September 2nd, 2011
Once the playoffs end for the RoughRiders this year, Dr Pepper Ballpark will close its doors, the players will pack up their lockers, and everyone will deserve a long vacation. But what many don’t realize is that for a number of RoughRiders, the season doesn’t end. Many players travel to Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or Mexico to play in winter leagues to continue to get better and prepare for the next year.
A few select players, however, get the chance to remain stateside and play in the highly regarded Arizona Fall League. The 12-week, prospect driven league is entering its 20th season and is owned and operated by Major League Baseball. Big league All-Stars such as Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun have all spent time in the AFL. This year, three current ‘Riders have been tabbed to play in the Fall League with the Surprise Rafters.
The former 44th overall pick in the 2007 draft is 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in Double-A this season through six starts. The bulk of his season has been spent in Triple-A Round Rock where he made 17 starts and went 4-3 and had a 3.68 ERA. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list in mid-July because of shoulder fatigue which has limited his innings in the Texas League.
When I talked with Neil following his start Thursday night in Corpus Christi he was excited to be selected for the Fall League. “It’s a big honor, for sure. It’s good competition and will great to see how you stack up.” The righty wants to continue to hone his mechanics while he’s there. “I plan on working on making good pitches and will focus on the backside of my delivery. The Fall League will also give me a good idea what my off-season conditioning will look like.”
The ‘Riders switch-hitting catcher has had a terrific season in Frisco. He hit .327 in 16 July games and has been a constant presence behind the plate for the ‘Riders. He has always had a great rapport with the staff, but this has been his best offensive season in Double-A. Elio is batting .378 with runners on base, and is hitting .356 with runners in scoring position.
His selection to the AFL is a great way to conclude his 2011 campaign and he’s clearly grateful. “I feel blessed, it’s a great opportunity for me and I consider it a reward for all the hard work,” His goals for the AFL season are pretty simple, “I want to finish healthy, do my best, and hope for even more opportunities with the Rangers.”
The Fall League works out well for Sarmiento because he makes his off-season home in Phoenix along with his wife and two children. His mother-in-law is also in Phoenix and for just the second time, Elio’s mother will visit the U.S. from Venezuela and will be able to watch him play in Surprise.
He was originally a shortstop then got too big for the position and moved to third base. Then his bat wasn’t cutting it so the Rangers’ moved him to the mound. That didn’t work at first either. The last ditch effort was to change Yan from the traditional over-the-top delivery to a side-arm approach.
The right-hander went from thinking his playing days were over to now being selected to the top off-season league in the country. In 43 appearances combined between High-A Myrtle Beach and Frisco, Johan has allowed just eight earned runs in slightly over 66 innings of work and has a Double-A earned run average of 0.36. On August 15th against Tulsa he gave up his first earned run since June 1 when he was pitching with the Pelicans.
Like Neil and Elio, Yan is a hard worker who has really made the most of his opportunities and will only get better in Arizona.
Former ‘Rider from early in the season Miguel de los Santos will also be going to Surprise to play in the AFL. He’s pitched with Myrtle Beach after being placed on the DL with a shoulder injury after making six starts with Frisco.
The remaining prospects tabbed to play in Arizona who you have to imagine will be future RoughRiders are RHP Ryan Kelly, SS Leury Garcia, 3B Mike Olt, and OF Ryan Strausborger.
Congrats to Neil, Elio, Johan, and the rest of the group. We’ll keep you posted on how their season goes here on the Insider Blog.