Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 5 April

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 1, El Paso (SDG) 13
Round Rock: 4 hits, 2 walks, 14 strikeouts
Opponent: 16 hits, 6 walks, 14 strikeouts
Record: 0-1, 1 GB

SP Jake Latz: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 SO, 4.50 ERA
RP Tyson Miller: 1 IP, 2 H ,0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA
RP Yerry Rodriguez: 0.2 IP, 3 H ,3 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 40.50 ERA
RP Daniel Robert: 1.1 IP, 1 H ,0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA
LF Bubba Thompson: 1-4, HR (1)

Surveys show most fans don’t pay attention to the score when visiting a minor league park. Neither do I, albeit for different reasons. Ignorance was bliss last night.

In his AAA debut, LF Bubba Thompson homered to left-center on a fastball. Thompson actually got under the pitch just a little, but his strength and a favorable wind teamed to carry his moonshot over the fence. Thompson’s had Round Rock’s only other very hard-hit ball of the night, a groundout off the bat at 102 MPH. The team’s other three hits consisted of an opposite-field blooped double by CF Leody Taveras (1-4), a soft single by RF Zack Reks (1-3, BB), and a topped grounder by C Sam Huff (1-4) that might’ve traveled 30 feet.

SS Josh Smith turned an 0-2 count into a nine-pitch walk in his first AAA plate appearance. Smith was hitless with a strikeout afterwards. El Paso starter Jesse Scholtens leaned on a looping curve to great effect; 21 of 23 registered strikes, with only Reks’ single causing damage. Grant Gavin’s changeup-heavy approach and Jordan Brink’s “I dare you” heat combined for nine strikeouts in four innings. The Express just didn’t have much to say offensively.

On the pitching side, starter Jake Latz was his boringly solid self, offering a fastball that reached 94, a good changeup, a decent curve, and a slider that didn’t do as much. 26 on Thursday, Latz was a candidate for the 40-man roster over the winter and remains one for the rotation or in long relief if needed.

Yerry Rodriguez maintained last year’s switch to relief, dealing a 95-98 fastball and 82-84 slider. The heater has excellent movement, although the Chihuahuas did hit a couple squarely. Rodriguez’s breaker has been a work in progress. He switched from a curve last spring, and the slider’s efficiency varied quite a bit. Last night version was pretty easy to spot out of his hand but looked tighter that usual, and it’s a very different look than his running fastball.

I’d never seen righty Daniel Robert in person, and what I saw on MiLB.tv at Frisco was a 92-93 fastball. Last night, the range jumped to 94-97, so that’s noteworthy. It’s straighter than Rodriguez’s but he places it well. Robert also delivers a tricky 79-82 slider that wasn’t as consistent as what I saw last year. The better ones tease the strike zone but sneak outside (against righties). Last night, he was “behind” several of them, so they sort of looked like attempted backdoor sliders but missed inside every time. Robert was a senior sign out of Auburn and missed a years to surgery and covid, so he’s a Triple A newcomer at the age of 27.

Apparently, automated umpiring won’t reach the Pacific Coast League until mid-May. The human ump shaved off the top of the zone but didn’t get much grief from either team. As I’d hoped, the advanced stats for the PCL do appear at Baseball Savant, although some manual URL input is needed to find them, and I don’t know if season-long stats will be compiled. I was happy to see my observations about Rodriguez’s and Robert’s respective fastball movement confirmed. Rodriguez’s horizontal break ranged from 7″ to 13″, Roberts 1″-7″. Statcast struggled badly to categorize some pitchers, calling most of Latz’s output in a broad 84-94 range a cutter.

Note: Most individual game reports won’t be nearly this long, so if you’re thinking this is overkill, don’t worry. With just one game on the schedule that I attended in person, I expanded a bit.

Righty Jake Lemoine made the Opening Day roster of the A’s. Texas’s 4th-round pick in 2015 because a free agent after last season. Recently released pitcher Mason Cole and ex-Rangers IF Ti’Quan Forbes and LHP Brady Feigl have signed with the indy Atlantic League.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Kohei Arihara
AA: off
Hi-A: off
Lo-A: off

Daily Report Primer Part II: The Stats That Matter

Per local media, pitchers Matt Bush and Greg Holland and IF Charlie Culberson have made the team. The Rangers also may appear of a state of mind to upgrade OF Joe McCarthy from his current minor league contract to a 40 spot. If the move doesn’t also include an active roster spot, I’m not sure what that’s about. I seriously doubt McCarthy, who has very limited MLB experience, has an opt-out clause. Perhaps he has a gentleman’s agreement. I’m missing info and context and the time gather them, so I’ll leave it there.

Garrett Richards, IL’ed with a blister. Glenn Otto, optioned. Spencer Patton, optioned (but on the taxi squad, which I found out was still a thing about five minutes ago). Brandon Workman, released. Not all moves are official; I’ve only seen the Rangers themselves issue the Otto and Workman transactions.

So, at present the Rangers require four 40-man moves assuming McCarthy joins, too. As I tweeted over the weekend, If Texas’s thinking jibes with mine, moves 1 and 2 are easy, moves 3 and 4 (as needed) will make me sad but I get it, and moves 5 and beyond (if needed) get into interesting territory. Yes, that’s vague. No, I’d rather not elaborate right now. All in due course.

AAA: Jake Latz vs. El Paso

Wednesday and Thursday will feature Kohei Arihara and AJ Alexy on the mound, respectively. Beyond that, including Cole Winn’s first start, I cannot say. The strange timing of the Rangers beginning their season after Round Rock has left the Express without an official roster a mere four hours before the first pitch. I’ll be in Round Rock tonight, and if you’re interested in my thoughts during the game, follow on twitter @scottrlucas.

The other teams begin Friday.

Part II of the Daily Report Primer: Stats I Love and Loathe

The best prospects tend to receive aggressive assignments and are young for their levels. Down the road, they’re often omitted from my annual 40-Man / Rule 5 preview because they forced their way onto the MLB squad months earlier. If all you know about a player is his age, you actually know quite a lot. So, for example, when the Rangers assign 19-year-old OF Evan Carter to high-A, they’re were telling you something.

One shouldn’t get carried away with age, though. Of course, players drafted out of college will be older, and dismissing them for being (gasp) 23 by the time they reach high-A would be ridiculous. However, those players are expected to perform better at the low levels and are on shorter leashes. (Incidentally, that a good many college players don’t handle A-level ball reinforces just how hard the pro game is.) Catchers tend to take more time, as do many pitchers.

The Rangers aren’t quite as aggressive with promotions as a decade ago. Promotions feel more player-tailored and less driven by organizational culture. Even so, they had the youngest hitters in the Triple A West and youngest pitchers in the Low-A East in 2021.

Slash Stats (Average / On-Base Percentage / Slugging)
In the Majors, batting average isn’t a useless stat, but it matters far less than on-base percentage and slugging. In the minors, I like to keep an eye on it. Putting the bat on the ball with frequency and authority is what gets players noticed and moves them up the ladder.

Let’s look at a couple of made-up players with 500 plate appearances. Both have a .360 OBP and .440 slugging percentage:

A)    100 hits, 10 doubles, 25 homers, 80 walks, 160 strikeouts
B)    150 hits, 33 doubles, 8 homers, 30 walks, 60 strikeouts

Same OBP, same slugging percentage, very different hitters. Player A is kind of a cut-rate Joey Gallo, batting .238 with huge number of walks and good-but-not-elite power. Player B batted .319 but doesn’t walk much or offer much more than doubles power. There aren’t many Player B type nowadays. Michael Brantley last year. Elvis Andrus in 2016. Point is, knowing the batting average in addition to OBP and slugging can be surprisingly informative. That said, even in the minors, OBP and slugging are much more useful.

These stats mean the least at lower levels and gain importance as players advance. They also matter more to offense-oriented positions. Except at the extreme margin and probably not even then, a first basemen cannot compensate for weak hitting with outstanding defense. He has to hit.

Walks (Hitters)
Laying off iffy pitches can be career-defining. Walks mitigate inevitable slumps. In the Luisangel Acuna example from yesterday, he drew six walks and an HBP during that 0-for-30 slump. That’s a .189 OBP. Not good, of course, but reaching nearly 20% of the time without a hit means he’s at least giving his teammates some chances with a runner on first.

Walks are a means, not an end, though. I do worry about players who rely too heavily on walks, which is easier to do at the lower levels where control is often absent. Selectivity is great. Passivity, not so much. Eventually, the hitter will rise to a level at which most pitchers not only have control but a semblance of command, and the hitter will have to adjust.

Automated strike zones are coming to the Pacific Coast League in 2022. I am very much looking forward to seeing robo-umped balls and strikes called in person.

Strikeouts (Hitters)
To some extent, we can ignore hitters’ strikeouts. What really matters is how they perform when they don’t. Not to be flip, but strikeouts for hitters don’t matter until they do. At some point, they reach a level that forces a herculean batting average on contact just to get by. For example, Adolis Garcia. Early last April, I gamed out what he’d need to reach a .300 OBP with so many strikeouts. As I tweeted: “Let’s say he can manage a 5% BB+HBP rate (well below league average) and a 30% K rate (well above, even in 2021). That means he needs to bat .263 for a minimum .300 OBP. And with all those Ks, that requires a .376 average on contact, about 50 points above the league average and better than what he’s done in AAA.”

Garcia ended up with a 6% BB+HBP rate and struck out in 31% of his plate appearances, close to my guesses. He also batted .364 when he made contact, roughly the 75% percentile among AL batters with at least 400 plate appearances. So, very good in that respect. And what did that high average on contact get him? A .286 OBP, 9th-worst among that same set of batters.

Some hitters are exceptionally good at avoiding strikeouts, but not particularly to their benefit. Most of the time, weak contact on marginal pitch isn’t any better than a strikeout.

Runs, Runs Batted In

I do list ERA when recapping pitchers. Much of the time, it’s a handy stat, but it’s not the end-all and sometimes is lying to you. Let’s take two pitchers in low-A last year:

Player A: 4.28 ERA, 43% SO rate, 7% BB rate, .272 opposing OBP, 16.5 pitches per inning
Player B: 3.68 ERA, 33% SO rate, 23% BB rate, 429 opposing OBP, 23.5 pitches per inning

Player B had the better ERA, but I’d pick Player A in a critical situation without question. B had a terrific strikeout rate but a bunch of innings marred by walks (mostly stranded, luckily) and elevated pitch counts. Pitcher A combined good control with an otherworldly strikeout rate, but the batters that reached were much more likely to get home. Usually, situational performance (such as runners in scoring position) tends to even out in the long run.

Sometimes a single terrible outing can wipe out a reliever’s ERA. My favorite example is John Smoltz back in 2002. He allowed eight runs in 0.2 innings in early April and needed three months of quality outings (including 37 saves!) just to drag his ERA below 4.00.

So, you’ll occasionally read something like “h;e spitched better [or worse] than his ERA would suggest.” If Players A and B continue to pitch as they have, Player A is far more likely to have the lower ERA eventually.

Wins and Losses
A pitcher’s win-loss record was a decent stat when horses kicked up dust in city streets and laudanum was available over the counter. In the modern game, it’s meaningless.  

Homers, Walks, Strikeouts (Pitchers)
These are better indicators than ERA, which is often tied to luck on balls in play and how well relievers strand runners left behind.

Homers are trickier to analyze. More fly balls equal more homers, of course, but HR rates can bounce around crazily from year to year for no other reason than variance. Walk and strikeout rates tend to stabilize more quickly.

Walk rates ballooned in Low-A in 2021, courtesy of a missed year, the eradication of short-season ball, and hundreds of max-effort throwers with control in various stages of (under)development. Also: robo-umps:

Low-A Combined Walk/HBP rate:
2019, human umps: 10.5%
2021, human umps: 12.2%
2021, robo-umps: 14.3%

For 29 years, the worst combined BB/HBP rate in low-A (14.5%) belonged to the 1991 Augusta Pirates. Six teams were worse last year, five of them in the robo-umped Low-A Southeast. The other was Down East’s division opponent in Fayetteville, a Houston affiliate. The Woodpeckers walked or plunked 17.1% of opposing batters and set a all-time record of 196 wild pitches despite a schedule shortened 20 games by the pandemic. (Fayetteville also used an amazing 55 pitchers in 2021, including 30 different starters.)

There seems to be more pitchers who can abide the higher walk rate because they’re darn near unhittable otherwise.

Strikeout have risen so much that I constantly have to remind myself what constitutes an acceptable rate. In 2007, my first year on the job, the best team in the Midwest League (which contained Texas-affiliated Clinton) had a strikeout rate of 21.3%. Last year, the worst team in Texas’s low-A league had a rate of 22.6%. The league average has increased 6% in that span, about 2.2 strikeouts per game per team.

HBPs are kind of an afterthought in typical stat-watching, but they’ve risen greatly in recent years, and some pitchers are plunk-prone enough to seriously degrade their performance.

I tend to refer to these stats in rates per batter faced rather than per nine innings. Per-nine accounting can be skewed by the number of runners allowed. If two pitchers strike out a batter per inning, they obviously are striking out an identical amount per nine innings, but if one is allowing one runner per inning and the other two, the stingier pitcher has a 25% strikeout rate compared to the other guy’s 20%. That 5% is meaningful.

Opposing Slash Stats
The opposing batting line relates closely to the pitcher’s core peripherals. I mention them often and think they’re interesting. Opponents batted a minuscule .146/.239/.259 against Cole Winn last year. Essentially, Winn turned everyone into a hitter in danger of losing his job. Winn’s combined walk/HBP was so-so, but really suppressed hits and power. Incidentally, Winn’s opposing average on balls in play was .199, which I seriously doubt is sustainable over the course of his upcoming time in Round Rock. Nothing against Winn, but some of those balls are going to find an opening.

Fielding is trickiest to evaluate from an outsider’s perspective. Fielding percentage rarely tells the whole story.

For example, over the course of a season, let’s pretend two infielders share shortstop duties equally. On their first 400 grounders, they’re identical statistically. But then on their next 20 grounders apiece, Shortstop 1 never a single one, but Shortstop 2 reaches all of them and turns 15 into outs and throws 5 into the stands, allowing those hitters to reach second. Shortstop 2 will have a worse fielding percentage, but he also turned 15 more balls into outs. Would you rather an opposing batter reach first safely 20 times, or reach second 5 times but get put out the other 15 times? Shortstop 2 is far more effective despite making more errors.

Even with no stats, you can learn plenty simply from where someone plays. For example, Frisco had a quartet of Bubba Thompson, JP Martinez, Josh Stowers and Steele Walker for last season’s first 80 games. Who played CF the most? Thompson with 40 starts, followed by Martinez with 28. Walker made about three-quarters of his corner outfield starts in right, while Stowers worked each corner equally. The guy getting the most starts in center might not necessarily be the best on his team in that role, but at the least he’s who the front office wants to see there the most. (In this case, Thompson is actually is the superior defender.)

Clubs have advanced stats (exit velo, launch angle, spin rate, etc.) on minor leaguers, but to date they’re not readily available to the public. I’m hopeful that some info will be available for the robo-umped Pacific Coast League. If so, I’ll incorporate it into the reports.

Daily Report Primer Part I: How The Game Is Played

These are developmental leagues. Rosters aren’t constructed and games aren’t managed to win. Good prospects aren’t going to be benched if they perform poorly. Does the prospect quality of a system correlate to its performance in the minors? Here’s a chart of every team’s organizational ranking in 2021 per Baseball America and its full-season winning percentage:

Answer: kind of but not really. One higher spot in the rankings is worth about 1.5 wins out of 490 played. The correlation is very loose, and Tampa Bay (#1 rank and record) and Washington (#30 rank, #29 record) are doing all the work. Minus them, rankings and records are almost completely independent of one another. That said, over the years, the quality of Texas’s system has correlated pretty well to its record.

Not all rankings are created equal. An organization stacked with top-100 prospects will receive high marks even if depth is lacking, but that missing depth could result in a weaker record. Even if the Rangers put Corey Seager in Low-A (a move I’d advise against), there’s only so much one guy can do.

Some organizations emphasize winning more than others. For my outsider’s perspective, my concern isn’t about winning as much as excessive losing. What I’d hate to see is a Texas version of last year’s White Sox-affiliated Kannapolis club, which lost its first ten, then 16 of the next 20, and then dropped to 46 games under .500 until an 8-1 finish. That just doesn’t seem conducive to a positive development environment.

The Rangers have often employed a six-man rotation in the minors of their own volition. Now, the rigid six-games-a-week schedule practically demands it. For viewing purposes, the advantage is that certain pitchers tend to start on a certain day on the week, and one could more easily match a park visit to that start if inclined.

The median length of a start by a Texas full-season minor leaguer in 2021 was 4.0 innings. Only 41% of starts lasted five innings or greater. Even with this limited workload, Texas wants its starters to get their innings in, so pitchers will often be allowed to press through situations that might get an MLB starter pulled. What will get a starter pulled early is excessive pitches. If the inning’s count has crept into the mid-20s with no end in sight, the bullpen will be active. Once it surpasses 30, the pitcher (especially if younger) could be gone unless the batter he’s facing makes the final out.
Minor league relievers tend to pitch on a schedule rather than having situational roles, and the lost 2020 combined with expanded rosters (28 in AA/AAA, 30 in A ball) exacerbated that trend. Even in AAA, nominally the final training ground for the Majors, relievers usually pitch on prescribed days.  

Pitching on consecutive days, already a rarity below AAA, became exceptionally rare events in 2021. In fact, for a good many pitchers, appearing on fewer than two days rest was uncommon. On August 7 in Round Rock, I was treated to an unexpected outing by Nick Snyder. He’d pitched on the 5th, so I assumed he was unavailable that night, but he made his first appearance of the season with fewer than two day’s rest. (It was, perhaps not coincidentally, his worst outing of the season.)

32-year-old James Jones appeared back-to-back once in AAA, as did 30-year-old Buck Farmer. Round Rock’s busiest relievers, all in their 20s but far from newcomers – Jake Lemoine, Ryder Ryan and Luis Ortiz – never did.

30 Texas minor leaguers saved a game last year. None had more than eight. Teams don’t have closers, or to the extent they do, they’re more like to rely on someone who might have a lower ceiling but is the most trustworthy at that level. In the last 14 years, nine Texas minor league relievers have recorded 20 saves in a season. None of them has ever subsequently saved a Major League game.

Perhaps with the lost 2020 further in the rear-view mirror, AAA will tilt slightly more toward MLB-like usage, but again, with so many relievers vying for innings, I’m not expecting much difference from last year.

Sometimes in critical situations, managers have leeway to use relievers more traditionally. Eudrys Manon, Leury Tejeda, and Destin Dotson earned the lion’s share of late/close innings in Down East’s 2021’s playoff drive. Frisco leaned heavily on 2021 draftee Chase Lee and Daniel Robert down the stretch. In fact, Robert made his first-ever no-rest appearance on the seasons’ final day. (Regretfully, he was on fumes, got lit up, and Frisco lost a division lead held the entire season to that point.)

Batting Orders
They aren’t necessarily optimized for run production and often don’t align with the relative qualities of the prospects. Don’t worry about them.

Walks and Strikeouts
Both tend to increase as you descend the organizational ladders. Walks exploded in low-A in 2021, partly because of an unscheduled year off and partly because of the automated umpiring used in the Low-A southeast. The highest six team walk rates and seven of the nine highest team strikeout rates in low-A history were set last year. Strikeouts, as you know, are at historic levels. Not that long ago, almost any pitcher with a 25% strikeout rate was noteworthy. Last year, the low-A San Jose Giants had a team rate of 31.5%. (San Jose’s home stadium has an notoriously difficult batter’s eye, but still.)

Errors and “Mistakes”
The number of miscues that give the opposition free runners or bases increases greatly at the lower levels.

If you attend an MLB game, the averaged combined walks, HBPs, errors, balks, wild pitches and passed balls you’re likely to see is nine. In low-A, it’s 14.

In 2021, Low-A as a whole had 1.6 stolen base attempts per game, the most in 20 years. Down East set an all-time low-A record for most successful attempts per game (2.41), and their total of 290 was only nine short of the record despite playing 20 fewer games than normal. Not coincidentally, a new rule limited pitchers to two “free” pickoff attempts per batter. A third attempt that didn’t result in an out was ruled a balk. Balks increased 60% in low-A compared to 2019, but I have no idea how much of the increase is due to the rule versus tighter rule enforcement and/or generally sloppier play following an absence of games in 2020.

Field and League Context
Here’s the park-adjusted league averages for Texas’s full-season affiliates in 2021:

Round Rock: 5.5 runs per game, .259/.337/.454 slash line
Frisco: 4.9 runs, .248/.332/.398
Hickory: 5.2 runs, .243/.329/.463
Down East: 5.1 runs, .241/.343/.377

Round Rock is pitcher-friendly relative to most of its peers, but the Pacific Coast League is so hitter-oriented as a whole that even Express hitters’ stats have to be viewed with a little cynicism. Down East scored a robust 5.3 runs per game despite an ordinary .244/.344/.379 line courtesy of all those steals and opposition miscues previously mentioned.

The likelihood of a .250 batter going hitless in any particular 30 consecutive at-bats is extremely small: about 1 in 5,600. Spread that to 36 hitters*  (nine per Texas’s four full-season teams) and the likelihood that someone starts the season 0-for-30 is still tiny: about 1 in 150. But, if you take a whole season with all the hitters and a huge number of overlapping 30-at-bat subsets, there’s a decent chance somebody comes up empty for a long spell. That very thing happened to a good prospect last year, Luisangel Acuna. He brought a shiny .375 average into his fifth game and went 0-for-30 (with six walks and one HBP) over the next nine. Did he have a mechanical issue? A minor injury? Maybe. I don’t remember. Acuna fanned ten times, so 20 balls in play went for naught. Even the weakest of hitters should squeak out a few safeties in that span.

Statistical variance in baseball is much higher than most people think. It’s important not to place too much emphasis on the short run, whether good or bad.

* Of course, Texas isn’t going to stick with the same 36 minor league hitters game after game, but I’m trying to make the math easier.

Promotions and demotions aren’t made in a vacuum. A promoted player is necessarily taking someone else’s spot. Should that other player also be promoted? Demoted? Moved to a different position? Should the players share the position and moonlight at DH? Should the promoted guy move to a different position instead, and who would that affect? These decisions are sometimes complicated, and a player might advance more slowly than you’d like because Texas has to sort through all these issues.

Report Tone
Even in a deep system, most of Texas’s minor leaguers aren’t going to reach MLB or make much impact if they do. Texas has 26 (or 28) Major Leaguers and 200+ minor leaguers. The cold math turns most of them into “failures.”

They are not failures. They’re exceptional athletes in an industry with a limited number of jobs. If you’re the 2,000th best accountant in the country, you’re doing great, plus you can start your own business if you want. The 2,000th professional baseball player is in Double A, and he can’t start his own league to compete against MLB. Also, we can argue about the relative entertainment quality of the current high-strikeout era, but the players themselves have never been better. There are pitchers stuck in AAA with stuff that I guarantee would have made them passable MLB relievers a dozen years ago.

So, I want to be honest about a player’s chances, and I focus on the prospects most likely to help Texas in the future, but I’ll cover anyone having a great day.

Opening Minor League Player Assignments

Texas and their affiliates announced initial minor league rosters yesterday. Here’s a quick rundown. If I don’t mention your guy, don’t worry. We’ve got a whole season in front of us, and I don’t want to use all my material in an intro.

I’ve listed top-30 prospect rankings for Baseball America (BA), MLB, and the most contrarian rankings for Baseball Prospectus (BP) and ESPN.

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Round Rock, Texas
Pacific Coast League
Texas affiliate 2011-2018, 2021-present

Justin Anderson
Kohei Arihara
Jason Bahr
Hever Bueno
Jake Latz
Tyson Miller
Daniel Robert
Yerry Rodriguez (MLB 27)
Ryder Ryan
Jesus Tinoco
Nick Tropeano
Dan Winkler
Cole Winn (BA 3, MLB 3)

Cole Winn leads a group of eight faces familiar to Express fans. Winn isn’t first in line to replace a starter in Arlington if needed. He’s not any number on that depth chart. He’s just Cole Winn, prepping for an MLB debut to come when he’s ready, not when external circumstances dictate.

Rodriguez often dominated after switching to multi-inning relief late last season (perhaps not permanently, yet). A young 27, Robert doesn’t throw especially hard but spots impeccably and relies on a slider that has an invisibility cloak.

Tinoco (Rox), Tropeano (Dodgers most recently) and Winkler (Cubs) are offseason signings.

Sam Huff (BA 11, MLB 11)
Jack Kruger
Yohel Pozo (BA 28)
Meibrys Viloria

The Rangers have seven catchers with MLB experience including these four. Keeping all probably isn’t possible, particularly assuming the parent club drops to two catchers. Catcher development requires inordinate patience, but even so, it’s a critical year for Huff, who after returning from injury didn’t catch at all and didn’t hit all that well (aside from power).

Sherten Apostel
Ryan Dorow
Yonny Hernandez
Josh H. Smith (BA 9, MLB 7, ESPN 5)
Davis Wendzel (MLB 17)

Smith began 2021 in low-A (too low) and has only 127 plate appearances in AA. I thought he might spend a little more time in Frisco, but I wouldn’t call this assignment a surprise. Almost exclusively a shortstop professionally, Smith almost certainly won’t wear a uniform with “Rangers” on it without proficiency at other positions, so we’ll see how he’s used with the Express.

Everybody but Apostel can play second, third and short, and they probably will. Apostel dropped from the prospect rankings after an injury-plagued and so-so 2021, but he’s barely 23 and has a chance to regain ground.

Elier Hernandez
Zach Reks
Bubba Thompson (MLB 29)
Leody Taveras

Although omitted from the 40 last winter, Thompson had a strong 2021 that eased if not eliminated concerns about his bat. His power showed up in games, and his strikeout rate dropped from 32% to 26%.

I saw Taveras at length in 2021, and he genuine improved during his time in Round Rock, but it didn’t translate to a better showing in Arlington. He’s still just 23.

Frisco, Texas
Texas League
Texas affiliate since 2003

Grant Anderson
Cody Bradford (BA 23, MLB 20, ESPN 15)
Tim Brennan
Lucas Jacobsen
Zak Kent (BA 17, MLB 21)
Chase Lee
Jack Leiter (BA 1, MLB 1)
Seth Nordlin
Fernery Ozuna
Cole Ragans (BA 24)
Justin Slaten
Nick Starr
Tyler Thomas
Tai Tiedemann
Avery Weems (BA 18)
Grant Wolfram

Jack Leiter. Sorry, I don’t have anything to add to that. I just wanted to type his name again. He’s a Ranger.

Bradford, Kent, Ragans, Nordlin, Slaten, Weems and Wolfram combined for 95 of Hickory’s 114 starts last year. The first three finished 2021 in Frisco, and the rest are there now. Impressive to have an entire rotation graduate.

David Garcia
Jordan Procyshen
Matt Whatley

Barely 22, Garcia earned a 40-man spot before reaching full-season ball, lost that spot last winter, immediately re-signed and now has earned a promotion to AA. His overall numbers call that into question (.261/.299/.349), but he had a better second half. Garcia has always needed time to acclimate offensively.

Whatley has the field presence and defensive chops to play in the Majors, but even catchers have to hit a little, and he hasn’t (.203/.316/.282 in AA as a 25-year-old last year).

Diosbel Arias
Blaine Crim
Ezequiel Duran (BA 4, MLB 4)
Trey Hair
Nash Knight
Jonathan Ornelas
Nick Tanielu

Duran, the headliner of the Joey Gallo trade (although not by a large margin), has rarely played short

Crim isn’t a monster physically (no offense), is best-suited to first and doesn’t appear in anyone’s top 30 that I know of, but man, the guy can hit. Crim spent a portion of last year in Frisco and clubbed 29 homers between there and Hickory. He then lorded over Puerto Rico (.406/.452/.594) last winter.

Ornelas’s promotion is a mild surprise, as he batted .261/.310/.394 for high-A Hickory and is still just 21. He can play all over and spent nearly a third of his time in center.

Knight and Tanielu are 29 and vets of AAA. But they’re needed in AA for now.

Sandro Fabian
Dustin Harris (BA 5, MLB 6, ESPN 8)
Julio P. Martinez
Kellen Strahm
Josh Stowers

Harris is pointedly listed as an outfielder. In the middle of 2021 I began seeing him described as a four-corner guy, which sounded swell but didn’t jibe with his near-constant presence at first. Harris did start at third more often down the stretch and will make his debut in the grass next week. He added power (20 HR) to his already superior contact ability, vaulting him up the prospect rankings.

Strahm isn’t a kid (soon 25, a senior sign out of San Jose St.) and has played in only 101 games in three years because of injuries and covid, but he’s got a nice mix of OBP skills, speed and defense.

Stowers (part of the Odor traded) hit the 20/20 mark last year in Frisco. The 24-year-old Fabian is a minor league free agent with 15 homers at AA Richmond last year.

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Hickory, North Carolina
South Atlantic League
Texas affiliate since 2009

Ben Anderson
Marc Church
Joe Corbett
Mason Englert
Kevin Gowdy
Nick Krauth
Jesus Linarez
Eudrys Manon
John Matthews
Juan Mejia
Spencer Mraz
Triston Polley
Tekoah Roby (BA 14, MLB 15)
Josh D. Smith
Ricky Vanasco (BA 13, MLB 14)
Owen White (BA 7, MLB 8)

Based on everything I’ve heard about White lately, those rankings are going to appear conservative before long. Let’s hope so. Joining him is Englert, drafted two rounds after White in 2018 and with a similarly injury-delayed intro to pro ball. TK Roby, 2020’s 2nd-round pick, won’t turn 21 until after the season, Vanasco, placed on the 40 with a stitched-up elbow and no full-season experience, finally gets a chance to build on his breakout 2019.  

Randy Florentino
Cody Freeman
Scott Kapers

A converted infielder, Freeman didn’t catch after returning from an injury last year, but he’s once again behind the plate.

Luisangel Acuna (BA 10, MLB 10)
Frainyer Chavez
Jake Guenther
Cristian Inoa
Keyber Rodriguez
Thomas Saggese (MLB 28)
Chris Seise

Picked 29th overall in 2017, Chris Seise’s constant stream of injuries have limited him to 82 pro games. Given his luck, he was probably healthiest during 2020. Acuna stuck to second base after mid-July. He has the arm for the left side and was back at short during intersquads. The 19-year-old Saggese (2020, 5th round) walked at will in low-A and split duties between second, third and short.

Angel Aponte
Evan Carter (BA 8, MLB 9)
Trevor Hauver (BA 22, MLB 19)
Aaron Zavala (BA 12, MLB 12)

The Rangers drafted the then-unheralded Carter in 2020 based on where they thought he’d rank had his senior high school season not been truncated by covid. A prescient move, given how quickly Carter established his prospect bona fides. They’ve treated him the same way now, promoting him to high-A despite a back injury that ended his 2021 after six weeks.

Hauver is 23 now and had a decent showing in Hickory (.246/.357/.426) but hasn’t staked out a position, so figuring out where he fits is probably easier with a return engagement.

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Kinston, North Carolina
Carolina League
Texas affiliate since 2017

Michael Brewer
Gavin Collyer
Jose Corniell
Destin Dotson
Eris Filpo
Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa
Larson Kindreich
Nick Lockhart
Dylan MacLean
Theo McDowell
Damian Mendoza
Teodoro Ortega
Winston Santos
Josh Stephan
Leury Tejada
Emiliano Teodo
Bradford Webb

Not a bad set of pitchers despite the absence of top-30 recognition. Teodo features a triple-digit fastball and high-spin curve. The 19-year-old Santos has good control and touched 97 in camp. Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa fanned 38 in 22.2 innings with the rookies last year. He’s nicknamed “Bubba,” and given the length of his birth name, I might just list him as simply Bubba in the game recaps. Kindreich (2021, 8th round) struck out 18 against three walks in eight rookie innings.

Dotson and Tejeda were entrusted with critical relief innings during Down East’s playoff drive last September.

Tucker Mitchell
Efrenyer Narvaez
Brady Smith

If all goes to plan, you’ll read the name Efrenyer Narvaez frequently. How many catchers, even in rookie ball, can post a .353/.428/.500 line?

Jose Acosta
Maximo Acosta (BA 21, MLB 13)
Derwin Barreto
Abimelec Ortiz
Junior Paniagua
Yenci Pena

Thoracic outlet syndrome reduced Acosta’s pro debut to 17 lackluster games and dimmed his star a little. Still, he earned the promotion to full-season.

Yosy Galan
Daniel Mateo (BA 30)
Alejandro Osuna
Jose Rodriguez
Marcus Smith

Smith, more highly regarded than Dustin Harris when both were acquired for Mike Minor, has barely played because of hamstring problems. Like Seise, he could regain status quickly with good health.

Galan started the rookie season 0-for-13 with ten strikeouts, and proceeded to hit .274/.350/.573 and rank second with ten homers in 47 games.  

Unassigned Players Ranked By BA or MLB

3B Josh Jung (BA 2, MLB 2)
IF Justin Foscue (BA 6, MLB 5, BP 3)
Glenn Otto (BA 15, MLB 26, BP 8)
OF Yeison Morrobel (BA 16, MLB 18)
OF Bayron Lora (BA 19)
LHP Mitch Bratt (BA 20, MLB 23)
IF Cam Cauley (BA 25, MLB 22)
RHP Dane Acker (BA 26, MLB 24)
LHP AJ Alexy (BA 27, MLB 25, BP 10)
IF Danyer Cueva (BA 29, MLB 30)
OF Anthony Gutierrez (MLB 16)

Jung you know about. Foscue has back soreness. Acker is coming off elbow surgery. The rest are in limbo between MLB and AAA, with fates determined in the next few days, or are too green to earn their first full-season assignment.

Other Unassigned Players
LHP Brock Burke
RHP Matt Bush
RHP Demarcus Evans
RHP Greg Holland
LHP Matt Moore
RHP Brandon Workman
IF Charlie Culberson
OF Joe McCarthy
OF Steele Walker
OF Jake Marisnick
IF Matt Carpenter

Limbo is crowded.

Released / Retired

OF Carl Chester — The player to be named in last year’s trade for Nathaniel Lowe. Chester batted .1856/.235/.305 in AAA last year.

RHP Mason Cole – Sorry, Aggie fans. Texas 27th-round selection in 2019 had a walk-heavy 4.01 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 24.2 innings for Down East last year.

RHP Luke Schiltz – Picked three spots ahead of Cole, the 21-year-old fanned and walked 19 in 16.1 innings with a 7.71 ERA for the rookie squad last year.

RHP Adam McKillican and Connor Sechler – free agents who reached A levels in 2021.

RHP Josh Advocate – Texas’s 20th-rounder from 2017 has retired. He missed most of 2021. Advocate pitched well in long relief for high-A Down East in 2019.

RHP Nick Yoder – Also retired. Texas’s 34th-rounder for 2019.


RHP Collin Wiles signed with the Athletics. Wiles spent nine years in the Texas system, most recently acquitting himself well during his first action in Triple A. RHP Joe Gatto signed with Philly. Texas signed Gatto to a Major League deal the previous winter, only to see him pitch so poorly in Surprise that he was designated for assignment and unclaimed. Gatto quickly improved enough to pitch well in AA and AAA, but not well enough for Texas to re-40 him.


1) Sean Bass of The Ticket, Michael Tepid and I recorded a podcast Wednesday, focusing on Tepid’s visit to Arizona. Link in signature.
2) The Dodgers traded for Craig Kimbrel one day after the pen allowed a homer to Corey Seager.