Rule 5 Results, Draft, deGrom, Etc.

Podcast

Sean Bass of The Ticket, Michael Tepid of Lone Star Ball and I chatted this morning. Links in signature.

Rule 5

The Rangers lost 2018 4th-round righty Mason Englert to Detroit with the fifth pick of the Rule 5 draft.

Texas protected six at the 40-man deadline. Englert was seventh of 19 I mentioned in my November preview. What I wrote at the time: “I liked what I saw of Englert in person back in May, but he wasn’t on my crowded list of potential 40-man additions at the time. 13 consecutive no-hit innings and a promotion to AA later, he’s on my list. My potential list, not the final list. Englert has better control than most of his peers and a decent repertoire. A tough call. I’m leaning no, but he’s in a group of five or six pitchers in which I expect at least one to be added.”

An unfortunate (albeit perhaps temporary) loss for Texas. Englert is a well-rounded, genuine rotation candidate but doesn’t throw especially hard, has scant experience above high-A, and doesn’t seem the type you’d just toss into the bullpen, all reasons I thought his selection would be unlikely, if not remote. Best wishes to him.

Baseball America’s exhaustive Rule 5 preview mentioned four Rangers led by Antoine Kelly, the talented but erratic righty acquired in July for Matt Bush. Next on its initial list was a surprise to me in the form of reliever Grant Anderson, who I like but not enough to have mentioned in last month’s preview. Later, BA added 1B Blaine Crim and Englert. MLB.com’s shorter preview didn’t include any Rangers.

The Rangers declined to make a selection in the minor league phase of the draft, although they had room on their AAA reserve roster. They lost three, starting with high-A catcher Randy Florentino to the Orioles. Once fairly well regarded, Florentino’s bat didn’t make the trip with him from the Dominican Republic, although he hit better last year (.242/.332/.353). Next, the Dodgers nabbed OF Josh Stowers, acquired by Texas as part of the Rougned Odor trade. Stowers posted a 20/20 season in 2021 (.220/.311/.466) but traded half his homers for doubles last season (.222/.331/.374). Finally, the Twins selected righty swingman Seth Nordlin (2017, 13th round), who’d pitched effectively in a swing role for Frisco. Of the three, only Nordlin I half-expected to have been protected on the AAA reserve roster.

Draft

Texas was among the lucky contestants in the inaugural draft lottery instituted in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. To dissuade tanking, finishing with the worst record no longer guarantees the top pick in the draft, and every non-playoff team has a shot, from the 1-in-6 chances of Washington, Oakland, and Pittsburgh, to the 1-in-500 chance of Milwaukee. Texas had a 5.5% likelihood at the first-overall pick, slightly better odds than being dealt a blackjack from a fresh deck. The Rangers weren’t that lucky but managed to acquire the fourth pick despite the seventh-worst record. The Twins were the evening’s big winner, winning the fifth slot despite the 13th-worst record. Conversely, the A’s will pick two spots after the Rangers in 2023 despite their 102-loss season.

Critically, Texas’s draft pool money will increase as well. In 2022, the difference between the fourth and seventh picks was just shy of $1.3 million. That money may simply go to whoever Texas picks in that spot, but maybe some could be employed to coerce a later pick to forego college.

In the second and subsequent rounds, the draft order for non-playoff teams like the Rangers reverts to the old win-percentage method.

Baseball America already has a 2023 mock draft, placing Grand Canyon University SS Jacob Wilson wi the Rangers. If Texas wants a third consecutive Commodore, the choice would be OF Enrique Bradfield.

DeGrom / Heaney

For all the talk of Jake deGrom’s scary injury history, he’s actually thrown the 12th-most innings in baseball during the past nine seasons. (And struck out the third-most batters and accumulated the second-most wins above replacement.) Obviously, the recent history matters most, and I’m not remotely suggesting we should expect durability, but it’s not as though his entire career has been a struggle to stay on the field.

And when he’s on the field, well… sorry, had to dab the sweat off my forehead. 100th percentile SO rate, 99th percentile walk rate, 99th percentile fastball velocity, 97th percentile fastball spin, 93 MPH slider. deGrom has averaged 4.6 WAR per 150 innings. What popped into my head when I heard the news was something I wrote about Pudge Rodriguez back in my fantasy-writing days for ESPN. He’d missed roughly 100 games across 2000-2001, and estimating his draft value was a daunting task. My thought then was that 400 at-bats from Pudge plus 200 from a waiver-wire catcher was worth more than just about any other catcher. I think the same applies here. 120 innings (hopefully) from deGrom plus 60 from whoever’s pitching best in Round Rock (one of the Coles, perhaps) is more valuable than full seasons from most other starters.

Honestly, deGrom might pitch more innings than Andrew Heaney, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, has dealt with subsequent elbow trouble, and missed much of 2022 with shoulder trouble. Last year, Heaney ditched 100% of his curves and most of his changeups for a murderous slider that drew air in 44% of opposition swings. He remained extremely homer-prone, especially against righties. Globe Life will help some in that regard, but it isn’t the old Yankee Stadium with a 460’ deep left-center.  

For now, the Texas pitchers who faced the second-most (Dunning) and third-most (Otto) opposing batters in 2022 appear to be outside the starting five. Given the risks of deGrom and Heaney, and of pitchers in general for that matter, Dunning might see little to no decline from last year’s 153 innings. As for Otto, how about a Taylor Hearn-like role?

Other News

RHP Nick Snyder became a free agent when the Rangers declined to offer him a contract. I’d noticed that when Texas churned through its minor league reserves down the stretch, Snyder was the only 40-man member with MLB experience not to get the call.

LHP Lucas Jacobsen topped my list of minor league free agents I’d like to return. The Rangers agreed, re-signing him last week.

RHP Drew Strotman remained a Giant after clearing waivers and briefly becoming a free agent. Earlier in 2022, The Rangers has previously claimed him off waivers from Minnesota and then tried to pass him through themselves.

Cleveland signed catcher Meibrys Viloria to a minor league deal.

Baltimore, as required by law, signed OF Nomar Mazara to a minor league deal.

Rangers Farm Report / 40 Man Additions

Sean Bass, Michael Tepid and I should have a new podcast up later this afternoon. Links in signature.

40-Man Additions

The Rangers added six players to the 40-Man roster yesterday:

RHP Owen White
IF Luisangel Acuna
IF Dustin Harris
RHP Cole Winn
IF Jonathan Ornelas
RHP Zak Kent

I feel good about my thought process yesterday, if I may say so. Four sure things, a belief that Ornelas seemed the type to be picked if unprotected, and “a group of five or six pitchers in which I expect at least one to be added.” I improved on 2021, when Texas selected only three of the six I expected, omitting OF Bubba Thompson and lefties Cole Ragans and Jake Latz.

Winn, White, and Ornelas are Texas’s top three picks from 2018. Kent is a 9th-rounder from 2019. Harris was acquired with OF Marcus Smith for Mike Minor in 2020, and Acuna was an international free agent.

Available in the Rule 5 draft will be RHP Mason Englert, RHP Antoine Kelly, RHP Avery Weems, LHP Cody Bradford, and 1B Blaine Crim, among others. If any of these names concern you, at least know that they’ll have plenty of company. This MLB Pipeline article shows which top-30 prospects were selected and omitted from every team. 177 top-30 prospects were eligible, but only 78 were selected, leaving 99 top-30 names on the market. Another 35 protected players weren’t in a top 30. Beauty lies in the eye.

Entering yesterday, ten clubs had full rosters, meaning they couldn’t add anybody without jettisoning someone else. The median number of available slots per team was three. Texas, with six open slots, was an outlier.

Here

Lefty Martin Perez accepted Texas’s qualifying offer and will be paid the handsome sum of $19.65 million in 2023. I saw some nationally-oriented writers gobsmacked at the idea of extending that offer to him, and I get it. Perez could very easily devolve to an earlier version of himself, meaning a 150-or-so innings with a 4.75 ERA. Texas could scrounge that up on the open market for much cheaper, and in no universe would Perez get $19 million per year as a free agent. On the other hand, whew, you saw Texas’s rotation last year, right? Plus, the Rangers have several prospects who could help in the not-too-distant future, but nobody in April. The situation is such that Perez’s innings just might be that valuable. An overpay, yes, but just for one year, and not a big deal unless it restrains spending elsewhere.

Texas also traded reliever Dennis Santana to Atlanta for cash.

Elsewhere

Tampa Bay protected IF Osleivis Basabe but declined to protect OF Heriberto Hernandez. Both were part of Texas’s trade for Nathaniel Lowe. Basabe had a whale of a season, reaching AA and batting .333/.399/.461 as 21-year-old. Hernandez, 23 in December, spent the entire season in high-A and hit .255/.368/.499 with 24 homers in 119 games.

I neglected to mention that Hans Crouse’s 40-man spot is now occupied by RHP Luis Ortiz, Texas’s 1st-rounder from 2014 and a reliever in Round Rock last year. Ortiz moved on to the Giants in 2022 and returned the Majors in September.

RHP Matt Bush was so-so for Milwaukee after being traded: 4.30 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 16 hits including six homers in 23 innings. Hard to hit, but hit hard. Now 36, he remains arbitration-eligible.

OF Steele Walker was outrighted by San Francisco in August. He struggled in Sacto: .247/.287/.393. Yesterday, the Giants traded him to Detroit for cash.

OF Willie Calhoun was outrighted in mid-September and became a free agent last month.

OF Zach Reks batted .330/.410/.495 for Lotte in Korea.

I’d mentioned Ronny Henriquez’s MLB debut last month. After that first, rough outing, he allowed a lone run and struck out seven in 7.2 innings divided across two appearances.

To my knowledge, relievers Garrett Richards and Spencer Patton haven’t signed anywhere since being released in-season. Nor has Greg Holland, released back in April.

OF Lewis Brinson was traded from Houston’s AAA affiliate to San Francisco in late August, batted .167/.211/.472 in 16 games as a Giant, and became a free agent.

SanDiego released OF Nomar Mazara in August. Minnesota released 1B Curtis Terry in August.

More minor league free agents: LHP C.D. Pelham, RHP Tyler Ferguson, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Ariel Jurado, RHP Keone Kela, RHP Pedro Payano, RHP Connor Sadzeck, RHP Collin Wiles, C Tomas Telis, IF Michael de Leon, IF Ti’Quan Forbes, OF Delino DeShields Jr.

40-Man Roster / Rule 5 Preview

40-Man Maneuvers

Activated from the 60-day Injured List were RHP Josh Sborz, C Mitch Garver, IF/OF Brad Miller, and OF Eli White. Also on the 60 but traded to Cincinnati for cash was OF Nick Solak. Solak batted .252/.327/.372 as a Ranger, not bad in and of itself but not up to par when combined with positional flexibility that lacked plus defense anywhere.

Texas also lost four on waiver claims late last week: C Meibrys Viloria (SFO), RHP Drew Strotman (SFO), IF Andy Ibanez (DET), and RHP Tyson Miller (MIL). Such interest in the back end of the roster of a 68-94 team is surprising, but on the other hand, some or all could be re-run through waivers in the not-too-distant future.

As I’m sure you saw, Texas traded LHP Kolby Allard to his former home of Atlanta for RHP Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi is owed $12.5 million in 2023, but Atlanta shoved a $10 million check made out to Ray Davis in Odorizzi’s pocket. He hasn’t been good since 2019 and probably won’t be next year, but hopefully he can provide 120-130 acceptable innings. Given the condition of the rotation at present, that’s valuable. Also, Allard probably wasn’t long for the 40-man roster, so Texas acquired Odorizzi for someone who had at best a depth role with the Rangers in 2023. Not a bad bit of business.

Texas declined the option on OF Kole Calhoun. RHP Jesus Tinoco was outrighted. Both became free agents. LHPs Matt Moore and Martin Perez, C Kevin Plawecki, and IF Charlie Culberson are also free agents.

All said, Texas’s 40-man roster stands at 34 in anticipation of Tuesday’s roster deadline preceding the Rule 5 draft in early December. I wasn’t expecting the annual roster crunch to be especially crunchy this year, and that seems to be proving the case. Texas had, and to some degree still has, a good number of players whom you wouldn’t mind having around but aren’t likely to be more than depth on next year’s squad. I feel the Rangers can add to the 40 whoever they see fit without worrying too much about crowding. They’ll have to clear room for free agents, of course.

40-Man Additions?

Eligible is everyone not already on the 40 who signed prior to late-August 2018, plus those 19 or older who signed prior to late-August 2019. I count 60 eligible players (see my Rule 5 tab here), although I’m sure I’m off by a few.

RHP Owen White – Yes

IF Luisangel Acuna – Yup

IF Dustin Harris – Yes… if not with quite the assuredness of White or Acuna. Harris had a nice year but didn’t match his awe-inspiring 2021, and an injury limited him to 85 games. Still, he spent most of the year in AA as a 22-year-old and was playing outfield for the first time.

RHP Cole Winn – Yes, despite everything. Imagine another club grabbing him from the pitching-deprived Rangers and “fixing” him next March. It’s too gruesome to contemplate. His stuff remains solid, and if he can iron out the mechanical wrinkles, which he’s done before, he’ll soon be contending for an MLB rotation spot.

IF Jonathan Ornelas – The thought of Ornelas facing MLB pitching next April doesn’t inspire confidence quite yet, but he sure seems like the type who’d get swiped and hang on in a utility role. A contact-oriented bat, some power, some speed, positional flexibility including proficiency at short and center that extends beyond “he can play there if he has to.”

RHP Mason Englert – I liked what I saw of Englert in person back in May, but he wasn’t on my crowded list of potential 40-man additions at the time. 13 consecutive no-hit innings and a promotion to AA later, he’s on my list. My potential list, not the final list. Englert has better control than most of his peers and a decent repertoire. A tough call. I’m leaning no, but he’s in a group of five or six pitchers in which I expect at least one to be added.

LHP Cody Bradford – Not the last guy on this list, but the last I wrote up, because… I don’t know. At his best, Bradford is as unhittable as anyone in the system. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, he was the Frisco’s ace. Bradford’s velocity is deficient by modern standards, but he’s out there pinpointing while many his peers are still struggling with basic control. Could he avoid enough damage on balls in play to fill out a rotation? Work the 5th and 6th after the starter handles the first two times through the order? Maybe. Maybe.

RHP Avery Weems – Tempting. A hard-throwing lefty with a mean slider, better control than I had in mind when reviewing his stats. He’s started most of his career, but I’m inclined to forecast him as a reliever. I lean against adding a reliever who isn’t ready to contribute to the big-league club almost immediately unless he’s clearly of the closer variety. 40-man space is too dear.

RHP Zak Kent – Like Bradford, Kent began the season alarmingly poorly, then regained and surpassed his former stature as the season progressed. I was impressed by his AAA debut, when he succeeded despite having temporarily left his solid slider back in Frisco. He looked like a starter, not a reliever-in-waiting, and more inclined to hit his spots and live with contact rather than trying to bury everyone. Yet another who I don’t have a strong feeling for but could see being added.

RHP Ryan Garcia – Finally active after an eternity on the shelf, Texas’s second-round pick from 2019 pitched well and reached high-A late in the season. I doubt he’s picked, but continued progress could put him on the list in a year.

RHP Antoine Kelly – Seemingly a lock when acquired for reliever Matt Bush in July. Why add a Rule 5-eligible prospect if not to protect him? Perhaps the Rangers thought the same, but Kelly’s already iffy control worsened considerably as a Ranger.

RHP Daniel Robert – Occasionally untouchable with his fastball reaching 98 and a sweeping slider, Robert would look better than half the MLB bullpen one outing and struggle to retire anyone the next. From June onwards, opponents batted only .184/.308/.245, but his ERA was 5.86 because the bad nights were bad indeed. Saying a reliever needs to be more consistent sounds like lazy analysis, I’ll admit, but the upper minors are positively clogged with eye-catching relievers nowadays. The ones who reach and stay in the Majors have set themselves apart with consistency. Whether or not Texas protects him, the Rule 5 draft will feature plenty of Robert-like pitchers.

IF Blaine Crim – Crim just hits: .305/.368/.519, 60 doubles, 61 homers in 295 minor league games. Is it enough? The bar for first basemen is so, so high. Unfortunately, the one place Crim didn’t hit was AAA Round Rock — .278/.298/.296 with underwhelming Statcast data – but Crim has always been streaky, and he was there for only 13 games. He strikes me as someone more likely to force the issue in-season than to get a spot now.  

LHP Grant Wolfram – Earned a trip to Arizona this fall and pitched well in the desert. Wolfram switched to relief in AA, continued to miss bats, and kept the ball in the part much better than at Hickory, but his control tumbled to a combined 18% BB/HBP rate.

IF Davis Wendzel – Like fellow Big Twelver Josh Jung, Wendzel played up the middle a fair amount in college. Unlike Jung, Wendzel appears to have some genuine positional flexibility,  and he flexed substantial power late in the season. Unfortunately, nearly 40% of his plate appearances ended with a strikeout or popup. He’s also missed more time to injury than Jung, which is saying something. Maybe next year.

OF Kellen Strahm – Strahm batted .314/.417/.482 from June onwards after a poor start. He has a real shot, but I think the likely scenario is standing out in Round Rock when the parent club has need for an outfielder.

OF Jayce Easley – Easley had a terrific fall in Arizona (.375/.556/.583) while playing everywhere but first and catcher, somewhat belying his regular season stats (.230/.372/.345) and nearly complete absence from the infield the past two years. A future, perhaps, but 2023 is too soon.

IF Chris Seise – The former first-rounder thankfully made it through the season in one piece, but he won’t be added.

Minor League Free Agents

Another 25 Rangers minor leaguers became free agents late last week, mostly by accruing enough service time. A rundown of some:

RHP Jean Casanova – Much more promising than his 35th-round status would suggest, Casanova missed all of 2022 to an elbow injury and tossed only 52 innings the last four seasons.

RHP Scott Engler – Deep repertoire for a reliever, reached AAA until felled by a torn elbow ligament. Has a shot.

RHP Demarcus Evans – Among the most dominant minor league relievers I’ve covered, wiping out batters with a high-spin fastball and hammer curve. As he reached the Majors, his velocity declined, and incorporation of a cutter/slider didn’t help. He could make it back, but it won’t be easy if he’s still throwing 91.

RHP Kelvin Gonzalez – Low-A Hickory’s relief ace during 2019’s deep playoff run. Reached the upper 90s then but missed 2021 with elbow surgery and didn’t pitch much last season.  

RHP Kevin Gowdy – Part of the Kyle Gibson / Ian Kennedy trade. A 9.90 ERA with matching peripherals in 40 AA innings in 2022.

LHP Lucas Jacobsen – Injuries, covid, and an eternity in the lower levels left me totally ignorant about Jacobsen entering 2022. He immediately impressed with a nice outing during Jack Leiter’s pro debut, and after missing yet more time, he fanned 20 in 14.2 innings in AAA. If I had the power to unilaterally renew one free agent’s contract, it would probably be his. Perhaps David Garcia.

RHP James Jones – Seven (!) years in the organization following the Leonys Martin trade. The converted outfielder’s fastball velocity has ranged from 90 to 100.

RHP Fernery Ozuna – Lost a few tics on the fastball but compensated with a often staggering changeup. His walk rate quintupled upon promotion to AAA Round Rock.

RHP Ryder Ryan — Ryan delivers mid-90s with ease plus an occasionally impressive slider. Righties have batted only .204/.290/.358 with a 30% K rate against him the past two seasons in Round Rock, while lefties have clubbed .315/.416/.545.

C David Garcia – Garcia lacks the required seven years of service time but had already reached free agency after 2021 when released and re-signed. He became the exemplar of “not at all ready for MLB but not worth losing” when added to the 40-man roster despite no full-season experience after 2019. Still just 22, Garcia’s bat has yet to warm to AA pitching, but I wouldn’t count him out yet. Catchers take time.

C Yohel Pozo – Pozo once again hit AAA pitching with comical ease, albeit with less power than in 2022. He also got, well, kind of big over the previous winter, although I don’t know how much that mattered since he almost exclusively DH’ed during his 2021 stint in Arlington.  

IF Sherten Apostel – Injuries limited Apostel to 87 games the past two years, he’s pretty much a 1B now, and his impressive power is undermined by a huge miss rate.

OF Miguel Aparicio – Briefly a top ten prospect, Aparicio spent an eternity in Hickory before finally breaking out in 2021, but success in Frisco eluded him.

OF Josh Sale — Sale batted .229/.343/.420 in 72 games with Round Rock, exceptional for a 30-year-old out of affiliated ball for eight years but not enough to warrant a 40 spot.

Arizona Fall League

The season ended Saturday with a victory in the championship game by Surprise. IF Luisangel Acuna, OF Trevor Hauver, and RHP Grant Wolfram had the honor of playing both on Saturday and in Frisco’s Texas League championship-clinching victory in late September. Down East OF Jayce Easley was Surprise’s RF and leadoff hitter Saturday. RHPs Daniel Robert, Kumar Rocker, and Nick Starr, C Cody Freeman, and OF Aaron Zavala appeared for Surprise during the season but didn’t play Saturday.

Acuna made a game-saving catch-and-throw in the bottom of the 9th. More on the AFL later.

Elsewhere

Tampa Bay hired Jon Daniels as a senior advisor. You may recall Daniels as the former general manager and then president of baseball operations for the Texas Rangers.

Philadelphia designated righty Hans Crouse for assignment and successfully ran him through waivers. Texas’s 2017 second-rounder quickly reached the Majors after being traded along with Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, but he spent much of 2022 injured and didn’t pitch well in AAA.

Oakland claimed former Texas IF Yonny Hernandez on waivers and designated former Texas minor leaguer RHP Collin Wiles.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Wednesday 28 September

Texas’s minor league season is over. Okay, there’s instructs and the Arizona Fall League, but daily coverage ends today. Thanks for reading. I’ll try to have a wrap-up next week.

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 1, Sugar Land (HOU) 10
Round Rock: 1 hit, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 13 hits, 7 walks, 13 strikeouts
Record: 79-71

SP Yerry Rodriguez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 29 P / 23 S, 4.27 ERA
RP Spencer Howard: 0.2 IP, 1 H (1 HR), 4 R, 3 BB, 2 SO, 4.73 ERA
RP Kyle Cody: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 3.66 ERA
2B Nick Tanielu: 1-3, .236/.322/.379

Unfortunately, I missed Round Rock’s final game, although I apparently didn’t miss much. I was here instead:



Have some business in San Diego, so I decided to catch a game. Petco is gorgeous. Joey Gallo says hi.

As for Round Rock, Nick Tanielu’s single was the only hit, squashed between an error and two walks that would plate Round Rock’s lone run in the 3rd. After that, the last 20 Express hitters were retired in order, although only three were on strikeouts. Sugar Land’s relievers threw only 69 pitches in six perfect innings.

Spencer Howard missed on ten of 12 non-fastballs and allowed a grand slam. Howard still has an option in 2023. We’ll have to see whether Texas wants to bother. The same applies to Yerry Rodriguez, who had two very good middle months bookended by struggles with control and hard contact.

Kyle Cody completed his season with a solid if unspectacular .274/.333/.356 opposing line and 26% strikeout rate in AAA. He can become a free agent, although I imagine Texas would like to keep him around.

Rangers Farm Report: Frisco Wins Texas League Title

Box Scores

AA: Frisco 7, at Wichita (MIN) 5 (10)
Frisco: 10 hits, 3 walks, 16 strikeouts
Opponent: 9 hits, 10 walks, 12 strikeouts
Frisco wins Texas League Championship series 2-0

SP Jack Leiter: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 1 SO, 48 P / 21 S
RP Tristan Polley: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO
RP Owen White: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 SO
RP Grant Wolfram: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 1 SO
SS Jonathan Ornelas: 3-5
CF Evan Carter: 3-5
3B Thomas Saggese: 1-4
LF Kellen Strahm: 1-4, 2B
1B Frainyer Chavez: 1-1

Frisco won its first Texas League championship since 2004, sweeping best-of-three series from the San Antonio Missions and Wichita Wind Surge.

The Riders fell behind 2-0 in the 1st, and the scoring seemed destined to end there. Wichita starter Brent Headrick was masterful despite lesser velocity than I’d seen in mid-September footage. In seven innings, he allowed three singles, walked none, and fanned 11 of 22 batters.

In the 8th, facing Cody Laweryson and his usually very effective upstairs 89 MPH fastball, Luisangel Acuna drew a walk, after which Kellen Strahm drilled a heater inches beyond the reach of CF DaShawn Keirsey’s glove and off the wall for an RBI double. Strahm advanced to third on the throw home and scored to tie the contest on a Trevor Hauver sac fly.

Wichita immediately retook the lead in the bottom half of the 8th. Ricky Vanasco had worked a scoreless if nervy 7th but was removed for Grant Wolfram after a single and walk to open the 8th. 3B Thomas Saggese’s throw of a Keirsey bunt eluded replacement 1B Frainyer Chavez and caromed off Keirsey’s leg, allowing a run to score from second. After another sac bunt, Austin Martin walked to load the bases with one out. Wolfram recovered from a 3-1 count to fan Edouard Julien on a corner-catching slider. Then, Anthony Prato stunningly tried to catch the battery off guard with a steal of home but was tagged out. (He was definitely tagged. Not so sure about the “out” part.)

Down again in the 9th, Jonathan Ornelas singled and advanced to third on a wild pitch and grounder. With two out and two strikes, Saggese rapped a game-tying single. Wolfram would walk a batter in the bottom of the 9th, as would mid-inning replacement Joe Corbett, but both runners were stranded.

Chavez singled in gift-runner Acuna in the 10th for Frisco’s first lead of the night. After a Scott Kapers walk, Jonathan Ornelas’s seventh hit of the series scored Chavez. Evan Carter then singled in Kapers and Ornelas to extend the lead to four.

On came closer Nick Starr. Keirsey immediately homered to halve the lead, and Julien singled with two out to bring the tying run to the plate, but Starr induced a harmless fly to left for the final out.

Outside of Headrick, Frisco scored 30 runs in 28 playoff innings. The Riders batted .294/.412/.456 in the postseason. 20-year-olds Carter and Saggese were remarkable. Promoted to an AA team fighting for a playoff spot with a week left in the season, Carter batted .351/.479/.514 in a ten-game stretch including the playoffs. He drew ten walks in 48 trips to the plate. Saggese batted .361/.425/.667 in nine games. Strahm led the regulars with a .462/.611/.846 line in the playoffs. Aaron Zavala and Scott Kapers homered twice.

I owe the bullpen a beer. It allowed 30 baserunners in 20.2 playoff innings, but only seven would score. Tristan Polley stranded three runners in the 2nd to keep the game in reach. Owen White steamrolled the Wind Surge for two innings, striking out six in a row.

Unfortunately, Jack Leiter was poor again, allowing two 1st-inning runs and walking the bases loaded in the 2nd. In his last three starts he walked 16 of 53 batters (30%).

AAA: Round Rock 9, Sugar Land (HOU) 6
Round Rock: 11 hits, 5 walks, 9 strikeouts
Opponent: 10 hits, 7 walks, 12 strikeouts
Record: 79-70, eliminated

SP Cole Winn: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 7 SO, 91 P / 54 S, 6.51 ERA
RP Nick Snyder: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 4.97 ERA
RP Daniel Robert: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 6.28 ERA
RP Chase Lee: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 5.46 ERA
CF Elier Hernandez: 3-4, 2 2B, BB, .299/.357/.525
3B Ezequiel Duran: 2-5, .291/.325/.546

Round Rock again pounded Sugar Land’s bullpen late.

Cole Winn had a typical night. I’ve talked the situation to death, no need to say more. Hopefully, the upcoming break is to his benefit and he returns ready to deal.

The Express announced that Winn has the most strikeouts in Round Rock’s AAA history, including seven years affiliated with the Astros. Not that I track things of that nature well, but I never would have guessed. The Rangers have four 100-strikeout pitchers in ten seasons with the Express, all from 2022:

Cole Winn, 123 in ’22
Jason Hirsh, 118 in ’06
Tyson Miller, 114 in ’22
Andy Van Hekken, 114 in ’10
Kolby Allard, 113 in ’22
Bud Norris, 112 in ’09
J.C. Gutierrez, 108 in ’07
Josh Muecke, 107 in ’08
AJ Alexy, 100 in ’22
Chad Reineke, 100 in ’08

Innings needed for 114 strikeouts: Andy Van Hekken 177, Tyson Miller 89.

Today’s season-ending game is at noon.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Howard

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Monday 26 September

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 6, Sugar Land (HOU) 4
Round Rock: 8 hits, 6 walks, 8 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 10 walks, 15 strikeouts
Record: 78-70, eliminated

SP Kolby Allard: 5 IP, 3 H (1 HR), 1 R, 4 BB, 8 SO, 97 P / 55 S, 4.65 ERA
RP Ryder Ryan: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 2 SO, 3.66 ERA
RP Lucas Jacobsen: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 1.80 ERA
CF JP Martinez: 2-4, 2B, .203/.325/.413
SS Ryan Dorow: 2-3, BB, .238/.322/.355

Hitless through six, Round Rock plated five on six hits and a walk in the 7th.

Kolby Allard reached five innings in all but one of his last eight starts, but he allowed 14 homers and a .563 slugging percentage in that span. Even for the PCL, that’s inflated. Allard, AJ Alexy, Yerry Rodriguez, and Nick Snyder are the 40-man pitchers woth some history in the organization who are finishing up their season’s in AAA. Tyson Miller and recent waiver claim Drew Strotman are also on the 40, along with rehabbing Spencer Howard.

AA: Off

A battle of semifinal Game 1 starters tonight. Jack Leiter has a chance to pitch his team to a league title last won when he was four, his father was finishing his seventh and final year as a Met, and I was a month from getting married. Hard-throwing Brent Headrick will try to push the series to Wednesday for Wichita. 

Tonight and tomorrow are advertised as free games on MiLB.tv, so you can watch if you like. 7pm CDT.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Winn
AA: Leiter

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Sunday 25 September

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 4, at Tacoma (SEA) 5
Round Rock: 9 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 7 walks, 9 strikeouts
Record: 77-70, eliminated

SP Zak Kent: 4 IP, 4 H (1 HR), 4 R, 5 BB, 3 SO, 85 P / 46 S, 1.67 ERA
RP Fernery Ozuna: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 7.36 ERA
RP Kyle Cody: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 4.08 ERA
LF Ezequiel Duran: 2-5, HR (9), 2 SB (7), .287/.322/.551
SS Davis Wendzel: 1-1, 3 BB, .212/.293/.407

Zak Kent suffered his first poor AAA start, struggling to deal his fastballs for strikes. The strike rate on sliders was below average as well, but he drew a healthy number of swinging strikes with it and surrendered no hits.

As an unfriendly reminder of the grueling pre-2020 schedule, Round Rock has to return from the Seattle area to play at home tonight. The Express host Sugar Land for the next three nights to close the season. El Paso clinched the division on Saturday.

Records through August:
OKC: 72-53
Round Rock: 68-57, -4
El Paso: 66-58, -5.5

Records in September:
El Paso: 18-5
OKC: 9-13, -8.5
Round Rock: 9-13, -8.5

AA: Frisco 11, Wichita (MIN) 3
Frisco: 11 hits, 10 walks, 9 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts
Frisco leads best-of-three finals 1-0

SP Mason Englert: 5.1 IP, 3 H (1 HR), 1 R, 3 BB, 3 SO, 77 P / 49 S, 0.00 ERA
RP Josh Smith: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
3B Jonathan Ornelas: 4-5, SB
CF Evan Carter: 0-1, 4 BB, SB
2B Justin Foscue: 2-5
LF Kellen Strahm: 2-5, 3B
C Scott Kapers: 2-5, 2 HR

Providing anecdotal evidence against the cliche that good pitching beats good hitting, Frisco steamrolled a staff that permitted 20% fewer runs than the park-adjusted league average during the regular season. Frisco reached double-digit runs for the 26th time this season, while Wichita allowed ten or more for only the eleventh.

Jonathan Ornelas put the ball in play every time up, fouling off six two-strike pitches en route to four singles. Conversely, Evan Carter drew walks in his first four plate appearances. With them in from of him, Justin Foscue singled home three runs in the first two innings.

Scott Kapers hit a 5th-inning solo homer and a game-icing grand slam in the 6th. In the previews, I described catcher as an offensive weak spot but qualified with Kapers’ ability to get hold of a pitch. Lucky me. Kapers has a career line of .210/.329/.366, but that includes 11 homers in 57 games during 2022.

In his fourth AA start, Mason Englert was in command despite three walks and didn’t permit more than one runner in an inning until the 5th. Josh Smith replaced Englert with two one and one out in the 6th and induced a double-play grounder from Yunior Severino, who’d homered in the 4th.

Wichita’s Kody Funderburk (a Dallas Baptist alum) was drafted in 2018 and has 47 professional starts and 29 relief appearances, including postseason. Yesterday’s start of 1.1 innings was the shortest of his career and second-shortest outing of any type. He also allowed his most walks (4) since mid-June 2021. The bullpen was of no help, allowing another six runs and 13 runners across 6.2 innings. A far cry from their two-game demolition of Tulsa in the semifinals.

Wichita will employ Brent Headrick next and Daniel Gossett in Game 3 if needed. They were the starters in the semifinals. Frisco has yet to announce tomorrow’s starter.

Today’s Starters
AAA: TBD
AA: off

Texas League Finals Preview

Frisco RoughRiders (74-63) vs. Minnesota-affiliated Wichita Wind Surge (78-59)
Season Run Differential: Frisco +80, Wichita +102
Last 20 Games + Playoffs: Frisco 13-9, Wichita 14-8
Season Series: Tied 6-6

How They Got Here
Frisco won the second-half title with a late run after fading in the first half. In the opening playoff series against San Antonio, Frisco swept the San Antonio Mission by scores of 7-3 and 5-2.  

Wichita’s first-half fate was similar. The Surge were 32-21 and led the northern division by 2.5 games on June 10 but lost 12 of 15 to close the half. Mired at 5-7 to start the second half and 40-40 overall, Wichita closed on a 38-19 tear to grab the second-half title with ease and the league’s best record. Wichita also swept its division foe Tulsa by scores of 11-1 and 17-1.

History  
Frisco’s first postseason trip since 2014 now includes the first title series since 2012. That group included OFs Engel Beltre, Jared Hoying, and Ryan Strausborger, plus IF Leury Garcia. Series starters were Wilfredo Boscan, Cody Buckel, Barrett Loux, and Nick Tepesch. They fell to Springfield 3-1. The Riders won their only title in 2004.

Wichita’s history is short but interesting. The team moved from New Orleans in 2020 into a new stadium  as the AAA affiliate of the Marlins. Covid forced the cancellation of the 2020 season and claimed the life of team owner Lou Schwechheimer. MLB dropped Wichita to AA during the next winter’s minor league reorganization. Now with the Twins, Wichita reached the 2021 championship series with the league’s best record (69-51) but fell to NW Arkansas in five games.  

The two teams didn’t meet in 2021 and split twelve games this season.

Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
Frisco:
2 / 4.  RHP Jack Leiter
3 / 1.  OF Evan Carter
4 / 5. RHP Owen White
5 / 9.  IF Justin Foscue
7 / 6.  IF Luisangel Acuna
11 / 12. OF Aaron Zavala
14 / 14. LHP Antoine Kelly
17 / nr.  RHP Ricky Vanasco
20 / nr.  IF Thomas Saggese
22 / nr.  IF Jonathan Ornelas
24 / nr.  LHP Avery Weems
30 / nr. RHP Mason Englert

Wichita:
1 / 1. SS Brooks Lee
12 / 11. OF Austin Martin
14 / 10. IF Edouard Julien
25 / 20. RHP Blayne Enlow
27 / nr. RHP Casey Legumina
28 / 30. RHP Steven Cruz

Frisco’s ranked prospect list was already the most impressive I’d ever seen, and that was before Owen White was activated.

The big name for Wichita is SS Brooks Lee, picked eight overall in this year’s draft and promoted to AA after the high-A season ended. Lee batted .289/.395/.454 at high-A Cedar Rapids. Martin was selected fifth overall the year before, then traded from the Jays with others for Jose Berrios. An older teammate of Leiter and Rocker in college and extraordinary contact hitter, Martin was a consensus top-100 prospect the last two springs but has fallen in the rankings thanks to a second straight ordinary and worrying performance.

Offense / Frisco Position Players
Frisco Offense: +3% runs scored, .265/.350/.439, 105 OPS+, 102 wRC+
Wichita Offense: -7% runs scored, .261/.356/.427, 98 OPS+, 97 wRC+

Frisco:
C Scott Kapers / David Garcia
1B Trevor Hauver / Frainyer Chavez
2B Luisangel Acuna
3B Thomas Saggese
SS Jonathan Ornelas
LF Kellen Strahm
CF Evan Carter
RF Aaron Zavala
DH Justin Foscue
Also OF Josh Stowers

Frisco’s offense is uncommonly stacked despite losing several key performers to promotion or injury. The Riders averaged 8.6 runs per game in September and batted .292/.425/.477 in the San Antonio series.

The positional choices against San Antonio held some intrigue. Justin Foscue DH’ed both games in favor of Luisangel Acuna at second and Thomas Saggese at third. Trevor Hauver did start at first as I expected, but only once, while Frainyer Chavez drew the other start. Scott Kapers and David Garcia split duties.

Wichita:
C Jair Camargo
1B Alex Isola
2B Edouard Julien
3B Yunior Severino
SS Aaron Martin
LF Anthony Prato
CF DaShawn Keirsey
RF Leobaldo Cabrera
DH Brooks Lee
Also C Kyle Schmidt, IF Seth Gray, IF Will Holland

Wichita trotted out the same lineup in both nights of its semifinal series. The Surge scored 28 runs, hit eight homers, and slugged .743 against Tulsa. Scary. But also atypical.

Wichita was seventh of ten teams in runs scored but worst after adjusting for its mildly hitter-friendly park. The underlying stats aren’t nearly as bad, however, at or very near the league averages. Wichita’s OPS was 24 points above the league median with nobody on but 28 points below with runners in scoring position. (The Riders and Surge had nearly same number of walks and singles in RISP situations, but Frisco had an additional 32 extra base hits. That’s a lot!) I’d chalk that to variance rather than skill or, God forbid, mental fortitude.

2B Edouard Julien is the best combination of OBP and power. Julien batted .300/.441/.490 with a 20% BB/HBP rate and 39 extra-base hits. 1B Alex Isola (.286/.377/.471, 10 HR in 58 games) is the other all-around type. Catcher Jair Camargo (.239/.306/.472) has the best homer rate with 12 in 46 games, and Yair Severino (.273/.338/.497) isn’t far behind, but both are more strikeout-prone and less inclined to walk.

DaShawn Keirsey is the prominent base thief (42 in 121 games), followed by Austin Martin (34 in 90 games), and then Julien and Anthony Prado to lesser extents. Frisco won’t have to deal with Wichita’s best hitter, Matt Wallner, who jumped to AAA St. Paul ten days ago. The 2019 39th-overall pick batted .299/.436/.597 with 21 homers in 78 games.

On the whole, I’d say Wichita’s offense isn’t good but closer to average than its worst-in-league run production would suggest.  

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Frisco: 8% better than avg. in runs allowed, .247/.337/.400 oppo line, 92 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 24% SO)
Wichita : 20% above avg. in runs allowed, .247/.334/.384 oppo line, 82 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 25% SO)

Frisco:
1: Mason Englert (4.11 ERA, .237/.308/.356, 8% BB/HBP, 31% SO)
2. Jack Leiter (5.54 ERA, .247/.359/.381 opposing line, 13% BB/HBP rate, 26% SO rate)
3: Cody Bradford (5.01 ERA, .248/.304/.427, 7% BB/HBP, 25% SO)

Like Wichita, Frisco hasn’t announced starters past Game 1. I’ve listed the two semifinal starters, both of whom could appear on normal rest because of all the off-days. Seth Nordlin is another solid choice, but like the semifinals, the team may be better served with him available to pitch twice in relief. Other options are Antoine Kelly (very walk-prone, moved to relief late in season), Avery Weems (talented but highly erratic), and Ricky Vanasco (new to AA like Englert and less steady). I’m assuming Owen White will be limited to relief.

The bullpen that I politely maligned in the semifinal preview saved Game 1, holding San Antonio scoreless for five innings as the offense mounted a comeback. Nick Starr will handle closing duties without worry, and Nordlin is reliable. Having White back helps, even if he’s limited to one or two one-inning bursts.

Wichita:
1: Kody Funderburk (2.94 ERA, .244/.328/.357, 11% BB/HBP, 22% SO)
2: Cody Laweryson (1.06 ERA, .197/.255/.264, 7% BB/HBP, 31% SO)
3: Brent Headrick (4.81 ERA, .273/.319/.512, 6% BB/HBP, 32% SO)

I’m guessing after Game 1. Laweryson was part of the September rotation and threw three relief innings in the semifinals. Headrick started the first game in the semis. If I’m wrong about someone, the likely substitute is semifinal Game 1 starter Daniel Gossett (2.24 ERA), who had 115 MLB innings with the Athletics in 2017-2018. Despite the lack of ranked prospects, the group is strong. Headrick is the hardest thrower (mid-90s) and is better than his line, which is permanently scarred by a seven-run, five-homer outing to begin his term in AA. He and Laweryson are fly-prone, while Funderburk and Gossett deliver more grounders. Laweryson is easily the most entertaining, fearlessly pounding the upper half of the zone with a spasmodically delivered 89-91 fastball and mixing in an upper-70s slider and change with plenty of unpredictable movement.

Casey Legumina abruptly shifted from starter to 9th-inning man a month ago. In his current role, he’s saved three games and posted a 2.55 ERA with an opposing line of .229/.290/.357 and a 34% strikeout rate. Alex Phillips is another successful late-inning reliever, while Blayne Enlow has struggled with a 6.06 ERA and plenty of hits since switching to relief. The middle portion of the pen is walk-prone but passable in other respects.

Like most teams, Wichita has lost several strong contributors along the way, but the remaining staff is still quite good, and vastly better than San Antonio’s collection.

Defense
Even accounting for the pitching staff’s fly tendencies, Wichita is poor at turning double plays compared to the Riders. Wild pitches and passed balls are also a problem for the Surge. In other respects, Frisco rates nearly equal or better.

Park Factors
Frisco – 1.00
Wichita – 1.04

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Frisco
Pitching – Wichita
Defense – Frisco

A tough call, as always compounded by the random nature of the best-of-three and my asymmetric knowledge of the two teams. One pitcher having an exceptionally good or bad day can determine the champion. If Leiter starts Tuesday, he’ll be on the mound with either Frisco or Wichita facing elimination.

Wichita is certainly better than San Antonio, especially its arms, and  is 41-19 in the last 60 games. The Surge also have home field advantage, although that doesn’t include starting the series at home. These are the league’s two best teams, and either is a worthy champion.

This is genuinely a coin flip to me, so I’ll put my imaginary $100 on the Riders and hope for the best.

Most Recent Texas-Affiliated Championship Teams
AAA: 1996 Oklahoma City 89ers
AA: 2004 Frisco RoughRiders
Hi-A: 2017 Down East Wood Ducks (co-champion)
Lo-A: 2015 Hickory Crawdads
Short-A: 2008 Spokane Indians
Rookie: 2019 Rangers
DSL: 2014 Rangers

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Saturday 24 September

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Saturday 24 September
Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 7, at Tacoma (SEA) 6
Round Rock: 10 hits, 6 walks, 6 strikeouts
Opponent: 9 hits, 8 walks, 9 strikeouts
Record: 77-69, eliminated

SP Kohei Arihara: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 1 SO, 37 P / 23 S, 4.86 ERA
RP Chase Lee: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 5.64 ERA
1B Blaine Crim: 2-5, .317/.341/.341
3B Davis Wendzel: 3-4, HR (17), BB, .209/.285/.405

Kohei Arihara made what could be his final appearance in the organization. Since he stayed only two innings, I suppose he’s available for Tuesday or Wednesday. Blaine Crim is making contact but still seeking his first AAA extra-base hit. Davis Wendzel is hitting .228/.289/.489 in 38 games off the IL. Much more power, not much improvement in reaching base.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Kent
AA: Englert

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Friday 23 September

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 1, at Tacoma (SEA) 4
Round Rock: 5 hits, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts
Opponent: 6 hits, 3 walks, 11 strikeouts
Record: 76-69, eliminated

SP Lucas Jacobsen: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 20 P / 13 S, 2.25 ERA
RP Spencer Howard: 5 IP, 4 H (2 HR), 3 R, 0 BB, 6 SO, 4.17 ERA
RP Drew Strotman: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 SO, 9.00 ERA
LF Ezequiel Duran: 1-4, 2B, .283/.316/.543

Round Rock has lost eight of ten on the road trip. Opener Lucas Jacobsen struck out the side around an error and walk. The Rainers swung at nine pitches and came up empty on five. Spencer Howard pitched well more often than not, but the “not” included two homers.

Waiver-claimed Drew Strotman made his first appearance. 92-95 FB, 85-90 cutter/slider, low-80s curve.

Seattle OF prospect Cade Marlowe, signed out of Division II West Gerogia for the princely sum of $5,000, has three homers in three nights. Marlowe homered twice against Frisco while in AA Arkansas.

AA: off
The Texas League championship series begins Sunday in Frisco.
Elsewhere
Texas’s low-A and high-A leagues were won by Tampa Bay affiliates (Bowling Green, Charleston) for the second straight year. Charleston defeated Down East in five games last year. The Rays are quite the organization.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Miller
AA: off