2.74 ERA over 12 starts in the second-half. Allowing 20 earned runs on 61 hits, the right-hander pitched 65 2/3 innings and used a dominant four-pitch mix to frustrate the opposition. One of the top pitching prospects in the Rangers’ organization, Gonzalez walked 25 and struck out 55 in the second-half for the ‘Riders. Those statistics earned him the nod to pitch game one of the South Division Championship Series against the Midland RockHounds on September 3.

Defender: INF Hanser Alberto

Hanser Alberto

Hanser Alberto

Hanser was named the Texas League Defensive Player of the Month for his efforts in July and was easily one of the best shortstops in the entire league. The infielder posted a .988 fielding percentage and committed only three errors in 242 total chances, and at one point rode a hot streak of a 38-game errorless streak. From a scout’s perspective, Alberto is considered to have 80-grade defense and showcased his talents by making the routine play, and then some, but also made difficult plays in the hole look easy.

Team Leader: C Patrick Cantwell

Patrick Cantwell

Patrick Cantwell

Patrick, a native of Wes Islip, New York, was an easy choice to be nominated as one of the stronger leaders on the team. The catcher used a dominant presence behind the plate to command a pitching staff that was statistically ranked in the upper-half of the Texas League. Cantwell received praise for being able to work well with all of the pitchers on the staff, which featured the likes of Texas Rangers’ starter Derek Holland, and established quick chemistry with members of the team who joined later in season, such as Jake Thompson. At the plate Cantwell hit .306 with 49 hits and 19 RBI, and routinely found himself on base as he was plunked 15 times in the second-half alone (22 on the year).

Newcomer: INF/C J.T. Wise

J.T. Wise

J.T. Wise

Wise joined the RoughRiders after signing with the Texas Rangers on July 4, 2014. The righty was signed after playing with the Wichita Wingnuts of the Independent Baseball League and quickly asserted himself in the middle of the RoughRiders’ lineup, and he did it with pop. J.T. finished the year with a .319 average and scored 27 runs on 45 hits with 34 RBI. The catcher and first baseman hit 13 doubles and smacked 11 home runs, but also sported a 1.034 OPS. Wise seemed to always come up with the timely hit, and they were big ones as a few of his homers led his team to a victory.

MVP: INF Trever Adams

Trever Adams

Trever Adams

Trever put up impressive numbers in various categories for the RoughRiders during both halves of the Texas League season, but his second-half saw some pretty impressive feats. The first baseman posted a .286 average and scored 36 runs to go along with 29 RBI on 76 hits. The righty hit 22 doubles and seven home runs over 68 second-half contests, and he scored an inside-the-park home run in the second inning off a contest against the Midland RockHounds on July 30. He displayed versatility by playing 25 games in left and served as the Frisco designated hitter, as well. Adams did it all for the RoughRiders during the second-half, and for that he takes home our award for MVP.

It’s tough to give awards to only six men on the 2014 team as the club used an abundance of talent and hard work to win both the first and second halves of the year. Stars such as Joey Gallo, who clubbed 21 homers with the ‘Riders (42 between Frisco and Myrtle Beach), Jorge Alfaro and Nomar Mazara, as well as a loaded pitching staff, carried the RoughRiders to a 40-win second-half and what could potentially be a Texas League Championship.

Buckle Up


Miss the last RoughRiders game? Catch up on the action or relive the highlights with ‘Riders Rewind, a daily capsule of yesterday’s big moments. Listen to previous editions of ‘Riders Rewind here.

Here we go. Playoff baseball returns to Dr Pepper Ballpark for the first time since 2012 as the Frisco RoughRiders open up a best-of-five series with the Midland RockHounds for the right to represent the South Division in the Texas League Championship Series. But first, a look back at how the regular season ended.

It’s important not to use the results of the regular season finale against Midland to portend the outcome of the playoff series. However, the ‘Riders have just cause to feel confident. After they dropped Saturday’s game to the Hounds, the RoughRiders needed to win the final two games to secure home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The scenario served as a dry run of sorts to see how the ‘Riders would rise or fall to the challenge of winning a game with something extra on the line. They passed the beta test with flying colors, outscoring Midland by ten runs over the final two games of the regular season. Frisco achieved several season milestones in the process:

  • The RoughRiders posted the best record in the South Division for both the first half (40-29) and second half (40-30) of the season. It’s the first time the ‘Riders have clinched both halves since 2008, a season in which they lost to Arkansas in the Texas League Championship Series.
  • The regular season record of 80-59 is the fourth-best in franchise history. It’s the fifth time in 12 seasons the ‘Riders have reached the 80-win plateau. Eighty wins is also a career high for Jason Wood as a manager.
  • Frisco finished 41-29 at Dr Pepper Ballpark on the season, 39-30 on the road, 51-41 against the South Division and 29-18 against the North Division.

Star of the Game: LHP Andrew Faulkner – 5.0 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 6 K

Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Hanser Alberto each hit home runs, but Andrew takes the cake for submitting his finest outing since his August 2 when he won his first Double-A decision. The southpaw looked tired at times (quite understandably) over the final month of the season, but looked rejuvenated on the hill in his first outing in seven days. His five shutout frames serve as an unmistakable confidence boost going into the playoffs. Andrew ended the regular season with his second win as a RoughRider.

In case you missed it:

-In an ironic twist, J.T. Wise was the only RoughRider without a base hit on Monday. That didn’t stop the 28-year-old from receiving Texas League Player of the Week honors for August 25-September 1. J.T. turned in one of the finest offensive weeks on the team this season in the final week. He batted .333 and clocked five home runs in a consecutive four-game stretch and drove in 12 runs. The resident of Las Vegas joined Jake Skole as the only ‘Riders to hit multiple home runs in a game and became the third ‘Rider with a grand slam this year. He posted an incredulous 1.268 in the month of August.

-Frisco went out with a bang offensively, but it’s important to note the damage came off Kyle Finnegan, a call-up from Low-A who made his Double-A debut on Monday. Finnegan likely won’t play in the playoff series, but still, the ‘Riders did what they should have done against a pitcher as green to the level as Finnegan.

-The shutout marked the 12th of the season for the ‘Riders. They finished 12-6 in shutout games for a .667 winning percentage. By comparison, the RockHounds finished 10-5 for a .667 winning percentage as well.

-Gallo: 1-for-2, R, HR, 3 RBI, SF, BB, SO

Joey finished the regular season with a bang, quite literally. After his towering blast to right field in the first inning to open the scoring, Joey finished with 21 homers as a RoughRider and 42 on the season. He ends a thrilling regular season second in the Texas League in home runs behind Telvin Nash’s 22 and second in the minors behind Kris Bryant’s 43. Joey also lead the Carolina League with 21 home runs in a span of just over two months in Advanced-A.

-A final look at the RoughRiders home run leader board (current players only):

1. Joey Gallo (21)

2. Trever Adams (14)

3. J.T. Wise (11)

4. Jake Skole (6)

5. Jorge Alfaro (4)

6. Teodoro Martinez (3)

6. Nomar Mazara (3)

8. Odubel Herrera (2)

8. Hanser Alberto (2)

10. Patrick Cantwell (1)

 

Hear from the hottest hitter in the Texas League at the end of the regular season, J.T. Wise:

 

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

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