Results tagged ‘ Texas Rangers ’

One Shining [May] Moment

March Madness 2015 is nine months away. Regardless of how your team fared in the tourney this year, it’s never out of season to relive the highlights with the “One Shining Moment” montage produced by CBS every year since 1987. For 11 of the past 12 years, the video has featured the dulcet tones of Luther Vandross (the lone exception being 2010 when Jennifer Hudson voiced the lyrics). Vandross would have plenty of shining moments to sing about if he voiced the soundtrack to the RoughRiders season thus far (alas, Vandross passed away all too soon in 2005 at the age of 54).

The many acmes of the past month, both on an individual and team level, manifest themselves this past week when the Texas Rangers announced their Minor League Player of the Month awards for May. Every month, the Rangers scan the farm and anoint the top player, pitcher, reliever and defender. All four recipients in May play for the ‘Riders, although to be fair, Joey Gallo and Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez earned recognition for their performance with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. Still, that doesn’t stop us from throwing out our collective chests a little bit here in Frisco, especially given the initial returns from Gallo and Gonzalez in Double-A.

In a salutary gesture to these top performers, we spotlight their one (of many) shining moments in the month of May:


  • RHP Phil Klein – Minor League Reliever of the Month

Shining Moment: Sunday, May 25 vs. Springfield – 2.0IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 2K, 6BF, SV

Klein shined throughout the month of May and in nine appearances, recorded six saves in as many chances (he had zero saves in the first month of the season). The 25-year-old allowed one run on five hits and three walks over 12 2/3 innings pitched (0.71 ERA) and produced. Several performances stand out, such as Klein’s four strikeouts in two innings against the San Antonio Missions on May 2. In another game against the Missions on May 16, the native of Gahanna, Ohio posted a nearly identical line as the highlighted game above with two strikeouts over two innings of shutout baseball.

Although his four strikeout performance tied a season high, it occurred late in an 8-3 loss to San Antonio with the game already out of reach. While Klein earned the save for his work on the 16th, the ‘Riders won by three runs.

Against Springfield, however, Jason Wood asked the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder to protect a one-run lead with the playoff race in full swing. Klein threw 17 of his 26 pitches for strikes en route to the six-out save and retired the final batter in both innings on strikes.

The 30th round draft choice has continued his roll into June and he has not allowed a run in 13 2/3 innings. Klein’s ERA stands at 0.89 and his eight saves rank fourth in the Texas League.


 

Shining Moment: Thursday, May 8 vs. Corpus Christi – 2/4, R, HR, 3RBI, 2CS, PO

Let’s be honest: defense isn’t the only component that goes into the Defender of the Month Award. Let’s be honest about something else: the Rangers could not give Player of the Month honors to anyone other than Joey Gallo. That being said, Telis posted some of the best offensive numbers on the farm by someone not named Gallo, and also showed flashes of defensive merit.

As May closed, Telis paced the Texas League in batting average with a .347 mark. The switch-hitter’s high water mark came on May 18 when his average hit .356 after a 3-for-4 performance at the plate with a double and a stolen base.

The shining moment of the month for the 23-year-old (as of June 18) showcases Telis’s versatility on both offense and defense. His three-run home run in the third inning helped propel the RoughRiders to a 5-3 win and his three RBI tied a season single-game high.

Scouts love Telis for his lightning quick jump time from the crouch behind home plate to the throwing position. This helps give Telis a faster jump on would-be basestealers. His pop behind the dish cost the Hooks on the 8th when the Venezuelan threw out two runners at second base. In addition, he caught Matt Duffy napping with a lead off second and doubled him off to end the fifth.


 

  • 3B Joey Gallo – Minor League Player of the Month

Shining Moment: Friday, May 30 vs. Carolina – 2/4, 3R, 2HR (GS), 7RBI, BB

Boy, this was tough. Gallo, now the three-time defending Player of the Month (dating back to last season) posted video game numbers on more than one occasion in May. Against the Potomac Nationals on May 16, the 20-year-old went a perfect 4-for-4 with four runs, three home runs and five RBI. It was Gallo’s second three-home run game of the season (April 23)

Special thanks to Pelicans’ broadcaster Nathan Barnett for helping us break the tie on this one. True, Gallo hit fewer home runs on the 30th (amazing we are even using multiple home runs as a metric here), but his seven RBI against the Carolina Mudcats tied a Pelicans franchise record.

Also, consider the timeliness of Gallo’s two homers against Carolina. His three-run home run left the park in the fifth inning and brought Myrtle Beach back from a 6-3 deficit. Two innings with the later, with the score tied at six, Gallo ripped a grand slam to put the Birds in front 10-6.


 

Shining Moment: Tuesday, May 20 at Frederick – 7.0IP, H, R, 3BB, 4K, W

Gonzalez did not lose a decision in five starts with the Pelicans in May. After losing his first two decisions of the season, the 22-year-old allowed six runs over his 34 innings pitched last month, good for a 1.59 ERA. He began the month strong with an eight-inning shutout performance on May 3 against Frederick, and keyed in against the Keys later on the 20th.

Frederick will not be sad to see Gonzalez in the Texas League as the first round draft choice in 2013 took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. He did not allow a walk until the fifth and turned in the longest outing without a hit by a Pelicans’ starting pitcher this season.

 

Here’s to a second half (and a postseason) full of more shining moments. Thanks for reading!

-Chris V.

 

Quarters in Change – Team Awards at the 25¢ mark

13701572164_aec0f95de8_bSaturday’s 5-1 loss to Corpus Christi marked the quarter point in the 2014 campaign. The ‘Riders ran through the first 35 games on the schedule with a 22-13 record, good for the best mark in the Texas League.

Extrapolate that start to the full season, and the RoughRiders are on pace to finish 88-52. It’s an ambitious clip to maintain, but an 88-win season would be the most in club history. The current benchmark is 85 wins, set in 2007.

Frisco took care of business in all fronts and venues. They posted positive records at Dr Pepper Ballpark (13-8) and on the road (9-5). The ‘Riders also went 14-9 within the south division and won 8-of-12 against teams from the Texas League North.

The roster was not placid, either. Thirty-three personnel moves have occurred since the Opening Day Roster dropped on March 28. Three players debuted at the major league level and another four moved on to the Triple-A ranks. The RoughRiders also received three players from Advanced-A and four from extended spring training.

This ability to maintain consistency in the face of roster upheaval is a testament to the cohesiveness of the core players and Jason Wood‘s skills as a manager of men. Even when Woody took his customary vacation (the Rangers organization allows the coaching staff a four-day break during the season), the team continued to gel. The Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator, who served as acting field manager in Wood’s absence, left a note for the skipper in which he praised the professional demeanor and positive attitude in the clubhouse.

Early returns are also strong on the squad’s performance sans its two top prospects, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. The RoughRiders won five of their first six games without the tandem of Venezuelan middle infielders.

In short, a plethora of candidates can make a realistic argument for unofficial team awards as the season stands on first base. Here are the top four individual performers one-fourth of the way through the ‘Riders 2014 run. For a list of the top ten moments of the 2014 season to date, click here.

Hitter of the Quarter: #9 Ryan Rua – 3B/2B/DH

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Questions lingered around Ryan at the start of the season. The 24-year-old tore up the South Atlantic League in 2013 with the Hickory Crawdads (29 home runs, 24 doubles, 82 RBI, .914 OPS in 104 games). The All-Star campaign earned him a spot in Frisco for the final month of the season, but the righty batted .233 in 23 games with the ‘Riders and his OPS fell to an earthly .689. Was the barnstorming tour in Hickory an aberration?

After an 0-for-8 start to the season, the muscular infielder answered the above question with a resounding “no.” From April 5 to May 4, Ryan reached base safely in 27 consecutive games. He posted 12 multi-hit games during the streak, the second-longest of its kind in Minor League Baseball this season.

The 17th round draft choice in 2011 clubbed a .354/.441/.654 line in the month of April and his OPS soared to 1.095. The native of Ohio played 24 games in April, one more than he played for the ‘Riders a season ago. Over the same approximate span in 2014, Ryan cracked 29 hits (including six home runs and six doubles). He scored 12 runs and drove in 15 more. Equally impressive was the right-handed hitter’s ratio of strikeouts (11) to walks (13). Not bad for a player with some pop in the bat.

Ryan consistently draws the attention of his teammates, spectators and even the opposition with his display of power in batting practice. As the first quarter of the season proved, however, the 6-foot-2 180 pound slugger is far more than a B.P. warrior.

Pitcher of the Quarter: #7 Luke Jackson – RHP

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The term “staff ace” does not apply at the minor league level, but Luke has been the lead arm on a young unit with plenty of potential. He took home Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors for April 14-20 and became the first ‘Rider to earn a league award this season. It was the first Texas League distinction for Luke in his career. The Carolina League also recognized “LuJax” as its pitcher of the week in 2013.

The Texas League selected the 6-foot-2 185 pound righty on the heels of a six inning shut out performance against the Arkansas Travelers on April 15. Luke surrendered three hits, two walks and tossed eight strikeouts for his first win of the season.

The 2010 supplemental first round draft choice tossed a career outing on April 21. Luke retired the first 17 men he faced and held a perfect game with two outs in the sixth inning. San Antonio’s Jake Lemmerman broke up  the bid, but Luke still finished with no runs on three hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.

Luke owns a 4-1 record on the season with a 3.00 ERA through 42 innings pitched. He also earned his first career save when he relieved big league rehabber Joe Saunders on May 6.

Defender of the Quarter: #3 Jake Smolinski – LF/RF/DH

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Jake is in his first year with the Rangers organization, and on a roster in flux, “Smo” has provided stability and consistency both at the plate and in the field. Once he figured out his swing about three weeks into the season, Jake’s batting average has climbed to .299 with a .401 on-base percentage (his career trademark is a high OBP).

The 5-foot-11 185 pound right-hander has been the club’s left fielder for 30 of the team’s first 39 games, and he also made two spot starts in right. Along with seven games as designated hitter, the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 is one of two players in the Texas League to play in every game through May 14. Jake has logged more innings in the pasture than anyone on the RoughRiders’ roster. Through 267 2/3 innings, the native of Rockford, Ill. has committed one error and leads the team in outfield assists (2). In addition, Jake has turned the only outfield double play for the ‘Riders thus far in 2014.

The 25-year-old has flashed his athleticism on several plays in left, most notably on April 27 in a game against Corpus Christi. The Hooks loaded the bases with no outs and brought one run home to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With runners still on first and second with two outs, Jake made a great play on a deep fly ball from M.P. Cokinos that would have surely broken the dead heat had it escaped the glove of the left fielder. The ‘Riders went on to win the game 4-3.

Reliever of the Quarter: #35 Matt West – RHP

Healthy for the first time since the 2011, Matt sheared the long blonde locks and pitched with authority out of the bullpen. He posted a 2-0 record with three saves and a 0.68 ERA. At 25 years of age, Matt allowed one run with the ‘Riders through eight appearances and 13 1/3 innings pitched. The lone run charged to the native of Houston crossed in his final appearance with the ‘Riders on April 29. The numbers earned the 6-foot-1 200 pound hurler a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock on May 3.

Through 3 2/3 innings with the Express this month, Matt has allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits  with one walk and five strikeouts. However, no runs have crossed on Matt’s watch in his last two starts.

On May 15, the Rangers recognized the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 as its reliever of the month in April. Not bad for a former third baseman who converted to the mound three seasons ago.

The ‘Riders are off and running in 2014. Who will shine in the second quarter as the first half winds to a close? Stay tuned to find out!

-Chris V.

‘Riders Rewind with Nick Martinez

Nick Martinez was very impressive in his short stint with the 'Riders last season. (Photo credit to Grant Nelson)

Nick Martinez was very impressive in his short stint with the ‘Riders last season. (Photo credit to Grant Nelson)

Yesterday the RoughRiders’ 2014 Opening Day roster was announced and there was a little confusion around the inclusion of Nick Martinez.  The right-hander was listed on Frisco’s roster, but was also announced as the Rangers’ #5 starter to begin the season.  The schedule of Texas’ rotation plans haven’t been completely finalized at the moment, but I’m guessing there’s at least a chance that the Rangers could do the same thing with Martinez as they did with Nick Tepesch a year ago.  In 2013, because the Rangers didn’t need a fifth starter until the second time through the rotation, Tepesch made a start with Round Rock before joining the big league club.

With the early season off-days the Rangers have, they could wait until April 9 in Boston (game #9 of the season) before needing a fifth starter.  That could allow Martinez to make a start for Frisco and then join Texas for as long as the Rangers need him.  I haven’t heard that formally announced, but it would make some sense.

As for Martinez himself, he’s a bit off the radar compared to the other pitching prospects you’ve probably heard about (i.e., Luke Jackson, Chi Chi Gonzalez).  The former Fordham second baseman has become a polished pitching prospect who throws a 91-94 mph fastball, an excellent curveball, a changeup and a slider.  He works quickly and is very athletic (as you would expect from a former middle infielder).  He was stellar in his month with the RoughRiders last season, going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32 IP).

Nathan Barnett, my broadcast partner from last season and the new Voice of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, interviewed Martinez last season and they talked a lot about his development as a pitcher.  It’s definitely worth a listen:

 

- Alex

The Dandy Dozen: The ‘Riders Turn 12

It's shaping up to be another great summer at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

It’s shaping up to be another great summer at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

This article originally appeared in the March 21 edition of SportsPage Weekly, which is a free publication available throughout the Metroplex.  To view the article in the online edition, click here.

There are very few “sure things” in life, but when it comes to local sports and entertainment options, the Frisco RoughRiders are just about as close to a sure thing as you can get.  Year after year, Dr Pepper Ballpark hosts exciting baseball action, premium prospects and fun for the whole family.  Ask anyone who has ever been to a RoughRiders game and they’ll tell you how memorable the experience is.

It’s almost hard to believe, but the RoughRiders will soon begin their 12th season on April 3 at home against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals affiliate).  In honor of a dozen years of Frisco baseball, we present the top 12 reasons to catch the RoughRiders in action this season at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

#12 – A winning tradition

Everybody loves a winner.   And over the past decade the RoughRiders have been one of the most consistent winners in Minor League Baseball.  In 2013, Frisco finished with a 70-70 record, its eighth consecutive season with a .500 or better mark on the ledger.  The last time Frisco finished with a losing record 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.

#11 – History in the making

Baseball fans appreciate the sport’s history and tradition, and the Texas League plays an important role in the lineage of the game. The RoughRiders and their fans belong to a storied Texas League pedigree that dates back to 1888 (the American League was founded in 1901). A game at Dr Pepper Ballpark is more than just a chance to contribute to baseball’s history; it affords fans the opportunity to witness history as it happens. Notable Texas League alumni span the generations and include Major League Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Dizzy Dean, Joe Morgan and Whitey Herzog. It is a legacy furthered by many stars in the game today who also enjoyed success in the Texas League. Current Rangers Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus had All-Star seasons in the Texas League in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Outside the organization, an impressive crop of recent alumni continue to cultivate the Texas League brand as their big league careers flourish. The Texas League footprint extends across the Major League map and features young stars Mike Trout, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Lance Lynn, Jean Segura and numerous others.

#10 – Rehabbing Rangers

Matt Harrison was one of 13 rehabbers who played with the 'Riders in 2013.

Matt Harrison was one of 13 rehabbers who played with the ‘Riders in 2013.

Players, coaches and fans dislike injuries, but they remain an inevitable component of any professional game. For a major league club, the inconvenience of an in-season malady is lessened—somewhat—when an affiliate team plays in the neighborhood. No one in Frisco hopes for a rehab assignment, but when a Rangers’ regular tweaks a calf or strains a wrist, Dr Pepper Ballpark provides a two-fold benefit for both the player and the fan. Players can stay in the Metroplex to nurse an injury and play in an atmosphere that approximates a big league ballgame. On the other hand, fans receive a unique opportunity to view their favorite Rangers in a more intimate setting and at an affordable cost. A total of 13 Rangers players donned a RoughRiders’ cap for a rehab assignment in 2013, including pitcher Matt Harrison, who unfortunately started as many games for Frisco (two) as he did for Texas. Rehab assignments rarely occur with much forewarning, but thanks to Derek Holland’s dog, Wrigley, the southpaw has likely already booked a stint with the RoughRiders in 2014. Make sure you’re in the stands when the Rangers’ rehabbers visit Dr Pepper Ballpark.

#9 – A new skipper

For the first time in five years, someone other than Steve Buechele will write out Frisco’s lineup card.  With Buechele managing the Rangers’ Triple-A club this season, Jason Wood steps into the role for the RoughRiders in 2014.  Wood, a five-year major leaguer and veteran of 18 professional seasons as a player, will begin his fourth season as a manager in the Texas farm system.  The 44-year-old spent the previous three years as the skipper for Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.  He led the Pelicans to the playoffs in all three campaigns and looks to get the ’Riders back to the postseason this year.  While Wood is a fresh face in the dugout, the rest of his coaching staff will remain in place from the last two seasons.  Jeff Andrews returns as the team’s pitching coach following a season in which Frisco’s hurlers collectively set numerous team records.  This past offseason, Andrews was honored the co-recipient of the Rangers’ annual Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year award.  Jason Hart will begin his third season as Frisco’s hitting coach and his instruction has been lauded for helping former RoughRiders Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, Leury Garcia, Chris McGuiness and Engel Beltre all reach the major leagues over the past two seasons.

#8 – Affordability

One of the charms of Minor League Baseball is getting a big league experience without paying a premium price.  RoughRiders games are no different because the team strives to make sure everyone can afford to watch games at Dr Pepper Ballpark.  It can be a major strain on the wallet to attend other professional sporting events.  The average cost for a family of four to attend a Major League Baseball game is approximately $208; for an NFL game that number is $444, with the NBA checking in at $442 and the NHL at $355.  That figure for a Minor League Baseball game?  Just $61.  With RoughRiders tickets starting at just $7 (less than the cost of a movie theater ticket), attending a game at Dr Pepper Ballpark is very much accessible.  But say you’re interested in getting even more value at the ballpark.  The RoughRiders offer affordable ticket plans that include all-you-can-eat food and drink, and even packages that include alcohol.  These value-based ticket plans make attending games in Frisco possible without denting your bank account.

#7 – The other guys aren’t too shabby either

Tomorrow’s stars play today in the Texas League and 2014 is no exception. The RoughRiders will welcome a host of talent from around the circuit to Dr Pepper Ballpark this season, many of whom are ranked on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list. The Tulsa Drillers figure to field a strong pitching rotation bolstered by top 50 prospects Jon Gray (#14) and Eddie Butler (#41). Both pitchers bring high-octane velocity to the Drillers’ staff and can touch the upper 90s on the radar gun. Catcher Austin Hedges (#24) of the San Antonio Missions is rated as the second-highest prospect at his position by MLB.com. His strong arm and good footwork behind the plate will give would-be base stealers second thoughts. Kyle Zimmer (#25), the number five overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, is expected to start the season with the Northwest Arkansas. The Royals promoted Zimmer to Double-A late last season where he held a 1.93 ERA through four starts with the Naturals. Position players to watch for elsewhere in the Texas League include speedy leadoff hitter Delino DeShields (#66) of the Corpus Christi Hooks, Jorge Bonifacio (#91) of the Naturals and gifted batter Stephen Piscotty (#98) of the Springfield Cardinals. Every mentioned player has big league potential.

#6 – You won’t be the only one cheering

The vocal and expressive fan will find a home at Dr Pepper Ballpark. For nine consecutive seasons, the RoughRiders have led all 30 Double-A teams in total and average attendance. More than half-a-million fans routinely fill Dr Pepper Ballpark every season and the team averages better than 7,000 fans per game.  Not only is that the best in Double-A, but it’s also higher than 17 Triple-A teams! On 21 occasions in 2013, the ’Riders drew crowds of more than 10,000. Frisco’s fan base is second to none and players say the crowds enhance the in-game environment more than anywhere else in the Texas League. Bring a sign, be loud and shout until your voice goes out. You won’t be cheering alone.

#5 – More than just peanuts and Cracker Jack

RoughRiders cuisine far outstrips traditional ballpark fare. Sure, fans can still fill up to the gills on foot-long hot dogs and brats from Smokie’s Sausage Shack, but Dr Pepper Ballpark serves something for any palate. The new Beer & Barbeque stand will cook in-house, smoked Texas barbeque favorites while Lone Star Pizza offers a wide range of personal style pies. Deep-fried Oreos grace the à la carte lineup for the first time this season, and for those in search of a healthy option, Greek yogurt is also available. Of course, many Frisco fan favorites will be back on the menu as well, from fresh-spun cotton candy and funnel cakes to snow cones and freshly squeezed lemonade. Of course, few things taste better on a hot Texas night than a cold serving of Dippin’ Dots. It’s never summer without great food, great drinks and RoughRiders baseball.

Luke Jackson figures to lead a very talented starting rotation this season.

Luke Jackson figures to lead a very talented starting rotation this season.

#4 – An arsenal of arms

For the best pitching this side of Yu Darvish and Arlington, Dr Pepper Ballpark is the place to be. The RoughRiders will rely on their mound men to bolster the franchise’s quest for an eighth playoff berth. Right-hander Luke Jackson is expected to lead the group in 2014. The fireballer started the previous season with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and made his RoughRiders’ debut on August 4, 2013. He didn’t miss a beat in Double-A and finished the season with 134 combined strikeouts at both Myrtle Beach and Frisco and held the eighth-lowest ERA among all full season minor league pitchers (2.04). Those numbers were a big reason why the Rangers named Jackson the club’s 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Alex Claudio figures to take the reins from Jackson and the starters as a key piece in the RoughRiders’ bullpen in 2014. The deceptive Claudio fools batters with his changeup and was named the Rangers’ Minor League Reliever of the Year last season. Another burgeoning prospect, Alex Gonzalez, hopes to excite the Frisco faithful this year. Don’t call him Alex, though. Gonzalez prefers the nickname “Chi Chi,” given by a family member. Baseball America rates the 2013 first round draft pick as the number six prospect in the Rangers’ organization. Fans on the wild side will anticipate the return of eight-year veteran Kevin Pucetas as he unleashes his newly developed knuckleball pitch on the diamond this season. Other highly-ranked pitchers that are expected to see time in Frisco this season include Alec Asher, Nick Martinez and Jerad Eickhoff.

#3 – Rougned Odor

Top prospect Rougned Odor is expected to begin the season at second base in Frisco.

Top prospect Rougned Odor is expected to begin the season at second base in Frisco.

Because the makeup of minor league teams are up to the discretion of the parent club, you never know who will be on the Opening Day roster until very late in spring training.  That is typically the case with the RoughRiders, but one player who looks very likely to be with the team on April 3 is second baseman Rougned Odor.  The Venezuelan with the memorable name is the Rangers’ top-ranked prospect according to Baseball America and he showed why during a 30-game stint with Frisco at the end of the 2013 season.  Odor was promoted to Double-A in early August and hit .306/.354/.530 with six home runs, eight doubles, two triples and 19 RBI.  And he did all of that as just a 19-year-old, the youngest player in Double-A.  (Projecting those numbers out over a 140-game season, he would have hit 28 homers with 37 doubles, nine triples and 89 RBI.) Now 20, Odor spent the first half of spring training in big league camp and hopes to use that experience to further propel his ascension to the major leagues.  For the time being, however, the spunky infielder with the big bat is expected to ply his trade at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

#2 – Family-friendly entertainment

The RoughRiders are well-known for making trips to Dr Pepper Ballpark about more than just the game on the field.  The atmosphere on game nights is a blast, even for folks who aren’t big baseball fans.  The RoughRiders employ a full-time entertainment director whose sole job is to make sure that families have fun when visiting the ballpark.  From spectacular fireworks shows following every Friday night home game to a collection of more than 180 hilarious on-field skits and promotions that rotate throughout the season, there is something fun for everyone who comes to a game.  Dr Pepper Ballpark even features a pool in right field and two playgrounds (including one specifically designed for two-to-five-year-olds).  And for a lot of fans, their favorite RoughRiders aren’t ones you might see in Arlington someday – they are Deuce and Daisy, the team’s loveable mascots.

#1 – The home of future Rangers

With Odor and a tremendous pitching staff leading the way, there should be another impressive assortment of talent on display at Dr Pepper Ballpark this season.  This has been the norm in each of the RoughRiders’ first 11 seasons in Frisco, and with the Rangers’ relentless pursuit of building a winning organization from top-to-bottom, don’t look for that trend to change anytime soon.  Since 2003, 107 former RoughRiders have reached the major leagues, almost one-third of all Frisco players.  In 2013, ten former ’Riders made the big leagues, including Nick Tepesch, Beltre, Garcia and McGuiness.  One look at the Rangers’ 40-man roster shows that half of its members played in Frisco.  Elvis Andrus, Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Holland, Leonys Martin, Profar, Neftali Feliz, Mitch Moreland, Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez are just a few of the Texas stalwarts who once wore a RoughRiders uniform.  Outside of the Rangers organization, All-Stars such as Ian Kinsler, Chris Davis, Adrian Gonzalez and C.J. Wilson all spent time in Frisco as well.

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With the RoughRiders, fans get winning baseball, exciting prospects, delicious food, affordable family fun and the future of the Texas Rangers on display.  It all shows that the Frisco RoughRiders continue to be a sure thing for families and sports fans across the Metroplex.

Frisco Futures: Checking in with Lewis Brinson

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Lewis Brinson (center) and Joey Gallo (right) were part of Jon Daniels’ hailed 2012 draft class.

If you follow the Rangers’ farm system, then it’s very likely you’ve heard of Lewis Brinson.  An athletic outfielder from Coral Springs, Florida, Texas drafted Brinson in the first round (29th overall) in 2012.  He played his first full season with low-A Hickory last year and was part of a Crawdads team that broke the South Atlantic League record for home runs in a single season (178).  Brinson’s individual season was a bit of mixed bag: he hit .237/.322/.749 with 21 homers, 52 RBI, 24 steals and 191 strikeouts.

On Saturday, Brinson got his first taste of big league action, pinch hitting for Michael Choice in the Rangers’ wild, 16-15 spring training win over the Athletics.  He doubled to center field on the first pitch he saw from 2013 Midland RockHound Ryan Dull in the seventh inning before flying out to right in the eighth.

Entering the 2014 season, ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranks Brinson as the Rangers’ fourth-best minor league prospect.  The right-handed outfielder won’t turn 20 until May 8 and figures to begin the year with either Hickory or Myrtle Beach.  While it’s unlikely he could reach Frisco this year, a great campaign could lead to a late season cameo with the RoughRiders.  While I was out in Surprise last week, I caught up with Brinson and we talked about spring training, last season in Hickory and his goals before breaking camp.

If you’d like to listen to the audio of the interview, click here.

Alex Vispoli: Lewis, this is your second spring training; what’s been the difference from what you came in to see last year and what you’ve been going through this year?

Lewis Brinson: Last spring training I was kind of in awe a little bit.  The whole spring training aspect of it with big leaguers around everywhere; guys that you grew up loving and now you’re training with them, stretching with them, hitting with them, getting to talk to them everyday.  But now I’ve gotten kind of used to it and I’m just trying to win a job here.  You’ve got a better idea of what you need to do to get ready for the season, so I’m just looking at it like that.

AV: Instead of being in awe of the big leaguers, are you trying this year to learn from them, watching what they do and how they go about their business?

LB: Yeah, definitely.  Anytime a big leaguer stops and talks to you, you listen.  I’m just watching them walk around, hitting, throwing, stretching, working out, talking.  Just getting used to knowing how they go about their business.  You want to be at that level one day so who cares if you copy them?  They’re big leaguers, they’re there for a reason, so why not be like them?

AV: A lot of folks looked at that Hickory team that you were on last year – you had Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Jorge Alfaro –a lot of really young guys that have had a ton of success early in their pro careers.  Was it fun to be a part of that group?  You guys are all about the same age, in the same boat, with the same experience level, playing together.

LB: Oh yeah, that was very fun.  Everybody looked at our home runs last year [with us being] a really young group and was asking “How did they hit that many home runs?  These guys must be freakishly talented or on something.”  But we have a great time together.  We’re all, like you said, the same age, so we love being around each other.  We all have the same goals; we all have the same work ethic and want to get to the big leagues around the same time and start our big league careers together, hopefully with the Texas Rangers.  We’re just out there having a good time.  I love those guys.

AV: Finally Lewis, what are your goals here for the next couple of weeks before you break camp?

LB: Just to get ready.  [Minor league spring] games start Thursday [March 13].  So just getting ready for the season.  It’s grind time, trying to make a team and trying to get your last bit of work in.  Just come here everyday with a plan, and plan to get better everyday.

AV: Well Lewis, best of luck here over the next couple of weeks.  Stay healthy and hopefully at some point down the line we’ll see you in Frisco.

LB: All right, see you there.

Thanks for reading.

-          Alex

First impressions: New RoughRiders manager Jason Wood

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Jason Wood played for parts of five seasons in the big leagues, including 2006-08 with the Florida Marlins.

When I was out in Surprise this week I had the opportunity to interview the new manager of the Frisco RoughRiders, Jason Wood.  Jason replaces four-year skipper Steve Buechele, who takes the reins for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock this season.  Like Buechele, Wood is a California native and previously managed in High-A before coming to Frisco.  He led the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to the playoffs in three straight seasons and figures to take over a talented roster in 2014.  When I talked to him on Tuesday in Arizona, the minor leaguers were in the midst of playing intersquad games with mixed rosters.  We talked about the plan for spring training and his excitement for getting to Frisco.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, simply click here.

Alex Vispoli: You guys just finished up an intersquad game.  I bet it’s nice to just start playing real, or almost real, baseball here.

Jason Wood: It is, it absolutely is.  It seems like these young guys have been out here for about two weeks now.  To see some live pitching, to see some game action is something they’ve been chomping at the bit to do for the last two weeks.  The last couple of days have been good.  From what I’ve seen a lot of our hitters are starting to get on the fastball a little bit more and do some good things.  And pitchers are making some good pitches when they need to.  But all in all, it’s just nice to see everybody get in some game situations and we’re ready to get after it [when minor league games begin] on Thursday.

AV: And knock off a little bit of rust too.  I’m sure that’s part of this process, getting back into game mode and seeing live pitches, seeing breaking balls and getting the timing down.

Ryan Strausborger is one of the players who has impressed Jason Wood out in Surprise.

Ryan Strausborger is one of the players who has impressed Jason Wood out in Surprise.

JW: Yeah, that’s what it is.  You come out here and get you into spring training for the first couple weeks you’re just getting your hands working a little bit.  Working in the cage, as far as hitters go and seeing some soft toss and seeing some pretty easy BP.  But in game situations you start to amp it up a bit, get the blood flowing and guys are seeing some velocity.  All in all, from what I’ve seen on the field, the timing has been pretty good.  I’ve seen some guys that have been in Frisco in the past; Strausborger has been hitting the ball pretty hard.  Jared Hoying has taken off where he left off in a sense, he’s hitting the ball hard.  All in all, I think these guys have been putting in their work, the hard time and seeing them face some live pitching, they’re ready to go.

AV: What will be the next couple of phases these guys go through – the hitters and the pitchers – as you start getting into playing other organizations before breaking camp?

JW: Well, we’ll start to slow it down a little bit as far as our workload goes.  We’ll come out, and our position players will run through a short team fundamental in the morning and then we’ll go into batting practice and then basically get ready for the game.  The pitchers will still get on their scheduled routine as far as throwing every five days and relievers will probably throw every other day.  Basically, we’ll just start to tone it down and get into game situations, game scenarios.

AV: The players are pretty mixed up at this point.  Guys who were in A-ball last year are playing with guys who were in Triple-A last year.  Are you looking forward to getting your own group of guys at some point here in camp, the guys that you’ll be bringing to Frisco?

JW: I do, I really do.  Last year I was managing in Myrtle Beach and I was pretty fortunate to have my entire squad during the entire spring training, so that made it nice.  It doesn’t look like it’s going to be like that this year with me managing the Triple-A team here in spring training.  But hopefully with about a week to go in spring training we’ll have most of the group and we’ll get together as a unit and start to put in our defensive plays and get things going.  I don’t see that right away but everybody’s getting their reps, everybody’s getting their swings and we’ll just see how this club turns out.

AV: Finally, since you were officially named manager of the RoughRiders, what have folks told you about what to expect when you come to Frisco and what are you looking forward to when you’re managing in the Texas League?

JW: First and foremost, I hear the fan base is outstanding and that will be a pleasure to deal with.  The ballpark is second to none and the league itself is a pretty competitive league.  I’m just excited to get ready for some Double-A baseball and be a part of that RoughRider organization and put some good talent on the field.  I think that’s something that the Rangers do a very good job of.  With each of our affiliates, we put talent out there.  Our main focus is development but at the day’s end we want to win and we want to grind our wins, be a competitive team at the end and be a playoff contender.

AV: We’re just a few weeks away from opening day.  We’re looking forward to seeing you and the rest of the guys back in the Metroplex.  Thanks  for the time.

JW: All right Alex.  I appreciate it and thanks for having me.

Thanks for reading.

- Alex

Back fields, bees and Buckel: Day Two in Surprise

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The all-seeing eye of the back fields, providing a prime view of four diamonds at once.

This week I’m taking in my first visit to Surprise, Arizona for Rangers Spring Training, and I’m bringing you with me. If you missed the recap of Day One of my trip, check it out right here.

From what I can gather, you go through a few different phases during Spring Training as a player,coach and executive.

1. There’s the initial burst of excitement over getting back to a baseball field and rediscovering your passion for the game you love.  This period is great – until you grow weary of the numerous of meetings, practices, simulated situations and other minutia that, while important, is not why anyone signed up to be a part of this game.  All during this time, you’re chomping at the bit to start playing something that at least resembles a game.

2. You eventually do move into this phase, but they’re not real games (granted, Spring Training games are not really like real games, but at least it’s somewhat close); they’re more like scrimmages that you play against the same people you’ve been practicing against for the last week or two.

3. Just when you get to the point where you’re mentally over the idea of facing the same opponent day after day, you start games against other organizations, which is a major refresher for the mind.

4. Then, you just get sick and tired of being in Arizona for up to two months and playing the role of “human sunny-side up egg” in the roasting desert sun.  You want to get the season underway and start playing games that count (with real stats too).

The big leaguers are in the midst of Phase 3, while the minor leaguers have just gotten to Phase 2, which I watched begin in earnest on Monday morning at the Rangers’ Spring Training complex in Surprise.  Along the way, I witnessed the start of a comeback, a rebirth, the long-term future and the bizarre before finishing the day with a Hall of Famer.

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Hypoderm Sunscreen & 99¢ Only Stores, two lifesavers.

7:45 a.m.  - As I alluded to at the end of yesterday’s post, I was not going to play the role of fool two days in a row (at least in this specific respect) and get microwaved by the southwest sun once again.  Upon the recommendation of the helpful hotel lobby person, I headed over the nearby “99 ¢ Only Store” (because dollar stores are considered too bourgeoisie here) to purchase some sunscreen.  Now, I was just as suspicious as you probably are reading this about buying 99-cent sunscreen.  “Wouldn’t splashing a layer of water on your skin be at least equally effective?”  Yeah, that ran through my head, but my faith in “Hypoderm Sunscreen” (Note to anyone who thought, “Why didn’t I think of an amazing name like that?”: it’s not a registered trademark, apparently) was rewarded. My burns from Sunday were reasonably contained and my skin did not start falling off at any point.  And I feel like a true bargain hunter after spotting this attempt on eBay to charge some poor sap $12.99+shipping for three of these babies. The whole episode felt a little like hitting a three-point bank shot that you didn’t call.

8:15 a.m. - Things are still fairly quiet by the time I reach the complex, probably due to the fact that fans won’t be let into the facility until 10 a.m.  There are a few hitters getting some early work in and some of the big leaguers are trickling in for the day.  The Rangers clubhouse is divided into two sides: one for the major leaguers and one for the minor leaguers.  The minor league clubhouse is a lot bigger, but more crowded because there are so many more players in that camp.  I am a bit surprised at how nice the minor league clubhouse is, however.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting Bull Durham or some high school level accommodations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly equal in many respects to the big league side.  The lockers are made of wood (like the major leaguers) and are certainly an acceptable size, the flood is nicely carpeted and it has a welcoming tone to it.  It’s much better than many road stadium clubhouses (and some home ones too) I’ve seen in my baseball travels.

On this particular morning, I meet Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez in the clubhouse and we talk about his outing in the big league “A” game the day before.  He allowed three of the four men he faced to reach base before being removed after hitting his 20-pitch limit.  A pair of meekly-hit grounders were able to sneak through for hits, so he isn’t overly negative about his performance even though all three men came home to score later in the inning.  As for his nickname (which he prefers to go by, by the way), Chi-Chi says it was given to him by his grandfather’s brother; he nicknamed Gonzalez’ two older sisters Nina and Nene, so Chi-Chi seemed to fit the bill for Alex.

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Uniform reinforcements are on standby outside the clubhouse.

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Lots of players in camp means lots of broken bats. There’s an overflowing cardboard box filled with them.

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Approximately one-sixteenth of the baseballs they’ve got in camp. These ones haven’t yet met a bat or blade of grass.

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It’s hard not to look forward to the future when you see a foursome like Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara hitting together.

9 a.m. - Pockets of minor league hitters are taking batting practice out on the back fields (the big leaguers practice on the two fields closest to the stadium/clubhouse).  I stumble upon the BP group that folks who love prospects dream about: Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara.  Like many, I’ve heard a lot about these players but have never seen them in person (Ronald Guzman and Jorge Alfaro are also among the super-prospects who are super-young and populated Hickory’s Avengers-like squad last season).  Like many, I am impressed at first glance.  I didn’t realize how big they all were.  At 6’3″, Brinson is the shrimp of the group.  The others are either 6’4″ or 6’5″ and aren’t just tall rods with pine tar on their batting gloves.  They’re built like stallions and we may see one or two gallop to Frisco by the end of 2014 if things go well.

I have a nice conversation about Cody Buckel with rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock, who says that Buckel is throwing the ball as well as he ever has.  Buckel, the Rangers’ 2012 Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year, suffered a bad case of the yips last season and spent most of the campaign rewiring himself mentally and mechanically.  I hadn’t heard much about Cody since the end of the season and am excited to see him pitch later in the day.

9:30 a.m. - The pitchers meet as a group with new farm director Mike Daly right next to the tall observation structure pictured at the start of the blog entry and it’s not long before Daly is about to give another talk to the hitters.  It’s recommended that I join the group if I want a cool history lesson.  Daly proceeds to educate the players about notable players from the 1966 MLB draft.  The first overall pick was Steve Chilcott by the Mets – a seven-year minor leaguer who never reached the show.  The second pick did slightly better.  His name is Reggie Jackson.  Daly tells the group about Reggie’s career and his epic performances in the World Series before finishing up by talking about the sixth overall pick from that draft: none other than Tom Grieve.  I later speak with Daly and we talk about his history lesson.  He’s concerned about the relative lack of knowledge many young players have about players who came before them, so he makes it a point to relay some history during camp through his own lessons and visits from legends like Pudge Rodriguez and others.  Hopefully Texas’ minor leaguers can avoid the fate of Josh Hart.

10 a.m. - After the meetings wrap up, it’s more practice time on the back fields. The four fields are filled with defensive drills, bunt plays and batting practice.  I’ll see infield work before games throughout the season, but never 20-30 minutes’ worth with every pitcher also taking part in these simulated situations.  These are the minor leagues, and the minors are all about development.  We see that over the course of the season, but the foundation is laid right here.

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Jason Wood hits grounders and calls out simulated scenarios for the fielders to respond to like they were in an actual game.

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Ryan Rua sizes up a Jason Wood pitch during BP.

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Greg Maddux about to hit a grounder back to Nick Tepesch as he joins Matt Harrison and Tommy Hanson for fielding work.

11:30 a.m. - Most of the big leaguers have left the practice fields to get ready for that afternoon’s game against the Reds, but not everyone has headed back to the clubhouse.  On the infield-only field, Greg Maddux is hitting ground balls back to Matt Harrison, Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson.  So not only the minor league guys work on fielding, and what better mound defender to learn from than Maddux, who only racked up a record 18 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career.  With not a whole lot else going on, a crush of fans flock to get in prime autograph position for when the session is over (for Tepesch, obviously).

On my way back to the big league side, I have a short chat with Rangers manager Ron Washington who is about to drive his golf back to the clubhouse.  I wish him luck this season at the end of our conversation, to which he responds, “Well thank you baby!” and drives off.

12 noon - I meet Brandon Boyd, who is one of the Rangers’ clubhouse managers and also a former RoughRiders employee.  Brandon oversaw the ‘Riders clubhouse from 2005-09 before moving on to Arlington.  He takes me into the big league clubhouse, where I catch up with several familiar faces: Mitch Moreland, a RoughRider in 2009 and a rehabber in 2012 & ’13; Ryan Feierbend, a 2013 ‘Rider who would throw a scoreless inning in relief of Yu Darvish later in the day; and Brett Nicholas, Frisco’s best offensive player in 2013.  Nicholas has been with the big club for the spring, mostly as a catcher after spending nearly all of last year at first base. Most of the clubhouse is vacant, but that is probably because it is when media is allowed in for interviews (nobody likes the media, especially radio guys).

On my way back to the minor leaguers, I stop to talk to Harrison, who I met during his rehab stint with Frisco last summer.  Harrison will pitch for the first time in Tuesday’s game and says he feels completely healthy for the first time in a very long time.  He says 2013 was agonizing, but feels like he is in great shape and is ready to get back to what made him an All-Star in 2012.

12:15 p.m. - I return to the back fields to watch the three intersquad games being played (the start of Phase 2 of Spring Training).  Basically, all of the players in camp are mixed into random teams and pitted against one another for games that would last approximately five innings.  This is once of the coolest parts of the day.  On Field 5 I see Jorge Alfaro lace a Kevin Pucetas knuckleball to right-center for a triple.  Pucetas is reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher after toying with the pitch in Frisco last season.  Despite the Alfaro three-bagger, the knucklers dance enough that Pucetas does not allow another baserunner.

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Kevin Pucetas readies a knuckleball while warming up in the bullpen.

The lineups for one intersquad game.

The lineups for one intersquad game.

Wait a minute, let's get a better look at that Jason Wood baseball card.

Wait a minute, let’s get a better look at that Jason Wood baseball card.

When I turn to Field 4, I watch Alex Claudio end an inning with a pickoff at second base with Juremi Profar batting and later Jon Edwards hits 98 on the radar gun.  It is tough to keep up with all three games at once, so I miss some action but thoroughly enjoy what I did see.  And the players seem to enjoy playing in games for the first time since last season.  The minor league guys will play intersquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday before squaring off against other organizations beginning Thursday.

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Nomar Mazara attempts to square up a pitch during an intersquad game. That’s Jorge Alfaro behind the plate.

Soon enough, it’s Buckel’s turn to pitch and I am not disappointed.  Cody looks a lot like the 2012 Cody; the one who struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and displayed impeccable control.  Buckel gets a strikeout and ultimately retires three of the four men he faces.  Afterwards, he tells me that it felt good to finally pitch in his first game action since a pair of early-August AZL contests.  He says he didn’t attack the strike zone the way he has in recent bullpens, but chalks that up to the long delay in facing live batters.

As an aside, I don’t want to make Buckel’s outing out to be more than it was.  It was a good step in the right direction after a nightmare 2013, not a guarantee that he will never struggle again on the mound in the minors.  I hope that he can string outings like this together and get his career back to where it was, and then beyond.  Monday was not a definitive answer to anything, but it certainly was encouraging to see.

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Cody Buckel looked completely different than the last time I saw him pitch in 2013, when he struggled to throw strikes.

2 p.m. - Following the intersquad games, I head back to Surprise Stadium, where the Rangers and Reds are well underway.  But before I can enter the stadium through the team offices, I encounter an obstacle I just am not expecting: bees.  Lots of them.  A stone column that sits between the office and the stadium concourse apparently gathered an enormous mass of bees over the span of an hour.  There was no hive there previously; they just all swarmed to that spot and just stayed.  I’m told it’s probably not safe to walk past them and that pest control is on its way.  I agree that missing an inning or so of a Spring Training game in exchange for avoiding hundreds of simultaneous bee stings is probably a fair trade.  It isn’t long before a group of close to a dozen people (including Rangers special assistant and former pitcher Darren Oliver) join me to watch the extermination.

A photo essay of the kill:

The swarm of bees were approximately the size of a basketball and it seemed to be growing.

The swarm of bees was approximately the size of a basketball and it seemed to be growing.

Nonchalant pest control showed up on a moment's notice.

Nonchalant pest control showed up on a moment’s notice.

You know it's memorable when even the exterminator is snapping photos. But he was crazy close without much face protection.

You know it’s memorable when even the exterminator is snapping photos. But he was crazy close without much face protection.

Getting to work. They put a tarp down to help collect the dead bees.

Getting to work. They put a tarp down to help collect the dead bees.

He's not spraying any sort of insecticide or poison; it's actually just soapy water, which apparently messes with the bees pretty badly.

He’s not spraying any sort of insecticide or poison; it’s actually just soapy water, which apparently messes with the bees pretty badly.

The whole group didn't fall at once.  The bees came out in fist-sized clumps.

The whole group didn’t fall at once. The bees came out in fist-sized clumps.

After about five minutes of spraying, the coast was clear and I dashed into the ballpark.

After about five minutes of spraying, the coast was clear and I dashed into the ballpark.

2:15 p.m. - The Rangers and Reds are in the fifth inning by the time I get past the bees and into the stadium.  Yu Darvish is finishing up his outing and both teams get ready to send in position players that 95% of the stadium has never heard of.  Now 11 years old, Billy Parker Field at Surprise Stadium holds up very well and seems to be an enjoyable place to watch a game.  There’s a big Monday crowd on hand; hopefully most of them do not leave with bee stings.

The second level view from right behind home plat.e

The second level view from right behind home plate.

A look from the third base concourse. The Rangers team offices are housed in the building in the back.

A look from the third base concourse. The Rangers team offices are housed in the building in the back.

Looking homeward from the outfield berm. That grass the fans are seated on is actually a plastic synthetic surface that feels and looks like real grass.  I had to pluck one from the ground to confirm it wasn't the real deal.

Looking homeward from the outfield berm. That grass the fans are seated on is actually a plastic synthetic surface that feels and looks like real grass. I had to pluck one from the ground to confirm it wasn’t the real deal.

Want to cool down after the game? There's a community aquatic center across the street from Surprise Stadium.

Want to cool down after the game? There’s a community aquatic center across the street from Surprise Stadium.

The Rangers bullpen is down the right field line. Under the screen you can see 2013 RoughRiders Randy Henry, Jimmy Reyes and Brett Nicholas.

The Rangers bullpen is down the right field line. Under the screen you can see 2013 RoughRiders Randy Henry, Jimmy Reyes and Brett Nicholas.

Kansas City's offices are located on the third base side of the park, exactly opposite (an equal, by all appearances) of the Rangers'. These kids must know that they could never be Royals.

Kansas City’s offices are located on the third base side of the park, exactly opposite the Rangers’. These kids must know that they could never be Royals.

New to me: a souvenir store in a ballpark tailored to women and children.

New to me: a souvenir store in a ballpark tailored to women and children.

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Team-themed coozies are among the specialty products for sale at the “women and kids” team store.

3:15 p.m. - Because I did not get the chance to see him on Sunday, I make a stop by the Rangers’ broadcast booth to see Eric

Eric Nadel (left) and Matt Hicks giving listeners every Josh Wilson detail they could ask for,

Eric Nadel (left) and Matt Hicks giving listeners every Josh Wilson detail they could ask for,

Nadel.  I’ve met Eric a few times at Rangers games and he has always been kind to me.  Rangers fans are lucky to have had him for so long and I wasn’t the only one who was very happy for his Hall of Fame election this past off-season.  I don’t want to take too much of his and Matt Hicks’ time during the game, but I congratulate Eric on the honor during an inning break and then scoot out of the booth.  In the radio booth right next door, fellow Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman is broadcasting for the Reds’ radio network.  Eric calls Marty one of his career mentors.

3:40 p.m. - The Rangers wrap up an 8-2 win over Cincinnati as former RoughRiders Neftali Feliz and Nicholas form the game-ending battery.  It’s Texas’ first win since Thursday against San Diego and the last game I’ll see at Surprise Stadium during my stay in Arizona.  The team heads to Camelback Ranch in Glendale to play the White Sox on Tuesday and I’ll be there for at least some of it as I hit the home stretch of my stay in the desert.

The Rangers assume the victory formation after an 8-2 win over the Reds.

The Rangers assume the victory formation after an 8-2 win over the Reds.

As always thanks for reading,

Alex

Russell Wilson: A worthwhile gimmick for Rangers

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Whether it’s a football or a baseball, Russell Wilson shows good form on his throws. (photo credit to Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News)

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.

 

 - Alex

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.

***

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.

***

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

Best in the League, Part II

Carlos Olivas (second from the left) pays a medical visit to RoughRiders pitcher Carlos Pimentel. (Alex Yocum-Beeman)

Carlos Olivas (second from the left) pays a medical visit to RoughRiders pitcher Carlos Pimentel.

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.

In addition to valuing the health of his players, Carlos also values being a sharp-dressed man.

In addition to valuing the health of his players, Carlos also values being a sharp-dressed man.

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.

Duly noted.

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.

Congratulations Carlos!

- Alex

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