Texas Rangers Back Field Photos: Thursday and Friday

(some dead space to push the first picture down far enough that it’s sized the same, la la la la)

Jack Leiter
Jack Leiter
Brock Porter
Emiliano Teodo
Sebastian Walcott
Sebastian Walcott
Luisangel Acuna
Yeison Morrobel and Gleider Figuereo (ball wasn’t caught, alas)
Anthony Gutierrez
Tommy Specht
Tommy Specht watching Sebastian Walcott get picked off
Danyer Cueva
Cam Cauley
Cam Cauley and a bird with a taste for danger
Daniel Robert
Chandler Pollard
Side session
Side session
Gleider Figeureo and Yenci Pena (they asked me for a portrait)
Daniel Mateo and Yosy Galan (also asked for a portrait)

Notes From Surprise: Monday

For the first time since 2019: Greetings from Surprise!

My original plan upon arriving Monday morning was to watch Texas’s A-level squads in neighboring Peoria, but one of the two games was cancelled, so I stayed in Surprise with the upper-level folks. (For those unfamiliar, the daily intersquad schedule consists of the low-A and high-A squads playing their opponents at one club’s complex, and the AA and AAA squads playing at the other. I favor the low-level guys because I won’t see them again for a year, and I can watch AAA during the regular season at my leisure.)

As always, and especially after missing three years, I was overwhelmed at the outset because I want to watch the players critically and get pitch readings off the computer and take notes and stills and video simultaneously, which is impossible, not that I don’t keep trying. Plus, I’m using new camera equipment for the first time in a dozen years and still figuring it out.

I’ve got video of Ricky Vanasco and pictures of him and others at scottlucas.com. Hopefully, I’ll have more video up during the week, but the internet at my hotel gets persnickety with tasks like actually using the internet.

Vanasco’s fastball ranged from 93-97, augmented with a decent number of curves, a few sliders, at least one change. He looked similar to last season’s end: aggressive, wavering control and command, with both the heater and curve tending to run high. Vanasco wears a collection of chains that fly up and hit him in the face on every pitch.

With impressive bat speed, Dustin Harris turned on an inside pitch for a double. In A games, he’s split almost exactly between outfield and first base, nearly only the former in the first week of spring training and almost exclusively the latter since. He played left field on Monday. If there was a play that shed light on his proficiency out there, I missed it. For some reason, my mental picture of him is always a little smaller and slower than he really is. He’ll break that bad habit of mine in Round Rock.

Lefty reliever Lucas Jacobsen tossed an inning. In 2022, Jacobsen entered his walk year as a virtual unknown to me because he’d been hurt so much. He relieved in Jack Leiter’s pro debut and immediately impressed with a fastball that touched 98, a mean, hard change, and a slow slider. Jacobsen missed a chunk of last season as well and became a free agent afterwards but re-signed.

1B Blaine Crim turned a 95 MPH pitch into a homer. 2B Luisangel Acuna (a late sub) rapped a double to left.

Lefty Joe Palumbo, signed back after a year with the Giants, was 91-93 with a 75-78 curve, all effective after an opening walk. Injuries have limited to Palumbo to 19 innings across all levels during the past three years.

One unexpected downside of the new MLB pitch clock: the Rangers-Guardians A game on Monday finished well before the minors were done, and in fact by the time I’d walked into the stadium from the back fields, the stands were nearly empty. Previously, I could count on an inning or two at the main field after the intersquad contest.

Tuesday was a camp day, meaning no games, just some workouts, so I’d planned to hike the Superstition Mountains to the east. That plan was thwarted by the most rain I can recall encountering in Arizona. It was raining when my alarm went off Tuesday morning. I got wet going to my car to grab lunch. It was raining at 9pm last night as I typed most of this and persisted through the night. Today’s back field schedule is limited to work in the cages. The intersquads are cancelled. My happiness is cancelled. Thursday and Friday are expected to be dry, so hopefully the next report will contain more on the Rangers and less whining.  

Finally, I would like to extend all the positive energy at my disposal to Eric Nadel, longtime radio voice of the Rangers, who announced he will miss the start of the 2023 season. Per a statement from Nadel: “I now find myself dealing with anxiety, insomnia and depression which are currently preventing me from doing the job I love… I am receiving treatment as I go through the healing process and encourage others with similar issues to reach out for help.” His full statement is here.

Thoughts On The Pitch Clock

Beat The Clock

You’ve probably seen or read any number of stories on how players, umpires, fans, and the media themselves will adjust to the clock. I wanted to offer my analysis and observations from watching plenty of games at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond and elsewhere in 2022.

Strange as it seems, players and umps may have the easiest task. The pitch clock has existed in upper minor league classifications since 2015, although it wasn’t enforced in its present form across all levels until 2022. Most players are already at least passingly familiar with the new rules. I analyzed lists of everyone who played in the Majors and minors in 2022 and found the following:

Number of MLB hitters in 2022: 694
Number who also played in MiLB: 475 (68% of all MLB hitters)
Number with 50+ PA in MLB and MiLB: 221 (32% of all MLB hitters)

Number of MLB pitchers in 2022: 872
Number who also pitched in MiLB: 591 (68% of all MLB pitchers)
Number with 10+ IP in MiLB and MLB: 300 (34% of all MLB pitchers)

The Rangers used 29 pitchers last year excluding Charlie Culberson. 23 threw at least one inning in the minors in 2022, and 15 of them threw at least ten. Similarly, 18 of Texas’s 26 hitters in 2022 also appeared in the minors, and 15 registered at least 100 plate appearances.

Assuming the rule is retained beyond 2023, the proportion of MLB players who will have worked under these conditions will quickly approach 100%. Admittedly, those who haven’t to date include many of baseball’s biggest names, but a significant number already have. 23% of MLB players with at least two wins above replacement in 2022 played in the minors last year.

My impression is that AAA umpires’ enforcement of the game clock was moderately strict but not punitive in 2022. Pitchers had plenty of time to retake the mound if involved in a fielding play. Hitters didn’t have to rush back to the box after running out a drive that landed foul. Pitchers could ask for a new ball, and occasionally something would happen to cause a pitcher to make a circular motion with his pitching hand, code for “restart the clock, pretty please.” Much of the time, these requests were granted. What pitchers couldn’t do was get set, let the clock dwindle to three seconds, and then claim the ball was too slick.

I did see one opposing pitcher on rehab accrue six or seven automatic balls, including two in one plate appearance. He was plainly indifferent to the clock, strictly in a rehab mindset and working at his preferred pace to the extent possible. Major Leaguers in town for the evening weren’t given leeway. When Jose Altuve played two games for AAA Sugar Land, the plate ump did not bow and say “enter the box at your leisure, my lord.”

Most of the time, the clock receded to the background, both for players and fans. Players internalized the pace it dictated. Games proceeded faster but didn’t feel rushed. As a fan or in my “official” capacity, I was never distracted by the clock even though it was almost always near my direct line of sight. The goal of the clock isn’t to saddle umps and players with nitpicky obligations. It is to create an environment in which the game flows faster organically. That said, I too had to adapt. More than once, I would study something I’d written down or glance at my phone after a pitch, only to miss the following pitch that came more quickly than expected. This year’s adaptation will be acceptance that by the time I get home from the Dell Diamond on a given night, the Rangers will probably also be done for the evening. Last year, the shorter games in Round Rock often allowed me to see an inning or two of the Rangers after I drove home.

Best as I can tell, I mentioned the clock or an automatic ball or strike only four times during the 2022 season. It just wasn’t newsworthy. Calls were rare. Calls that ended plate appearances were rarer still. Yes, an early spring game had a game-ending auto-strike, but I’d be surprised to see one in a real game, and if it happens, well, the hitter can’t say he wasn’t warned.

Undoubtedly, pitchers and hitters will try to use the clock to their advantage. Hitting is timing, pitching is disrupting timing. That type of gamesmanship has existed since the 1800s. Hopefully, pitch-clock craftiness won’t become overbearing and detract from the natural duel between pitcher and batter. Assuming clock infractions in MLB are as rare as in the minors, I don’t see the point in having the countdown clock as a tv graphic. It’s a distraction.

I’m a strong supporter of the clock rule, and I expect most of you will enjoy it too.

Jack Kruger, who caught for Round Rock in 2021-2022, offered his thoughts in a twitter thread.

Prospect Lists

MLB.com (free link) and Baseball America (subscriber link) released their top-30 prospect lists for the Rangers recently. As always, Jamey Newberg has his thorough and engaging top 72 at the Athletic (subscription link).

MLB.com rated Texas’s system the best in the division, noting the Rangers’ six top-100 prospects are one fewer than the other four teams combined. I’ll have more on these lists and others in the coming weeks.

Transactions and Other News

Texas released top 2020 signing Bayron Lora a few weeks ago, and now the priciest signing from 2018 is also gone. When signed, Jose Rodriguez was described as a bat-oriented catcher, but he never played catcher in a real game, and, unfortunately, there wasn’t much orientation to his bat. Folllowing a decent opener in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguez lost 2020 to covid and all but 15 games in 2021 to injury. After two years with little on-field action, he joined low-A Down East and hit .197/.280/.285 with four homers in 87 games splitting time between right, first, and DH. Texas also released IF Junior Paniagua, a noteworthy signing from the same period.

LHP Joe Palumbo is back. Once among the club’s most promising prospects, Palumbo tossed 19 innings for the Rangers across 2019-2020. In 2021, Palumbo had trouble staying on the field and lacked velocity and control, leading to the loss of his 40 spot. In 2022 as a Giant, Palumbo fared no better, limited to five innings and released in July. I think Palumbo’s last fully injury-free season was 2016. Hopefully, at the least, he’ll be healthy as a returning Ranger.

2016 2nd-rounder RHP Alex Speas is also back after a year out of the system partially spent as head coach at Georgia’s Combine Academy. Speas, Demarcus Evans, and Joe Barlow made some noise in 2018 as a Hickory relief trio with otherworldly strikeout rates. Speas unfortunately needed elbow surgery by June. In 2020, he was dealing 102 on the side and rumored to be a potential MLB addition. That call never came, and he slid through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed after being left off the 40. His always-iffy control worsened in 2021 at Frisco, where he struck out 23 in 12 innings but walked or hit 24.

RHP Avery Weems underwent Tommy John surgery. Last year’s commentary ahead of the 40-man deadline: “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.”

Prospect Mitch Bratt threw 1.1 scoreless innings for Team Canada in a warmup against the Cubs. Bratt, who hasn’t pitched above low-A, retired Eric Hosmer, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner.

Former Rangers righty Mason Englert, swiped by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft, has allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings. I’ve not seen anything noteworthy about his likelihood of making the Tigers’ roster. One article said he “came to camp ready to compete,” reassuring to those of us concerned he might have spent all winter on the couch eating lard from a bucket. As of yesterday, the Tigers still had 32 pitchers in their Major League camp including 21 on the 40-man roster.

Mitch Moreland has retired.

Sparks, “Beat The Clock,” from No. 1 In Heaven, 1979

Texas’s Most and Least Stable Year-Over Year Rotations

Acknowledging an inability to develop starting pitching and wishing to jump-start their return to competitive ball, the Rangers have purchased an entire rotation on the open market. An ostensible rotation, given the injury histories of its members, but let’s leave that aside for now. Added to last year’s signing of Jon Gray were Martin Perez (himself a free agent for only a few days as he pondered Texas’s qualifying offer), Jake DeGrom, Andrew Heaney, and Nathan Eovaldi.

With that in mind, I wondered about the most and least stable year-over-year rotations in team history. I looked the data two ways: percentage of starts in a season made by pitchers who started at least once for the Rangers the year before, and percentage of starts made by pitchers who started at least ten games the year before (or a proportional number in shortened seasons).

The 2023 rotation gives the appearance of huge turnover, but I seriously doubt it will rank very high in franchise history. That would require Jon Gray and Martin Perez to be nearly absent, and even then, much of the high-level depth consists of last year’s rotation (Dane Dunning, Cole Ragans, Glenn Otto).

First, the rotations with the most year-over-year turnover (Red/bold = 10+ starts in the initial year, red = 1-9 starts in the initial year):

1. 2006 (18% of starts by previous year’s starters, 0% of starts by those with 10 or more starts)



31 - Chris Young
30 - Kenny Rogers
20 - Chan Ho Park
12 - Ryan Drese
12 - Pedro Astacio
10 - Juan Dominguez
10 - Ricardo Rodriguez
9 - Joaquin Benoit
8 - Kameron Loe
6 - John Wasdin

6 - CJ Wilson
4 - RA Dickey
3 - Edinson Volquez

1 - Josh Rupe
34 - Kevin Millwood
33 - Vicente Padilla
23 - John Koronka
15 - Kameron Loe
14 - Rob Tejeda
13 - John Rheinecker
13 - Adam Eaton
8 - Edinson Volquez
5 - John Wasdin
2 - Kip Wells
1 - Rick Bauer
1 - RA Dickey

2. 2018 (26% of starts by previous year’s starters, 22% of starts by those with 10 or more starts)



32 - Martín Pérez
28 - Andrew Cashner
24 - Cole Hamels
22 - Yu Darvish
18 - Nick Martinez
15 - A.J. Griffin
10 - Tyson Ross
6 - Austin Bibens-Dirkx
5 - Miguel González
1 - Alex Claudio
1 - Dillon Gee

28 - Mike Minor
24 - Bartolo Colon
20 - Cole Hamels
18 - Yovani Gallardo
15 - Martín Pérez
12 - Doug Fister
12 - Matt Moore
8 - Ariel Jurado
6 - Austin Bibens-Dirkx
5 - Yohander Méndez
5 - Drew Hutchison
4 - Adrian Sampson
2 - Jeffrey Springs
2 - Connor Sadzeck
1 - Alex Claudio

3. 2019 (40% of starts by previous year’s starters, 20% of starts by those with 10 or more starts)



28 - Mike Minor
24 - Bartolo Colon
20 - Cole Hamels
18 - Yovani Gallardo
15 - Martín Pérez
12 - Doug Fister
12 - Matt Moore
8 - Ariel Jurado
6 - Austin Bibens-Dirkx
5 - Yohander Méndez
5 - Drew Hutchison
4 - Adrian Sampson
2 - Jeffrey Springs
2 - Connor Sadzeck
1 - Alex Claudio
33 - Lance Lynn
32 - Mike Minor
18 - Ariel Jurado
15 - Adrian Sampson

9 - Jesse Chavez
9 - Drew Smyly
9 - Kolby Allard
8 - Shelby Miller
6 - Brock Burke
4 - Pedro Payano
4 - Joe Palumbo
4 - Edinson Volquez

Next, the three most stable Texas rotations year-over-year:

1. 1990 (88% of starts by previous year’s starters, an identical 88% of starts by those with 10 or more starts)



32 - Nolan Ryan
31 - Bobby Witt
30 - Charlie Hough
28 - Kevin Brown
22 - Mike Jeffcoat
15 - Jamie Moyer

2 - John Barfield
1 - Brad Arnsberg
1 - Wilson Alvarez

32 - Charlie Hough
32 - Bobby Witt
30 - Nolan Ryan
26 - Kevin Brown
12 - Mike Jeffcoat
10 - Jamie Moyer

6 - Scott Chiamparino
6 - Brian Bohanon
3 - Kenny Rogers
3 - Craig McMurtry
2 - Gerald Alexander

2. 1979 (85% of starts by previous year’s starters, 81% by those with 10 or more starts)



33- Jon Matlack
30 - Fergie Jenkins
28 - Doyle Alexander
22 - Doc Medich
22 - Doc Ellis
11 - Steve Comer

9 - Jim Umbarger
4 - Paul Mirabella
2 - Roger Moret
1 - Danny Darwin

37 - Fergie Jenkins
36 - Steve Comer
19 - Doc Medich
18 - Doyle Alexander
13 - Jon Matlack

12 - John Henry Johnson
9 - Dock Ellis
6 - Danny Darwin
4 - Brian Allard
3 - Dave Rajsich
2 - Ed Farmer
2 - Jerry Don Gleaton
1 - Larry McCall

3. 1992 (81% of starts by previous year’s starters, 78% by those with 10 or more starts)



33 - Kevin Brown
27 - Nolan Ryan
25 - Jose Guzman
16 - Bobby Witt

12 - Oil Can Boyd
11 - Brian Bohanon
9 - Kenny Rogers
9 - Gerald Alexander
9 - Jon Barfield
5 - Scott Chiamparino
3 - Hector Fajardo
2 - Terry Matthews
1 - Mark Petkovsek
35 - Kevin Brown
33 - Jose Guzman
27 - Nolan Ryan
25 - Bobby Witt

12 - Roger Pavlik
10 - Todd Burns
7 - Brian Bohanon
4 - Jeff Robinson
4 - Scott Chiamparino
3 - Mike Jeffcoat
2 - Dan Smith

Palace Music, “Stablemate,” from Arise Therefore, 1996