Quarters in Change – Team Awards at the 25¢ mark

13701572164_aec0f95de8_bSaturday’s 5-1 loss to Corpus Christi marked the quarter point in the 2014 campaign. The ‘Riders ran through the first 35 games on the schedule with a 22-13 record, good for the best mark in the Texas League.

Extrapolate that start to the full season, and the RoughRiders are on pace to finish 88-52. It’s an ambitious clip to maintain, but an 88-win season would be the most in club history. The current benchmark is 85 wins, set in 2007.

Frisco took care of business in all fronts and venues. They posted positive records at Dr Pepper Ballpark (13-8) and on the road (9-5). The ‘Riders also went 14-9 within the south division and won 8-of-12 against teams from the Texas League North.

The roster was not placid, either. Thirty-three personnel moves have occurred since the Opening Day Roster dropped on March 28. Three players debuted at the major league level and another four moved on to the Triple-A ranks. The RoughRiders also received three players from Advanced-A and four from extended spring training.

This ability to maintain consistency in the face of roster upheaval is a testament to the cohesiveness of the core players and Jason Wood‘s skills as a manager of men. Even when Woody took his customary vacation (the Rangers organization allows the coaching staff a four-day break during the season), the team continued to gel. The Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator, who served as acting field manager in Wood’s absence, left a note for the skipper in which he praised the professional demeanor and positive attitude in the clubhouse.

Early returns are also strong on the squad’s performance sans its two top prospects, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. The RoughRiders won five of their first six games without the tandem of Venezuelan middle infielders.

In short, a plethora of candidates can make a realistic argument for unofficial team awards as the season stands on first base. Here are the top four individual performers one-fourth of the way through the ‘Riders 2014 run. For a list of the top ten moments of the 2014 season to date, click here.

Hitter of the Quarter: #9 Ryan Rua – 3B/2B/DH

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Questions lingered around Ryan at the start of the season. The 24-year-old tore up the South Atlantic League in 2013 with the Hickory Crawdads (29 home runs, 24 doubles, 82 RBI, .914 OPS in 104 games). The All-Star campaign earned him a spot in Frisco for the final month of the season, but the righty batted .233 in 23 games with the ‘Riders and his OPS fell to an earthly .689. Was the barnstorming tour in Hickory an aberration?

After an 0-for-8 start to the season, the muscular infielder answered the above question with a resounding “no.” From April 5 to May 4, Ryan reached base safely in 27 consecutive games. He posted 12 multi-hit games during the streak, the second-longest of its kind in Minor League Baseball this season.

The 17th round draft choice in 2011 clubbed a .354/.441/.654 line in the month of April and his OPS soared to 1.095. The native of Ohio played 24 games in April, one more than he played for the ‘Riders a season ago. Over the same approximate span in 2014, Ryan cracked 29 hits (including six home runs and six doubles). He scored 12 runs and drove in 15 more. Equally impressive was the right-handed hitter’s ratio of strikeouts (11) to walks (13). Not bad for a player with some pop in the bat.

Ryan consistently draws the attention of his teammates, spectators and even the opposition with his display of power in batting practice. As the first quarter of the season proved, however, the 6-foot-2 180 pound slugger is far more than a B.P. warrior.

Pitcher of the Quarter: #7 Luke Jackson – RHP

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The term “staff ace” does not apply at the minor league level, but Luke has been the lead arm on a young unit with plenty of potential. He took home Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors for April 14-20 and became the first ‘Rider to earn a league award this season. It was the first Texas League distinction for Luke in his career. The Carolina League also recognized “LuJax” as its pitcher of the week in 2013.

The Texas League selected the 6-foot-2 185 pound righty on the heels of a six inning shut out performance against the Arkansas Travelers on April 15. Luke surrendered three hits, two walks and tossed eight strikeouts for his first win of the season.

The 2010 supplemental first round draft choice tossed a career outing on April 21. Luke retired the first 17 men he faced and held a perfect game with two outs in the sixth inning. San Antonio’s Jake Lemmerman broke up  the bid, but Luke still finished with no runs on three hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.

Luke owns a 4-1 record on the season with a 3.00 ERA through 42 innings pitched. He also earned his first career save when he relieved big league rehabber Joe Saunders on May 6.

Defender of the Quarter: #3 Jake Smolinski – LF/RF/DH

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Jake is in his first year with the Rangers organization, and on a roster in flux, “Smo” has provided stability and consistency both at the plate and in the field. Once he figured out his swing about three weeks into the season, Jake’s batting average has climbed to .299 with a .401 on-base percentage (his career trademark is a high OBP).

The 5-foot-11 185 pound right-hander has been the club’s left fielder for 30 of the team’s first 39 games, and he also made two spot starts in right. Along with seven games as designated hitter, the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 is one of two players in the Texas League to play in every game through May 14. Jake has logged more innings in the pasture than anyone on the RoughRiders’ roster. Through 267 2/3 innings, the native of Rockford, Ill. has committed one error and leads the team in outfield assists (2). In addition, Jake has turned the only outfield double play for the ‘Riders thus far in 2014.

The 25-year-old has flashed his athleticism on several plays in left, most notably on April 27 in a game against Corpus Christi. The Hooks loaded the bases with no outs and brought one run home to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With runners still on first and second with two outs, Jake made a great play on a deep fly ball from M.P. Cokinos that would have surely broken the dead heat had it escaped the glove of the left fielder. The ‘Riders went on to win the game 4-3.

Reliever of the Quarter: #35 Matt West – RHP

Healthy for the first time since the 2011, Matt sheared the long blonde locks and pitched with authority out of the bullpen. He posted a 2-0 record with three saves and a 0.68 ERA. At 25 years of age, Matt allowed one run with the ‘Riders through eight appearances and 13 1/3 innings pitched. The lone run charged to the native of Houston crossed in his final appearance with the ‘Riders on April 29. The numbers earned the 6-foot-1 200 pound hurler a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock on May 3.

Through 3 2/3 innings with the Express this month, Matt has allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits  with one walk and five strikeouts. However, no runs have crossed on Matt’s watch in his last two starts.

On May 15, the Rangers recognized the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 as its reliever of the month in April. Not bad for a former third baseman who converted to the mound three seasons ago.

The ‘Riders are off and running in 2014. Who will shine in the second quarter as the first half winds to a close? Stay tuned to find out!

-Chris V.

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