Results tagged ‘ Tulsa Drillers ’

Tyler Johnson Interview, May 31, 2012

We sat down with World Series winner and current Tulsa Drillers reliever Tyler Johnson before the game yesterday to talk about winning the World Series and coming back from an injury to play professional baseball.

Shot by: Michael Damman and Jarah Wright

On The Road: Tulsa and Northwest Arkansas

Texas League travel is renowned in Minor League Baseball circles for the toll it takes on players, coaches, bus drivers and, yes, broadcasters.  With airfare too costly for Double-A teams, all of the trips in the TL are via chartered bus rides.  Google the route from Corpus Christi, Texas to Springfield, Missouri and you’ll get the idea of what sort of monstrosities take place for some teams in our eight-squad circuit.  Fortunately for the RoughRiders, Frisco’s central location makes our travel somewhat more advantageous than for some of our peer teams, notably those from the South Division.

As far as road trips go, the six-game Tulsa-Northwest Arkansas swing has been one of the more enjoyable of the season, with the travel being one of the reasons why.  For most road series, we will leave as a team the day before our first game in a particular city so that the players can salvage as much rest as possible prior to playing.  For example, we left at 3:30 p.m. for Corpus Christi (our longest trip at over seven hours) on a Wednesday with the first game of our series on Thursday night at Whataburger Field.

With Tulsa only about four hours north of the Metroplex, we were able to leave the day of the game last Wednesday.  However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, which proved to be the case when we arrived in “The 918.”  Our hotel did not have our rooms ready for the team to check in, meaning that we had to wait up to two hours in the lobby to head to our homes away from home (I drew the lucky straw for getting to his room last, leaving me 15 minutes to unpack, change clothes, gather equipment and catch our bus to the ballpark).

The hotel “in” Tulsa is barely in the city; it’s located near the southern edge of its borders, not far from the campus of Oral Roberts University.  Generally, we will have two scheduled bus times to take the team to the ballpark when we are on the road: one at 3 p.m. and another at 4 p.m.  Most of the team will get on the earlier bus, with that night’s starting pitcher taking the other, often by his lonesome self.

The first thing that sticks out about the Drillers’ ballpark is its location.  ONEOK Field (pronounced “one-oak”) is directly adjacent to downtown Tulsa, giving it a terrific view of the skyline over right field and a setting that feels urban, the way it should feel in my opinion.  There is a dearth of views like this in the Texas League (Arkansas’ vista with downtown Little Rock looming past the Arkansas River, is Tulsa’s closest competitor), so it’s a treat to look at the cityscape for three nights.

The second appealing aspect of the Tulsa trip is the ballpark itself.  Built in 2010, ONEOK Field, named after a natural gas utilities company, is the newest park in the TL and it is impressive.  Aside from views it possesses, it boasts a huge clubhouse, a terrific press box and plenty of fan amenities.  I thought the name of a group seating section – “The Oil Field” – was particularly clever, given the importance of the oil industry in Tulsa (hence, the nickname of the team).  The fans support the Drillers in droves, sending Tulsa to the second-highest average attendance in the league (Frisco leads the way by a large margin).  Our final game drew 8,207 fans, making it the largest crowd we have seen at an opposing ballpark this season.

After each game, the players will shower up, have dinner in the clubhouse (as prepared by the visiting clubhouse manager) and load back up onto the bus to head back to the ballpark, typically 45 minutes or an hour after the game ends.  This takes a bit longer on the last day of the series, as the team needs to bring all of its equipment and uniforms to whichever city is next on the travel log.

The trip from Tulsa to our next destination, Springdale, Arkansas – the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals – is the shortest route between any two cities in the Texas League.  After numerous seven-hour bus rides this season, the sub-two hour journey following Friday’s game was a welcome trip, especially so because we played a four-hour game against the Drillers in the series finale.  We arrived at our hotel at a reasonable 2:15 a.m. with game time less than 18 hours later.

When ONEOK Field opened, it replaced the Naturals’ Arvest Ballpark as the newest yard in the league (Arvest is a bank headquartered in nearby Bentonville).  Like Tulsa’s home park, Northwest Arkansas’ is quite nice, though the area around it could not be much different.  Instead of the bustling downtown atmosphere you get at the home of the Drillers, Arvest Ballpark is located in a very rural area in the southwest corner of Springdale, a city of close to 70,000 residents.  Grazing horses and cows are not an unusual sight when one looks out onto the rolling fields that surround the ballpark.

While this gives the sense that you are located in the middle of nowhere, people from the area don’t seem to have a hard time finding Arvest.  The park is not far from Interstate 540, the main thoroughfare in the area that runs north to south from Bentonville (the home of Wal-Mart) to Fayetteville (the home of the University of Arkansas).  The rationale for calling the team the “Northwest Arkansas Naturals” and not the “Springdale Naturals” is in part so that the other communities in the region feel a connection with the team that is not exclusive to one city (the Texas Rangers can relate).

While the setting couldn’t be described as exciting, the brand of baseball through two games in Springdale has been, with Frisco and Northwest Arkansas combining to score 29 runs.  The teams have split the first two contests and played a rubber game on Monday afternoon.  A RoughRiders win made the five-hour bus ride back to Frisco seem a lot shorter and truly made this a road trip we won’t mind experiencing again.

Written by: Alex Vispoli

Photos by: Alex Vispoli

All-’Riders Team: Catcher

2012 marks the RoughRiders’ 10th season as a franchise, all as the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate. Since 2003, there have been hundreds of talented players come through Dr Pepper Ballpark, but some have stood out more than others.  With the help of Michael Damman, the RoughRiders’ Director of Statistical Research, we’ve come up with the All-’Riders Team: the best player at each position in franchise history.  Today we start with the RoughRiders’ all-time best catcher.

Michael Damman’s Take:  Part of an extremely talented 2008 Frisco RoughRider’s team that won 84 games, Max Ramirez makes the list despite playing just 69 games in Frisco.  Still, Ramirez displayed one of the most dominant offensive performances in his short time with the ‘Riders.

A .354 hitter while in Frisco, Ramirez connected on 35 extra base hits, including 17 home runs, and drove in 50 runs over the 69 games while scoring 49 runs as well.  Ramirez had a .454 on base percentage in addition to a 1.096 OPS in 289 plate appearances for the ‘Riders. Also of note, his time with the RoughRiders included more multi hit games (23) than hit-less games (19).

Since leaving Frisco, Ramirez has yet to show the same kind of offensive numbers, although two wrist injuries in 2009 and 2010 clearly affected his power and ability in the field.  In 140 plate appearances for the Rangers in 2008 and 2010, Ramirez hit .217 with a .340 OBP and .699 OPS.  In 2011, he spent time with the Triple-A clubs of the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and San Francisco Giants.  Ramirez began to display some power for the Giants late in the season as he finished with 11 doubles and 10 homeruns in 48 games.

My Take:  As you’ll see as we continue to release our list of the All-’Riders Team, Damman pretty much covers it all.  However, I’ll try and chime in a couple of thoughts as well.

In the first nine seasons of ‘Riders baseball, there has never been a player with a higher single-season batting average than Ramirez (.354).  I love the stat that Michael found stating that Ramirez had more multi-hit games than hit-less games.  Think about that for a second.  Even over a half-season sample size, that’s remarkable.

For comparison sake, take for example Tulsa’s Wilin Rosario.  The Drillers’ catcher entered 2011 as the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect and was known not just as a defensive catcher.  This past season, Rosario hit .249 overall, .263 in the first half, .235 in the second.  Point is, Ramirez hit approximately 100 points higher than Rosario who, despite having what some would term a “down year,” is know as catcher who can hit.

-AG

You can read more from Michael Damman on his Rangers’ minor league blog, Chatter From the Pressbox.  You can also follow him on twitter @pressboxchatter.

Up Next: First Base

 

Rangers Lose Top Minor League Talent

At first glance, he isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type.  To be honest, in my limited time with him, I can’t remember seeing him smile.  He looks, acts, and talks like someone who has been in baseball his entire life.  And it wasn’t until I had the chance to sit down and interview him in the RoughRiders’ dugout at ONEOK Field in Tulsa, Ok. that I realized how truly valuable Senior Director of Player Development  Scott Servias was to the Texas Rangers.

Unfortunately, he’s now a valuable addition to the division rival Anaheim Angels.

New Angels GM Jerry Dipoto (Artesia News)

Right before the weekend, it was announced that new Angels’ general manager Jerry Dipoto had luered Servais away from Texas by offering him a multi-year contract as the Halos’ assistant general manager overseeing scouting and player development.  With Texas, Servais was responsible for the on-field minor league development in addition to instructing the Rangers’ Major League catchers. He also made recommendations for potential trades and free-agent signings.

There are a lot of moving parts involved with the operations and player development in both major and minor league baseball and I’m far from fully understanding it all.  Over the course of a season I see and meet coaches, scouts, rovers, coordinators, special assistants, and plenty more.  All of them work for the Rangers, and all are trying to help the players here in Frisco become players in Arlington.

What I do know is that Servais had the respect of every RoughRider I talked to.  A one-time player himself, the former catcher was taken in the third round of the 1988 First-Year Player Draft by Houston and began his career with the Astros, making his Major League debut on July 12, 1991.  His playing days ended in 2002 after  batting .245 with 63 home runs and 319 RBIs in 820 Major League games.

I remember talking with former RoughRiders’ second baseman Matt Lawson about Servais at one point last year.  He was incredibly complimentary of Servias and said that he felt like he really took the time to get to know him.  In my interview with Servais in Tulsa, I asked Scott about how important it was for him get to know the players he was developing:

“It’s everything.  I played for 15 years and I remember how important it was when the brass came into town. Letting [the players] know that they’re not just a number or a piece of meat, so to speak.  I’m a person, I have a family, I have a background.  I hope to build equity with the players so when I have to go to a player and hold them accountable or ask them to make an adjustment, we’ve built that equity, and they’ll buy in and take our suggestions.”

This told me a lot about Scott, and I think he really does care about the players.  That might sound a little too “Hallmark” for professional baseball, but in my ten minutes with him, I truly felt as though he meant it.

For the Angels, this was a big time acquisition.  For the Rangers, it leaves a big time void.  Texas general manager Jon Daniels told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram that “[Scott] helped put together an outstanding staff, so we’re confident others will step up and we won’t miss a beat . . . I’m looking forward to competing against him.”  Daniels also said that Scott will be missed and that his new opportunity is an exciting one.

No matter what happens, we’ll see the fruit of Servais’ labor 12 times a year when the RoughRiders take on the Arkansas Travelers.

- AG

Servais alongside Rangers' GM Jon Daniels (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Texas League Power Rankings

Only 28 games remain for the RoughRiders and the other seven teams in the Texas League. San Antonio and Arkansas already have their ticket punched to the postseason, and almost every other club in the league has a chance to get into the TL’s final four.

The ‘Riders dropped a place in the standings last night, but could they hold strong in this month’s Power Rankings? Those are below, and here are the Power Rankings from May, June and July.

POWER RANKINGS:

1. San Antonio (76-36, 27-15; Past Rankings: 1, 1, 1)
The Missions have the best record in all of full-season minor league baseball, with the San Jose Giants of the California League (74-38) the only team less than five games away from San Antonio. Not only has San Antonio been great this season, but they added Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, who had been with Frisco until the Mike Adams deal at the deadline.
KEY STAT (+200): That’s the Missions’ run differential this season, which leads the minors and is 160 runs better than the second-best mark in the TL (Frisco at +40). Thanks to Mike Saeger, the Missions play-by-play broadcaster for this stat.

2. Frisco (61-51, 21-21; Past Rankings: 6, 2, 3)
The ‘Riders have fallen into a bit of a slump, and Midland has climbed above them in the standings. However, the RockHounds will need to leap over San Antonio in order to make the playoffs and, as a result, deny the RoughRiders of a spot in the playoffs. Midland has been better than the ‘Riders over the last two weeks, but Frisco was clearly better for the season’s first 100 games. Thus, the ‘Riders are here.
KEY STAT (9-2, 3.09): The combined record and earned run average of Erlin and Wieland while they were with the RoughRiders. Now, they are on the team that Frisco would play in the first round of the postseason.

3. Northwest Arkansas (57-52, 22-20; Past Rankings: 4, 3, 6)
The Naturals won the league last year, and they have had plenty of big-time prospects on the roster. Finally, Northwest Arkansas has gone on a bit of a run to assume first place in both the overall and the second half standings. Still, last-place Arkansas is three games back, so this race will go down to the wire.
KEY STAT (2): The Naturals are only two losses away from matching their total from all of last year. Northwest went 86-54 en route to a pair of division crowns and a Texas League championship.

4. Midland (49-63, 22-20; Past Rankings: 3, 7, 5)
Talk about a team that has bounced up and down this season. Right now, Midland is one of the hottest teams in the Texas League and they have jumped into second place in the South. The RockHounds have won eight of ten, including their first series victory over Frisco this season Tuesday through Thursday of last week.
KEY STAT (4): Only four games remain for the RockHounds against the first-place Missions, and those aren’t until August 30-September 2 in San Antonio. Midland must win the second-half championship to go to the playoffs, and they are currently five games back.

5. Arkansas (55-54, 19-23; Past Rankings: 7, 6, 2)
The Travelers stunned many and took the first half North Division title by one game over Northwest Arkansas. Right now, Arkansas is in a bit of a rut after going 6-0 to start half two. Since that point, Arkansas is 13-23, but they still have their postseason berth locked up.
KEY STAT (.348): Mike Trout’s average since returning to the Travs August 1. The Angels’ top prospect, who spent almost a month in the bigs, has hit safely in six of his seven games and has scored seven times since arriving back in North Little Rock.

6. Springfield (52-59, 20-21; Past Rankings: 5, 4, 7)
The Cardinals have been hot lately, which pushes them ahead of Tulsa and Corpus Christi. Springfield has gotten great pitching out of top prospect Shelby Miller, and the squad is right there in second in the second half North standings, just one-and-a-half games back of the Naturals.
KEY STAT (8-2): The Cardinals’ record over the last ten games, which has propelled Springfield from last place in the North to second.

7. Tulsa (52-59, 19-22; Past Rankings: 2, 5, 4)
This is the lowest ranking for the Drillers this season, and it comes with the club still very much alive in the second half. Surprisingly, the Drillers have struggled at home this season. They have the worst home record in the TL at 24-30, including an 8-12 mark in the second half.
KEY STAT (20): The number of games that will remain when Drew Pomeranz, the key cog in Colorado’s trade with Cleveland for Ubaldo Jimenez, is eligible to officially join the Rockies’ system. If he joins the Drillers, Pomeranz would be able to make no more than four starts before the regular season ends.

8. Corpus Christi (42-70, 17-25; Past Rankings: 8, 8, 8)
I’ve tried to move these poor Hooks up in the rankings, but I just can’t do it. Corpus Christi’s roster is depleted now because many key pieces have moved up to Triple-A Oklahoma City or Houston.
KEY STAT (23%): The percentage of the Astros’ current position players that were with the Hooks a month ago. Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes are the Hooks-turned-Astros.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

- Brian

RoughRiders Staying Steady

The month of July is upon us, and the Texas League has been full of surprises. The Missions continue to roll, the Travelers have turned into the power of the North, and the RoughRiders are right there in the conversation for the league’s best teams.

Last month, the RoughRiders were ranked second in our Texas League Power Rankings. Can they hold onto that ranking? Find out in this month’s Power Rankings (past rankings in order from earliest to most recent).

POWER RANKINGS:

1. San Antonio (55-23, 6-2; Past Rankings: 1, 1): The Missions have held this title since our first rankings back in April, and there is no reason to lower them now. Since our last ranking when the Missions were 38-18, they have gone 17-5, raising their winning percentage to a ridiculous .705. San Antonio is trying to replicate Northwest Arkansas’ dominance in the North last year, when the Naturals won both halves and the league title in September.
HIGH POINT (June 12): San Antonio clinched the first half title on this day with a 6-4 win over Corpus Christi, a last at-bat win that wrapped up a first half title that seemed inevitable after the team’s incredible start.
LOW POINT (June 22): This was the day that everyone’s records were reset to 0-0, which was a drop from 28 games above .500 to, well, 0. The Missions overcame this adversity with a 5-3 win over the Hooks.
KEY STAT (1st): San Antonio has the best record in all of full-season minor league baseball. No other team has a winning percentage above .700 like the Missions do.

2. Arkansas (42-33, 6-2; Past Rankings: 7, 6): Boy did I mess this one up last time. I had the entire North Division slotted 3-6, and I had the Travelers sixth. I learned my lesson. The Travs may be playing the best baseball in the Texas League over the last two weeks, and they would be first if it weren’t for, you know, the best team in all of minor league baseball.
HIGH POINT (June 21): Arkansas clinched its first playoff berth since 2008 with a 17-6 thumping of Springfield at Hammons Field. That victory capped a 13-6 run to end the first half and get that postseason bid.
LOW POINT (June 11): The Travelers lost their second straight game to Northwest Arkansas on that day, 6-4. The Travs finished 7-3 to get that playoff berth.
KEY STAT (+45): That was Arkansas’ run differential in June after posting a -1 in April and a -3 in May.

3. Frisco (43-35, 3-5; Past Rankings: 6, 2): The RoughRiders finished second in the Texas League during the first half of the season. It’s too bad the ‘Riders didn’t play in the North. Frisco would have won the division fairly easily. Instead, the ‘Riders sit in pretty good position in the playoff chase provided that San Antonio continues to roll. Only a Midland or Corpus Christi second-half crown should keep the club out of the playoffs.
HIGH POINT (June 19): The ‘Riders wrapped up a 6-2 road trip with a 9-8, 12-inning victory over Corpus Christi at Whataburger Field. In the month, Frisco went 13-5 away from Dr Pepper Ballpark.
LOW POINT (June 26): T.J. Steele’s walk-off, two-run homer gave Corpus Christi a 4-3 victory over the ‘Riders, which was the Hooks’ third straight against Frisco. That loss dipped the ‘Riders’ mark in the second half to 1-4.
KEY STAT (11): Frisco is 11 games up on Midland for second place in the overall standings, which means that if San Antonio wins both halves, the RoughRiders are in the driver’s seat for the second playoff spot from the South. The team with the second best overall record goes to the playoffs when the same team wins the division in both halves.

4. Tulsa (38-40, 5-3; Past Rankings: 2, 5): The Drillers got off to a great start in the first half before fading and finishing the half in third. So far, so good for Tulsa in the second half. It’s hard to believe that a team two games below the break-even mark would be fourth, but that’s the set-up in this top-heavy Texas League.
HIGH POINT (June 27): With two down and his club down by two in the top of the 9th, Tim Wheeler hit a three-run home run to give the Drillers a 6-5 lead over the Cardinals that they would not lose. It was Tulsa’s third straight win, and it ushered in the All-Star Break in a big way.
LOW POINT (June 19): The Drillers were already out of the chase by this point, but Arkansas delivered a knockout with a 3-1 win over Tulsa, the Travs’ third straight win over the Drillers.
KEY STAT (19): Wheeler’s home run total, which leads the Texas League by two over Frisco’s Mike Bianucci and Springfield’s Matt Adams.

5. Midland (32-46, 5-3; Past Rankings: 3, 7): Maybe it is a bit early to call the RockHounds “contenders” in the second half, but they are 5-3 and they rallied for a series split of San Antonio last week. Midland is off to a great start against the three best teams in this league (and the three top teams in this poll).
HIGH POINT (June 27): Midland went into the break with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over San Antonio. The ‘Hounds scored one in the seventh to tie and one in the eighth to win.
LOW POINT (June 25): Two days prior, the RockHounds were shutout by the Missions for the second straight day, 2-0. It looked like more of the same for Midland in the second half. The last four games have changed that outlook.
KEY STAT (3.9): That’s the average number of runs Midland’s opponents have scored in the first eight games of the second half. The RockHounds had the worst ERA in the first half (5.22).

6. Northwest Arkansas (36-39, 1-7; Past Rankings: 4, 3): The next two teams share the biggest drops of the month. I had the Naturals as the favorite in the North in early June, and they finished one game back of Arkansas. The second half, however, has been a struggle. The Naturals have lost seven in a row and sit with the worst record in the Texas League’s second half.
HIGH POINT (June 22): It was a modest high point, as the Naturals began the second half with a 6-2 win at Tulsa. At that point, the Naturals were four games above .500.
LOW POINT (July 1): Yesterday, the Naturals dropped their seventh straight, 4-1 at San Antonio. This skid ties a franchise high for most consecutive losses in team history. The only other time a seven-game losing streak has occurred for the Naturals–August of ’09.
KEY STAT (41-21): That’s the margin of runs for the Naturals’ opponents and the Naturals in the second half. Northwest has posted two runs or less in five of the eight games.

7. Springfield (34-44, 2-6; Past Rankings: 5, 4): I was higher on the Cardinals than most in the first half, but Springfield still finished last in the North with a 32-38 mark. So far in the second half, things haven’t gotten much better for a team that does have significantly more talent than it had at the beginning of the year.
HIGH POINT (June 15): Shelby Miller, St. Louis’ top prospect, tossed eight shutout innings against Arkansas in Springfield’s 8-1 win over the first-place Travs to keep the Cardinals alive (barely). Miller scattered four hits and whiffed eight.
LOW POINT (June 30): The Cardinals lost the lead in the eighth inning and fell victim to a RoughRiders walk-off win 7-6. It was the final loss during a four-game skid.
KEY STAT (1.89): Miller’s ERA through six Double-A starts. He has been great since his call-up from high-A Palm Beach.

8. Corpus Christi (29-49, 4-4; Past Rankings: 8, 8): The rankings have been consistent at the beginning and the end. The Hooks have been in the basement all year long. However, the Hooks have shown some life in the second half, and players like Jose Altuve, Xavier Cedeno, Jake Goebbert, Dallas Keuchel and J.D. Martinez make it fun to watch Corpus Christi. The Hooks may not be in the hunt, but they will post their fair share of wins in the second half.
HIGH POINT (June 26): T.J. Steele’s walk-off, two-run homer gave the Hooks a 4-3 victory over Frisco and a 3-2 record in the second half.
LOW POINT (June 27): The Hooks were three outs away from their first series sweep of the season, but the RoughRiders responded with four runs in the top of the ninth to stun Corpus 6-3.
KEY STAT (.500): The Hooks’ winning percentage through eight games in half number two, which is significantly better than the .357 mark they posted in the first half.

How would you rank the Texas League? Let us know. Enjoy our coverage tonight on TXA 21 beginning at 7:00 and on the RoughRiders Baseball Network beginning at 6:35. Hope you are along for the ride!

- Brian

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers