I love Halloween, it’s easily a top-five holiday in my book. So when we came out with a customized RoughRiders Jack-O’Lantern stencil on the team website, I was totally ready to do our entire office a favor by making one for all to enjoy. The only problem? It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve actually carved a pumpkin. I enlisted the help of Alex Yocum-Beeman, our Graphic Design Coordinator and creator of the ‘Riders pumpkin stencil, to provide the critical support I would need to create a masterpiece. Alex had just come off a weekend of pumpkin carving with her husband, so her skills were undeniably sharp, whereas mine were as dull as the scooper used to gut the seasonal fruit. (And yes, I did have to look up if was actually a fruit. It just doesn’t seem right for some reason.)
Our journey began with a trip to the pumpkin patch on Preston Road in Frisco. The supply had been somewhat depleted, making attention to detail for the right pumpkin imperative.
Outside of baseball season, fall is the best season.
After countless minutes of searching (actually it was more like five), the lucky pumpkin was selected.
Believe it or not (and I couldn’t believe it), but we do not keep pumpkin carving tools on hand in the offices at Dr Pepper Ballpark. So we had to drop a Lincoln at Walgreen’s for some state-of-the-art equipment.
Figuring our co-workers would not be too thrilled with the sights (and smells, more importantly) of carving a pumpkin, AYB and I opted to take our task outside into one of the picnic areas of the ballpark.
After cutting off the top and scraping around inside…
… it was time to pull out its guts.
Once we got the innards removed and the stencil taped on, the carving began.
The pattern looks simple enough, but those holes in the “R’s” and the gap between them were a little tricky.
Once we got the bulk of the pattern cut, we cleaned up some of the details.
After the carving was all done, we took it for a candlelit test-drive.
In comparison with the real deal, our Jack-O’-Lantern acquits itself nicely. A job well-done if I do say so myself.
I’m not sure how many awards our humble little RoughRiders pumpkin will receive, but in the end it came out looking pretty good. A big thanks to AYB for all of her important contributions. If anyone out there is making a RoughRiders pumpkin themselves, shoot a photo and e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Halloween everybody!
– Alex V.
I have always taken an interest all things weather, going back to when I was a kid. When I was in second grade I remember heading to the library and checking out a book about the different types of clouds. I took great pride in pointing out the differences between stratocumulus and altostratus clouds and always enjoyed witnessing the events that coincided with the presence of the exciting cumulonimbus (i.e. thunderstorm) clouds.
Hurricanes in particular struck my fancy, going back to my memories of Hurricane Bob in 1991. I remember eagerly anticipating a hurricane of my namesake coming along and hoping it would be particularly memorable. Some 19 years later, we did experience “Hurricane Alex,” a weather event so utterly anonymous to me that I had no idea it even happened until I Googled it earlier this morning. Apparently, Hurricane Alex was, according to Wikipedia, a rare June hurricane that formed in the early summer of 2010, was responsible for 51 deaths and $1.8 billion of damage. In no way do I intend to completely trivialize the storm or disrespect those whose lives it affected, I simply missed the boat on any media hype or attention it was given.
While missing out on this event this disappoints the child in me (which, admittedly, still retains a disproportionately large part of my existence, for better or for worse), I feel that I have been given a second chance with Hurricane Sandy. You see, Sandy has been a family nickname for me going back as far as I can remember (it is derived from the “xander” part of my full name, Alexander). With Sandy, we have gotten a week’s worth of buildup, front and center coverage from news networks (overshadowing the final week before the Presidential Election) and even special uniforms for the Pittsburgh Steelers to commemorate the occasion!
It’s been called Frankenstorm and the Storm of the Century. It has essentially shut down the eastern seaboard and has gotten some of us to remember the theme song to the classic ’90s Nickelodeon television show “The Adventures of Pete & Pete:”
So for all of those other Sandy’s out there, we are finally getting the storm our name deserves.
Enjoy it, Sandy Koufax.
And Sandy Alomar, Jr.
You too, Sandy Alomar, Sr.
You’ll be safe underwater, Sandy Cheeks.
Don’t try to squeeze in nine holes, Sandy Lyle.
Be happy you’re back in the O.C. for this one, Sandy Cohen.
Don’t count on Flipper helping you out of the storm, Sandy Ricks.
– Alex V. (a.k.a. Sandy)
In part two of my discussion with RoughRiders manager Steve Buechele, we talk about Jurickson Profar, Chris McGuiness and his own future in the game.
Alex Vispoli: This past season you had the distinct pleasure of sending four guys directly to the big leagues, by passing Triple-A. In your opinion, taking a look at those four guys (Justin Grimm, Wilmer Font, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar), what do you think their ceilings are, how good can they get?
Steve Buechele: I don’t know, but I think they can all become great players. To tab every one of them as a great player, well what happens down the road you just never know. [Profar], he’s had so much talk about him and hype put on his shoulders, and the same with Mike Olt; I think they’re both going to be absolutely great Major Leaguers for a long time. I think Wilmer Font has a chance to very very good. And I think Justin Grimm, getting a taste and seeing what it’s like, I think he’ll be very good. And I could say that about a lot of other guys who were on our team this year. I think the fans and people around the Metroplex are going to find out that a pretty good number of kids who were on that team this year are going to be wearing a Rangers uniform. If not a Rangers uniform, they’ll be wearing a big league uniform pretty soon.
AV: Chris McGuiness was named the co-Player of the Week – along with Houston’s Jon Singleton – for the first week of action in the Arizona Fall League. I was pretty surprised by McGuiness’ season in that he was so productive. He started off slowly but hit for a .268 average with 23 home runs and it seemed like he raised his game to another level when Olt – who had been hitting in front of him for most of the season – went up to the big leagues. Here he is carrying the label of an “elite prospect” by going out to Arizona and by having the season that he had. He is known for being a pretty good defensive player as well. Is he someone who surprised you a little bit considering that he missed most of 2011 with injury and when he did play the results were not great?
SB: I don’t think he surprised me. I think what was key for him was that it was one of the first seasons where he went the full season injury-free. He’s always had little nicks and knacks and injuries that have knocked him out here and there. This year, for the most part, he was injury-free and played every day. And he was a kid who you saw him just develop and grow into a much more confident run producer and a much more confident hitter. I think maybe when Mike [Olt] got brought up, and I think even before that, you saw him develop and become a much more confident hitter as the season went on, certainly after the first half. Early in the year he had so many opportunities to knock in runs and I think became frustrated with it. It was just nice to see a kid at the Double-A level understand what it takes and what kind of hitter he needs to become to be a run producer. It was just great to see him do that. And he’s a great kid; to see that he was named “Player of the Week,” that’s not a surprise to me at all.
AV: With Profar, there’s so much hype around him and he had such a good season at 19 years old in Double-A, the youngest player in Double-A this year. You probably don’t know the answer to this and Jon Daniels might not know the answer either, but how do the Rangers work him in to get a more regular role than what he had in the last month of the regular season, considering the two positions that he can play are pretty well spoken for at the moment?
SB: I don’t know, that’s not my call. Do I think he’s a great utility player at the big league level if in fact they go with [Elvis] Andrus and [Ian] Kinsler [at shortstop and second base]? Yeah, no doubt he is. He would serve that role perfectly. Could he play every day in the big leagues? And my answer to that is yes too. He’s only 19 years old and you can’t overlook that. With Pro, what makes him so good is that he adjusts so quickly for a 19-year-old kid. The adjustments he makes and as smart as he is, it’s well beyond his years. I’ve said this a hundred times and you’ve heard it: very often you find kids that are afraid to fail. And he’s one of the rare players that you see who is not afraid to be great. I would be shocked if the Rangers don’t find some kind of role for him starting next season.
AV: I know you follow the Rangers very closely, I’m sure you were watching after our season ended. But from your vantage point, what happened to that team over the last two weeks of the season and that one playoff game?
SB: You know what, I don’t know. I’m not there, I watch it obviously just like everybody else. I don’t know. You hear their excuses and if you want to make excuses, to me it is kind of the result of what’s gone on the last two years. The grind, the long years, players becoming tired, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer as to what happened. I think at the end of the season it looked like a very sluggish team to me, the energy level wasn’t there. What are the reasons for it? I’m not going to sit here and try to make any kind of excuse for them, but if I had to give you an opinion I think it’s just a result of what’s gone on the last couple of years and I think they just ran out of gas.
AV: Yeah, an extra month of baseball for two straight years and I think almost everyone played in a career-high number of games which probably helped cause that.
AV:You have been mentioned as a guy that folks think has what it takes to be a Major League manager. Is that what you want eventually?
SB: Sure, I mean going back four years ago when I was asked to come back in the organization and be a part of it, managing was never on my radar screen. Coaching or getting back in some form was in my mind. But being a manager never was. I’ve enjoyed it and I love it. What other people say is what they say, I don’t care. I’m happy with what I’m doing and hopefully someday I’ll get a chance to be on a big league staff again.
AV: Is that something that you take an active role in trying to make it happen or is your philosophy “if it’s going to happen, just wait for it to happen”?
SB: I don’t know how active a role I can take in it. I think I’m pretty loyal to the Rangers. I’ve been a part of this organization for a long long long time going back to 1985 and always being a part of the organization, doing something for them in some extent and now I’m back in uniform. There are certain loyalties that I have to the Rangers and the hope on my end is that at some point, some time I’ll be able to wear that Rangers uniform again.
My thanks to Steve Buechele for taking the time to talk with us. Look out for more interviews with members of the 2012 RoughRiders throughout the off-season.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with RoughRiders manager and former Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele. We talked about the off-season, the playoffs and some of his players on the 2012 RoughRiders. This is part one of our conversation with part two coming tomorrow.
Alex Vispoli: First of all, how has the off-season been treating you?
Steve Buechele: It’s always nice when you get away from the field and spend some time with the family and just do family stuff. That’s what makes the off-season so special.
AV: It’s been about a month and a half since the season ended. Are you still enjoying your time off or have you gotten to the point where you’re itching to get back to the game?
SB: Oh no, I’m happy to be away. I think everybody looks forward to getting back to the game but you know, that there are still months to go and the time that you have to spend with your family and be away, it’s very precious. Once you get back into baseball, that’s what takes up all your time. I’m sure after the holidays and after Christmas when spring training comes close that’s when [we’ll all be looking forward to getting back to it]. It’s kind of like the swallows going back to Capistrano; you know you’re supposed to be somewhere, you get that itch and you want to get going.
AV: When does it all start up again for you? The season begins in April, the Minor Leagues’ spring training begins in March; are you out there in Arizona come February?
SB: Yeah, the Rangers bring the Double-A and Triple-A staffs to big league camp. [At the moment, the Rangers have not announced their spring training schedule, but pitchers and catchers reported to Surprise, Arizona on February 22 this past year.]
AV: The way the 2012 season ended, going back to the Cardinals series, was there something missing from the performance or did Springfield just out-execute you guys? How do you look back on that series?
SB: You know, when I look back at it we had a chance in Game 2 [in Springfield] with a four-run lead] and I think if you had to go back and do it all over again it’s one of those things where I wouldn’t do any thing differently. I would have felt absolutely awesome knowing that I’ve got Grimm and Wolf coming in to get the last four outs. But it’s the playoffs and it’s baseball and those kind of things happen. I think [the Cardinals] played good and I think we played good. They pitched well, we pitched well and they beat us. I don’t think we did anything to lose the series. I look back and I’m super-proud of my guys and the way we played. Obviously we all wished we could have won the championship but to get there with the group that we had was awesome.
AV: You can even see in this ridiculous Major League Baseball postseason the fact that momentum seems to carry such weight and it seems like it’s even more difficult to stop when you have it on your side. Especially when you’re at home like Springfield was in that Game 2.
SB: Well I think the momentum thing that you talk about, it probably applies more to that Corpus Christi series than anything else. To me, looking back, winning one game in Corpus Christi may have been one of our best accomplishments of the year. That’s a really tough place to play. The fans came out for the playoffs. Usually in the Minor Leagues stadiums are not full, they’re more toward the empty side. But Corpus Christi’s ballpark was full, they had the rally towels and just the atmosphere that was there in that game… You’re thinking you’ve got to play three of them there and we’re going to have a tough time getting through this. But to win that series [in three games] I think was a huge accomplishment for us.
AV: When you look back at the last game of the year, do you think about what could have been based on that controversial call that happened, down 2-0 in the eighth inning with Leury Garcia getting called out on the close play at first base and then Chris McGuiness then hitting the home run on the very next pitch?
SB: Yeah you can think about it. But you know what? Had Leury Garcia been called safe, they probably would have pitched McGuiness a little bit differently too. Those are the things in baseball that, the way they happen and what ends up happening, you look at it in a very general way and think, “Oh gosh, that would have been a two-run homer.” I guarantee you had Leury been called safe and been on first base they would have been careful to Chris McGuiness. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have hit a home run, but I don’t look at as if that home run would have definitely happened to tie the game up.
AV: Looking at the season as a whole, you really seemed to enjoy this season and this group. You spoke about it with me on plenty of occasions. In your mind, what made the group of players as special as it was?
SB:I think it was such a new group and such a fresh group, a bunch of guys coming up from A-ball and making that jump. It was a group of kids that was just raw for our level and learning and talented obviously, a very talented group. But you just don’t know how the kids are going to adapt to moving up a level and facing that challenge. Once you get to Double-A it’s a whole different ballgame as a lot of our kids found out. I think what made it special for me was that it was just a great group of kids that came to the park everyday ready to play, wanting to learn. And for the most part, they played their tails off and they played the game the right way. They took their lumps, a lot of those kids, but I think they all got better and they understand what it’s going to take to move on.
AV: Talking to people inside and outside the organization and there seems to be an intentional strategy of getting good clubhouse guys who are obviously talented as well. You saw how important that chemistry is at the big league level, the way the players interacted during the Rangers’ two World Series runs. Do you think that element on this year’s ’Riders team is more of a coincidence or was this part of the plan with this particular group just now reaching this point on the Minor League ladder?
SB: I’m not sure, Alex. I think when you draft and sign kids, to me, number one above ability is the makeup of the kid. I think a lot of times that gets thrown in the background a little bit because of a kid’s ability and his talents and his skill level. They wow you so much that, you know what, maybe you take a chance on the makeup of what kind of kid he is. To me, that becomes first and foremost is what kind of kid he is. How does he approach the game? What does he do when he’s on the field? How does he come to the ballpark everyday? Is he ready to go? How does he prepare? Those are more important to me sometimes than a kid’s physical abilities. And this was just a group of young kids that was raw, as I said, they had great talent. But for the most part those guys came to the ballpark every day and they were ready to play. What they did in the first half was, to me, very exceptional.
Coming tomorrow: We discuss Jurickson Profar’s future, what happened to the Rangers at the end of the season and his future in the game.
The 2012 Frisco RoughRiders season was an unquestioned success. The ’Riders won the first half South Division title, finished with an 80-60 record (good for the second-best overall mark in the Texas League) and advanced to the Texas League Championship Series before losing to the Springfield Cardinals. Along the way, there were standout performances from big-time prospects, thrilling games and terrific storylines. Before looking ahead to the 2013 season, we look back at a special 2012 campaign that proved to be a memorable one for the ’Riders.
Record: 17-11 (T-1st of 8 TL teams)
Average: .268 (2nd)
Home Runs: 24 (3rd)
ERA: 3.27 (2nd)
Top Offensive Players: Mike Olt (.333-5-23, 7 2B, 16 R, .437/.556/.993, 3-3 SB), Jurickson Profar (.322-3-14, 9 2B, 2 3B, 21 R, .385/.513/.898, 3-5 SB), Zach Zaneski (.429-1-8), 3 2B, 7 R, .489/.571/1.061)
Top Pitchers: Chad Bell (7 G, 3 GS, 1-0, 0.69 ERA, 1-1 SV, 0.62 WHIP, .131 BAA), Justin Grimm (6 GS, 4-2, 2.08 ERA, 34.2 IP, 30 K, 6 BB), Joseph Ortiz (10 G, 0-1, 1.74 ERA, 2-3 SV, 10.1 IP, 8 H, 13 K ,3 BB, 1.06 WHIP, .211 BAA), Ross Wolf (9 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 13.2 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 16 K, 3 BB, 3.75 GO/AO, 0.88 WHIP, .188 BAA)
After a solid opening month, the RoughRiders continued their steady ascent in the Texas League in May. Frisco held at least a share of first place in the TL South for every day in April and claimed sole possession of the division lead for all of May as well. The ’Riders began the month by winning seven of their first nine games and held a season-best five-game lead over Midland in the division by May 12.
It wasn’t until Frisco’s first trip to west Texas in the middle of the month that Steve Buechele’s squad lost a second series for the season. The ’Riders first foray to Citibank Ballpark, home of the RockHounds, proved to be a frustrating experience. Midland walked off with a win in the first game before Frisco rallied the next day to win by one run. Big innings hurt the RoughRiders in each of the next two games, as the ’Hounds had six-run and five-run innings in the next two games respectively to win the series. Frisco responded by winning eight of the final 12 games of the month to steady the ship and tie for the best record in the league during the month.
The team’s success coincided with a remarkable period of roster stability, a rarity in this age of baseball. Frisco benefitted from the Rangers’ relative health and between April 29 and May 23, there were no roster moves made. That changed later in the month when the ’Riders suffered their first true loss in the game of musical chairs that is in-season player movement. Closer Johan Yan, who was leading the Texas League with ten saves, was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock on May 25 where he would remain for the rest of the season. Yan’s worth was evident in that the team was 12-3 in games decided by one run while he was a RoughRider.
During May, the team continued to get excellent work from Justin Grimm, wins from Barret Loux (5-0, but his ERA in the month rose to 4.71), terrific relief from the likes of Joseph Ortiz, Fabio Castillo, Trevor Hurley and Yan, and solid production from newly converted reliever Chad Bell. The lefty from Tennessee, who arrived in late April from Myrtle Beach, impressed in the bullpen enough to earn a starting role. In both functions, he combined to post a 0.69 ERA and kept hitters off-guard by working all parts of the strike zone with his deceptive delivery.
Offensively, Mike Olt began to hit his stride offensively, raising his season batting average by 44 points and hitting five home runs with 23 RBI. His teammate on the left side of the infield continued to improve as well. Jurickson Profar continued a hit streak and on-base streak that began in April deep into May. Profar ended up hitting in 29 straight games from April 19 – May 19, tied for the second-longest hit streak in either Major or Minor League Baseball this past season, and he reached base in every game he played over the month. Meanwhile, backup catcher Zach Zaneski earned himself more playing time by continuing to produce offensively every time he was given the opportunity.
With a four-game lead in the division and just two more weeks left until the end of the season’s first half, another trip to the postseason was looking like a stronger possibility by the day for the RoughRiders.
May 1: Tim Murphy and two relievers combine on a 2-0 shutout effort at San Antonio. The Frisco pitchers outduel former RoughRider Robbie Erlin, who allows two runs in eight innings. Erlin was part of the Mike Adams trade in July of 2011and was a member of the ’Riders when the deal was made.
May 5: The ’Riders host the RockHounds on Cinco de Mayo in the first game between the top two teams in the South Division. Trailing by a run in the seventh inning, Frisco strikes for two tallies in the bottom of the frame to win 3-2. Joseph Ortiz tosses 1.2 perfect innings for the save while Jurickson Profar extends his hitting streak to 16 games with a third inning single.
May 7: In a matchup of two players that would soon be in the big leagues, Justin Grimm (6 IP, 3 H, R, BB, 5 K) tops A.J. Griffin (6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 3 K) as the ’Riders beat Midland 4-2. Frisco scores three runs in the decisive fifth inning, capped by Ryan Strausborger’s second home run of the season.
May 8: The RoughRiders beat up another future Major League hurler, Dan Straily (5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, BB, 6 K), in a 9-3 win to capture the series victory. Later that day, Grimm is named the Rangers’ “Minor League Pitcher of the Month” for April.
May 10: Frisco wallops Corpus Christi 10-2 in the first game of a series in south Texas. Profar runs his hit streak to 20 games with a 2-for-6 effort while Barret Loux (5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K) improves to 7-0 on the season. The true star is Brad Hawpe, who goes 4 for 5 with a double, one run batted in and three runs scored in the game. After the game Hawpe moves into second place in the Texas League in both batting average (.338) and on-base percentage (.455) but struggles moving forward.
May 14: After splitting their series in Corpus, the ’Riders pay their first visit to Midland and go on to lose in walk-off fashion for the first time in 2012. After Chris McGuiness was robbed of an RBI single on a line drive back to the pitcher to end the top of the ninth inning, Shane Peterson wins it for the RockHounds with a bases-loaded RBI hit off Ortiz to give Midland a 6-5 victory.
May 15:Johan Yan enters the ninth inning with a 5-3 lead over Midland but commits an error, gives up a run and loads the bases with one out. He gets out of the jam thanks to a spectacular stop and glove flip by second baseman Guilder Rodriguez that starts a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. Frisco wins 5-4 as Loux becomes the Minors’ first eight-game winner.
May 18: On the heels of their second series defeat of the season, the ’Riders look worn down against former big leaguer and San Antonio Mission Josh Geer, who takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Jared Prince breaks it up with a double to start off the frame, but Frisco goes on to lose 5-2. Profar narrowly extends his hitting streak to 28 games by tripling in his final at bat in the ninth inning.
May 19: A night after nearly being no-hit, the ’Riders come close to no-hitting San Antonio in a 13-0 victory. Chad Bell (4 IP), Carlos Pimentel (3 IP) and Corey Young (0.2 IP) combine to get to within four outs of the no-no but Young allows a double to Jeudy Valdez with two outs in the frame to spoil the bid. Profar wastes no time in moving his hit streak to 29 games, the longest in the Minors at that point, with a first inning double. Mike Olt closes the affair with a two-run home run in the eighth inning, his ninth of the season.
May 20: Profar fails to get a base hit in a game for the first time since April 17, ending his 29-game hitting streak in a 2-1 Frisco win over the Missions. By the end of the season, the streak would be tied for the second-longest in Major or Minor League Baseball in 2012. Profar does work a walk in the fourth inning to push his consecutive games on-base streak to 39.
May 21: Yan blows his first career save by giving up two runs in the ninth inning to San Antonio. He had been 25-for-25 in save opportunities since he converted from playing infield before today. His offense, with some help from a fortuitous Jonathan Galvez error, picks him up by scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning en route to a 6-5 win.
May 23 – 25: Division leaders Frisco and Tulsa play for the first time at the Drillers’ ONEOK Field. Tulsa wins two of three games to claim the series victory, in part thanks to a walk-off wild pitch uncorked by Wilfredo Boscan in the series finale.
May 26: The ’Riders score five runs in the bottom of the first inning off Northwest Arkansas’ Chris Dwyer, but the lead is short-lived as Loux surrenders five runs as well in the bottom of the frame. The big righty settles down to pitch six innings as the offense provides four more runs in a 9-6 win. Loux improves to 10-0 in his first ten starts of the season, setting a new Frisco record for most consecutive victories.
May 27: Hawpe, mired in a slump, goes 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in what proves to be his last game of the season, one the ’Riders lose 9-5 to the Naturals. Since his four-hit game on May 10, the former Major League All-Star has hit .130 (6-for-46) with no extra-base hits and one RBI.
May 28: Memorial Day becomes truly memorable for one RoughRider as Val Majewski and Alex Buchholz combine on back-to-back solo home runs off Northwest Arkansas’ Noel Arguelles in a game Frisco wins 9-6. It was Majewski’s first and only home run of the season; he goes 3-for-5 with another RBI and run scored for the day.
May 31: Frisco closes out the month of May with a 10-4 win at home over Tulsa. After a few days off, Hawpe goes on the disabled list with elbow fatigue (he had “Tommy John” surgery on his left elbow the previous August). Three weeks later he is granted his release by the Rangers organization and does not play again in 2012.
Coming tomorrow: A look back at the month of June.
– Alex V.
The 2012 Frisco RoughRiders season was an unquestioned success. The ’Riders won the first half South Division title, finished with an 80-60 record (good for the second-best overall mark in the Texas League) and advanced to the Texas League Championship Series before losing to the Springfield Cardinals. Along the way, there were standout performances from big-time prospects, thrilling games and terrific storylines. Before looking ahead to the 2013 season, we look back at a special 2012 campaign that proved to be a memorable one for the ’Riders. (All photos by Alex Yocum-Beeman/Frisco RoughRiders)
Record: 15-9 (2nd of 8 TL teams)
Average: .263 (3rd)
Home Runs: 26 (2nd)
ERA: 3.08 (2nd)
Top Offensive Players: Brad Hawpe (.321-3-8, .459/.554/1.013), Leury Garcia (.309-0-2, 2 2B, 3 3B)
Top Pitchers: Justin Grimm (5 GS, 4-1, 1.59 ERA, 28.1 IP, 27 K, 6 BB, .194 BAA), Barret Loux (5 GS, 5-0, 1.63 ERA, 27.2 IP, 28 K, 8 BB), Carlos Pimentel (6 G, 2 GS, 2-1, 1/1 SV, 1.35 ERA, 20 IP, 24 K, .174 BAA), Johan Yan (10 G, 0.87 ERA, 5/5 SV, .158 BAA)
High expectations can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, they can elevate preexisting senses of hope and confidence. A baseball team from which a lot is expected can thrive on the positive mojo and can achieve success. Conversely, that hype has the ability to crush a team under the weight of those expectations and it underperforms. Even if a team doesn’t collapse, the odds of it failing the live up to high expectations are much greater than actually meeting them.
Enter the 2012 Frisco RoughRiders. With Frisco previously fielding playoff teams in six of the nine previous seasons, the expectations were already there for another successful season. But on top of that, Baseball America tabbed the RoughRiders as the third-most talented roster of players among all 120 full-season Minor League squads. The respected industry publication cited the presence of big-time infield prospects Jurickson Profar (number one on BA’s list of top Texas Rangers prospects), Mike Olt (three) and Leury Garcia (11) as well as pitchers Justin Grimm (15), Barret Loux (20) and Miguel De Los Santos (29). Throw in the toolsy, but mercurial Engel Beltre and 2011 Carolina League All-Stars Jared Prince, Ryan Strausborger and Zach Zaneski and it’s easy to see why Baseball America had its eye on the ’Riders.
But talented Minor League squads filled with prospects do not always translate into good teams. More often than not, it seems that rosters made up of older players with years of experience in their respective leagues have the most success and win championships.
The RoughRiders bucked those odds and finished April with the second-best record in the Texas League through a balanced combination of fantastic pitching and steady offense. From out of the gate, the team’s pitching staff was dominant. Justin Grimm anchored a rotation that anchored five intriguing prospects while the bullpen featured hard throwers aplenty. While the offense got off to a slow start (13 runs in the first five games), it rebounded nicely and proved to be the most dynamic in the TL.
April 4: Before the regular season begins, the RoughRiders host the parent club Texas Rangers in an exhibition game. Making the occasion even more interesting, prized Japanese import Yu Darvish makes the start for Ron Washington’s club in his first pitching appearance in his new home market. Darvish does not disappoint, tossing four scoreless innings with two hits and two walks allowed to go along with five strikeouts as the Major Leaguers best the ’Riders 6-1.
April 5: The RoughRiders begin the regular season in Missouri with a 1-0 win over the Springfield Cardinals. Frisco’s only run scores on a Jose Felix sacrifice fly while Justin Grimm (5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, BB, 10 K) is brilliant in his Double-A debut.
April 6: Frisco falls 4-1 to the Cardinals with the team’s only run coming on Mike Olt’s first home run of the season. Earlier in the day the Rangers re-sign long-time big league outfielder and Westlake, Texas native Brad Hawpe and assign him to Frisco. Hawpe underwent “Tommy John” surgery while playing for the Padres in August of 2011.
April 7: In what was the first of many, Barret Loux earns his first win of the season in a 6-1 victory over Springfield in the series finale. Loux works out of trouble in nearly every inning (six hits and two walks) but does not allow a run over five frames. Hawpe leads the way by going 3-for-4 with a home run in his first at bat. He finishes a triple shy of the cycle with two runs scored and two RBI.
April 8: The ’Riders continue their season-opening road trip with an extra-innings 3-2 win on Easter Sunday at Arkansas. Felix hits a soft single to left-center field in the 11th inning that scores Engel Beltre from second base to win it. Jurickson Profar snaps his 0-for-13 start to the season by hitting a first pitch home run in the fifth inning to the deepest park of Dickey-Stephens Park.
April 14: In a showcase of two of the best position player prospects in the Minors, both Profar and Springfield’s Oscar Taveras hit first inning solo home runs in a game the RoughRiders eventually win 6-2. Profar officially puts his first week struggles (2 for 26 to begin 2012) to bed with a 3-for-4 night at the plate.
April 16: Frisco beats Arkansas 2-1 behind another excellent performance by Grimm (6.1 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 5 K) for its fourth straight victory. The win not only clinches the team’s fourth straight series victory to start the season, but it also moves Steve Buechele into the top spot for most wins ever by a Frisco manager. Buechele’s 155th win as the ’Riders’ skipper gives him one more than Tim Ireland, who managed the team in its first two years of existence and in 2004 won Frisco’s only Texas League championship.
April 19 – 22: After winning 10-0 at Corpus Christi in their first divisional game of the season, the ’Riders see their pitching get torched for 22 runs over the next three games en route to losing their first series of the season.
April 24: Following trips to the disabled list by starter Miguel De Los Santos and reliever Ryan Rodebaugh, Chad Bell is promoted to Frisco from Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. An under-the-radar prospect, Bell does not take long to impress, at first in relief and eventually as a starting pitcher. That night Olt hits his fifth home run and Profar triples in a 7-2 Frisco win over San Antonio.
April 25:The ’Riders score three first inning runs off San Antonio’s Hayden Beard but cannot hold the advantage as the Missions come back to tie the game by the third. After Bell surrenders a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning, Frisco ties it on Hawpe’s two-out RBI double in the bottom of the inning to send the game to extra innings. However in the 11th, Jeudy Valdez burns Corey Young for an RBI single to send San Antonio to a 6-5 win in three hours and 23 minutes.
April 26: After Fabio Castillo blows a ninth inning save, the ’Riders and Missions go to extras for the second straight night and take their time to settle things. The game goes to the 13th inning when Guilder Rodriguez strokes a base hit to center field to score Chris McGuiness and send Frisco to a 6-5 win, its first walk-off victory of the year. The game takes four hours and 26 minutes to complete. Earlier in the contest, Leury Garcia pulls up lame at first base running out a bunt and is eventually placed on the disabled list where he will remain for nearly a month because of a right hip flexor.
April 27: Grimm (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, BB, 9 K) rebounds from his first poor outing of the season to outclass the Hooks’ Jarred Cosart in a 12-0 ’Riders romp. Chris McGuiness crushes a three-run home run – his fifth of the season – in a six-run fifth inning. Bell throws three perfect innings (4 K) for the save.
April 29: Loux strikes out eight batters and allows two runs over six innings as the ’Riders blast Corpus 10-3. The former Texas A&M Aggie ends May tied for the MiLB lead in wins at 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA. Six Frisco players have multi-hit games, including Profar (2-for-5), who extends his hit streak to 11 games.
April 30: Despite allowing four runs over the first two innings, Jake Brigham gets bailed out by his offense in a 9-4 Frisco victory over the Hooks. Zach Zaneski, who entered the game hitting .167 (116 points below his career average) with two extra-base hits, drilled two home runs while Alex Buchholz homered and tripled to pace the offense. The triple was Frisco’s 17th of the year, the most by any professional team through the season’s first month.
Coming tomorrow: A look back at the month of May.
– Alex V.