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.