This story appears in the March 7 edition of Sports Page Weekly, which is a free publication available in the Metroplex.
During the early portion of spring training for the Texas Rangers, much of the focus has been on a young second baseman who burst onto the pro sports scene in August 2012. He impressed observers with his skill and a cool sense of confidence which was uncanny for someone so young. His notability and importance have only grown because of recent events. Come late February, the Rangers, as well as fans, were wondering when they’d finally see him take to the field out in Surprise.
No, this discussion does not concern Jurickson Profar and his balky right shoulder. The above also applies to newly minted Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson.
Last December, the Rangers plucked Wilson, better known for his stellar work on the gridiron and whose pro baseball career had been on hiatus since 2011, from the Colorado Rockies in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. The cost to formally acquire the baseball rights of the undersized signal caller? A mere $12,000, roughly the same amount of signing bonus money a team might allot toward a late round draft pick in June.
Throughout the off-season, we’ve read numerous stories about how the Rangers drafting Russell Wilson was not a gimmick. Let’s be clear: this whole episode has been a complete gimmick.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “gimmick” with the following description: a method or trick that is used to get people’s attention or to sell something.
Enter the Rangers and Wilson. On March 3rd, the team held a “Russell Wilson Day” of sorts. The Seattle Seahawks quarterback traveled to Surprise, worked out with the team, fielded ground balls, took in the spring game against Cleveland (a 6-4 Rangers loss) and gave a speech to players within the organization. And, yes, Texas has begun selling Rangers jerseys with “3” and “Wilson” on the back, as well as other Wilson-themed merchandise. (I’m sure Frisco RoughRiders shortstop Luis Sardinas, whose jersey number is 3 on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, gave Wilson his blessing to temporarily use the number. Maybe Wilson even persuaded him with financial incentives.)
Now, no one inside or outside the Rangers organization expects Wilson to trade in his facemask and shoulder pads for a glove and some pine tar on a full-time or even part time basis. This was a singular opportunity to stage a cool photo-op, grab some friendly headlines and sell some Rangers gear. In other words, it was a gimmick. For his part, Wilson seems to sincerely enjoy baseball and his respect for those within the game is evident. But other than throwing out the first pitch sometime this summer, he’s not suiting up on a diamond again anytime soon (unless he somehow transforms into some sort of Anthony Wright clone). The Rangers knew this when they took him off the Rockies’ hands a few months ago.
But the fact that drafting Russell Wilson and having him spend a day at spring training was a gimmick does not necessarily make it a bad thing. I realize there’s a negative connotation with the word, but gimmicks can have positive value, as this one does.
First of all, the Rangers should be commended for recognizing and seizing a terrific promotional opportunity and making the most of it in a pseudo-organic way (at least compared with, for example, the Red Sox’ explicit marketing deal with Johnny Manziel, which brought the former Aggie to Fort Myers for a day, wearing a #2 Boston jersey to boot). Additionally, it has brought a bevy of positive attention to a club coming off a mildly disappointing season, fans are buzzing over their team’s connection with the best young quarterback in the NFL (go ahead, compare his numbers with Andrew Luck and tell me who comes out on top) and it allowed the players in the clubhouse to bask in the glow of a bona fide champion.
And therein lies a big reason why the Rangers want to be so closely associated with a second baseman who owns a career .229 batting average in 93 professional baseball games (all below the Advanced-A level). As this organization strives to maintain a team that consistently competes for championships, the hope is that through osmosis this group can absorb as many positive attributes as it can from winners like Wilson. Especially ones who are young enough for current professional athletes to relate to. That sort of thing can potentially go a long way toward developing a team’s culture and identity.
If Adrian Beltre is lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy high above his head come October, I’m not sure he’ll be pointing back to March 3rd and Wilson’s spring training visit as a big reason why, but it could be an intangible piece of the foundation that makes up this team’s season. Intangibles are immeasurable by definition. But in this case for the Rangers, it cost $12,000.
Yes, drafting Russell Wilson and bringing him to spring training was a gimmick. A gimmick that may already be worth the gambit.
You could be excused for having missed out on this year’s championship game for the Arizona Fall League. It fell right in the middle of a busy slate of college football games this past Saturday (which was a beautiful, 76-degree day here in the Metroplex) and, for the most part, only the most diehard followers of the minors would be punching their remotes to tune into MLB Network for the broadcast in the middle of November (other potential viewers might have included those who didn’t want to see his alma mater serve as a collective mop for the Florida State Seminoles to clean Bobby Bowden Field with).
Those who did flip over to the game were treated to the Rangers-affiliated Surprise Saguaros winning their second-ever league championship (and first since 1995). After winning the West Division with an 18-12-1 record, the Saguaros blanked the East Division-winning Mesa Solar Sox 2-0 for the title.
Of the nine Rangers players who suited up for Surprise this season, just two played in the final game. Top Texas prospect Jorge Alfaro caught all nine innings and drove in the game’s first run with an RBI single up the middle in the second inning; it was his lone hit in three at bats while holding down in the seventh spot in the order. Righty reliever Keone Kela pitched a perfect eighth inning and didn’t let a ball out of the infield to complete the Rangers’ contributions to the victory.
So how did the Texas talent do during the AFL out in the Copper State? Here’s a rundown of the Rangers minor leaguers:
(Note that for a variety of reasons, the AFL generally is quite hitter-friendly, so you will want to take some of these numbers with a grain of salt.)
C Jorge Alfaro: 19 G, 80 PA, .386/.438/.500, .938 OPS, 6 2B, 3B, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 18 R, 5 BB, 17 K, 2-5 SB, 3 E, 5 PB, 7-14 catching basestealers
There’s a lot to like about Alfaro’s performance in the circuit, as well as some indications that Rangers fans should exercise some patience while waiting for the Colombian backstop’s Arlington arrival (it’s unrealistic to think he’ll be the 2015 Opening Day catcher – he spent nearly the entire 2013 season with low-A Hickory). In addition to a cannon throwing arm, Alfaro’s other calling card has been his power (rare for a catcher). Although he did not go deep in his 19-game stint in the desert, that’s a pretty triple-slash line. The sixth-youngest player in the league, the 20-year-old was the Saguaros’ primary catcher (his 15 games behind the dish were tied for the most among all AFL players), and he gunned down 50 percent of attempting basestealers. That mark was bested only by Peoria’s Austin Hedges (Padres), who caught 12 of 22 (55%) runners. Alfaro is still a work in progress defensively, however, as his league-leading five passed balls indicate (only one other player had more than two). Still, the performance was very encouraging for arguably the Rangers’ most exciting minor league prospect.
RHP Lisalverto Bonilla: 3 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K, 1.00 WHIP, .167 BAA
One of the newest members of Texas’ 40-man roster, Bonilla is a changeup specialist with an electric fastball and a solid slider. After flaming out in Triple-A, he spent the last half of the 2013 regular season with the RoughRiders. The word “dominant” doesn’t come close to describing what Bonilla, Picked up in the Michael Young trade, did this summer in Frisco; because “Santeria” is currently playing as I type this report, I’ll go with the word “sublime” to label his efforts. In his short time in the AFL, Bonilla simply continued what we saw him do on the mound at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Of Bonilla, Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews told me that if he can consistently throw his fastball at the knees of hitters, he will have a long and extremely profitable big league career, because the heater and change are that good.
RHP Ryan Harvey: 3 G, 0-1, 1 SV, 5.40 ERA, 3.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, WP, 1.50 WHIP, .273 BAA
Harvey started the AFL with Surprise, but the Rangers elected to remove him from the Surprise roster for non-injury reasons after only three appearances. The thought here is that the organization wanted to limit his innings after tossing a career-high 58 innings in a variety of roles for Myrtle Beach this past season. I would expect to see the former Seton Hall Pirate with the RoughRiders in 2014.
RHP Keone Kela: 7 G, 0-0, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 8.2 IP, 5 H, R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 10 K, 1.15 WHIP, .172 BAA
The youngest pitcher on the Saguaros (20), Kela may be a candidate to skip the Advanced-A level and begin 2014 in Frisco after an impressive AFL campaign (I would doubt it, however, given his age). A hard-thrower, Kela overwhelmed opposing batters by proving very difficult to make contact against. His walk rate was a bit higher in the AFL (5.19) than it was during the regular season (3.46), which he split between Hickory, Spokane and the AZL Rangers.
LHP Will Lamb: 6 GS, 1-1, 8.69 ERA, 19.2 IP, 29 H, 22 R, 19 ER, HR, HB, 19 BB, 10 K, 2 WP, 2.44 WHIP, .349 BAA
After starting 32 of his first 43 professional appearances in 2011 and 2012, the Rangers moved their former second round draft pick into the bullpen this past season, making all but one of his 39 appearances for Myrtle Beach as a reliever. Lamb responded with his worst statistical season as a professional despite pitching in the hurler haven the Pelicans call home. He got another shot at starting in the AFL, but as the numbers above indicate, it did not go well. The former two-way player at Clemson will still be just 23 for the entire 2014 season, so time is still on his side and left-handed pitchers with good stuff are always valued. Next year will be a very important one for Lamb and for the Rangers to see what they have in him.
RHP Nick McBride: 10 G, 1-0, 6.43 ERA, 14 IP, 21 H, 12 R, 10 ER, 2 HR, 8 BB, 9 K, BK, 3 WP, 2.07 WHIP, .339 BAA
McBride split 2013 between Myrtle Beach and Frisco while also making a cameo appearance in May with Round Rock. He was very effective out of the bullpen for the Pelicans but did not have much success as a starter in the tougher Texas League. The former fifth rounder worked out of the pen for Surprise and appeared to have the same difficulties he had with the RoughRiders: too many baserunners. His fastball command was not sharp and his breaking ball needed a lot of refinement in his time with the ‘Riders and, despite showing flashes within starts, would often get burned by putting himself in too many difficult situations.
1B Brett Nicholas: 17 G, 66 PA, .230/.273/.393, .666 OPS, 7 R, 7 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 11 K
Nicholas earned the opportunity to showcase his abilities in the prestigious AFL by way of his breakout regular season with the RoughRiders. One of the most complete offensive players in the Texas League this past season, Nicholas struggled a bit with the bat out in Arizona, as the numbers indicate. That may be the result fatigue from playing essentially every day over a full season for the first time, so I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into those numbers. His AFL campaign did have a few highlights, however. He was tied for fifth in the league in doubles, named the MVP of the Rising Stars Game with a two home run performance and he got married just as the fall season was beginning. I’m not sure how much he will be looked at for the Rule 5 draft next month, but he gets a lot of Chris McGuiness comparisons and McGuiness was selected by the Indians last year before being returned to Texas in the spring. While Nicholas does not have the same power that McGuiness has, he does have more versatility with his ability to play catcher. He played the position in college and has a decent amount of professional experience behind the plate (he’s often told me he’s still a catcher at heart playing first base). He is expected to catch full-time in the Dominican Winter League following his stint with Surprise. Nicholas would seem to be a good fit with a National League team with his ability to play multiple positions and swing a solid bat.
3B Ryan Rua: 17 G, 71 PA, .175/.268/.385, .633 OPS, 13 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 7 BB, 24 K, 6 E
Perhaps the most unexpected breakout season across the minors, Rua exploded onto the prospect scene with a 32 home run campaign for low-A Hickory (104 games) and Frisco (23 games). That tremendous power was on display in the AFL with four home runs, which tied for fifth among all players. Those homers, however, were his only extra-base hits in 71 plate appearances and it is apparent that he had some of the same contact issues he had with the RoughRiders. Like Nicholas, it could be the result of a long season that led to the diminished numbers. Rua is a very polarizing prospect for those in the business. His power is genuine and obviously comes out in games, not just at five in the afternoon. In addition to improving his contact, he needs to improve dramatically defensively. After primarily playing second base for the Crawdads, he shifted to third base with Frisco and played there for Surprise as well. Rua committed six errors in the AFL and while his arm is good enough for the position, his positioning and hands need work. At times he looks a little stiff with hands that are too hard at the hot corner. Hopefully the increased reps he gets at third will allow the defensive aspects of his game to catch up to his power.
RHP Matt West: 10 G, 1-0, 3.72 ERA, 9.2 IP, 12 H, 4 R, HR, 7 BB, 10 K, WP, 1.97 WHIP, .293 BAA
A member of the 40-man roster, West (who turns 25 today) has spent the bulk of the year rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2012. A former second round pick out of high school (originally as a position player), West made one appearance for the AZL Rangers in August and saw his workload significantly increased with Surprise. The biggest signs of encouragement from West’s numbers are his ten strikeouts – indicating he can still gas it to get elite hitters out – and his ten appearances without any injury complications. His performances seemed to get better as the AFL season went on, hopefully setting the stage for a successful comeback season in 2014. If all goes well, he could put himself in position for a big league role at some point next year.
Finally, a reminder that, despite the AFL getting the MLB Network treatment with some of the best minor league prospects on the field, it’s still not close to the big leagues at least when it comes to the strike zone. Two screenshots from the strike three call on a 3-2 pitch in a 2-0 (championship) game. This was the final out.
Out with the old, in with the new. Some of our preparations for the 2014 season include buying new uniforms for the players to wear next season. But what happens to the old jerseys, you ask? Well, that’s where you theoretically come in.
We auctioned most of the uniforms off to fans at Dr Pepper Ballpark near the end of the season and now the RoughRiders are making the ones we held back available to the public. Fans now have the opportunity to purchase a home jersey (the type in the photo above). It could easily make for a great gift, a unique piece of sports memorabilia or even an awesome beer league softball uniform!
Here are the jerseys available and who they were worn by this past season:
- #1 – LHP Alex Claudio
- #17 – LHP Jimmy Reyes
- #23 – OF Joe Benson
- #24 – LHP Richard Bleier
- #25 – C Brett Teschner, Rangers UT Jeff Baker, Rangers RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Roman Mendez,
- #26 – OF Kalian Sams
- #30 – RHP Francisco Mendoza
- #32 – Coach/Scout James Vilade
- #33 – Hitting coach (and former Ranger) Jason Hart
- #36 – RHP Jerad Eickhoff
- #40 – RHP Arlett Mavare
- #45 – RHP Phil Klein
The jerseys are going for $100 each and all of the proceeds benefit the RoughRiders Foundation (a non-profit organization that you can read more about here). If you are interested in purchasing a jersey or have any questions, please contact LaShawn Moore of the RoughRiders at LMoore@RidersBaseball.com or at (972) 334-1978.
Brett Nicholas and Neil Ramirez weren’t the only RoughRiders honored last month for a stellar 2013 season. The two Frisco stalwarts were named post-season All-Stars at the DH and pitcher positions, respectively, and they’ve now got some company.
Company that’s going to have to clear a bit more space on his mantle.
Last month Frisco’s Carlos Olivas was named “Athletic Trainer of the Year” for the Texas League for the second straight season by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS). This is a tremendous honor and Carlos is incredibly deserving of the award. He does a terrific job caring for the players and keeping them healthy and on the field.
A trainer from each minor league is chosen for an award in addition to a minor league coordinator and at the Winter Meetings, the “Minor League Athletic Trainer of the Year” will be elected by PBATS members. Carlos was one of two trainers in the Rangers organization to win an award; the other was Alex Rodriguez of the Dominican Summer League Rangers.
Here’s the full list of award-winning trainers:
League: Winner: Organization:
|Coordinator||Jay Williams||San Francisco Giants|
|International League||Jeff Allred||Washington Nationals|
|Pacific Coast League||Eric Ortega||San Francisco Giants|
|Eastern League||Scott DiFrancesco||New York Yankees|
|Southern League||Charles Leddon||Cincinnati Reds|
|Texas League||Carlos Olivas||Texas Rangers|
|Florida State League||Alan Rail||Minnesota Twins|
|California League||Grand Hufford||Houston Astros|
|Carolina League||Patrick Wesley||Baltimore Orioles|
|Midwest League||Chris Tomashoff||Tampa Bay Rays|
|South Atlantic League||Mark Keiser||Kansas City Royals|
|New York – Penn League||Jason Schwartzman||Detroit Tigers|
|Northwest League||Reggie Mugrue||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Appalachian League||Kiyoshi Tada||New York Mets|
|Pioneer League||John Duff||Colorado Rockies|
|Arizona League||Clete Sigwart||Cincinnati Reds|
|Gulf Coast League||Philip Mastro||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Dominican Summer||Alex Rodriguez||Texas Rangers|
PBATS President Richie Bancells had this to say upon the announcement of the winners:
“These 18 athletic trainers stood out in 2013 as the best in their respective leagues, and I am so honored that they all showed the dedication and professionalism it takes to keep their players on the field. These fine gentlemen represent the bright future that lies ahead for PBATS.”
Carlos is back home in New Mexico, but I asked him a few questions over e-mail about winning the award.
Alex Vispoli: What does it mean to you to have won this award for the second straight year?
Carlos Olivas: It was definitely a surprise when I heard. It is a testament to the program we run and I give credit to Eric McMahon for his part in the sports medicine team. I am honored to be voted the winner for 2 straight years.
AV: Why do you think your work has been recognized once again as exemplary?
CO: We try to keep current with what we do as far as injury prevention and rehabilitation. Our players play a big role believing in what we are doing and following through with our programs. Having a medical team of doctors available for visiting teams and giving them the same access we have is huge. I always try to communicate with the visiting athletic trainers on a daily basis to make sure they have everything they need.
AV: Has anyone within the Rangers organization congratulated you on winning?
CO: I have heard from numerous people congratulating me.
AV: How was this past season from your perspective as an athletic trainer? Any unique or important challenges?
CO: It was overall a very good year. We only had a few major injuries and kept DL time to a minimum. We try to spend a lot of time on prevention and catching small injuries early before they turn into something big. Lower body muscular injuries (hamstring, groin) are always tricky because they tend to nag. Every year is a challenge with the amount of turnover with players in the minor leagues. We are constantly gaining new players with new sets of challenges.
AV: Does this qualify as a dynasty/do you have enough pictures of someone to ensure a third straight win?
CO: I have pictures of everyone…including you, Vispoli.
To learn more about Carlos and what he does as a minor league athletic trainer, take a listen to this interview I did with him back in July for the radio broadcast.
Have you ever thought about coming to a RoughRiders game but have a hard time getting off the fence because of the weather? We all know that Texas weather can be a little unpredictable and sometimes it can be reassuring to just see whether it’s raining at the park, if the tarp is on the field or just how hot it is at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Well fear not, loyal ‘Riders fans, because just in time for the off-season (yeah, maybe not the savviest timing…) we have been selected as an official weather-reporting station for WeatherBug. As a result, we can now give fans access to the up-to-the-minute weather details, from the temperature, wind and even the time for sunset.
As you can see on this page, there is even a live camera that regularly snaps a photo of the diamond below (unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s a suitable replacement for MiLB.tv, for those of you looking for a workaround to watch games over the internet). Save the page in your bookmarks and you’ll always be able to know the weather when you’re looking to visit us for a game. You can also find the link on www.ridersbaseball.com as one of the “‘Riders Links” below the video highlights and also as a link in the “News” section of the site.
Now, maybe if we all spend enough time staring at that webpage it will start to feel a little less like mid-July here in the Metroplex.
As always, thanks for reading!
The 2013 season ended eight days ago and before we start thinking about Opening Day 2014 (currently 205 days away, but who’s counting?), let’s wrap up this year with some of the notable notes & factoids. The following tidbits are
stolen taken from the RoughRiders’ end-of-season notes, which you can see in their entirety here.
Report Card: The RoughRiders finished their 11th season with an overall record of 70-70, good enough for third place in the Texas League South Division and fourth-best in the eight-team circuit. Frisco was 39-31 in the first half, claiming second place in the division, and 31-39 in the second half (third place). The RoughRiders missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time in team history. For the first time since becoming a minor league manager in 2009 (Bakersfield), Steve Buechele oversaw a team that did not make the postseason. Two RoughRiders were named to the postseason All-Star Team: DH Brett Nicholas and RHP Neil Ramirez.
Playing not to lose: For the eighth straight season, the RoughRiders finished with a non-losing record. The last time Frisco finished below .500 was the only time in team history, back in 2005 when the team finished 58-82. The streak of non-losing seasons is by far the longest in the Texas League; every other team in the circuit has had at least one losing season in the last three years. The streak is the longest in Double-A and the third-longest among all 120 full-season minor league clubs, exceeded only by the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats (11 straight non-losing seasons) and the Advanced-A San Jose Giants (ten). Including teams that play in short-season leagues, Frisco’s streak is the sixth longest; the Elizabethton Twins (25), Brooklyn Cyclones (13) and AZL Giants (13) have the longest such streaks in stateside Minor League Baseball.
Home Field Advantage: A crowd of 10,712 watched the RoughRiders beat Corpus Christi in the home finale on August 30, marking the second-biggest attendance at Dr Pepper Ballpark this season. It was exceeded only by the July 4 game against Arkansas, when 10,801 saw the Travelers edge the ’Riders 3-2. Frisco welcomed 479,873 fans to the ballpark this year (an average of 7,057), the highest total in Double-A for the ninth straight year. The total and average attendance figures are higher than 17 Triple-A ballclubs this season.
Pitching in: Pitching coach Jeff Andrews can be proud to point out that this year’s Frisco staff statistically rates as the best in franchise history. Of the 11 seasons in RoughRiders history, the 2013 team finished with the best ERA (3.58, placing in the top two of the league for just the second time ever), strikeouts (1,111), WHIP (1.265), and hits/9 IP (8.0, the lowest figure in the TL since 2003). The team’s strikeouts/9 IP (8.0) was tied for the second-best in team history. Making these feats even more impressive is that the RoughRiders utilized 37 different pitchers (by far the most in the league, five more than Springfield, which had used the second-most), including 19 starters.
Saint Nicholas: Frisco first baseman Brett Nicholas has had a great year in his first Double-A season. Before to this year, Nicholas had 17 career home runs in three combined pro seasons but hit 21 in 2013. In addition to the long balls, the Arizona native established career-bests in games (136), plate appearances (575), at bats (506), hits (146), batting average (.289), slugging percentage (.474), OPS (.831), RBI (91), runs (71), triples (3) and total bases (240). Nicholas finished among the Texas League leaders in average (fourth), games (first), at bats (third), home runs (seventh), RBI (first), hits (first), extra-base hits (tied for fifth, 49) and total bases (first, 240). He was the only player in the TL in the top seven in all three of the Triple Crown categories. Nicholas was named a mid-season and postseason All-Star (at DH) and will be one of the Rangers’ representatives in the Arizona Fall League.
Teo Time: Teodoro Martinez had a breakout season in many respects in 2013. The diminutive outfielder was second on the team with 15 home runs and was also among the team leaders in hits (second, 110), runs scored (third, 51), RBI (fourth, 47), total bases (third, 168), and steals (second, 21). Martinez entered the season with ten career home runs and single-season high of six, but more than doubled his career output in longballs with a year that landed him on the mid-season All-Star Team. He had a career game on the penultimate day of the regular season in Midland, going 4 for 5 with a double, two home runs, eight runs batted in and three runs scored. The eight RBI matched his total from July (three) and August (five) combined and represented what is believed to be a RoughRiders single-game record. It was only fitting that Martinez had his huge game against Midland; in 27 games against the RockHounds, he hit .336/.351/.600 (.951 OPS) with two doubles, nine home runs, 28 RBI, 16 runs scored and seven steals.
New Kids on the Block: The makeup of Frisco’s roster changed dramatically in early August, when nine new players joined the team and seven players were sent elsewhere. Of the new RoughRiders, second baseman Rougned Odor and pitchers Luke Jackson and Nick Martinez—all promoted from Advanced-A Myrtle Beach—shined the brightest. From August 1 through the end of the season, Odor led the Texas League in hits (41) and was tied for second in extra-base hits (16). At 19, he was the youngest player in Double-A and over 30 games hit .306/.354/.530 with six homers, eight doubles, two triples, 19 RBI, 20 runs scored and five steals. Jackson did not allow a run until his fifth ’Riders outing and went 2-0 over six games (four starts) with a 0.67 ERA (2 ER/27 IP), 30 strikeouts and a .144 opposing batting average. Dating back to his time with the Pelicans, he ended the season having gone 15 games (13 starts) since last suffering a defeat (May 27 at Lynchburg). Martinez did not work the strikeouts like Jackson, but he was stellar in five games (four starts), going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32 IP), 11 hits allowed, a 0.56 WHIP and a .107 opposing batting average. While pitching in relief of rehabber Nick Tepesch on August 27 against Corpus Christi, he threw seven no-hit innings and retired the last 19 batters of the ballgame.
Don’t walk this way: A constant theme over the course of the season was the inability of the ’Riders to draw walks while on offense. Frisco not only finished last among all Texas League teams with 303 walks this season, but also last among all full-season minor league teams (Advanced-A Brevard County was closest with 343). In fact, the ’Riders had fewer walks than 13 rookie-level teams whose seasons began well after Frisco’s. The 303 walks set a new Texas League record for fewest walks ever received by a team, “besting” the 1992 San Antonio Missions (310). The RoughRiders’ on-base percentage of .300 was the seventh-lowest of all 229 MiLB teams and the second-lowest of all full-season squads.
Guilded Age: The 2013 season was a banner one for longtime RoughRiders utility player Guilder Rodriguez. This past season was Rodriguez’s 13th in professional baseball and his fifth with Frisco. Thanks to a terrific first half of the season, the Venezuelan was named to his first All-Star Game and came in off the bench to play in the South Division’s 6-0 win over the North. Rodriguez set several career Frisco records over the course of the year; he has played in more games as a RoughRider (407) than any other player in team history. On August 4, he passed Renny Osuna as the franchise’s all-time hits leader; he has 352 career hits as a RoughRider. On August 25, playing in his 1000th professional stateside game, Rodriguez stole his 66th base in a Frisco uniform, snapping a tie with Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry for the most career steals. G-Rod is now 66 for 92 stealing bases as a ’Rider; Gentry was 65 for 79 in 207 Frisco games.
This ’pen is mightier: Despite a constantly rotating cast, the RoughRiders’ bullpen was the strength of the pitching staff this season. Frisco’s relievers won almost as many games (34) as the team’s starters (36) while posting an impressive 2.55 ERA (166 ER/586.2 IP). The bullpen was heavy on strikeouts (9.1/9 IP) and stingy on allowing hits (6.9/9 IP). Ben Rowen (0.53 ERA) and Wilmer Font (1.41 ERA) led the group with ten saves apiece while nine total players had at least one save. The strong back end of the bullpen was a major reason why the RoughRiders went 51-0 when taking a lead into the ninth inning, not blowing a ninth inning save all season. Frisco was the only Texas League team that did not lose a game when leading after eight innings (all other teams had at least two such losses). The ’Riders were one of eight full-season minor league teams that did not blow a ninth inning lead and one of three (New Orleans, 72-72; West Michigan, 69-70) that did it while failing to post a winning overall record.
‘Riders on the Record is a weekly rundown of the pre-game interviews record by broadcasters Alex Vispoli and Nathan Barnett with RoughRiders players and coaches and occasionally a special guest. You can find all previous editions by clicking here.
An extra long edition this week with a double-dose of the skipper and a season finale chat with Jeff Andrews is here! It’s been a pleasure posting these each week. Thank you for your support of the Insider Blog and ‘Riders on the Record this season. We hope you enjoyed getting to hear from everyone this season. Highlights for the final edition include Phil Klein on his position on a football field, Nick Tepesch on being named the Rangers’ fifth starter and Randy Henry on how he can improve upon his stellar season.
Happy Monday and enjoy!
Sunday, August 25, 2013 – Manager Steve Buechele
After a tumultuous weekend in which the bullpen has been severely taxed, the manager Steve Buechele assesses the state of the ‘pen and who could have been on the mound among the position players. He discusses why Luke Jackson was removed in the midst of a no-hitter and explains the quick success of Nick Martinez in Double-A. (w/ Alex Vispoli)
Monday, August 26, 2013 – Catcher Zach Zaneksi
The RoughRiders catcher Zach Zaneski comes on to talk about his offseason plans and the end of the RoughRiders season. With Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in town, Zach tells us what kind of wisdom the future Hall-of-Famer has shared with the ‘Riders backstops. (w/ Nathan Barnett)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 – RHP Phil Klein
For the first time in his pro career, Phil Klein was the starting pitcher. He talks about keeping his routine consistent and how excited he was to get the nod. In preparation for our fantasy football post on the RoughRiders Insider Blog, I also asked Klein where he would play on a football team. (w/ Nathan)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 – 1B/C Brett Nicholas
Brett Nicholas put together a career year in 2013. He was named to the Texas League Post-season All-Star Team and a member of the Arizona Fall League the previous day, and he talks about the significance of both in the larger picture of his career. Hovering around a .300 batting average, Brett weighs in on the importance of that number to him as well. (w/ Nathan)
Thursday, August 29, 2013 – 3B Ryan Rua
Fresh off his walk-off grand slam, Ryan Rua reflects on the best moments of his career. He looks back at his breakout season and assess the progress that he has made this year as well as his adjustment to Double-A pitching. (w/ Nathan)
Friday, August 30, 2013 – Rangers Rehabber Nick Tepesch
Rangers rehabber Nick Tepesch talks about his first ever rehab. He shares his story from Spring Training that ended in the nod as the Rangers #5 starter and the development of his slider that has helped him make the leap. He also explains how quick teams and players are to adjust at the big league level. (w/ Nathan)
Saturday, August 31, 2013 – RHP Randy Henry
RoughRiders reliever Randy Henry is putting the finishing touches on a spectacular season in his year at Double-A. Battling an elbow injury, Henry was one of the more dominant pitchers in the Texas League this season. He evaluates his year and pinpoints places for future improvement. (w/ Alex)
Sunday, September 1, 2013 – Manager Steve Buechele
For the final time, the ‘Riders skipper joins our own Alex Vispoli on the pregame show to discuss the end of the season. He gives his take on the significance of a .500 record and shares his plans for the offseason. (w/ Alex)
Monday, September 2, 2013 – Pitching Coach Jeff Andrews
On the final day of the season, Pitching Coach Jeff Andrews sits down to assess his pitching staff at season’s end. He talks about the development of Luke Jackson and Nick Martinez, including the significance of his Jackson’s unconventional mechanics and Martinez’s baseball smarts. A big league coach in 2008 with the Pirates, he explains the value of coaching in the majors and what he learned in his season in Pittsburgh.
Baseball term of the day: sky piece - baseball cap
(term from The Baseball Thesaurus)
Football season is officially here. We have had preseason NFL the past few weeks, but high school and college kick off this weekend. The start of the 2013 football season got us at the RoughRiders talking about what positions the current ‘Riders would play on our fantasy football teams. This idea was inspired by a post from last year where the media team asked former RoughRiders Ross Wolf, Jerad Prince and Strength & Conditioning coach Eric McMahon to form their RoughRiders football team.
This year, Alex and Nathan decided they would like to take a crack at it, so they both drew up their teams based on body build, strength, speed, athleticism, and everything else they know about the current ‘Riders squad. Eric McMahon did so well last year that he too created a team for us. It may not surprise you to know that all three teams are quite different, based on the type of squad the three participants chose to go with.
The chatter around the clubhouse has also revolved around this topic as the players discuss who they might pick. Nick McBride, who left Frisco earlier this month, was the unanimous pick among the pitchers as the quarterback, however with Nick gone, there is more of a discussion as to who that QB would be. In his August 27 pregame interview, Nathan discussed this topic with pitcher Phil Klein, who labeled the positions he thinks he could fill: Defensive end if he were able to put on more muscle, or tight end if he developed better hand skills.
Nathan Barnett’s Team
“Luke Jackson at quarterback? He didn’t even play high school football!” remarked an anonymous RoughRiders player. Okay, sure: Luke Jackson was not a high school football star–but he did play a bit.
But I like his moxy. The composure he has shown in his short time in Double-A which has helped him to limit batters to a 1-for-18 mark with runners in scoring position combined with mid-90s heat—those have to make for great raw materials at QB.
Convinced by Alex’s wise observations about Odor, I swapped him out to the safety spot (I originally had him listed as my RB).
I am a big believer in Randy Henry at the strong safety position. A former high school and JUCO shortstop, Henry has the athletic build and leadership skills I want in a guy in that spot.
Kyle McClellan seemed an obvious choice at center. The unnamed captain of the bullpen is the perfect man to anchor the middle of what should be the most cohesive group on your team—plus his veteran leadership will be great in the huddle.
A point of contention in our debate here in the office was the place of Kalian Sams, who I went with at the tight end position. A physical force, 6’4”, nearly 250 pounds with good speed and great body control, Sams is the perfect target and safety net for a team with a smaller receiving core (Strausborger, Teo Martinez, Reyes). I see Sams are Vernon Davis like, big powerful upper body that can block a bit and shrug off tacklers. He might not quite have the speed of Davis, but his wheels are deceptively impressive (10-for-10 stealing bases this year in the TL). I see him as a 80+ catch TE; you can’t replace that production if you put him elsewhere.with the young QB in Jackson.
My philosophy here was to fill out the offensive and defensive line with the bigger and more powerful guys on the team, since most of the players on the ‘Riders roster could probably handle the skill positions. I think I have done that. I am particularly fond of my placement of Nicholas at left tackle. A leader on this team, selfless and one of the first off the bench to protect his teammate Rougned Odor in the near benches-clearing scuffle against the Tulsa Drillers earlier this month, there is no one I would trust more to protect the blindside of the Rangers top right-handed pitching prospect in the pocket.
TE: Kalian Sams and Jon Edwards
Alex Vispoli’s Team
This is probably my favorite blog post of the season because of the debates it inspires both in the office and in the clubhouse. With the collection of talent with this group, I’m confident that my fake football team would take any other Texas League outfit straight to the woodshed. My team runs a standard, pro-style offense that may not stretch the field too often, but should be able to score some points. There are some weak parts of the defense, but overall it is a solid unit that should make enough plays.
Quarterback: Ryan Rua
I like the idea of Rua as a pocket passer. Though he may not accrue many yards with his legs, we’ve seen his strong arm at third base this season and I’m confident he can make all the throws. His quiet confidence will also help keep the team focused on those crucial drives.
Running back: Joe Benson
A no brainer. Benson was a star tailback in high school and would carry the load for my offense.
Fullback: Tomas Telis
As a catcher, he knows how to block and he will be a bowling ball that the defense will try to get past to get to Benson. In short yardage situations, I like his size; he’s like a miniature Jerome Bettis.
Flanker wide receiver: Lisalverto Bonilla
His height and strength should make him a good red zone target, à la Plaxico Burress.
Split end wide receiver: Teodoro Martinez
Teo has good speed, which should make him good on the outside. A little undersized, but this is as good a spot as any for the Venezuelan.
Slot wide receiver: Ryan Strausborger
A natural spot for the blue-collared Straus, who won’t be afraid to make a tough catch over the middle. A Wes Welker-type for this team, he should keep the chains moving.
Wide receiver: Luis Sardiñas
In case we need to go with four wideouts, Sardiñas should provide great speed to stretch the defense, though he is a little raw.
Tight end: Jon Edwards
An absolute matchup nightmare. Edwards is bigger than any defensive back and faster than any linebacker. My version of Rob Gronkowski.
Left tackle: Jerad Eickhoff
Big, strong and heady, I trust Eickhoff to protect the blind side and keep Rua upright.
Left guard: Brett Nicholas (offensive captain)
A team-first guy, Nicholas will give up his body to make sure we get that first down.
Center: Zach Zaneski
Big and mean when he needs to be, Zach fits the blue-collar bill as an offensive lineman. As a catcher he calls a great game and I trust him to lead the o-line.
Right guard: Richard Bleier
Not the biggest guard around, but Bleier is willing to get mean when he needs to.
Right tackle: Phil Klein
I love the height and length that Klein brings to the line. He’s a lot to get by and should give Rua enough time to deliver the football.
Defensive end: Kalian Sams
The defensive version of Jon Edwards. Sams is big, fast and a nightmare to face as an offense. I feel bad for the quarterback who gets squashed by the Dutchman.
Defensive tackle: Arlett Mavare
A big body and a spacefiller, Mavare should help clog the middle and has the strength to push the offense back.
Defensive tackle: Brett Teschner
Another big body, the catcher is already used to working out of a crouching position and will hold his ground at the very least against the o-line.
Defensive end: Randy Henry
More of a speed rusher than a power guy, Henry can bring some small-town nasty to this group.
Outside linebacker: Chih-Hsien Chiang
Chiang has added weight to his frame over the years but still maintains some agility. If he can hit an opposing player even half as hard as he hits the baseball, this should be a natural fit.
Middle linebacker: Kyle McClellan (defensive captain)
Really happy to have Kyle calling the signals in the middle of my defense. An experienced veteran, there’s nothing he can’t recognize. He’s also very, very strong, extremely competitive and has a little crazy in his eye that will intimidate the opposition.
Outside linebacker: Luke Jackson
I’m counting more on savvy than speed or strength here. Jackson is a smart guy who should be able to read an offense and put himself in a good spot.
Cornerback: Guilder Rodriguez
Good size for a DB, Rodriguez brings veteran craftiness to the table and still has enough speed to stick with young wideouts. He can play the right angles and should be a tough matchup for any receiver.
Strong safety: Jimmy Reyes
With the intimidating presence Jimmy has on the mound, I have no doubt that he’ll make receivers think twice about going over the middle. Just enough speed and size to handle the position.
Free safety: Rougned Odor
Love the nastiness Odor brings to the diamond and he should be athletic enough to grab some interceptions and lay a player out. Might be a risk for penalty flags/fines for gray area hits, but you need a little of that on your team.
Cornerback: Francisco Mendoza
Mendoza has overcome injuries in the past and surpassed expectations. He plays with a chip and should be able to keep up with receivers and bring them down.
Kicker: Tyler Tufts
A little quirky (just look at the beard) and a bit undersized, so this is as good a spot as any for Tuffy.
Punter: Alex Claudio
Probably the safest spot on the gridiron for the slight Claudio. Given his nasty changeup, I would imagine he could manipulate his kicks to angle for the coffin corner pretty effectively as well.
Long snapper: Nick Martinez (special teams captain)
There’s not a natural spot for Martinez, but I think he should be in a leadership role and as leader of the special teams unit his voice will be heard.
Eric McMahon’s Team
The strength to deliver a strong down block and communication skills to tandem with Center or Tackle in a combo block
Possesses leadership and the intelligence to read the defensive front
He’s a great blocker with speed enough to pull around the edge
Great build! Looks the part.
Tall and runs well. Sneaky athleticism. A down-field threat over any secondary
Versatile speed from the edge or the slot
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed!
A power runner and above average agility. Good strength to drive through a hole!
Knowledge and strength to contribute in a blocking scheme. Speed enough for some 3rd down carries.
Big, Strong, and moves well
Great strength and temperament to dominate in the trenches
Excellent size and speed off the edge
Athletic, with the right mentality to read run or pass. Can help in the secondary
Moves well with enough size to be the force player on the edge and cover a TE/WR down field
Good strength, size and athleticism to cover both sides of the field
The heart and soul of the defense!
The coverage leader and playcaller. He possesses good overall athleticism for the secondary
Speed enough to make a play on the ball in the air
Speed for coverage and the strength to secure the edge
Intelligence and quickness to stay on a WR’s hip downfield
Improved speed from years past. A great double coverage guy to bat down a ball in the air.
Just funky enough to get the job done right
He’s a gamer…Ready to be called on when needed
Quick on his feet and a fearless mentality
-Ryan (With much assistance from Alex, Nathan and Eric)
Baseball term of the day: rocket - A hard-hit, fast-moving line drive.
(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)
Brett Nicholas and Neil Ramirez made the Texas League Post-season All-Star Team, announced yesterday by league President Tom Kayser. Here is part of the release from RidersBaseball.com:
Nicholas, 25, leads the RoughRiders in batting (.299), home runs (21) and RBI (89). His batting average is currently fourth among qualifying players and first among active Texas Leaguers. He is first in total bases (236), hits (143) and RBI, fourth in the circuit in runs (70) and third in slugging (.493). He has set career highs in hits, triples (3), home runs, runs scored and RBI. He is currently second in the league in games played (129). Nicholas was honored for the first time as an All-Star of any kind when he made the Mid-Season All-Star Team for the South Division; this is his first ever professional post-season selection.
Ramirez, 24, spent time with the ‘Riders for the third straight year in 2013 and went 9-3 in 21 starts with a 3.84 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 103 innings. He started the All-Star Game at Northwest Arkansas for the South Division on June 25 and was the winning pitcher in the contest. Ramirez struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings this season, which would be a career-best if the rate holds up. Now a member of the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate, he departed Frisco as the Texas League leader in strikeouts and ranked fifth in the league in wins (second on Frisco). The Virginia Beach, Virginia native held opposing batters to a .213 average which would be first in the Texas League if he qualified among league leaders. Ramirez was one of nine pitchers selected to the team and one of seven starting pitchers.
Frisco has had at least one Post-season All-Star in every season except for 2005. 2012 was the best season for the ‘Riders with four selections; the previous best was two.
Here is the all-time list of RoughRiders to make the team:
RoughRiders selected to the Texas League Post-season All-Star Team
C – Max Ramirez (2008)
2B – Ramon Nivar (2003)
2B – German Duran (2007)
SS – Elvis Andrus (2008)
SS – Jurickson Profar (2012)
3B – Mike Olt (2012)
OF – Craig Gentry (2009)
OF – Engel Beltre (2012)
DH – Jason Botts (2004)
DH – Nate Gold (2006)
DH – Chad Tracy (2009)
DH – Tommy Mendonca (2011)
DH – Brett Nicholas (2013)
P – A.J. Murray (2003)
P – Kameron Loe (2004)
P – Thomas Diamond (2006)
P – Luis Mendoza (2007)
P – Blake Beavan (2010)
P – Ryan Tatusko (2010)
P – Joe Wieland (2011)
P – Barret Loux (2012)
P – Neil Ramirez (2013)
Fun with numbers and All-Stars
- The ‘Riders have had 22 players honored over the 11 seasons, an average of two per season.
- Only once has the club not had a single player make the roster (2005)
- In 2012, Frisco had a team-record four players make the team.
- Of the 22 players, 15 have made the big leagues.
- Despite 5 DH selections, the ‘Riders have not had a player selected as the starting first baseman on the All-Star team.
- Neil Ramirez is not the first RoughRiders player to win the award while no longer in the organization. He joins Joe Wieland, Ryan Tatusko and Blake Beavan as Post-season All-Stars to earn the award while playing another organization. Ramirez is now in the Cubs organization after inclusion as the player to be named later in the Matt Garza trade. Joe Wieland was in the 2011 trade for Mike Adams. Ryan Tatusko was the return to Washington for Christian Guzman in 2010, and Blake Beavan, in the midst of his 2010 Texas League Post-Season All-Star campaign was traded to Seattle as part of the package for Cliff Lee.
- 6 of the 22 were also included in last year’s All-’Riders team, selected in honor of the 10th anniversary of the club. Those selections include: Blake Beavan (# SP), Nate Gold (DH), Craig Gentry (CF), Elvis Andrus (SS), Tommy Mendonca (3B) and German Duran (2B).
Baseball term of the day (with enthusiastic assistance today from Scott Fults): cozy roller - a slowly batted ground ball
(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)
The ballots are in. The counters are at work, tabulating the totals. Hopefully it won’t come down to the definition and value of a hanging chad. (UPDATE: Corpus Christi’s George Springer has won the award)
Yesterday, Alex and I, along with others around the league, were asked to turn in our votes for the Texas League Postseason All-Star team, Player of the Year award winner, Pitcher of the Year selection and Manager of the Year candidate. The awards are expected to be announced today.
The only stipulation in the voting was that you could not vote for players on your team, so, neither Alex nor I could vote for RoughRiders players. The voting included a ballot filled with the following positions: 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, C, 3 OF and 6 pitchers. There were two columns: one for “1st Team” and another for “2nd team.” So that means we could vote for two 1B, two 2B (etc).
While it was time-consuming and thought-provoking, save for a few players, I thought selecting this season’s Texas League All-Stars was not too difficult. While there are a few deserving candidates, it didn’t take long to pen down David Martinez for Pitcher of the Year in the circuit. As for Manager of the Year, that one was rather easy for me as well.
Then we came to Player of the Year.
So, should I vote for Anthony Aliotti?
The Midland first baseman spent around two thirds of the season crushing Texas League pitching to the tune of a .350 average, .452 on-base percentage and .993 OPS–all league highs, and with enough plate appearances to qualify, Aliotti will finish first in all three of these categories. He has really struggled at Triple-A, but that should not matter. This is Texas League Player of the Year.
What about George Springer? He has to be the favorite for all-around Minor League Player of the Year. He is three home runs away for the elite 40 home run / 40 stolen base club, which has happened only four times in major league history (Jose Canseco 1988, Barry Bonds 1996, Alex Rodriguez 1998, Alfonso Soriano 2006–three former Texas Rangers coincidentally enough). It hasn’t happened in the minor leagues, where the season slate is fewer games (140) since 1956 when Len Tucker accomplished the feat. He is first in minor league baseball in home runs (37), tied for fourth in RBI (105), tied for 20th in steals (43) and fourth in OPS among players with 300+ ABs. He is also accomplishing these feats despite zero time above Advanced-A ball before this year.
Neither player spent even close to the entire season in the league. Springer played 73 games, while Aliotti notched 91. Neither player will finish in the top 5 in home runs or RBI, and depending on how the season finishes, Springer could drop out of the top 5 in stolen bases (23), while Aliotti could lose his spot at #5 in doubles (29).
I searched desperately for a candidate that played 100 or more games in the league (an arbitrary number, I know), that could live up to the play of these two fine ballplayers.
How about Matt Fields of Northwest Arkansas? He will likely capture the home run crown; he has 31 and a six home run edge of second place. But Fields is hitting just .227, plays a non-premium defensive position (first base), and leads the league with 175 strikeouts in 124 games.
Xavier Scruggs? The Springfield first baseman is second in home runs (25), just outside the top 5 in RBI (74), fourth in league in OPS (.853) and leads the league in walks (81). While the resume is an impressive one, a .246 average, more than a strikeout per game, and the opportunity to play lowly Northwest Arkansas 32 times really hurt his cause for me (he hit .313 with six of his 25 homers against the last place Naturals).
Then I got to Brett Nicholas. Of course, I couldn’t vote for Nicholas since he is a ‘Rider. The Frisco first baseman is going to finish the season with the most games played and likely have the highest RBI total (he is first today). His .299 average is fourth in the TL, and is first among active Texas League players. He is first in hits, third in slugging (second active), first in total bases, fourth in runs, and, in comparison to other power hitters in the league, does not strike out very often. Of course in many more games than Springer and Aliotti, he has more hits, runs, home runs and RBI than the leading two candidates. If I could have voted for Nicholas, I might have. It would have been a tough call.
Full disclosure here, I voted for Springer.
His dominance while in the Texas League as well his team’s capturing a playoff spot before his departure outweighed, in my opinion, his smaller gross totals in comparison to Scruggs, or Crumbliss, or Fields, and his speed and elite defense pushed him past Aliotti for me.
There are no criteria listed with this award; it is left up to the voter to decide what factors should go into Player of the Year. This is, in my opinion, a rather fruitless effort to argue over the number of games required for consideration, the value of defense and speed, ballpark factors (hitters’ park vs pitchers’ park), competition of the weighted divisional schedule, etc. Ultimately, when there are no rules, the voter must make these decisions themselves, and arguing over the value of each of these factors is often one without much movement. People’s minds are hard to change on topics like this.
What is important is that any voter at least consider these criteria when making their selection; how to balance them is up to the individual.
Assuming you are with me at this point, here are the raw numbers of the three players:
|Nicholas - Frisco||TEX||129||543||479||70||143||24||3||21||89||2||1||42||115||.299||.363||.493||.855||236|
|Aliotti - Midland||OAK||91||409||340||49||119||29||0||12||51||3||2||66||83||.350||.452||.541||.993||184|
|Springer - Corpus Christi||HOU||73||323||273||56||81||20||0||19||55||23||5||42||96||.297||.399||.579||.978||158|
I will run through a few of the perhaps more overlooked factors that might shed some light on the worthiness of Nicholas for the league’s highest honor.
Nicholas is the only one with enough games/at bats
For the record, I also think Springer will win the award. Which is astounding.
Since the inception of the award in 1931, only two position players have ever won the award with less than 100 games played. Kila Kaʻaihue of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals won the award in 2008 when and he launched 26 homers and hit .314 over 91 games, and another Royals prospect, Mike Moustakas, took home the hardware in his 66 game season in 2010 when he left the circuit with an 1.100 OPS with 21 homers and a .347 average. He also plays a decent third base in the majors, so I imagine he was above average man at the hot corner in his time in the Texas League.
Five pitchers have won the award: Tim Leary (1980), Bob Muncrief (1940), Dizzy Trout (1938), Harold (Ash) Hillin (1937), Dizzy Dean (1931). Only Trout didn’t spend his entire award-winning season in the TL. He pitched 37 times in the Texas League and in five games for Double-A Toledo in the American Association. Proportionally speaking, he made 88% of his outings in the Texas League, which would be quite a bit more than 100 games by a position player standard.
Even if Aliotti wins the award it would be pretty remarkable. Granted the two players to break the mold have done so in the last 10 years, when seemingly voters might be a bit more prospect-conscious and mid-season promotions are more common, but history is still very much against it.
Nicholas is not in a great hitting environment
Comparing the three players, Alliotti, Nicholas and Springer, it seems that Nicholas is likely in the toughest spot to produce. Mark Eddy of BaseballAmerica.com looked at park factors at the start of this season, and Dr Pepper Ballpark ranked as the fifth best hitter’s park in the eight team league. Midland was third. Corpus Christi ranked fourth:
|Rates Per Park, 2010-12|
Launching Pad: Springfield, 2.35 HR/G (No. 6)
Graveyard: Arkansas, 1.00 HR/G (No. 106)
Hit Parade: Midland, 19.19 H/G (No. 11)
Pitcher’s Park: Arkansas, 7.67 R/G (No. 4)
(table and statistics from BaseballAmerica.com)
The ‘Riders’ home park is also much harder on left-handed batters, where the power-alley to right-center field is much futher than left-center (383 ft vs. 364 ft) and the WinStar Diamond Deck in left creates a Home Run Porch of sorts in straightaway left field.
Additionally, there is the concept of lineup protection. By all accounts, the Midland RockHounds and Corpus Christi Hooks have created more protection for Springer and Aliotti than the ‘Riders have for Nicholas this season. Here is how the offenses stack up:
Here is a similar table, only taking account team performance while the player in question was on the team’s roster (Aliotti was promoted on July 18, Springer on June 26):
Now of course these players account for part of the production, but that is true across the board. Springer and Aliotti were more production on a daily basis than Nicholas, but not enough to account for the disparities between the offenses on a whole.
Nicholas doesn’t play a premium defensive position
Or does he? That ‘Riders everyday first baseman is not really that–an everyday first baseman. He has logged 12 games at catcher, and likely would have more if the ‘Riders had a bit more flexibility at first base.
Other than rehabbers, only Guilder Rodriguez has logged more than one game at first base outside of Nicholas (18 games), and Rodriguez has been needed to spell off days for other infielders as well. Because of this, Nicholas has not been able to log as much time at catcher as he might have otherwise. More starts at catcher would certainly make his candidacy a little stronger.
Springer plays elite defense in center field. Your eyes will tell you that. The scouts will tell you that, and I am sure, when he makes the majors, the sabermetricians will crunch numbers that tell us the same. It is part of the reason I voted for Springer over Aliotti.
Nicholas’ ability at catcher should not be overlooked. He still considers himself a catcher and, defensively, has been pretty darn good at the position. Here is how he stacks up in a few key categories with the two primary Frisco catchers, Tomas Telis and Zach Zaneski:
|Name||Games||Catcher ERA||Games/PB||SB ATT/gm||CS%|
While this unlikely puts him ahead of Springer, I think it has to put him in front of Aliotti, and at least boost his candidacy. When considering MVP/POTY type awards, many will only focus on the offense of a first baseman, assuming that even an elite defensive first baseman is not adding a ton of value. I think that is an unfair determination in the case of Nicholas.
I would be shocked if Springer or Aliotti doesn’t win the award. In fact, I would be pretty astounded if Springer doesn’t win it, but if he is faulted for his 73 games played, it’s hard to imagine it won’t go to Aliotti.
I don’t even know if Brett Nicholas truly deserves the award, but I have a feeling many voters simply weighed the value of Aliotti’s 18 extra games against the incredible production of George Springer, decided how much that would count against Springer, and then called it a day.
Nicholas likely didn’t get the credit his season deserved. He has without question been the Player of the Year for the Frisco RoughRiders, and maybe even the Player of the Year in the Rangers minor league system, and he deserves at least a thoughtful discussion for Player of the Year in his circuit.
Baseball term of the day: cloud-hunter - a ball batted high in the air
(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)