May 2014

Sluggin’ Smolinski

Jake Smolinski looks to keep running past the competition.

Jake Smolinski looks to keep running past the competition.

Jake Smolinski is on a mission to prove he’s a guy who can get the job done when his number is called, and he has worked to do just that during his time in Frisco. Making a strong first impression is important in any profession, and since being signed as a free agent by the Texas Rangers organization this past offseason, Smolinski has raised some eyebrows with his play.

Smolinski has been smoldering at the plate for the past month picking up a hit in 25 of his last 27 ballgames. The left fielder said he’s made a concerted effort to get on base and make the most of his time while on the field.

“I don’t want to be known as somebody who can’t run well in the outfield or can’t run the bases well,” Smolinski said. “The speed aspect of the game is an important part and it’s something that I work hard in the offseason to try and maintain and get better at.”

That offseason work the RoughRiders outfielder put in has paid off as Smolinski seems to have made a habit of getting on base. So far this season, he ranks in the top five in triples (3), extra base hits (17) and on-base percentage (.403) in the Texas League. Smolinski’s ability to get hits (48), which is a category he also ranks in the top five in the league, and pound the ball (six home runs) isn’t the only reason he often finds himself on base. He said his patience to work the count has been a part of his game since he was a teenager.

“It’s something that I’ve always done even back in high school,” Smolinski said. “And since I’ve been in pro ball, I think when you try and focus on one pitch at a time and not worry about the whole at-bat, it makes it that much easier.”

Making the transition to a new team from year to year isn’t always the easiest thing to do, as different cities, people and organizations inevitably take some getting used to. Last year alone, the Illinois-born outfielder played in both Florida and Lousiana for three different teams.

Since being drafted 70th overall by the Washington Nationals in 2007, Smolinski has dealt with a number of injuries that have forced him to spend time on the disabled list. After playing seven seasons in the minor leagues with the Washington and Miami organizations, he became a free agent following the 2013 campaign, and the Rangers quickly moved to sign him in November.

This year, Smolinski has experienced stability unlike ever before in his professional career. The 25-year-old is the only RoughRider to play in every game (44) so far and has found his rhythm due to this consistency. He said finding a home with the ballclub took no time at all.

“We have fun together,” Smolinski said. “I really think we play well together. It’s been a good experience. And it’s very professional here and definitely run the right way.”

It seems to be a good partnership as Smolinski has really found his groove and found it fast.

“I try to compete every time I’m up at the plate,” Smolinski said.

If he keeps competing and slugging at such a high level, Smolinski has a good chance to extend his recent hot streak into an exceptionally impressive season.

-Jay Wallis

‘Riders Rewind – May 19

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 RoughRiders were shut out for nine innings in a three-pitcher effort by the San Antonio Missions on Monday. Big league rehabber Casey Kelly tossed six scoreless innings with no walks and six strikeouts as the ‘Riders failed to score a run in a game for the first time this season. Click here to read the full game recap.

Rymer Liriano showed why he ranks highly in the Padres farm system. The outfielder played all three spots in the series and hit 6-for-13 with two doubles, a grand slam, five runs scored and another five driven in along with three walks and two stolen bases. He struck out once.

The RoughRiders return to Dr Pepper Ballpark after a 3-5 road trip and plenty of questions about their bullpen as the Tulsa Drillers come to town for a three-game series.

Star of the Game: 1B Trever Adams – 3/4

Adams shined in an otherwise bleak afternoon for the RoughRiders’ offense. The 25-year-old accounted for half of his team’s hits, and all three came against a major leaguer in Kelly who appeared well on his way to complete recovery from Tommy John surgery. Adams is toting a .397 average in his last 14 games at the plate (23-for-58) and leads the RoughRiders in runs scored this season (26).

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

‘Riders Rewind – May 18

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.

For the second straight game, the Missions posted a five-run inning against the RoughRiders. San Antonio scored the final eight runs of the ballgame and overcame a 5-1 hole to win 9-5. Click here to read the full game recap.

Star of the Game: DH Tomás Telis – 3/4, 2B, SB

Telis doubled for the fourth straight game on Sunday and continues to crank out base hits at the plate. The switch-hitting catcher also has 11 RBI in his last 12 games and is batting a white hot .395 (30-for-76) at the dish in the month of May.

The native of El Tigre, Venezuela is also a deceptive basestealer. Telis doesn’t just swipe second base, either. He is a perfect 5-for-5 this when grabbing the more difficult third base bag and has been caught stealing third three times in his career (33 attempts).

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

‘Riders on the Record – May 18

‘Riders on the Record is a weekly rundown of the pregame interviews recorded by broadcasters Alex Vispoli and Chris Vosters with RoughRiders players and coaches and occasionally a special guest. You can find all previous editions by clicking here.

The RoughRiders finished the week with a 4-3 record. After a 7-5 win against the Corpus Christi Hooks on Mother’s Day, the ‘Riders hit the road for their second eight-game swing of the season away from Dr Pepper Ballpark (their first trip of the season to Arkansas was six games). Frisco took the first two games against the RockHounds in Midland, and could have conceivably swept the Hounds were it not for bullpen meltdowns in consecutive outings. The ‘Riders split the series with the pups and hit the road to the Alamo City (6:45 a.m. arrival Friday morning). Through the first two games of the series with San Antonio, Frisco is 1-1 and an even 3-3 with a quarter of the road trip yet to play. The team also held a 3-3 mark on its last eight-game road trip (April 25-May 2), but dropped the last two games to the Missions at Wolff Stadium. Will the ‘Riders change the tune this time through?

It was a busy week across the entire Texas Rangers community, and the latest edition of “‘Riders on the Record” touches on many hot topics. Jason Wood kicks things off with a Mother’s Day edition of “Sunday with the Skipper.” On the last day of an eight-game homestand, Woody offers a few heartfelt words about his own mom and mothers everywhere on their special day.

Jake Skole kicks off the current road trip and shares some insightful dialogue on his relationship with older brother, Matt. The elder Skole is also a Double-A prospect and plays with the Washington Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators. The siblings can detect issues and tendencies in each other’s swing by merely peering at a box score from the previous game.

Luke Jackson also makes his second “Record” appearance of the season. As the list of the walking wounded grows in Arlington, Jackson’s debut in Ranger blue may arrive sooner than expected. The righty’s eyes never seem to stray too far down the road, however.

Speaking of debuts, pitching coach Jeff Andrews chats for the first time this season on the RoughRiders Pregame Show. He stays tight-lipped in his prognosis of Jackson, but does not mince words in his analysis of the bullpen’s recent trend. Andrews’ interview aired one night after the ‘pen coughed up a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning against Midland, and his comments seem more prophetic now after the relievers blew three separate leads in the same game one night later.

Savvy veteran Guilder Rodriguez chats on the heels of a two-week stint in Triple-A with the Round Rock Express. The desire to play in a major league game still drives G-Rod, and he reveals a baseball lineage shared with his father and brother.

Finally, in the midst of the RoughRiders’ second series at Wolff Stadium, Missions’ broadcaster Mike Saeger chats with Alex Vispoli about San Antonio’s surprise run to a Texas League Championship in 2013 and elaborates on the rising prospects in the Padres organization.

Mother’s Day Sunday with the Skipper:

 

Center fielder Jake Skole:

 

Right-handed pitcher Luke Jackson:

 

Pitching coach Jeff Andrews:

 

Infielder Guilder Rodriguez:

 

San Antonio Missions broadcaster Mike Saeger:

 

As always, thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

‘Riders Rewind – May 17

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 RoughRiders left nine runners stranded in scoring position and batted 1-for-13 with men on second and/or third base. Rymer Liriano’s grand slam makes the final score look like a laugher, but the ‘Riders trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Click here to read the full game recap.

Star of the Game: LF Jake Smolinski – 2/3, R, 2B, BB, ROE

With a third inning double on Saturday, Smolinski registered multiple hits in five of his last six games. He continues to ascend the Texas League leaderboard in batting average, and as of May 17, sits in fourth place with a .315 mark. Smo also ranks third in the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.412 and .534, respectively). His three triples on the season place him in a tie for first in the Texas League, while 78 total bases for the 25-year-old rank fourth.

Along with Corpus Christi’s Preston Tucker, Jake is the one of two players in the Texas League to play in each of the first 42 games of the season. His durability is impressive especially given the handful of circus grabs the right-hander has made in left field, including one on a deep fly ball from San Antonio’s Austin Hedges on Saturday.

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

‘Riders Rewind – May 16

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.

On National Piercing Day, the RoughRiders’ bullpen punctured the San Antonio Missions’ comeback balloon with a 4-1 victory in the series opener. Click here to read the full game recap.

Star of the Game: RHP Phil Klein – 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 6 BF, SV (3)

It’s only fitting a member of the bullpen takes home “Star of the Game” honors after I ragged on the unit yesterday. Klein, a native of Gahanna, Ohio, ensured there would be no late-inning drama against San Antonio on Friday. He faced the minimum over two innings of work and did not allow a baserunner en route to saving his third ballgame of the season.

Honorable mention goes to fellow reliever Jimmy Reyes, who assuaged concerns of his ability to string together consecutive quality innings. The southpaw pitched two shutout frames prior to Klein and allowed one baserunner in seven men faced.

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

‘Riders Rewind – May 15

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.

Like a scene from the zombie apocalypse, the Midland RockHounds refused to die and finally bit the RoughRiders in the 11th inning to salvage a series split at Security Bank Ballpark. Click here to read the full game recap.

It’s only the middle of May, but a bullpen collapse of that proportion should do more than raise a red flag. It should sound an alarm. Frisco threw the gamut at Midland after starter Edwar Cabrera left the game, desperate to find anybody who could keep the Hounds off the board for an inning, or in some cases, simply earn an out.

No one had an answer as five different relievers combined to pitch 3 2/3 innings and allow seven runs on seven hits with seven walks and a hit batter. The results overshadowed a fantastic night by the offense; the bats swung for 15 hits and the ‘Riders scored multiple runs in four different innings, including the three-run tenth.

Star of the Game: CF Teodoro Martinez – 3-for-5, 2B, 2R, 3RBI

Teo drove in at least one run in every game of the series against Midland and bopped multiple hits in each of the last three games. His run-scoring double to left in the sixth inning on Thursday nearly left the yard for what would have been his first home run of the season.

Drew Robinson (2-for-5, HR, 3B, 2R, 2RBI) and Ryan Rua (3-for-6, 3B, 2B, 3R, RBI) both turned in strong outings, but Teo takes the cake because of timeliness. I know Robinson led off the ninth with a triple in a tie ballgame, but the Venezuelan’s run-scoring single in the tenth gave the ‘Riders a lead in extras that should have been enough to win. The 22-year-old scored later in the frame on an infield single by Patrick Cantwell to put his team up 10-7.

“Cafe” also cranked his double with two outs on the board to spark a two-run rally for Frisco in the sixth.

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

‘Riders Rewind – May 14

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 suffered a bitter defeat at the hand of Midland on Wednesday night. The RockHounds rallied from a 6-4 deficit in the ninth inning and walked it off with an RBI single from Billy Burns. Click here to read the full game recap.

The bullpen was due for a letdown, and after a few close calls, the ‘Riders lost a game in which they led after the eighth inning for the first time since 2012 (a 93-game span). It was bound to happen at some point, but the collapse brings to light the unfilled closer position on the team at this point in the season.

Matt West may have been the candidate of choice, but he left for Round Rock on May 3. The Rangers named West its minor league reliever of the month, and so did we.

Star of the Game: LF Jake Smolinski – “Smo” continues to swing a hot bat and play lock-down defense in the outfield. He finished 2-for-5 at the plate on Wednesday with a home run and two runs scored. His shot to left in the sixth off Chris Jensen sparked a three-run frame for the ‘Riders. All six of Smolinski’s homers this season have been solo shots. The 2007 draft choice by the Washington Nationals is currently tied for fifth in the Texas League with a .299 batting average and his .401 on-base percentage ranks third in the league.

It was hard to ignore Odubel Herrera who tallied four base hits in five at-bats. However, his two RBI both crossed on a deflected single that did not leave the infield and he got greedy on a double to right. The RockHounds threw out Herrera as he tried to take a third bag on the play and the ‘Riders lost an opportunity to put another run on the board in the ninth inning. In hindsight, it was a run that could have served their cause quite well.

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

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.

‘Riders Rewind – May 13

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.

Highlights from the RoughRiders’ 5-4 win over Midland on Tuesday afternoon. The contest started at 11 a.m., but the ‘Riders awoke from a 3-0 deficit and scored five unanswered. Click here to read the full game recap.

Midland once again made the game interesting in the ninth inning. The RockHounds kept the game alive when Anthony Aliotti reached on an error to put men on first and second with two outs. Josh Whitaker, who had homered twice already in the series, put a charge in a ball to deep right field, but Drew Robinson made the grab at the fence to shut down the Hounds.

Star of the Game: RHP Phil Klein – The 6-foot-7 reliever from Ohio tossed two scoreless innings against the RockHounds in a one-run game to earn his second save of the season. The ‘Riders improved to 10-1 in one-run games in 2014, tops in the Texas League.

 

 

Enjoy the highlights and thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

 

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