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Season in Review: July

Engel Beltre heated up in July and was key to the ‘Riders’ late-month turnaround. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/RoughRiders).

The 2012 Frisco RoughRiders season was an unquestioned success.  The ’Riders won the first half South Division title, finished with an 80-60 record (good for the second-best overall mark in the Texas League) and advanced to the Texas League Championship Series before losing to the Springfield Cardinals.  Along the way, there were standout performances from big-time prospects, thrilling games and terrific storylines.  Before looking ahead to the 2013 season, we look back at a special 2012 campaign that proved to be a memorable one for the ’Riders.

JULY

Record: 16-14 (T-3rd of 8 TL teams)

Average: .263 (3rd)

Home Runs: 33 (1st)

ERA: 4.41 (6th)

Top Offensive Players: Engel Beltre (.308-6-15, 4 2B, 6 3B, 25 R, 12-14 SB, .352/.592/.943), Leury Garcia (.300-1-10, 4 2B, 2 3B, 22 R, 11-12 SB), Jared Hoying (.288-3-10, 3 2B, 3B, 21 R, 3-4 SB), Ryan Strausborger (.287-2-12, 4 2B, 3B, 17 R, 6-6 SB)

Top Pitchers: Barret Loux (5 GS, 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 24 IP, 17 H, 1.04 WHIP, .200 BAA), Nick Tepesch (6 G, 5 GS, 3-1, 2.82 ERA, 38.1 IP, 36 H, 24 K, 9 BB), Ross Wolf (6 G, 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 8 IP, 5 H, 0.88 WHIP, .179 BAA)

After a difficult month of June, the RoughRiders ran hot and cold throughout July.  A look at the monthly numbers above seems to suggest a team playing mediocre baseball throughout the month, but in reality Frisco rapidly swung from one polar opposite to another a few times.

The ’Riders started the month the way they finished the previous one, with a pair of losses to tie its longest losing streak of the season (four).  However, the team then proceeded to rip off six straight wins for its longest winning streak in 2012.  That momentum did not last long, because Frisco then lost 11 of its next 15 to drop into last place in the second half division standings.  The boomerang reversed direction one more time though when the ’Riders won six out of seven to finish the month.

One of the reasons for the instability was the tumultuous nature of the starting pitching staff at the time.  At one point, the ’Riders had three starters dealing with health-related workload restrictions while at the same time were stretching reliever Wilfredo Boscan into a starter’s role and dealing with the growing pains of hurlers recently promoted from Myrtle Beach.

July featured the additional drama of the end-of-month trading deadline and with it came persistent rumors involving the Rangers and several Frisco players.  Mike Olt was the RoughRider most frequently mentioned in trade talks by the media, but by the end of the month it was a different player who ended up changing organizations via a trade.

Frisco’s performance somewhat mirrored the parent club, as the Rangers slogged their way through the middle of the season at the big league level as well.  There was additional crossover with three Texas players rehabbing in RoughRiders uniforms with varying degrees of success.

TIMELINE:

Frisco may have struggled to start July, but at least athletic trainer Carlos Olivas (left) and strength & conditioning coach Eric McMahon were looking good. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/RoughRiders)

July 2:The struggling ’Riders take one on the chin in their series opener at Arkansas.  Frisco brings a 6-2 lead into the ninth inning but gives up five runs in the bottom of the frame – the last three coming on a Roberto Lopez three-run homer off of Ryan Rodebaugh – and lose 7-6.  The form of the loss is especially tough to swallow, considering that the Travelers at the time had the second-fewest homers of any team in the “High Minors” (Double-A and Triple A).  The loss knocks Frisco out of first place overall in the South Division for the first time all season as Corpus Christi takes over as the team with the best record.

July 3: Barret Loux and the RoughRiders rebound in a 5-1 win over the Travs.  Loux, who had lost for the first time all year in his previous start, allows just an unearned run and two hits over seven superb innings to improve to 11-1 in 2012.

July 4: Chris McGuiness supplies the Independence Day fireworks with his 17th home run of the season in Frisco’s 8-0 win over Arkansas.  Cody Buckel shows what made him the best pitcher in the Carolina League in his third Texas League outing, giving up just one hit in six scoreless innings.

July 5: Baseball America releases its revised “Top 50 Prospects” list and the ’Riders are well-represented.  Jurickson Profar comes in at number two (behind Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy) while Mike Olt (11) and Cody Buckel (41) also make the list.

July 7: Frisco finishes off a three-game sweep of Springfield with a 5-2 win at Dr Pepper Ballpark.  The sweep comes just days after the Cardinals swept the ’Riders up in Missouri.  While the win is welcomed, the game features a lack of star power as stud prospects from both sides (Olt and Profar of Frisco; Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong of Springfield) are in Kansas City for the All-Star Futures Game.

July 8: The Futures Game is played at the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and Profar makes an early splash, homering for the World team in the first inning off former Northwest Arkansas Natural Jake Odorizzi.  Profar adds a single and goes 2-for-3 while Olt – playing for the U.S. squad – goes 1-for-5 with an RBI.  That night, their ’Riders teammates run their season-best win streak to six games with a 5-4 win against the Travelers.  McGuiness hits a walk-off solo home run in the tenth inning, the first walk-off home run of his baseball life.  Leury Garcia goes 3-for-5 in the contest with an RBI and three of Frisco’s six steals.

July 9: Justin Grimm returns from his three-outing stint with the Rangers for a brief, three-inning start against Arkansas.  After he departs in a scoreless game, Buckel pitches well but surrenders a solo home run to former RoughRiders infielder (and the team’s all-time hits leader) Renny Osuna in the seventh inning.  That proves to be enough for Johnny Hellweg (8 SHO IP) who dominates and leads the Travelers to a 1-0 win to snap Frisco’s six-game win streak.  Hellweg hits Olt on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning and the ’Riders’ third baseman misses the next week with a bruise.

July 12: Frisco goes on the road to Corpus Christi and looks to be in control with a 4-0 lead and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.  But Carlos Pimentel and Zach Osborne allow four runs in the frame, including a three-run double by Austin Wates to send the game to extra innings.  The ’Riders hold leads of one and two runs in the tenth and 11th innings, respectively, but both times the Hooks come back.  Wates cements his role as hero with a three-run walk-off home run off Tim Murphy to send Corpus to an improbable 8-7 win and the Whataburger Field crowd (at least, what’s left after a mass exodus in the middle of the ninth inning) into delirium.  Garcia’s big night (4-for-5, 3 R, 3 SB) for Frisco is wasted.

July 13: The ’Riders allow five home runs and lose 12-2 to Corpus Christi.  However, the win is costly to the Hooks as star shortstop Jonathan Villar breaks his hand punching a dugout wall after striking out in the eighth inning and does not play for the rest of the regular season.  Profar plays third base for the first time in his career with Olt still out of the lineup.

July 15: Jarred Cosart and two relievers one-hit Frisco as the ’Riders fall 5-2 to the Hooks.  Wates hits another home run as Profar’s RBI triple in the sixth inning is the team’s only base knock.

July 16: Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz begins his rehab assignment from a sore elbow with the RoughRiders at Dr Pepper Ballpark.  Feliz, who pitched for Frisco in 2008, strikes out four and allows an unearned run to San Antonio in two innings.  The ’Riders lose 7-4 and Feliz makes two more starts for Round Rock before the Rangers announce he will undergo “Tommy John” surgery and be lost for the year.

Rangers 1B/OF Mitch Moreland returned to his old home ballpark for a three-game rehab stint. Pitchers Neftali Feliz and Mark Lowe also rehabbed in Frisco in July. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/RoughRiders)

July 17: After a disastrous outing by Neil Ramirez (2.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 2 BB, HR), Osborne comes in to pitch in relief and does no better, allowing six runs on five hits and a walk without retiring a Missions batter.  Frisco falls 12-4 despite home runs from Olt and Engel Beltre.  Beltre (3-for-5) begins a scorching last half of the month; he will hit .375 with four doubles, four triples, five home runs, seven RBI, 18 runs scored and five steals over the last two weeks of July.

July 18: The Rangers name Olt their “Minor League Player of the Month” for June.  It is the second straight month that Texas has bestowed the honor on the former UConn Husky.

July 19: Trying to win two straight games for the first time in 11 days, the ’Riders blow an early 5-1 lead and allow the tying run to score in the ninth inning for San Antonio.  The Missions score five runs in the 11th and hold off Frisco for a 12-10 victory.  The RoughRiders have lost seven of their last ten games after their six-game win streak.

July 22: A day after getting shut out on just three hits, Frisco’s offense remains anemic against Corpus Christi’s Jose Cisnero, scoring one run on five hits in a 3-1 defeat.  The team’s losing streak hits four games and the squad has lost four consecutive series.

July 23: Beltre is named the Texas League “Player of the Week” for his offensive re-emergence.  He backs up the honor that night by going 3-for-4 with three runs scored, two steals and a walk in the ’Riders’ cathartic 11-3 win over Corpus.  Jake Brigham pitches very well, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings.

July 26: The ’Riders beat Midland 6-0 behind a masterful Nick Tepesch (8 IP, 5 H, 0 R).  The team wins two in a row for the first time in 16 games and snaps its four-series losing streak.

July 27: Frisco receives Rangers 1B/OF Mitch Moreland (hamstring) on a rehab assignment.  The former RoughRider makes his presence felt immediately against San Antonio, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI, four runs scored and a hit-by-pitch.  The ’Riders smoke the Missions 14-4 with assistance from Garcia and Olt, who both homer.

July 28: The big league rehabbers keep flowing into Dr Pepper Ballpark as reliever Mark Lowe (intercostal strain) joins the ’Riders to begin a rehab assignment.  His stint is not as successful as Moreland’s however, as he gives up a game-tying home run in the eighth inning, only to see McGuiness win the game for Frisco with a walk-off solo home run in the ninth to down the Missions 2-1.  Brigham (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K) pitches well but gets a no-decision in what ends up being his final appearance as a RoughRider.

Second-year Frisco pitcher Jake Brigham was traded just before the deadline to the Cubs in exchange for big league catcher Geovany Soto. (Alex Yocum-Beeman/RoughRiders)

July 29:Frisco captures its fifth straight win with a 9-5 victory over San Antonio.  Beltre triples and homers while Ryan Strausborger hits a double and his fourth long ball of the season.  Moreland goes 1-for-5 to finish his rehab assignment with a .308 average (4-for-13).

July 30: For the second consecutive week, Beltre is named the TL “Player of the Week,” joining Corpus Christi’s Brandon Barnes and San Antonio’s Cody Decker as the only players to accomplish the feat in back-to-back weeks.  That night, Lowe allows a three-run home run to the Missions’ Edinson Rincon in the sixth inning and Frisco loses 4-2 to see their five-game win streak snapped.  During the game, news breaks that Brigham has been traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Major League catcher Geovany Soto.  Brigham is called down from the stands (where he had been charting pitches) in the middle of the game and is informed of the deal by Rangers pitching coordinator Danny Clark in the dugout bathroom.

July 31: The trading deadline comes and goes with Brigham being the only RoughRider that gets dealt despite many rumors that Olt or, to a lesser extent, Profar might be on the move.  The re-focused RoughRiders finish July with a 5-1 win versus Midland as Tepesch (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, BB, 7 K) again outclasses the RockHounds bats.

Coming tomorrow: A look back at the month of August.

-          Alex V.

Season in Review: April

Jose Felix and an umpiring crew observe the singing of the National Anthem before a RoughRiders game.

The 2012 Frisco RoughRiders season was an unquestioned success.  The ’Riders won the first half South Division title, finished with an 80-60 record (good for the second-best overall mark in the Texas League) and advanced to the Texas League Championship Series before losing to the Springfield Cardinals.  Along the way, there were standout performances from big-time prospects, thrilling games and terrific storylines.  Before looking ahead to the 2013 season, we look back at a special 2012 campaign that proved to be a memorable one for the ’Riders. (All photos by Alex Yocum-Beeman/Frisco RoughRiders)

APRIL

Record: 15-9 (2nd of 8 TL teams)

Average: .263 (3rd)

Home Runs: 26 (2nd)

ERA: 3.08 (2nd)

Top Offensive Players: Brad Hawpe (.321-3-8, .459/.554/1.013), Leury Garcia (.309-0-2, 2 2B, 3 3B)

Top Pitchers: Justin Grimm (5 GS, 4-1, 1.59 ERA, 28.1 IP, 27 K, 6 BB, .194 BAA), Barret Loux (5 GS, 5-0, 1.63 ERA, 27.2 IP, 28 K, 8 BB), Carlos Pimentel (6 G, 2 GS, 2-1, 1/1 SV, 1.35 ERA, 20 IP, 24 K, .174 BAA), Johan Yan (10 G, 0.87 ERA, 5/5 SV, .158 BAA)

High expectations can be a two-edged sword.  On one hand, they can elevate preexisting senses of hope and confidence.  A baseball team from which a lot is expected can thrive on the positive mojo and can achieve success.  Conversely, that hype has the ability to crush a team under the weight of those expectations and it underperforms.  Even if a team doesn’t collapse, the odds of it failing the live up to high expectations are much greater than actually meeting them.

Justin Grimm put himself on track for a breakout 2012 with a dominant April.

Enter the 2012 Frisco RoughRiders.  With Frisco previously fielding playoff teams in six of the nine previous seasons, the expectations were already there for another successful season.  But on top of that, Baseball America tabbed the RoughRiders as the third-most talented roster of players among all 120 full-season Minor League squads.  The respected industry publication cited the presence of big-time infield prospects Jurickson Profar (number one on BA’s list of top Texas Rangers prospects), Mike Olt (three) and Leury Garcia (11) as well as pitchers Justin Grimm (15), Barret Loux (20) and Miguel De Los Santos (29).  Throw in the toolsy, but mercurial Engel Beltre and 2011 Carolina League All-Stars Jared Prince, Ryan Strausborger and Zach Zaneski and it’s easy to see why Baseball America had its eye on the ’Riders.

But talented Minor League squads filled with prospects do not always translate into good teams.  More often than not, it seems that rosters made up of older players with years of experience in their respective leagues have the most success and win championships.

The RoughRiders bucked those odds and finished April with the second-best record in the Texas League through a balanced combination of fantastic pitching and steady offense.  From out of the gate, the team’s pitching staff was dominant.  Justin Grimm anchored a rotation that anchored five intriguing prospects while the bullpen featured hard throwers aplenty.  While the offense got off to a slow start (13 runs in the first five games), it rebounded nicely and proved to be the most dynamic in the TL.

TIMELINE:

Rangers infielders Ian Kinsler & Elvis Andrus returned to their old home ballpark for an exhibition game with the RoughRiders on April 4.

April 4: Before the regular season begins, the RoughRiders host the parent club Texas Rangers in an exhibition game.  Making the occasion even more interesting, prized Japanese import Yu Darvish makes the start for Ron Washington’s club in his first pitching appearance in his new home market.  Darvish does not disappoint, tossing four scoreless innings with two hits and two walks allowed to go along with five strikeouts as the Major Leaguers best the ’Riders 6-1.

April 5: The RoughRiders begin the regular season in Missouri with a 1-0 win over the Springfield Cardinals.  Frisco’s only run scores on a Jose Felix sacrifice fly while Justin Grimm (5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, BB, 10 K) is brilliant in his Double-A debut.

April 6: Frisco falls 4-1 to the Cardinals with the team’s only run coming on Mike Olt’s first home run of the season.  Earlier in the day the Rangers re-sign long-time big league outfielder and Westlake, Texas native Brad Hawpe and assign him to Frisco.  Hawpe underwent “Tommy John” surgery while playing for the Padres in August of 2011.

April 7: In what was the first of many, Barret Loux earns his first win of the season in a 6-1 victory over Springfield in the series finale.  Loux works out of trouble in nearly every inning (six hits and two walks) but does not allow a run over five frames.  Hawpe leads the way by going 3-for-4 with a home run in his first at bat.  He finishes a triple shy of the cycle with two runs scored and two RBI.

April 8: The ’Riders continue their season-opening road trip with an extra-innings 3-2 win on Easter Sunday at Arkansas.  Felix hits a soft single to left-center field in the 11th inning that scores Engel Beltre from second base to win it.  Jurickson Profar snaps his 0-for-13 start to the season by hitting a first pitch home run in the fifth inning to the deepest park of Dickey-Stephens Park.

April 14: In a showcase of two of the best position player prospects in the Minors, both Profar and Springfield’s Oscar Taveras hit first inning solo home runs in a game the RoughRiders eventually win 6-2.  Profar officially puts his first week struggles (2 for 26 to begin 2012) to bed with a 3-for-4 night at the plate.

April 16: Frisco beats Arkansas 2-1 behind another excellent performance by Grimm (6.1 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 5 K) for its fourth straight victory.  The win not only clinches the team’s fourth straight series victory to start the season, but it also moves Steve Buechele into the top spot for most wins ever by a Frisco manager.  Buechele’s 155th win as the ’Riders’ skipper gives him one more than Tim Ireland, who managed the team in its first two years of existence and in 2004 won Frisco’s only Texas League championship.

April 19 – 22: After winning 10-0 at Corpus Christi in their first divisional game of the season, the ’Riders see their pitching get torched for 22 runs over the next three games en route to losing their first series of the season.

April 24: Following trips to the disabled list by starter Miguel De Los Santos and reliever Ryan Rodebaugh, Chad Bell is promoted to Frisco from Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.  An under-the-radar prospect, Bell does not take long to impress, at first in relief and eventually as a starting pitcher.  That night Olt hits his fifth home run and Profar triples in a 7-2 Frisco win over San Antonio.

April 25:The ’Riders score three first inning runs off San Antonio’s Hayden Beard but cannot hold the advantage as the Missions come back to tie the game by the third.  After Bell surrenders a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning, Frisco ties it on Hawpe’s two-out RBI double in the bottom of the inning to send the game to extra innings.  However in the 11th, Jeudy Valdez burns Corey Young for an RBI single to send San Antonio to a 6-5 win in three hours and 23 minutes.

Brad Hawpe’s comeback from elbow surgery got off to a great start as his bat provided the ‘Riders a big boost in the season’s first month.

April 26: After Fabio Castillo blows a ninth inning save, the ’Riders and Missions go to extras for the second straight night and take their time to settle things.  The game goes to the 13th inning when Guilder Rodriguez strokes a base hit to center field to score Chris McGuiness and send Frisco to a 6-5 win, its first walk-off victory of the year.  The game takes four hours and 26 minutes to complete.  Earlier in the contest, Leury Garcia pulls up lame at first base running out a bunt and is eventually placed on the disabled list where he will remain for nearly a month because of a right hip flexor.

April 27: Grimm (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, BB, 9 K) rebounds from his first poor outing of the season to outclass the Hooks’ Jarred Cosart in a 12-0 ’Riders romp.  Chris McGuiness crushes a three-run home run – his fifth of the season – in a six-run fifth inning.  Bell throws three perfect innings (4 K) for the save.

April 29: Loux strikes out eight batters and allows two runs over six innings as the ’Riders blast Corpus 10-3.  The former Texas A&M Aggie ends May tied for the MiLB lead in wins at 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA.  Six Frisco players have multi-hit games, including Profar (2-for-5), who extends his hit streak to 11 games.

April 30: Despite allowing four runs over the first two innings, Jake Brigham gets bailed out by his offense in a 9-4 Frisco victory over the Hooks.  Zach Zaneski, who entered the game hitting .167 (116 points below his career average) with two extra-base hits, drilled two home runs while Alex Buchholz homered and tripled to pace the offense.  The triple was Frisco’s 17th of the year, the most by any professional team through the season’s first month.

Coming tomorrow: A look back at the month of May.

-          Alex V.

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