Results tagged ‘ Arizona Fall League ’

Champions! Recapping the Rangers in the Arizona Fall League

The 2013 Arizona Fall League champion Surprise Saguaros (Photo courtesy of Baseball America)

The 2013 Arizona Fall League champion Surprise Saguaros (Photo courtesy of Baseball America)

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.

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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.

Nick McBride’s Texas League troubles followed him to the desert. (photo credit to Grant Nelson)

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.

Ryan Rua had four trots like this with the Saguaros in the AFL. (photo credit to Grant Nelson)

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.

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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.

AFL Ump 1

AFL Ump 2

Yikes.

- Alex

Olt Named AFL “Rising Star”

Yesterday I wrote about the success lefty Miguel De Los Santos is having in the prospect laden Arizona Fall League.  Hours after my posting, the AFL released the rosters for the annual Rising Stars Game played this Saturday at Surprise Stadium at 1 p.m. CST.

Among the 50 prospects that will be on display, the lone Rangers’ farm-hand selected was third baseman Mike Olt.  In 16 AFL games, Olt is tied for the league lead with six home runs.  His 22 runs batted in are the second-most.  Some great power numbers over a small sample size while hitting .309.

Mike Olt entered 2011 as the Rangers' No. 7 Prospect (James Garner)

You might remember Olt had a bit of an abbreviated 2011 season due to a home plate collision in early June that caused him to suffer a broken left collarbone.  The injury resulted in Olt essentially playing the equivalent of a short-season schedule: 69 games.  In that time the former supplemental first round pick out of Connecticut hit .267/14-HR/42-RBI.

The log-jam at third base from top to bottom in the Rangers’ system is a good problem for Texas to have and should be interesting to watch develop in 2012 and beyond.

In 66 games at third base in 2011, Olt committed just nine errors for a .954 fielding percentage (James Garner)

RoughRiders’ fans are well aware of the abilities of 2011 RoughRiders’ third baseman, Tommy Mendonca.  Tommy was a Midseason Texas League All-Star and had a incredible month of June when he hit .375 and was named the Rangers Minor League Player of the Month.  Mendo would be the first to say he struggled down the stretch, primarily with strikeouts.  Nevertheless, Mendonca played well defensively, proved to be a force in the ‘Riders lineup, and was a second-round draft pick.

Not to look too far up the ladder, but it is interesting to note  that at the major league level, first-year Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre received his third career Gold Glove last night.  In January the Rangers inked the former Dodger, Mariner, and Red Sox to a six-year, $96 million contract.

So much for him only playing well in a contract year.

Does Mendonca open up 2012 in Round Rock and Olt in Frisco?  We’ll have to wait until April to find out.

-AG

P.S. A big thanks to RoughRiders’ team photographer James Garner for the pics in today’s blog.  He is somehow everywhere, including Surprise, Ariz. to take in some AFL baseball.

‘Riders in the Fall League

Once the playoffs end for the RoughRiders this year, Dr Pepper Ballpark will close its doors, the players will pack up their lockers, and everyone will deserve a long vacation. But what many don’t realize is that for a number of RoughRiders, the season doesn’t end. Many players travel to Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or Mexico to play in winter leagues to continue to get better and prepare for the next year.

A few select players, however, get the chance to remain stateside and play in the highly regarded Arizona Fall League. The 12-week, prospect driven league is entering its 20th season and is owned and operated by Major League Baseball.   Big league All-Stars such as Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun have all spent time in the AFL.  This year, three current ‘Riders have been tabbed to play in the Fall League with the Surprise Rafters.

RHP, Neil Ramirez

The former 44th overall pick in the 2007 draft is 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in Double-A this season through six starts.  The bulk of his season has been spent in Triple-A Round Rock where he made 17 starts and went 4-3 and had a 3.68 ERA.  The right-hander was placed on the disabled list in mid-July because of shoulder fatigue which has limited his innings in the Texas League.

When I talked with Neil following his start Thursday night in Corpus Christi he was excited to be selected for the Fall League.  “It’s a big honor, for sure.  It’s good competition and will great to see how you stack up.”  The righty wants to continue to hone his mechanics while he’s there.  “I plan on working on making good pitches and will focus on the backside of my delivery.  The Fall League will also give me a good idea what my off-season conditioning will look like.”

C, Elio Sarmiento

The ‘Riders switch-hitting catcher has had a terrific season in Frisco.  He hit .327 in 16 July games and has been a constant presence behind the plate for the ‘Riders.  He has always had a great rapport with the staff, but this has been his best offensive season in Double-A.  Elio is batting .378 with runners on base, and is hitting .356 with runners in scoring position.

His selection to the AFL is a great way to conclude his 2011 campaign and he’s clearly grateful.  “I feel blessed, it’s a great opportunity for me and I consider it a reward for all the hard work,”  His goals for the AFL season are pretty simple, “I want to finish healthy, do my best, and hope for even more opportunities with the Rangers.”

The Fall League works out well for Sarmiento because he makes his off-season home in Phoenix along with his wife and two children.  His mother-in-law is also in Phoenix and for just the second time, Elio’s mother will visit the U.S. from Venezuela and will be able to watch him play in Surprise.

RHP, Johan Yan

He was originally a shortstop then got too big for the position and moved to third base. Then his bat wasn’t cutting it so the Rangers’ moved him to the mound.  That didn’t work at first either.  The last ditch effort was to change Yan from the traditional over-the-top delivery to a side-arm approach.

Bingo.

The right-hander went from thinking his playing days were over to now being selected to the top off-season league in the country.  In 43 appearances combined between High-A Myrtle Beach and Frisco, Johan has allowed just eight earned runs in slightly over 66 innings of work and has a Double-A earned run average of 0.36.  On August 15th against Tulsa he gave up his first earned run since June 1 when he was pitching with the Pelicans.

Like Neil and Elio, Yan is a hard worker who has really made the most of his opportunities and will only get better in Arizona.

Former ‘Rider from early in the season Miguel de los Santos will also be going to Surprise to play in the AFL.  He’s pitched with Myrtle Beach after being placed on the DL with a shoulder injury after making six starts with Frisco.

The remaining prospects tabbed to play in Arizona who you have to imagine will be future RoughRiders are RHP Ryan Kelly, SS Leury Garcia, 3B Mike Olt, and OF Ryan Strausborger.

Congrats to Neil, Elio, Johan, and the rest of the group.  We’ll keep you posted on how their season goes here on the Insider Blog.

-AG

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