Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) Fat City (1972) Jacob’s Ladder (1990) Morvern Callar (2002) No Time To Die (2021) Cosmopolis (2013) Downhill Racer (1969) Nosferatu (1922) Detour (1945) The Hotel New Hampshire (1982) The Worst Person In The World (2021) Funeral in Berlin (1966) Heaven’s Gate (1980) The Color of Money (1986) Eight Men Out (1988) 24-Hour Party People (2002) Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) One-Eyed Jacks (1961) Andrei Rublev (1966) Night of the Iguana (1964) Up in the Air (2009) The Hot Rock (1972) The Hustler (1961) Glass Onion (2022) Bladerunner 2049 (2017) Do The Right Thing (1989) Fellini Satyricon (1969) Meet John Doe (1941) Performance (1970) Deathtrap (1982) Another Round (2020) Day For Night (1973) The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) The 400 Blows (1959) Network (1976)
The minor league season begins at 700pm CDT in Round Rock. The weekend rotation will be Cole Winn, Cody Bradford, and newly acquired Robert Dugger. Minor League Roster Assignments
We’ll see some changes before tonight and next week’s commencement of AA and the A levels. For example, the Express have 31 players listed on a 28-man roster. That doesn’t mean three players have been assigned to AAA only to be cut two days later, but not all will be active tonight.
Red = new to the level, bold = on 40-man roster, numbers in parentheses = prospect ranking at MLB.com
AAA — ROUND ROCK EXPRESS Location: Round Rock, Texas Stadium: Dell Diamond (opened 2000) Affiliate since: 2021 (also 2011-2018)
Pitchers Grant Anderson Joe Barlow Jacob Barnes Cody Bradford (27) Kyle Cody Robert Dugger Bernardo Flores Lucas Jacobsen Zach Kent (22) John King Jake Latz Chase Lee Dominic Leone Zack Littell Fern Ozuna Daniel Robert Yerry RodriguezCole Winn (14)
The rotation has three top-30 prospects topped by Winn, who’ll try to rebound from a semi-lost 2022. Any of four homegrown relievers (Anderson, Jacobsen, Lee, Robert… and maybe Ozuna as a fifth) has a shot at an Arlington debut, and four more (Barlow, Cody, King, Rodriguez on his last option) are looking to get back. The nature of relief pitching in the 2020s insists that a decent number of these pitchers will log some innings with the Rangers. It’s just a question of who’s hot and giving the appearance of consistency at the particular time of need. I’m stretched to find six starting pitchers in this group, but we’ll see. Sometimes, Texas’s AAA and AA squads would shift to a five-man rotation, but in general the weekly six-on, one-off schedule fosters a six-man rotation.
Catchers Sam Huff Sandy Leon Matt Whatley
At some point, Texas will probably need a third catcher or injury replacement. Whether the Rangers call up Huff (already on the 40, on his final option) or the more experienced Leon may provide some insight into Huff’s future with the club. Matt Whatley hasn’t hit enough to warrant a Major League debut but is well-regarded within the organization.
Infielders Diosbel Arias Blaine Crim Justin Foscue (7) Jonathan Ornelas (18) Yoshi Tsutsugo Davis Wendzel
On any given night, the right-to-left infield could be the quartet of Crim, Foscue, Ornelas, and Wendzel. None is banging on the MLB door as of Opening Day, not that the Rangers have a spot for them in any case. They and several other prospects are in the quirky situation of finding a home in Arlington only if they don’t develop into everyday players. If they do, they’re blocked and become trade chips (excepting a move to the outfield, a major injury to a current Texas infielder, or something unfortunate like Jung failing to maintain his spot). Positional flexibility contributes to their possibility of actually playing for the Rangers. That especially favors Ornelas, who can play just about anywhere, and Wendzel, who can handle short. Foscue spotted at third last year (his most frequent college position) and could conceivably handle first as well.
Outfielders Sandro Fabian Clint Frazier Elier Hernandez Julio P. Martinez
Texas cleared an excess of potential AAA outfielders by adding Travis Jankowski to the Major League club, releasing Joe McCarthy, and placing Dustin Harris and Josh Sale in AA. Frazier is trying to rebound from a dismal 2022. Hernandez is likely the best of the group.
AA — FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS Location: Frisco, TX Stadium: Riders Field (opened 2003) Affiliate since: 2003 Pitchers Marc Church (20) Ricky Devito Ryan Garcia Antoine Kelly (24) Nick Krauth Jack Leiter (5, 78th in MLB) John Matthews Theo McDowell Triston Polley Tekoah Roby (12) Justin Slaten Alex Speas Nick Starr Owen White (3, 66th in MLB) Grant Wolfram
My guess at the rotation is Garcia, Krauth, Leiter, Roby, White, and… I’m not sure. One among Devito, Kelly, Slaten, and Wolfram, all of whom have starting experience? A bullpen day? Leiter’s second full season is a big one for him and organization. While there’s no rush to get him to Arlington, he does need to make forward progress after an occasionally disquieting 2022. White just needs to stay healthy. Up from high-A, TK Roby pitched better than his 4.64 ERA and in particular has better control than the average starter, but homers sometimes troubled him.
Church is the marquee reliever. The slider is a Major League pitch, and the fastball works well, too. Kelly will try to improve last year’s woeful control. Nick Starr was Frisco’s go-to in high-leverage situations last year.
Catchers David Garcia Ryan Gold Scott Kapers
Garcia is repeating a level for the first time. In the past, he’s acclimated to a new level slowly and shown second-half improvement, but that didn’t quite happen in 2022. He’s still just 23.
Catcher is not a position of strength in the system. No list I’ve seen has a Texas catcher among the top 30, and I don’t disagree. Offhand, I thought “Ian Moller’s probably somewhere around 40th,” and found him ranked 36th by Jamey Newberg.
Infielders Luisangel Acuna (4, 71st in MLB) Jax Biggers Frainyer Chavez Thomas Saggese (16) Josh Sale Chris Seise Nick Tanielu
Acuna survived two months in AA as a 20-year-old (.224/.302/.349) and impressed enough to hop into top-100 lists. He should earn the majority of starts at short. Like Evan Carter, Saggese hit exceptionally well after a late-season promotion. I expect he’ll wander among third, second, and short as in past years. Biggers, Chavez, Sale, and Tanielu have experience in AAA, albeit in brief, need-filling roles for Biggers and Chavez. The 31-year-old Sale spent most of 2022 in Round Rock’s outfield. Outfielders Evan Carter (2, 41st in MLB) Dustin Harris (7) Trevor Hauver Kellen Strahm
Carter joined late last year and batted .295/.479/.432 across ten regular and playoff games. Harris was transferred to AA after originally being optioned to Round Rock. Don’t be disappointed. He’s still working on his outfield proficiency and played only 85 games last year because of a wrist injury. Hauver’s path to the bigs runs through his bat, His ability to walk is without peer, but the challenge is handling pitchers with improved command. An AAA assignment for Strahm wouldn’t have bothered me. He’s mature and was solid in Frisco last year. Hopefully he won’t spend too long here.
Bratt, Kindreich, Rocker, Santos, Stephan, and Teodo would appear to be the rotation, although several others have experience and could be used in tandems. They would also appear to be the deepest rotation of the four squads, with four top-30 prospects, another who probably should be (Santos), and yet another on the cusp (Kindreich). Rocker’s assignment feels right, and not just as a cautious response to Leiter’s 2022. He had a lot of down time, and he’s kind of a two-pitch guy right now, at least based on what I saw from the AFL and in Surprise last week. Ramping up at a lower level and in a more isolated environment makes sense.
Catchers Cody Freeman Liam Hicks Cooper Johnson
Still relatively new to catching, Cody Freeman repeats the level but will be in Frisco before long with a good showing. Hicks has the bat to play first and DH when not catching.
Acosta had a respectable showing in low-A last year, batting .261/.341/.361 with 26 doubles and 44 steals. Cheney (2B, 3B, SS) and Hatcher (1B, OF) were 5th-year college seniors drafted and signed at steep discounts last year to free money for other picks. Easley is a speedy super-utility type who has spent most of his time in the outfield.
Outfielders Angel Aponte Geisel Cepeda Daniel Mateo Alejandro Osuna (25) Marcus Smith
Osuna appeared larger than his listed 185 pounds last week, borderline burly. He was Down East’s best hitter last year. Osuna has played some center, but I’d expect Daniel Mateo to receive the majority of those starts. Smith received promotion despite an absurd 42% strikeout rate. Smith still reached at a .336 clip because he’s very patient, and he can steal at will. Cepeda, 25, is a recent Cuban signing.
LOW-A – DOWN EAST WOOD DUCKS Location: Kinston, NC Stadium: Grainger Stadium (opened 1949) Affiliate since: 2017
Pitchers Matt Brosky Seth Clark Jose Corniell Aidan Curry Josh Gessner Jackson Kelley Jackson Leath Dylan MacLean DJ McCarty Damian Mendoza Joseph Montalvo Ivan Oviedo Brock Porter (6, 94th in MLB) Luis Ramirez Adrian Rodriguez Kai Wynyard
Four 2022 picks will make their pro debuts in low-A: Brock Porter (4th), Luis Ramirez (5th), Matt Brosky (a money-saver 8th-round pick), and Jackson Kelley (12th). Undrafted Seth Clark out of Georgia State is also new to the pros.
Catchers Tucker Mitchell Ian Moller Konner Piotto
My earlier mention of Moller wasn’t a criticism. I’m actually quite fond of him, but a lot has to happen.
Infielders Cam Cauley Danyer Cueva (29) Gleider Figuereo (19) Andres Mesa Abimelec Ortiz Miguel Villarroel
Down East has a highly entertaining collection of position players. Will it win a bunch of games? I don’t know. It’s greener than it appears, as so-called repeaters Cueva, Figuereo, Blackmon, and Morrobel collected only a handful of low-A games last year as the season ended. Cauley and Cueva both play up the middle, and in fact they swapped positions mid-game in the outing I saw last Thursday. Figuereo will handle third.
Outfielders JoJo Blackmon Jeferson Espinal Yosy Galan Anthony Gutierrez (11) Yeison Morrobel (13)
I didn’t get enough of a look to form an opinion, but Gutierrez’s #11 ranking may be selling him short. Morrobel (along with infielders Figuereo, Cueva, and Villarroel) lorded over complex-league pitchers last year before making a late-season jump to Kinston. Galan repeats the level but stands a good chance of being the first position player to reach Hickory.
A large handful of additional players didn’t receive assignments. Some I saw in Surprise, some I didn’t, and some might be injured. I’ll keep an eye on their whereabouts.
Texas released infielder Hunter Bryan (2019, 31st round).
Mason Englert allowed a full-count homer to Wander Franco in his debut MLB appearance. No shame in that. He retired the next three, Randy Arozerena among them.
Sean Bass of the Ticket, Michael Tepid of Lone Star Ball, and I recorded the latest Diamond Pod yesterday. Thoughts on opening day, initial roster assignments, observations from Surprise, much more. Links are in my signature.
Minor League Roster Assignments
The break-camp assignments are out. I’ll cover them in a separate email. I came down with something after the podcast and have been on a couch or in bed since around 5pm yesterday, so I’m running behind. I will probably post my annual two-part primer beginning next Monday or Tuesday. Round Rock commences play tomorrow, but the others don’t start until next Thursday.
Major League Roster Texas added RHP Ian Kennedy and OF Travis Jankowski to the 40 and active roster. Pitchers Spencer Howard and Jake Sborz and Spencer Howard plus OF Leody Taveras hit the Injured List, while pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Glenn Otto were moved to the 60-day IL. So, for the moment, the Rangers have avoided any 40-man subtractions while keeping Dunning, Ragans, Duran, and Thompson.
Minor League Agreement
Per national reports, the minor leaguers have reached an agreement with ownership on their first collective bargaining agreement. Annual pay will increase from a range of $4,800-$17,500 to $19,800-$35,800, depending on level, and salaries will be paid more-or-less year-round instead of only during the season. Also, players who initially sign at the age of 19 or above can become free agents after six years instead of seven (this applies only to future signings). Improvements in housing, transportation, nutrition, and publicity rights are part of the agreement.
On the downside, MLB will reduce the limit of domestic players under contract from 180 to 165. Ownership has pushed for this ever since last year’s lockout ended. MLB can’t reduce the number of minor league teams during this five-year agreement, but that’s a moot point because they had already committed to the current system through 2030 via Player Development Licenses with affiliate clubs. via After 2030… I don’t want to think about that right now.
This is almost certainly the greatest improvement in compensation and working conditions in the history of professional minor league ball. Prior to now, minor leaguers’ conditions were up to ownership with an assist from the MLB Players Association, which, to put it politely, did not always have the interests of minor leaguers at the forefront.
The intersquads resumed last Thursday after a day off and another spoiled by rain. One odd and slightly disappointing consequence of the schedule is that I saw the low-levels squads only once in four days. Ordinarily, I’d focus on the younger players because I’m unlikely to see them again for a year. On my first day, cancellation of one of the A-level games compelled me to stay in Surprise for the AA/AAA games. On Friday, Jack Leiter started for AA, so I watched him. Saturday morning, I grabbed the lineup determined to watch low and high-A, only to see Kumar Rocker listed as the AA starter followed by Owen White. Even though I’d seen the likes of Anthony Gutierrez and Sebastian Walcott for only a few innings, and even though Mitch Bratt and Winston Santos were starting for the A squads, I couldn’t pass on Rocker and White. (I didn’t see Santos but heard plenty. Keep him in mind.) Photos (and one video) from Monday Photos from Thursday and Friday Photos from Saturday Videos from Thursday through Saturday
On my one day in A ball, Brock Porter and Emiliano Teodo pitched against Kansas City. Porter is last year’s fourth-rounder, a first-round talent who fell into Texas’s lap because of money issues. I liked what I saw from him, especially the changeup which is advanced for his age and is going to destroy lower-level hitters. Had I not checked his velocity, my report would be more glowing, but his fastball was in the 89-93 range, well below advertised. My understanding is I caught him on a down day; he’d been more in the 90-95 range with some higher outliers in previous efforts. Thursday’s velocity was disappointing, but it’s just one outing, and I’ve seen many pitchers in March underthrow or overthrow their usual speed.
Unfortunately, Emiliano’s Teodo’s outing was a mess, marked by poor control, weirdly lower and wider velocity ranges (FB 92-99, CB 82-85), and baserunners stealing at will. Last year, Teodo fanned 33% of opponents with a fastball that frequently topped 100, a low-90s curve, and occasional change. In 12 of 22 outings in 2022, he allowed more walks than hits.
Top 2023 international signing Sebastian Walcott is listed at 6’4” and a sturdy 190 pounds, so he’s less boyish than your average 16-year-old. Walcott smacked a hard grounder for a single and showed off his strong arm on a slow grounder. The throw was a touch late but still impressive; it’s available for viewing in my Porter video.
I would have liked to have seen more of last year’s marquee international addition, OF Anthony Gutierrez. He drew a walk after a 1-2 count, and no balls were hit that gave him an opportunity to show off in the field.
Catcher Ian Moller rapped an opposite field double. He tended to work that direction when I saw him last May. Moller slugged only .315 last year, but I think he has more to offer.
Jack Leiter’s first inning was nearly immaculate, ended by an errant curve on his eighth pitch. He would retire that batter on a fly to left after striking out the first two. An excellent start. His first pitch of the 2nd was an elevated fastball taken deep. He retired the next three around a walk but lacked the control exhibited in the 1st. The next two innings were largely the same. Leiter’s fastball velocity was fine: mid-90s peaking at 99. His slider was often impressive. But as with much of 2022, his fastball control wavered such that the ongoing battle seemed within himself as much as against the opposing batter.
I’ve always liked Luisangel Acuna, and he’s given me no reason not to. Acuna really sells out on his contact but doesn’t strike out at an outrageous rate (23% in 2022). While not a great source of homers, he can reach out and pull a slider with authority. He’s impressed at short. Acuna’s showing in Frisco was muted (.224/.302/.349, but he debuted there at the age of 20 years, four months.
Kumar Rocker completed three innings with relative ease. In the inning I charted, the fastball never strayed from 94-95, and the slider was mostly 87-88. Rocker also missed on what appeared to be a single curve (79 MPH) and change (84), although I leave open the possibility they were mis-gripped sliders. He missed several bats with both the fastball and slider, with the latter pitch looking more impressive. Rocker still has a fairly short stride to the plate, albeit lengthier than his initial Arizona Fall League appearance, and he still appears to be generating most of his oomph from hip rotation and little from his legs. I’m neither a scout, pitching coach, nor biomechanist, so I’m not qualified to get too deep into his throwing motion, but it undoubtedly looks different than most pitchers.
In terms of at-bat results, Owen White’s first inning was noisier than anything from Leiter or Teodo the day before: grounders just inside each line for doubles, another double off the wall, a no-doubt homer. When the inning finally ended, White screamed a word unsuitable for children that was audible in Flagstaff. The second inning was cleaner: two innocuous flies and a grounder to himself. White offered all four of his pitches that inning: FB 93-95, SL 88, CB 79, CH 85-87. Even with that first inning, he threw with conviction and appeared ready to resume his ascent to the Majors. White pitched only two of his scheduled three innings because the staff let him work through the lengthy first rather than rolling it.
Cole Winn started for AAA. I saw Winn more than any other pitcher in 2022, and he’ll return to Round Rock, so I didn’t focus on him while Rocker and White pitched. Even in limited observation, I saw strikeouts on a fastball, slider, and curve. He seemed sound mechanically, which I’d hoped for after some time off. Recall that a comebacker off Winn’s ankle in late April 2022 didn’t seem cause more than superficial damage but precipitated a months-long decay in mechanics and loss of control.
A year out of baseball hasn’t cost Alex Speas any velocity, nor has it aided his control. He ranged from 97 to 99 with the fastball plus a 91-92 MPH slider. He missed several bats but struggled to find the plate.
The small potions of Cody Bradford’s outing I witnessed seemed effective. I don’t know how hard he threw, but velocity isn’t his forte. Hitters don’t know what he’s going to throw and probably won’t like where he locates it. Bradford didn’t earn a 40 spot over the winter but is a worthy prospect.
Dustin Harris homered while I watched Rocker on the other field. I later returned to capture video of him striking out. Such is life. Harris also dumped a short fly the opposite way for a single.
I didn’t get much of a look at IF Justin Foscue, as he was often busy with the big leaguers.
OF Yosy Galan played in Saturday’s AA game and homered. Galan is athletic, loose-limbed, and speedy, and I enjoy watching him as much as anybody. Galan also really loves to swing the bat, regardless of what’s headed his way, resulting in a 33% strikeout rate and .206 average last year in Down East.
As for Evan Carter, I’ve just never had any luck catching him on a memorable day. I’ve got video, but it’s a snooze, to be honest.
These aren’t the only folks I saw, of course, and I’ll mix in additional Surprise observations during the regular season.
Per local reports, Ricky Vanasco injured his knee in his final intersquad outing and will miss several weeks.
Texas released reliever Reyes Montoya and OF Joe McCarthy. Texas also released and re-signed catcher Sandy Leon and pitcher Dominic Leone.
Nomar Mazara received his release from Baltimore. Kole Calhoun has departed Seattle. The Mariners released OF Leonys Martin. I did not import that sentence from 2018. Martin had returned from Japan and signed a minor deal with the M’s. Seattle also signed OF Delino Deshields Jr. last week.
Rule 5 selection Mason Englert has made Detroit’s Opening Day roster.
Per MiLB.com, the AAA leagues will play a split-season format for the first time in… I don’t know. At least as long as I’ve been covering the game, probably much longer, maybe ever. The first and second-half champs will meet in a best-of-three with the winners of the Pacific Coast and International Leagues meeting in a single-game championship on September 30. I don’t see any mention of divisional rounds, leading me to believe the divisions will be eliminated or won’t serve any purpose if retained. Traditionally, AAA was the only classification that didn’t employ split seasons.
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.
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.
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.
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