Start with Hickory below, then come back to the top.
Okay. Per the Hickory Daily Record ($ link but might work anyway), the Hickory Crawdads will be sold from the Rangers to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a private equity group that has snatched up a bunch of teams since the 2020-2021 MiLB reorganization. Per GM Douglas Locasio, daily operations are not expected to change. The Rangers purchased Hickory in 2016, at the time a low-A team. Concurrently, they became owners of a new high-A team in Kinston christened Down East, which began play in 2017. The teams swapped classifications in 2021.
A critical factor in Texas buying these teams was to secure stability for its A-level rosters. While Texas had a strong relationship with Hickory that I expected would continue, the Rangers’ high-A situation had been a nuisance for a dozen years, culminating in banishment to High Desert, on the short list of least desirable affiliations in pro ball. Prior to the creation of Down East, the Rangers had attempted to purchase high-A Wilmington (DE, not NC) and move it to Kinston, which failed because of the collapse of a related purchase/relocation of AA Binghampton by another party. Now that MLB has asserted its control over Minor League Baseball including elimination of the biennial affiliate reshuffle, clubs can sell with more assurance that they won’t face a High Desert-like situation down the road. Also, should MLB decide on additional minor league contraction, the Rangers wouldn’t be holding what would become a deeply diminished asset.
An eventual sale of Down East would not be unexpected.
AAA: Round Rock 10, Tacoma (SEA) 2
Round Rock: 9 hits, 6 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 3 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts
SP Robert Dugger: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 SO, 52 P / 31 S, 14.73 ERA
RP Lucas Jacobsen: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA
RF JP Martinez: 2-4, BB, SB (4)
3B Blaine Crim: 2-4, 2B
Rehabbing Leody Taveras clubbed a grand slam off Fred Villarreal, singled earnestly off Taylor Williams, and drew a bases-loaded walk off Justus Sheffield. None of these pitchers is MLB-caliber at present, but it’s still nice to see Taveras swinging a solid bat.
For the second time professionally, Blaine Crim has started consecutive games at third. Jonathan Ornelas received his first day off.
Reliever Hever Bueno is back. The righty had retired with several weeks remaining in the 2022 season, not the time of year players in their mid-twenties announce that sort of decision. I didn’t see him in Surprise but heard he was there. Last year, Bueno had a robust 28% strikeout rate in AAA with serious control issues. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering whether a minor leaguer can simply retire and sign elsewhere as a free agent, oh my heavens no. At least not before he reaches free agency via service time. Clubs can opt not to offer the returning player a new contract, which would then make him a free agent, but retiring in and of itself doesn’t sever the relationship between player and club. See below.)
AA: Frisco 0, at San Antonio (SDG) 4
Frisco: 3 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts
SP Ryan Garcia: 5 IP, 4 H (2 HR), 2 R, 2 BB, 4 SO, 78 P / 44 S, 3.60 ERA
C David Garcia: 2-3
2019 2nd-rounder Ryan Garcia made his AA debut. Injuries and covid had limited him to just 17 appearances during 2019-2022.
Dustin Harris received a clock strike on a 3-2 count. He wasn’t happy and I don’t blame him. The opposing pitcher was behind the mound, twirling his hand for a clock reset that wasn’t granted. When the pitcher finally stepped on the rubber as the clock dwindled, Harris still had one foot outside the box, so the ump rung him up. (This is my interpretation from various MiLB.tv camera shots. There was no audio at the time.) Manager Carlos Cardoza argued Harris’s case and was ejected.
The Texas League is batting a collective .212/.306/.333 and scoring 4.2 runs per game, 1.3 fewer than last year. Frisco is hitting .189/.273/.268. None of these conditions will last.
Hi-A: Hickory 3, at Wilmington (WAS) 2
Hickory: 8 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 0 walks, 12 strikeouts
SP Kumar Rocker: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 SO, 53 P / 41 S, 0.00 ERA
RP Larson Kindreich: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
SS Maximo Acosta: 2-4, 2B
1B Josh Hatcher: 2-4, HR (1), BB, SB (1)
Kumar Rocker pitched last year in indy ball and as a Ranger in the Arizona Fall League, but in a way, last night was his honest-to-goodness professional debut. He was more than up to the task, racing through five innings with an endless barrage of strikes. Rocker struck out two batters in each of the first four innings, then finished with a five-pitch 5th. The opposition whiffed at 12 pitches (23% of all pitches, 36% of swings) and took another eight for strikes. Only two balls escaped the infield, both lined singles.
So, about that opposition. Washington’s farm system is weak overall, but its high-A lineup features OF James Wood (a Soto acquisition and MLB.com’s #16 overall prospect), three others from major colleges, and several experienced internationals. It averaged 22.3 years of age and nearly three years of pro experience entering the season. These hitters aren’t on par with what Jack Leiter is facing, but Rocker definitely isn’t lording over a bunch of teenagers trying to graduate from the complex league.
Wilmington has a radio feed but no MiLB.tv coverage. Best as I can tell, Rocker threw the usual fastball/slider mix, and velocity was to expectations.
I’ve already seen fans pining for promotion to Frisco. All in due course. First, I’d like to see him build up to 90 pitches or whatever Texas intends to be his cap in 2022. Second, I’d like to see changeups. Changeups galore, and curves, too, if they’re intended to be in his repertoire. Rocker is virtually a two-pitch guy right now. Hickory is the place to build on that.
Texas’s official prospect Twitter account has video.
Lo-A: Down East 6, at Augusta (ATL) 5
Down East: 8 hits, 6 walks, 13 strikeouts
Opponent: 4 hits, 6 walks, 13 strikeouts
SP Luis Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 25 P / 17 S, 0.00 ERA
RP Joseph Montalvo: 3 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 SO, 3.00 ERA
RP Seth Clark: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
SS Cam Cauley: 1-5, HR (1)
RF Yeison Morrobel: 0-2, 2 BB, 2 SB (2)
C Ian Moller: 2-3, 2B, BB, SB (1)
2B Danyer Cueva: 2-3, 2B
7th-round righty Luis Ramirez made his pro debut. I watched a brief portion of his outing and saw effective sinking fastballs and changeups. The video gun read either 92 or a blank after each pitch, so I can’t vouch for velocity, but a 92 fastball sounds about right. Ramirez’s final season at Long Beach State was shortened by a shoulder injury, not that it would have made a difference professionally, because none of Texas’s drafted pitchers appeared last year by design.
Five Years Ago Yesterday
Round Rock fell to 1-6 with a 19-1 loss at OKC. Opponents were hitting .345/.434/.530 against the Express, “so the opposition is nine Joey Vottos, every night.” Andy Ibanez started his third straight game for the Express at third. His performance at the position while in Frisco left much to be desired, but he would gradually improve such that he was respectable there and even adequate at short.