Results tagged ‘ Texas Rangers ’

Spring Training Travels Day 1: And We’re Off!

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This marks the first day of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. All installments can be found here.

The offseason is a blur. It feels like just a few weeks ago that I had the amazing honor of calling a Carolina League Championship with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and now, here I am, four months into a job of my dreams, getting ready to head back to Spring Training.

It’s easy to get romantic about Spring Training–so I am going to indulge myself. The high skies, the dry mountain air, the popping of mitts, the cracking of bats, the buzzing of the diehard fans, and the crackling of cleats on the concrete walkways all coalesce to make for baseball heaven. Fans have the opportunity to experience the ballpark aromas, the pace of a baseball game, and the sounds of the public address announcer bouncing around the ballpark well before the season truly begins in April. It’s like getting a sneak peek of a blockbuster movie: it’s totally legal–you’re even invited. Yet it feels like somehow, despite being a John Smith or a Jane Doe, that you get to pull the curtain back in a way that can make you feel like you have special insider access.

With-a-doubt, this was and still is true for me (now, I am just fortunate enough to have a little more access). Even before I ever went, Spring Training was stuff of legends. My baseball-loving grandfather got in the habit of taking grandchildren out to Rangers Spring Training (then in Port Charlotte), and I looked forward to the chance for years. My older cousins came back with stories of meeting our heroes, of watching them up close, and of spending time in a baseball lover’s Mecca.

Then, grandpa got older, didn’t feel up for making the trip, and my excursion to the Sunshine State never happened.

Ten years later, I made it (this time to Arizona), and it was magical. A buddy of mine and I drove from LA to Goodyear to watch the Rangers and Padres…and drove back all in the same day. That’s how badly we wanted to go. That day, Josh Hamilton hit his first Rangers homer, a grand slam in a Rangers blowout.

Now that is one serious group of hitters

Now that is one serious group of hitters (March 2014)

I was hooked. I made it out to Spring Training each out of the next two years while in college.

Then I started working in baseball. Schedules made things tough, but I did make it back my first year in Myrtle Beach back in 2014. Lo and behold, one of the Rangers broadcasters was sick, and I was asked to fill in on the radio side with Matt Hicks. Cue terror and utmost excitement.

The point is not to show off that I had the chance to call a big league Spring Training game (don’t worry I did plenty of that back then). The point, rather, is that Spring Training is Magic Kingdom for me: The Most Magical Place on Earth.

The point, is that today it begins. In a week there will be tons of great stories to tell, and we cannot wait to tell them to you. Over the next six days we will be posting here on the Riders Insider Blog and on Riders social media channels, including our BRAND NEW, “Riders Media” twitter account, which will be more focused on providing in-depth content on Riders players, statistics, and insights from me, Steve Goldberg, and Ryan Rouillard on a daily basis.

So, until tomorrow…when we will be out in baseball’s favorite desert…so long!

– Nathan

Baseball term of the day: bleeder – a batted ball that, as the result of an erratic roll, pop, bad bounce, or overall slowness, becomes a base hit. 

(term from The Baseball Thesaurus)

 

Meet the Press: 2016 Edition

To our loyal blog readers,

It’s been awhile since our last post. Apologies on that.

You can expect to see consistent content here moving forward. Since last we wrote, much has changed. I, Nathan Barnett, have returned to the organization, filling the role as the leader of the Media Relations department here in Frisco, taking over after a well-lead four-year effort by my former mentor Alex Vispoli. Some fans may remember me from the 2013 season, when I served as a Media Relations Assistant under Alex.

But enough about me. I am thrilled that I will be joined by two excellent up-and-coming stars in the business that are sure to entertain our fans here on this space and on the air as well.

So, without further ado, Steve Goldberg and Ryan Rouillard, in their own words.


Steve Goldberg

Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, once said, “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

This holds true not just about writing, but also about everything in life. No matter how grueling your schedule may be on a given day, it is a thrill to have a job that you love. For many people, that may love may stem from things like art, history, and literature. Or architecture! (Seinfeld fans, anyone?)

But the love and inspiration for my career comes from baseball. It always has been, and it always will be. Every time I broadcast a game or write a feature story, I recall the experience of the first baseball game I attended and the emotions I felt that day.

I was born a few blocks from Fenway Park in Boston, so baseball naturally slipped into my blood. But my first game was not in Boston. My family moved to Houston in the summer of 1998, and my father took me to the Astrodome the following year.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in May, but the rain outside was not an issue since the Astros played indoors. The Astroturf field was very bizarre, certainly not like the grass fields I played tee-ball on. I could not stop looking at the roof high over the diamond and the giant American and Texas flags hanging above the wall in deep center field.

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The game began, and I was amazed with how much better it was to be there in person instead of just watching it on television. The roar of the crowd, the crack of the bat, and the smell of fresh hot dogs created the perfect atmosphere to enjoy America’s pastime.

I stared up at the press box and envied the broadcasters, who I heard (and imitated) nearly every day from home. They truly lived the dream, sitting in the catbird seat at a baseball stadium every single day.

Later in the game, I asked my father if we could leave our seats for a few minutes to get an ice cream.

“Let’s watch this next batter,” he replied. “Then we can go.”

The mighty, right-handed hitter for St. Louis stepped into the box moments later. Two red birds sat perched on a yellow baseball bat atop the word ‘Cardinals’ in script on the front of his grey jersey. On the back of the uniform, he donned the number 25 with the last name ‘McGwire’ printed in red letters above.

This Mark McGwire fella had just set a new single-season record by hitting 70 home runs the previous year. But I had no idea, at the time. I was just a five-year old, starry-eyed boy awaiting the upcoming events in the game but battling with an ever-present craving for ice cream.

My father was keen about watching this one particular player bat, so I made sure I paid close attention too. Sure enough, McGwire connected with the baseball, and it soared far beyond the outfield wall. As he rounded the bases triumphantly, Dad turned to me with a grin below the moustache on his face.

“Let’s go get some ice cream.”

I returned to my seat with a Chipwich, an ice cream sandwich nestled between two chocolate chip cookies. I still vividly recall how delicious it tasted. Every time I have seen a home run since, I think back to that Chipwich and remember my feelings after McGwire hit that monstrous home run. I knew from that day forward, I wanted to be a part of the ‘larger than life’ game of baseball forever.

Nobody can recall every single pitch, but there should always be key points that stand out to viewers. As a broadcaster and a writer, I keep this in mind when considering the defining moments of a game. You never know what five-year-old, starry-eyed kid in the crowd may be gazing up at the press box envying your job. While eating a Chipwich, of course.

It has been almost 17 years since I first realized my passion for this sport. My first year working in professional baseball took me from my alma mater, the University of Missouri, to Charleston, S.C., and then all the way to Melbourne, Australia.

Now, I am ready to begin the 2016 season as a Media Relations and Broadcasting Assistant for the RoughRiders. Just a four-hour drive from my childhood home in Houston. Back in the Lone Star State.


Ryan Rouillard

I hit my growth spurt in 6th grade, well before most of my friends. As a result, I grew up hearing people tell me I had the bulk to play football, or the height to play basketball. Despite all the outside noise, baseball has always been the clear number one in my life.

Growing up just a few miles east of Seattle, Safeco Field was my home away from home in the summers. I couldn’t get enough of venturing into the Emerald City with my dad and taking in the unique buzz running throughout a baseball stadium.

I grew up idolizing local stars, such as Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki (I missed Griffey’s first stint in Seattle by a few years). My desire to be like them someday led me to start playing baseball at a young age. But over time, I found a new member of the team to idolize: legendary Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus.

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Niehaus, a Hall-of-Famer, was my companion through the airwaves whenever I wasn’t at the ballpark. His unbridled passion and love for baseball only furthered my love for America’s pastime. He would commonly say he never worked a day in his life because he was having so much fun behind the mic, and it was obvious to me listening at home. He became so special to me that I felt like I had lost a family member when he died in 2010.

With Dave as an inspiration, I was the kid who muted the “Backyard Baseball” broadcasters and did it myself. Even sometimes at Safeco Field, I would sit in section 330, just above Dave, and try and call my own game. My dream of broadcasting withered for a few years in high school, but in my senior year, I had a chance to resurrect it when I called Mercer Island High School basketball games on the school’s station. Even though it wasn’t baseball, I had so much fun behind the mic, further understanding why Dave sounded as giddy as he did every night.

When I got to the University of Oregon in 2012, there was no question in my mind that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I got actively involved with the campus radio station, KWVA, during the school year. That place has been – and still is – a great influence on my career. In the summers, I broadcast collegiate summer wood-bat baseball in the West Coast League. I was in Victoria, BC in 2013, before returning stateside to work in Yakima, WA the last two summers. My time in the WCL, where I was calling baseball almost every day for two months, only strengthened my love for baseball and being around such a special sport.

Now, here I am, just a few weeks from graduating and beginning what I know will be a fantastic journey with the RoughRiders. Maybe I could have made it work had I tried football or basketball, like everyone suggested, but I’m not sure either of those would have made me as happy as I am now. Baseball is, and will always be, where my heart lies. I can’t wait to spend another season behind the mic, where I hope my love of the game radiates through the airwaves, just like it did for me with Dave.


Nathan Barnett

As for me, I introduced myself to our readers back in 2013, and, to borrow an old cliche, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Since my time in Frisco, I had the privledge of working with the mighty Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Carolina League during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the first as a member of the Rangers farm system and last year as a Cubs affiliate.

We made the finals in 2014 with a handful of past and future RoughRiders: Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Chris Garia, Preston Beck, Royce Bolinger, Kellin Deglan, Jose Leclerc, Cody Ege, Cody Buckel, Chad Bell, Chad James, Luis Parra–the list goes on. That was a special team, a special group of guys that had put together an absurd 2013 season with the Hickory Crawdads (we had Joey Gallo, and Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams, and Chi Chi Gonzalez all earlier that year). The club came up just short of a title, skippered by Joe Mikulik by the way, falling three games to one in the Mills Cup Finals.

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The team captured the crown in year one of the Cubs era in 2015. It was a joyous ride, and I was incredibly proud of those players too.

I cannot wait to get going in the 2016 season (okay–there is still a lot to do before then, so I CAN wait, but still excited!).

Fortunately for all three of us, we don’t have to wait until April 7 when the team plays the season opener in Springdale against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. We will be headed to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona next weekend and will be sure to share our thoughts from the desert!

Until then…

Nathan

Baseball term of the day: hamfatter – a vociferous baseball fan

(term from The Baseball Thesaurus)

MLB Opening Day Rosters Filled With RoughRiders

Opening Day for the Frisco RoughRiders is this Thursday, but former Riders players will have a presence in nearly every Opening Day contest at the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. There are 33 former RoughRiders on the Opening Day active rosters of 16 different MLB teams this season, highlighted by the big league debuts of 2014 Frisco players Keone Kela and Odubel Herrera.

Rangers pitcher Keone Kela at spring training in Surprise, Az., (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

Rangers pitcher Keone Kela at spring training in Surprise, Az., (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

The Texas Rangers have an MLB-high 12 former RoughRiders on their roster, with Kela making his first appearance on a major league roster. He is expected to be a member of the Texas bullpen for tonight’s season opener in Oakland. The 21-year-old right-handed pitcher was promoted to Frisco on May 3, 2014 and spent the remainder of the season as a RoughRider. Kela posted a 2-1 record with five saves and a 1.86 ERA in 36 Texas League appearances in 2014, registering a 55:27 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .162 opponents’ batting average in 38.2 innings. He did not allow an earned run in 30 of his last 32 regular season outings and twice compiled streaks of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances. Kela was the Rangers’ 12th round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Everett (Wash.) Community College.

Herrera is expected to be the Philadelphia Phillies’ everyday centerfielder when the Phillies open the season this afternoon at home against Boston. A Rule 5 Draft selection by Philadelphia in the off-season, Herrera spent the bulk of the past two seasons as a second baseman with the RoughRiders.

 Odubel Herrera of the Philadelphia Phillies bats during a spring training game. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra /Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

Odubel Herrera of the Philadelphia Phillies bats during a spring training game. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra /Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

He won the Texas League batting crown last year with a .321 average, 13 points higher than second place. In 96 games with the Riders, Herrera compiled 16 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 48 runs batted in. The left-handed batter was named a Texas League Postseason and Mid-Season All-Star last year; he was also a Mid-Season TL All-Star in 2013. A native of Zulia, Venezuela, Herrera was signed by the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2008.

Twelve of the of the 15 Opening Day games scheduled for last night and today feature a former RoughRider on the 25-man roster of at least one team. Since 2003, Frisco has sent 128 former players to the big leagues (not including Major League rehabbers).

FULL LIST OF FORMER ROUGHRIDERS ON MLB OPENING DAY ACTIVE ROSTERS

Texas Rangers (12)

  • SS Elvis Andrus
  • RHP Neftali Feliz
  • LHP Derek Holland
  • RHP Keone Kela (MLB debut)
  • RHP Phil Klein
  • OF Leonys Martin
  • RHP Nick Martinez
  • RHP Roman Mendez
  • 1B/OF Mitch Moreland
  • 2B Rougned Odor
  • OF Ryan Rua
  • Jake Smolinski

Chicago Cubs (4)

  • RHP Justin Grimm
  • RHP Kyle Hendricks
  • 3B Mike Olt
  • RHP Neil Ramirez

Boston Red Sox (2)

  • RHP Alexi Ogando
  • LHP Robbie Ross, Jr.

Kansas City Royals (2)

  • RHP Edinson Volquez
  • RHP Chris Young

Oakland Athletics (2)

  • RHP Jesse Chavez
  • OF Craig Gentry

Baltimore Orioles (1)

  • RHP Tommy Hunter

Cincinnati Reds (1)

  •  RHP Jumbo Diaz

Chicago White Sox (1)

  • RHP John Danks

Detroit Tigers (1)

  • Ian Kinsler

Houston Astros (1)

  • RHP Scott Feldman

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1)

  • LHP C.J. Wilson

New York Mets (1)

  • OF John Mayberry, Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies (1)

  • OF Odubel Herrera (MLB debut)

San Francisco Giants (1)

  • 3B Joakim Arias

Toronto Blue Jays (1)

  • Justin Smoak

Washington Nationals (1)

  • Tanner Roark

– Alex

Spring in their step

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

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

Joey Gallo

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

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

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

Jorge Alfaro

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

Nick Williams

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

Hanser Alberto

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

Trever Adams

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

Pitchers

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

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

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

  • Alex

An update from the desert – Keeping tabs on the AFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PITCHERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HITTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Alex

The Ongoing Story of Joey Gallo

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Joey Gallo.

The name alone sends chills down pitchers’ backs and gives Rangers’ fans hope for the future. Still shy of his 21st birthday this November, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound phenomenon has burst onto the Frisco stage with an assortment of dynamic home runs in every direction. He seems to have all the tools necessary to eventually make his way to the big stage and big lights in Arlington.

Some MLB teams, though, did not initially buy into the hard-hitting high schooler when he entered the 2012 MLB draft. Gallo showcased plenty of raw power at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, but there was concern his game was one-dimensional and that his height would prohibit him from playing an infield position. The Rangers weighed the risks and decided to take a chance on him with the 39th pick in the supplemental first round.

Now in his third season, Gallo has quickly gone from a well-known prospect in the Rangers organization to a name recognizable across professional baseball.

As a teenager in 2013, Gallo blasted 40 homers that season and earned the Joe Bauman Award as the top home run hitter in the minor leagues. In the process, he became the first teenager in more than 50 years to hit 40 home runs in a minor league season. The buzz around Gallo only grew at the start of this season with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.

In just over two months with the Pelicans, Gallo was a three-time Player of the Week in the Carolina League and belted three home runs in a game twice. The Carolina League named Gallo to its Mid-Season All-Star team, giving him yet another accolade to add to his collection. With the hype around Gallo continuing to increase, the Rangers offered Gallo a bigger challenge.

A Double-A call-up provides challenges for young players as the pitching and level of play makes a substantial leap. Gallo, though, proved up to the task in his RoughRiders debut on June 9.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the newcomer left an unparalleled first impression when he smashed a 2-0 pitch to left field for a walk-off, three-run home run to give his new team the dramatic victory.

Gallo has dealt with some growing pains during his first few months with the team, but the lefty has shown an ability to learn on the fly while continuing to rapidly pound the ball. Since the time of his promotion, Gallo has led the Texas League in homers, runs batted in, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases. He once again has the chance to reach the 40 home run plateau and would become the first minor leaguer to have back-to-back 40-homer seasons since 1981-1982.

Gallo’s power was also on display during MLB All-Star week in the Futures Game. In an exhibition contest between the top minor league baseball prospects, Gallo led Team USA to a 3-2 victory over Team World by hammering another 2-0 pitch well out of the park. This go-ahead, two-run shot in the sixth inning was enough for Gallo to earn the game’s MVP award.

In the midst of an injury-ridden season in Arlington, there has been a bright spot on the north side of the metroplex. Gallo has been a subject worth writing about and a player worth watching every time he steps up to the plate.

But the story doesn’t end there. With plenty of room for improvement and an attitude set on getting better every day, Gallo has the opportunity to control his own narrative and leave an imprint on the Rangers organization. One home run at a time.

-Jay Wallis

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.

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