Frisco’s New Skipper

Change is in the air at Dr Pepper Ballpark. The Frisco RoughRiders’ active offseason saw a new ownership group take over, significant stadium upgrades, an overhauled logo design and the arrival of new manager Joe Mikulik.

Mikulik (pronounced “MICK-uh-LICK”) is the definition of a baseball lifer. Drafted in the ninth round of the 1984 June Draft, Mikulik played 12 seasons in the Astros organization. His biggest hit came for Triple-A Tucson when he drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, clinching the Pacific Coast League Championship. Mikulik, a late season addition to the roster, drove an 0-2 pitch into right field to score Trinidad Hubbard, and the city of Tucson went into a state of pandemonium.

Mikulik managed the Texas Ranger's Advanced Single-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2014.

Mikulik managed the Texas Ranger’s Advanced Single-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2014.

A perennial losing pro baseball franchise had finally won a championship, from perhaps the most unlikely contributor. Immediately following the game Mikulik offered, “I don’t know what it’s like in the [major leagues], but if it’s better than this … wow.”

The closest Mikulik came to the big leagues was in 1995, the year following the work stoppage that curtailed the ’94 season. The league threatened to have replacement players fill rosters for the season. Mikulik was a prime candidate at age 31 with 3,634 minor league at-bats. In an article with Sports Illustrated in January of ’95, Mikulik tried to explain the dilemma should he get asked to play. On one hand here is a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream, donning a major league uniform. Trying to support a young family, Mikulik would more than quadruple his typical salary, saying he would be “living high on the hog.”

On the other hand, he would antagonize the MLB Players Association and those he hoped to call teammates one day.

The opportunity never arrived, as MLB and the MLBPA reached an agreement in late April.

Following his playing days, Mikulik immediately entered the coaching realm. He spent two years with the Cleveland Indians Single-A team before joining the Colorado Rockies organization. He managed the Class-A Ashville Tourists for an impressive 13 seasons, amassing 938 wins. His wins are the most ever for the franchise and the South Atlantic League, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2010.

Mikulik joined the Rangers as a roving instructor in 2013 before returning to the dugout in 2014 with Advanced Single-A Myrtle Beach, leading the Pelicans to an 82-56 season. Mikulik won his 1,000th game in the minor leagues last season with a 7-5 victory over the Potomac Nationals. The feat went largely unnoticed because of a statistical error dating back to his first managing gig in 1997 with Burlington. He only managed the final 16 games, but is wrongly credited in online databases with an additional 22 wins and 30 losses from that season.

Speaking to a South Carolina reporter, Mikulik found humor in the situation, “It (was) a silent victory,” he said with a laugh. “Nobody around knows about it. I guess I’ll have to celebrate by myself.”

To the public outside of Tucson, Mikulik is best known for his extensive tirades with umpires. A quick Google or YouTube search provides an entertaining potential preview of what may come to Frisco this season.

Whether he’s (literally) stealing second base, undressing at home plate, bashing coolers or barricading the umpires’ Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.32.27 AMdressing room, there is no shortage of energy.

Following a major blowup in 2006, Mikulik was quick to point out, “I don’t think I ever lost total control.”

Former major league outfielder Kenny Lofton played with Mikulik in the Houston organization. When the video of his tantrum(s) went viral, Lofton was unmoved,

“This was nothing new about him being intense,” Lofton said. “He loved the game. He wanted to play every day. He had the same intensity every day. If he didn’t play, he was mad, because he wanted to play. That’s how he was. And he loved baseball, boy. He’d live and die for it.

“That’s just his nature.”

Mikulik brings an extensive legacy and well-known temper to the RoughRiders.

Most importantly, he brings a proven track record to help the next wave of future Rangers become great.

Thanks for reading.

Nate

Now On The Clock

Major and Minor League Baseball are trying to improve the fan experience at the ballpark this season with the implementation of new Pace of Game Regulations. Over the years, MLB has seen the time of its games rise to over three hours in length. It’s fair to assume everyone enjoys a fluid pace with limited interruption. The league understands committing an entire afternoon/evening to a baseball game is valuable time.

Umpire Time Clock

Umpire Mark Wegner looks on while the new baseball pace-of-play inning break clock is shown in the background (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The rules will require pitchers in the minors to work on a 20-second timer, while hitters must stay inside the batter’s box between pitches. Ironically, the current MLB rulebook already includes Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04.

Rule 6.02: The Batter Must Be in the Box
The umpire has the right to call a “strike” on any batter who refuses to take his position in the batter’s box. The batter must keep one foot in the box throughout the at-bat.

Rule 8.04: Twelve Seconds to Pitch
When the bases are unoccupied, a pitcher must deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds or an umpire may assign a “ball” to the batter’s count.

Those rules are simply never enforced (with one rare, notable exception), but that will soon change. MiLB has lightly implemented Rule 6.02 for several years, but the new rule will strictly require the batter to stay in the box and ready for the pitch.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  1. There will be three different timers inside the ballpark: one in the outfield and two behind home plate. Should any timer fail, all three will be turned off.
  2. As soon as the final out of an inning is recorded, the timer will reset to 2 minutes, 25 seconds. All in-house entertainment must be complete and off the field after two minutes. The pitcher cannot throw a warm-up pitch after the timer hits 30 seconds. Ideally, both the batter and pitcher are ready for action when the timer hits 20 seconds.
  3. The pitcher must be in motion before the timer hits “0” or an automatic “ball” is awarded.
  4. The batter must make every reasonable effort to enter the batter’s box with 20 seconds on the timer. If the batter does not enter the box with five or more seconds remaining, the umpire will automatically award a “strike”.
  5. The timer will reset to 20 seconds after the catcher returns the ball to the pitcher (following each pitch).
  6. The umpire has the right to reset the timer at his discretion.
  7. With runners on base, the pitcher has the right to step-off, make a pickoff attempt (any base), or feint a pickoff attempt (any base). The timer will immediately reset to 20 seconds.

Here is the link to the 13-page breakdown of the new rule.

MY THOUGHTS

Pace of play is a growing issue in baseball. Too many batters are stepping out, adjusting batting gloves, and taking the time for whatever other superstition one can come up with. Pitchers, specifically relief pitchers, have enough time to casually enjoy a sandwich in between pitches.

In the heat of summer, I’m not sure how many people enjoy a three-hour contest sitting in a balmy 103 degrees.

People have vastly different opinions regarding this issue. For example, hardcore baseball fans could care less, the casual fan might wish the game lasted about three innings, and the media prefers an entertaining, but precise 2-hour, 15-minute affair.

After each game, the official scorer always announces the “official time of game”, which, to the best of my knowledge, only the media cares about.

I believe implementing rules to speed up the game that could ultimately change the outcome of a game is a dangerous line to walk. Take the playoffs for instance…

With every game so close, with so much on the line, does it really make sense to put a timer on someone to be ready? I’ve never attended a World Series game that I left and said to myself, “Wow, that game took way too long.”

The umpire can dictate the pace of game without the necessity of a timer. The umpire does not have to grant timeout simply because a player asks. Again, it’s a rule rarely enforced, but it’s a rule… and one that is there for pace of play. The umpire could enforce both Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04, but often opts to ignore them. The umpire could strictly warn a player taking his sweet time that he will be penalized (and ultimately do so), but typically refrains.

I’ve seen a lot of games and I could not name one dominant pitcher who worked S.L.O.W.

Great pitchers like to stay in rhythm, work quickly, and trust the catcher’s game calling.

I appreciate the league trying to improve its product and attract new fans, but part of the game is the length, and the only “clock” necessary in a ballpark is the radar gun.

As the great comedian George Carlin once said, “Baseball has no time limit! We don’t know when it’s going to end… we might have extra innings!” and that is just part of the unexpected that makes baseball, well, baseball.

Will the new regulations speed up the game? What unforeseen consequences will result? Could arguments stemming from an automatic “strike” negate the difference?

Those are all questions that the 2015 season will answer, and the clock is ticking (17 days) until we begin to find out.

Nate

Counting Down To Opening Day With Nate Lucas

Disclaimer: Please excuse my disregard for any hurt feelings from the 2011 World Series!  

Opening Day is right around the corner, and for many of us, we consider it a national holiday. Spring Training offers a friendly reminder that winter will soon concede to summer’s warmth, and America’s pastime will politely intrude our daily lives.

wsluczsBaseball is unlike other sports. The grueling 162-game season produces the unexpected each night. Think you’ve seen it all in baseball? Think again. Preseason predictions meet reality, where new heroes are put on pedestals and greatness achieves championships.

Growing up in St. Louis, I feel fortunate to call myself a Cardinals fan. The Cardinals are St. Louis. As Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter once reminded me, “there’s not much else to do on a 100-degree day in St. Louis.”

Though technically the state bird is a bluebird, little doubt persists the Cardinal is reigning king.

Opening Day at Busch Stadium is a true spectacle, and something I would never miss­–even if that meant forging an early excuse note for a doctor’s appointment that conveniently gave myself enough time to scalp a ticket before the ceremonies commenced. For the record, good luck seeing a doctor on Opening Day, because they’re likely in attendance as well.

The history of the organization, the 12 World Series titles, the 19 National League Pennants, and the annual 3-plus million fans undoubtedly generated my love for the game.

Baseball echoes the history of this great nation. Baseball unites cultures around the globe. Baseball is Jackie Robinson. Baseball is Ernie Banks’ “Let’s play two!” Baseball is friendly, but contentious rivalries. Baseball is a classic day at Wrigley or Fenway. Baseball is Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Mike Trout. Baseball is home to the greatest five-set toolboxes. Baseball is Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux. Baseball is built for October, where locals like David Freese become engraved into history, and workhorses like Madison Bumgarner shoulder 52.2 innings.

At one point in my life I was playing, coaching, officiating, and covering baseball. When the realization hit that my 5-foot-nothin’ structure and soft-tossing lefty skillset weren’t my ticket to the big leagues, I changed course.

Baseball found a voice on the radio with the likes of Jack Buck, Vin Scully, Harry Caray and Mel Allen. The opportunity to announce baseball has been my dream for a long time. I cannot express how excited I am to help bring you Frisco RoughRiders baseball this season. Please forgive me for my allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals; I promise to not bring up any lingering memories from 2011.

I look forward to meeting a lot of you here at Dr Pepper Ballpark throughout the season. Let’s have some fun.

Cheers to baseball.

Nate Lucas

PS: I’ll be joining Alex Vispoli on the radio for every RoughRiders home game this season. For all things Riders baseball follow me on Twitter.

Spring in their step

2015-Texas-Rangers-Spring-Training-LogoFollowing a long 2014 season and an off-season light on major roster developments, spring training is well underway for the Rangers out in Surprise, Arizona. And, despite camp starting under the dark cloud of serious injuries (see Darvish, Yu and Profar, Jurickson) for the second straight year, the promise of a new season and better results on the horizon are enough to encourage any baseball fan back here in the Metroplex. The big league club has already played nearly two handfuls of Cactus League games and, as expected, Texas has used a plentiful number of players in those contests, including several players we can expect to see in Frisco this season.

It’s never wise to put too much stock into spring training numbers, because it’s difficult to decipher between what’s reality and versus a desert mirage. That said it’s hard not to get excited over things like Rougned Odor’s torrid start (6 for 13 with two doubles) and good early reports on Elvis Andrus. Knowing that spring results should be taken with a heavy grain of salt, let’s take a look at what some like 2015 RoughRiders have done while moonlighting in big league games through March 10. (The minor league games for the players in camp will begin on March 16, and that is when we’ll begin to get a better idea of the roster makeup for each affiliate).

Joey Gallo

Joey Gallo showing off his defensive prowess at the hot corner in 2014. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

Joey Gallo showing off his defensive prowess at the hot corner in 2014. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

The Rangers’ 2014 Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year will look to take another big step toward the big leagues and may not be a long term resident in Frisco this season (assuming he starts there). Gallo, a non-roster invitee to spring training, has played in five of Texas’ eight games and is 3 for 10 with two walks, two strikeouts and a homer on March 8 against Cubs roster hopeful Eric Jokisch.

Jorge Alfaro

Gallo’s fellow “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” (the collective nickname given to teen wonders – Gallo, Alfaro, Mazara, Williams, Guzman and Brinson – that populated the 2013 Hickory Crawdads) has gotten into seven games, going 2 for 9 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI. Look for Alfaro to get the lion’s share of the time behind the plate for Frisco this season.

Nick Williams

The 21-year-old from Galveston has played in one spring training game, going 1 for 2. Williams did not have the smoothest entry into Double-A last season (.226/.250/.290), but he showed flashes of his powerful hit tool and figures to be one of the more scrutinized prospects on the RoughRiders this season.

Hanser Alberto

Alberto could be ticketed for a level higher in the farm system at the start of the season based on position need and there is no doubt he has an advanced defensive tool. The Dominican, who was added to the Rangers’ 40-man roster in the off-season, won the Minor League Gold Glove Award for 2014. In six spring games with the big club, he is 4 for 12 with a double and a steal.

Trever Adams

The Nebraska native could be in line to begin 2015 in Frisco despite being named a Texas League Postseason All-Star last year. He has swung the bat well in limited spring action, going 2 for 3 over two games.

Pitchers

Chad Bell looked to be on the fast track to the big leagues before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for 2013. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/Frisco RoughRiders)

Chad Bell looked to be on the fast track to the big leagues before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for 2013. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/Frisco RoughRiders)

Some of the big names (Jake Thompson, Andrew Faulkner) that figure to come to Frisco haven’t yet pitched in any big league games this spring, but several other hurlers have. Prospective Riders that have pitched scoreless baseball to date include Cody Kendall, Jose Leclerc and Kohsuke Tomita. Chad Bell, a Rider in 2012, may be with Frisco to begin 2015 as he continues his journey back from Tommy John surgery. He has allowed one run (on a solo homer) in his lone inning of action while Jesus Pirela (one run, 1.1 innings), Josh McElwee (two runs, 0.2 innings) and Efrain Nieves (two runs, 0.2 innings) have also been touched for runs.

  • Alex

Ace Ventura: From the Texas League to the World Series

Ventura cardWhen Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura takes to the mound at Kaufmann Stadium tonight with the hopes of an entire fan base weighing on his slim frame, he can take comfort in one indisputable fact: at least he won’t have to face Brett Nicholas in tonight’s Giants lineup. While the former RoughRiders first baseman, who played his college baseball in the Show Me State, won’t be confused with Buster Posey or Hunter Pence, he is one of only 13 players who have a perfect 1.000 batting average in multiple at bats against Ventura. Nicholas was a perfect 2 for 2 versus the hard-throwing righty in Ventura’s sole Texas League start against the RoughRiders back on April 7, 2013 while pitching for the Royals-affiliated Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

I remember talking with Frisco hitting coach Jason Hart about Ventura before the game and he (based on what he saw in spring training) compared him to Pedro Martinez, an observation that has been made on Fox’s World Series telecast over the past week. I even wrote in my game notes that day that the 5’11”, 178 lb. native of the Dominican Republic had been nicknamed “Lil Pedro” (despite being about ten pounds heavier than the future Hall of Famer). Looking at their age-23 seasons, the comparison is even more apt. In 1995, when Pedro was 23 and throwing for the Expos, he went 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA, 174 strikeouts, 66 walks (in 194.2 innings), 123 ERA+ and a 3.90 FIP. As for Ventura’s 2014: 14-10, 3.20 ERA, 159 strikeouts, 69 walks (in 183 innings), 125 ERA+ and a 3.60 FIP. Lil Pedro, indeed.

On top of being a heralded prospect (ranked #3 going into the 2013 season by Baseball America), he had a killer nickname: Ace Ventura. Of course, it works on a baseball level in addition to a pop culture one, though I would doubt if Yordano knows if Finkle is Einhorn or not (he wasn’t even three years old when the pet detective hit theaters).

As for Ventura’s outing against the ’Riders, it was a solid start to begin a season that would later see him make his major league debut. After a perfect first inning, he allowed a single to Nicholas in the second before inducing a double-play ball off Alex Buchholz’s bat. He finished the inning with a strikeout of Chih-Hsien Chiang and tossed another scoreless frame in the third, yielding a harmless two-out single to Teodoro Martinez.

With pre-knuckleballin’ Kevin Pucetas putting up zeros in his first three innings, the ’Riders finally got to Ventura in the fourth. Hanser Alberto nicked his countryman for a single to right field and moved up to second on a deep flyout by Jared Hoying. Then Nicholas lined a 1-0 pitch down the left field line for a run-scoring double to get Frisco on the scoreboard. Two pitches later, he scored on a single by Buchholz to make it 2-0 .

Ventura came back with a 1-2-3 fifth inning to mark the end of his day. The 72-pitch outing featured five strikeouts and no walks over five frames. Ventura was let off the hook for a loss thanks to Naturals runs in the fourth and fifth innings, but Alberto’s sac fly in the sixth pushed the RoughRiders ahead for good in a tightly played 3-2 victory.

That sunny day in Springdale, Arkansas sticks out because it was the only time I saw Ventura pitch until catching him in a Royals uniform on television later in the season (because Frisco and Northwest Arkansas play in different divisions, the teams don’t match up frequently). He looked as sharp as advertised, with a fastball that hit triple digits on the RoughRiders’ radar gun several times in addition to a hard curveball and a solid changeup. While there were questions as to whether or not his body could hold up to be a starting pitcher, he certainly looked the part of a starter that afternoon and since hasn’t made anyone think twice about Kansas City’s move to keep him away from the bullpen.

(Fun fact about that game: the only other future major leaguer to play in the contest to date was 2014 Ranger Ben Rowen, who earned a hold by tossing a scoreless eighth inning for the ’Riders.)

The hope here is to see Ventura pitch well enough for the Royals to win and get us all to a Game Seven tomorrow night. Then maybe we can ask someone who was in the Texas League in 1999 to write a retrospective piece on Tim Hudson’s three starts that season for the Midland RockHounds.

A look at the scorebook from Yordano Ventura's start against the Frisco RoughRiders on April 7, 2013.

A look at the scorebook from Yordano Ventura’s start against the Frisco RoughRiders on April 7, 2013.

  • Alex

An update from the desert – Keeping tabs on the AFL

2014-AFL

We are past the halfway point in the Arizona Fall League and RoughRiders have plenty of representation in both former and future players out in the desert, so let’s look at how they are all doing. Last year the Rangers’ “affiliate,” the Surprise Saguaros, won the AFL Championship and through Sunday’s games, Delino DeShields Sr.’s team was 18-12-1. Before we dive into the individual numbers, a little context on the AFL.

You may have heard a lot about the Rangers’ new Advanced-A affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks, and the favorable offensive climate at Mavericks Stadium. Because of the relative ease in scoring runs out in Adelanto, California, evaluators and fans will need to take stats generated there with a grain of salt. The impressive offensive numbers we are likely to see there this season may end up being a mirage after a promotion to Frisco. Likewise, we are due to see some pretty garish ERA’s and other pitching statistics from hurlers out there, so we can’t be too harsh in judging the rough numbers that will undoubtedly hit the box scores.

Now, conditions in the AFL don’t exactly mimic the more hitter-friendly locales in the California League, but the thin air and wind there will help the batters more often than the pitchers, so you always see some bloated numbers for both sides.

There is another reason for this, one you don’t hear quite so much about: the AFL isn’t really it’s all made out to be. Don’t get me wrong, you have a very nice collection of good players there, but it is not the concentrated gathering of elite prospects that Minor League Baseball would lead you to believe it is. Many teams do not send their best prospects out to Arizona, especially on the pitching side. Typically, organizations decide to send their pitchers who did not get enough innings under their belt during the regular season, be it for injury, lack of opportunity or developmental speed bumps (i.e., Houston’s Mark Appel). Not every one of these pitchers is potential star and many are there simply to get in some work, regardless of the results. In that sense, it is a little like spring training for Major League veterans.

The Rangers are not much different from most teams in not sending their very best prospects to the AFL. If that was not the case, you would see Chi Chi Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, Jake Thompson, Luis Ortiz and Keone Kela (among others) suiting up for the Surprise Saguaros this year.   Texas was satisfied with all of those pitchers’ workloads during the regular season and elected to send others to the AFL instead. I’m not suggesting that all of the pitchers out in Arizona are non-prospects, simply that the AFL does not typically get the cream of the crop when it comes to pitching.

Another reason to consider the AFL being a bit watered down is that there are so many other leagues in action at the moment. From Venezuela to the Dominican Republic to Australia, Mexico, Colombia and Puerto Rico, there is a lot of competition from other winter/fall leagues and those circuits guzzle up a considerable of minor league talent. Sure, a lot of players in those leagues are veterans (many former big leaguers stay active this way), but young minor leaguers like Jorge Alfaro, Teodoro Martinez and Nomar Mazara occupy their off-seasons in these leagues too.

If you needed another reason not to take too much stock in the stats you see for individual players, keep in mind that five weeks of baseball in October and November is a relatively small sample size in the context of the full season we see from April through Labor Day. We are all glad we did not make any long-term evaluations of Mazara after his first five weeks (sub-.200 average with one homer in Hickory), right? In addition to the sample size issue, it is the end of a long year for many of these players. It is not uncommon for them to be worn down, masking their true potential. Last year Ryan Rua hit .175 in 17 games for Surprise, two points lower than AFL teammate Jonathan Schoop. Can’t remember if either guy did anything of note in 2014…

The AFL has once again tilted in the direction of the hitters, as through Sunday’s games offenses were averaging more than five runs scored per game and the league ERA was 4.51. The Rangers have seven players on the Saguaros roster this season:

PITCHERS

Lisalverto Bonilla made his big league debut this season with the Rangers. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Lisalverto Bonilla made his big league debut this season with the Rangers. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

RHP Lisalverto Bonilla: 3 GS, 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 11.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, 11 SO, 2.43 GO/AO, .222 AVG

Bonilla, a RoughRider in 2013, did not put together eye-popping numbers for Triple-A Round Rock in the regular season, but his performance was enough to earn him a promotion to Arlington, where he won his first three big league starts and posted a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 innings. The Rangers want to see how he can hold up as a starting pitcher, which is not a bad idea given his tools (excellent changeup, solid slider and a low-to-mid-90s fastball. He will compete for a spot on the big league team in the spring and will begin the season either there or in the Pacific Coast League.

RHP Cody Kendall: 6 G, 0-0, 5.68 ERA, 6.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 SO, 0.33 GO/AO, .296 AVG

The 24-year-old Kendall (he will be 25 in December) had a tremendous year out of the bullpen for both Hickory and Myrtle Beach, going 8-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 56.2 innings. He was not a huge strikeout guy (51 whiffs), but limited runners (1.06 WHIP). Given his age, the Rangers will likely push him to Frisco in 2015, perhaps to start the season, and see if the 2012 eighth rounder is capable of matching his success against more advanced hitters.

RHP Josh McElwee: 6 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1.25 GO/AO, .143 AVG

The South Carolinian has picked up Arizona right where he left off following his successful late-season Double-A cameo. He is tied for the best ERA in the AFL and is eighth in WHIP (0.75). McElwee is exactly six months older than Kendall and is in a similar position in needing to prove himself against top hitters. After an up-and-down stint with Hickory to start the season, he did just that in Myrtle Beach (0.42 ERA in 21.2 IP) and Frisco (1.00 ERA in 9 IP). He flashed a good breaking ball and kept his sinker away from the good part of the bat when we saw him in August. The affable McElwee posted a 2.25 ERA and a 92-25 SO-BB ratio across 66.2 minor league innings this season and should be back in the Texas League to begin 2015.

RHP Sam Wolff: 6 G, 0-0, 9.45 ERA, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO, 2.00 GO/AO, .323 AVG

Some in the Carolina League attested that Wolff was the most impressive pitcher in the circuit at times, but he suffered a second half swoon in his first full professional season (not uncommon at all), finishing 9-5 with a 3.37 ERA in 120.1 innings. After three scoreless outings to begin his AFL stint, Wolff has struggled in his last three, allowing eight runs in 2.2 innings. A favorite of Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews (they are both from South Dakota), I would expect the right-hander to pitch for the RoughRiders at some point in 2015.

 

HITTERS

C Patrick Cantwell: 6 G, .200 (4 for 20), 1 R, 1 RBI, 0 XBH, 4 BB, 6 SO, .333 OBP, .200 SLG, .533 OPS

Cantwell spent all of 2014 with Frisco and surprised many with a solid offensive campaign after a very slow start. He finished with a .268/.360/.341 line while excelling defensively behind the plate. Cantwell is a contact hitter/get-on-base guy and has great intangibles. I would expect to see him spend a lot of time in big league camp spelling Robinson Chirinos & Co. in spring training games, then either head to Double-A or Triple-A to begin the season.

SS Michael De Leon: 7 G, .231 (6 for 26), 3 R, 2 RBI, 0 XBH, 1 BB, 5 SO, .259 OBP, .231 SLG, .490 OPS

17-year-old Michael De Leon played in one game for Frisco this season. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

17-year-old Michael De Leon played in one game for Frisco this season. (Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders)

The youngest player in the history of the AFL, De Leon does not turn 18 until January (his birthday is January 14, 1997 if you would like to feel old). He has held his own after doing the same (and sometimes more) in his time with Frisco, Myrtle Beach and Hickory. After making his regular season pro debut as an emergency fill-in with the RoughRiders in May, he spent the bulk of his season with the Crawdads before a late-year promotion to the Carolina League, where he was one of the Pelicans’ top offensive performers in the postseason. De Leon hit .248/.307/.314 across all levels, flashed some of the potential that led Texas to award him a mid-six-figure bonus in 2013 and showed everyone what a 160-pound player physically looks like (rough approximation would be Pablo Sandoval ÷ 2). He may be in High Desert for the entirety of 2015.

OF Nick Williams: 15 G, .267 (16 for 60), 4 2B, 3B, HR, 9 HR, 5 R, 0 BB, 16 SO, 0-1 SB, .290 OBP, .417 SLG, .707 OPS

The Galveston native has carried the water for the Rangers hitters on the Saguaros, as he has the highest batting average and is the only one with an extra-base hit (he has six). Williams is tied for fourth in the AFL in hits, tied for ninth in RBI, third in total bases (25) and tied for second in strikeouts (with no walks). The lefty batter oozes potential at the plate and is considered by many to be the best pure hitter in the farm system. As the former second rounder out of high school ball matures, he will need to develop a more controlled approach. When he does, he will really be a special player to watch in the batter’s box. Williams should spend 2015 with the RoughRiders after finishing up the season in Frisco (.226-0-4); he hit .283/.331/.462 for the season (the bulk coming in Myrtle Beach).

 

– Alex

Giving back through baseball

Keeper of the GameEvery year in July we try to bring attention to a very worthwhile cause with the Diamond Dreams organization.  Diamond Dreams was established to honor the late Mike Coolbaugh by promoting safety in the game of baseball and organizations with goals that Mike shared.  You can read more about Mike Coolbaugh’s story in this ‘Riders Insider Blog post from July.

One of the many things Diamond Dreams does as an organization is present its annual “Keeper of the Game” award to someone in the North Texas baseball community.  The first winners of this award were Jamey Newberg and Chris & Jill Davis.  But “Keeper of the Game” is more than just a yearly honor; its mission includes “providing athletes with disabilities and special needs unique baseball experiences that foster the growth of those individuals and their love of baseball.”

To continue to expand its reach and impact as well as connect with fans all over, Keeper of the Game is now on Facebook.  We encourage you to “like” it on Facebook and continue to help the game give back to the community.

Click here to visit the Keeper of the Game Facebook page.

– Alex

(Don’t) Wake Me Up When September Ends

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

September signals the beginning of many things. The weather (hopefully) is soon shifting from sweltering summer heat to cooler fall temperatures. A new school year is beginning with fresh classes, professors and teachers, and new faces. Football season is just getting started and there’s already un-calming debate on how the local team will do this year after a shaky start (I’m not naming names, but you get the picture). In baseball, September call-ups are getting the opportunity to show their franchise what the future may hold and are accumulating valuable big-league experience.

Some of these call-ups only wait two or three years before they bust onto the scene and take the professional stage by storm. And then there’s a guy by the name of Guilder Rodriguez.

G-Rod, as many call him around the office, has spent his last 14 seasons in the minor leagues. Can you imagine that? I haven’t been around long enough to say I have an understanding for what minor league life was like 15 or 30 years ago. However, after working for a minor league club for parts of the last six years I do understand what the average day consists of for these players.

Some can make the argument that they play too many games in too many days without enough off days, or that the pay isn’t good enough if you aren’t one of the top prospects in your organization’s farm system. Some would say that five years without getting called up would be considered a waste of time and that it’s time for a career change.

And then there’s a guy by the name of Guilder Rodriguez.

Congratulations, G-Rod, for achieving your dream. You’ve faced every challenge thrown your way and have displayed just how important it is to love what you do. In an industry of nay-sayers and doubters you’ve refused to quit. For the last 14 years you’ve arrived at practically every minor league ballpark in America from Frisco to Ft. Lauderdale with the same attitude, passion, and overall love for the game, and you’ve made it to The Show.

I had the pleasure of watching this guy show up to the ballpark every day with the motivation and positive attitude that made an impact on everyone around him and I’m very thankful for that. No matter how old we get we should always remember to take lessons from anything we encounter and use them to improve our lives, and the stories such as the one of Guilder Rodriguez need not be few and far between.

When September ends, the curtain will fall on an unexpected 2014 season that was historically terrible for the Rangers.

When September ends, the gates in Arlington will lock so another winter can roll through North Texas.

When September ends, we’ll begin counting down the days until our team’s Opening Day.

When September ends, Guilder Rodriguez will return home, to Venezuela, where his 61-year-old father and brother play all winter long. And they will celebrate a dream coming true.

Don’t wake up, G-Rod.

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Writing to you from the corner of Hicks and Diamond Drive,

Cameron Varnau

SDCS Game Three Notes: Do or Die


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.

A 3-2 win for the Midland RockHounds in game three sets up a must-win scenario for the RoughRiders in game four of the Texas League South Division Championship Series. Click here to read the Game Two recap.

Much has attention has been paid the RoughRiders for their “prospect-packed” roster, and deservedly so. But a pair of prospects on Midland’s veteran-laden lineup have played a key role in the outcome of this series. Daniel Robertson, the number one prospect in the A’s organization, drove in a run in his Double-A debut to give Midland a 1-0 lead. Fellow infielder Matt Chapman, in his first full year of professional baseball, batted 2-for-3 on Friday with two RBI, a double and a back-breaking home run off Alec Asher in the seventh to snap a 2-2 tie. Chapman’s home run was a particularly sharp dagger because the ‘Riders had managed to tie the score in the top of the inning.

It’s not like the A’s are stacking Midland’s roster for a playoff push, either. Robertson arrived after his Advanced-A Stockton squad fell in the California League playoffs. He replaces Hiro Nakajima, who broke his wrist in game one at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Chapman, meanwhile, takes the place of Jefry Marte, who was shut down on the final day of the regular season with an oblique injury.

Star of the Game: 2B Odubel Herrera – 2/3, R, 2B, RBI, BB, 2 SB, SO

Odubel has had a great series with five hits in three games. He also has three RBI, three walks, a double and a home run. The ‘Riders will need him to stay hot to have a chance in game four.

In case you missed it:

-Frisco outhit Midland 9-8.

-The ‘Riders had a chance to score early with men at the corners in the first inning. They stranded both runners and abandoned men on second and third in the seventh with the score knotted at 2-2.

-The RoughRiders scored another unearned run on a throwing error by Max Muncy in the third inning. There has been at least one unearned run scored by either team in all three games of the series.

-Nick Williams has a hit in all three games of the series.

 

Game two starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff shares his thoughts about what went right and what went wrong against the RockHounds in a 6-3 loss on Thursday:

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

SDCS Game Two Notes: Balk


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 crashed from their Game One victory high and fell from grace in a hard way. Midland took a grueling game two 6-3 on Thursday as the series shifts to Midland for the next two nights. Click here to read the Game Two recap.

Let’s hope the RoughRiders just needed to get a game like this out of their system. At times, it was flat out ugly. The ‘Riders committed four errors, including three alone on catcher Jorge Alfaro. Midland also drew eight walks and placed a total of 20 men on base (more than two per inning on average).

At that rate, it seemed like the RockHounds constantly had runners in scoring position with their paws on the RoughRiders’ throats. And yet, the game was tied at 3-3 in the ninth when, alas, the ‘Riders lost their composure. Midland scored a run on a wild pitch and another on a balk and really did not have to do a whole lot to take the win away from the ‘Riders. It was given. Furthermore, Jason Wood was ejected after second base umpire, Clay Park charged Erik Hamren with a balk that allowed Jeremy Barfield to score and put the Hounds up 6-3. Afterwards, as Park walked back to his position, he allegedly caught some verbal flak from Odubel Herrera and ejected the RoughRiders’ second baseman as well.

As disappointing as it was to see the ‘Riders unravel, the came out in the bottom of the ninth and loaded the bases with two outs. The RockHounds had to haul their closer Jose Flores out of the bullpen, so the ‘Riders certainly made Midland sweat a bit at the end.

Ultimately, the game was a clunker for the bullpen and did not end on a high note for the starter, Jerad Eickhoff. The righty slogged his way through his first five innings but had grudgingly allowed just one unearned run and stranded six runners on base. But he walked his final batter faced, Matt Chapman, a call-up from Low-A in just his second Double-A game. Eickhoff could not close out the Hounds in the sixth and the bullpen proceeded to blow a 3-1 lead. Ryan Rodebaugh walked the lone man he faced (the nine hitter) and Joseph Ortiz gave up consecutive run-scoring hits and the two-out rally brought Midland right back into the game.

Star of the Game: SS Hanser Albert0 – 2/4, R

Hanser continues to build off a strong end to the regular season. He has three hits in two postseason games with a double, a run and two RBI.

In case you missed it:

-Midland did not hit a ball out of the infield in the ninth inning.

-A total of three balks were charged in the game (two to Frisco).

-The RoughRiders left the bases loaded in the first and the ninth innings.

-Nick Williams has been red hot at the plate in the playoffs, but continues to be a liability in the field. On Thursday, he drove in two runs on a single to left, but was thrown out trying to sneak into second on the back end of the play to end the inning. Nick also dropped a can of corn in center field in the eighth inning. Jake Skole replaced him in the field in the eighth inning.

-After the ‘Riders scored on a suicide squeeze play in game one, Midland answered with a suicide squeeze of its own on Thursday. The Hounds also socred on a safety squeeze by Conner Crumbliss in the sixth inning.

-There has been at least one unearned run in both games of the series.

 

Game one star Odubel Herrera chats about his strong performance in the playoff opener:

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

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