So you want a new reliever? Let’s check out some candidates. First, from the 40:
Taylor Hearn has been fine if not exceptional. I expect he’d be better than the two outings that resulted in assignment to Round Rock, but whether he’d inspire confidence or queasiness is uncertain.
John King has shown good control but has been hit pretty hard, although most of the balls in play haven’t amounted to more than singles.
Joe Barlow’s opponents are hitting only .050/.050/.100 with a 25% K rate. His opposing average on balls in play is an impossibly low 0.67, but at every level including the Majors, Barlow has posted a low BABIP. Might as well not argue about regression at this point. His fastball still lags behind its 2021-2022 rate, averaging 92.6 overall and 93.1 in his most recent outing.
Yerry Rodriguez has been terrific. Only one dubious outing out of seven, a .121/.211/.152 line with a 37% strikeout rate, more swinging strikes with the fastball than last year, a ridiculously low (and surely unmaintainable) median exit velocity of 76 MPH.
Off the 40, Zack Littell (8.1 IP, five runners, 11 strikeouts) has been the best of the experienced offseason signings. But let’s talk about a potential home-grown option: Chase Lee.
Lee has a 1.54 ERA. Opponents are hitting only .209/.277/.279 with a 34% strikeout rate. He’s averaging nearly seven batters per outing, so he’s not a one-inning-and-done type. Call him up now, yes? Well, maybe.
Lee throws an upper-80s sinking fastball with varying degrees of run and a low-80s sweepy slider. Despite the high K rate, his swinging strike rate is an ordinary 11%, and last year’s in AAA was only 9%.
Despite a less than overpowering arsenal, batters hate swinging against him, perhaps because his fastball runs more like a reverse slider, and minor league hitters strongly prefer to attack a more mundane heater. Lee has a 25% called strike rate, highest on the team. Observe the take rate against him compared to all pitchers in Round Rock’s games so far:
21 of 47 batters have taken the first three pitches against Lee. He’s not running up a bunch of 3-0 counts. His walk rate is 6%, and his strike rate is 65%. Many hitters are napping their way into 1-2 counts and then taking groggy hacks at a slider with 15 inches of horizontal break.
The question is whether this translates to the Majors. I can’t imagine hitters will be that passive against someone who throws low-in-the-zone fastballs at 88-91 MPH. Lee works both sides of the plate, but his pitches sometimes tend to run in a worryingly narrow vertical range. Lee has endured two poor stretches as a pro, once closing out 2021 (he looked tired) and upon promotion to AAA. Fortunately, both were short, but during those periods, opponents were hitting off a tee.
Lee’s going to get a shot, and while I wouldn’t quite call him a finished product, he’s pretty much who he’s going to be. I don’t know if that shot should be now. If a change is coming, I’d be inclined to take Barlow or Rodriguez. Rodriguez is on his last option, and, somewhat like Josh Sborz, the Rangers need to decide whether he has a future in Arlington. Might as well take a chance while he’s hot. Regardless, the Rangers don’t have a anyone in AAA just sitting there waiting to dominate high-leverage situations in Arlington. He’d be a Ranger already. Texas’s bullpen is pretty blah overall, actualized in the form of three weeks of over-their-head performance and three days of mayhem. Any change effected by a call-up will be marginal.
AAA: Round Rock 4, Albuquerque (COL) 3
Round Rock: 11 hits, 4 walks, 13 strikeouts
Opponent: 9 hits, 4 walks, 17 strikeouts
Record: 14-7, 1.5 GB
SP John King: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 41 P / 24 S, 2.38 ERA
RP Grant Anderson: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 SO, 0.00 ERA
RP Chase Lee: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO, 1.54 ERA
RP Yerry Rodriguez: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1.93 ERA
3B Justin Foscue: 2-5, .254/.376/.451
1B Yoshi Tsutsugo: 3-5, 2B, 3B, .298/.437/.456
Round Rock won on a bases-loaded HBP near midnight after an 82-minute rain delay.
Texas released OF Clint Frazier. Frazier was batting .250/.350/.442, far better than last year in AAA, but he wasn’t really standing out and lacks a tool that might make him a bench asset. Texas also released lefty Bernardo Flores Jr. after three walk-filled appearances.
AA: Frisco 7, at Amarillo (ARI) 9
Frisco: 10 hits, 6 walks, 11 strikeouts
Opponent: 10 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
Record: 8-8, 1 GB
SP Owen White: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 SO, 83 P / 59 S, 2.89 ERA
CF Evan Carter: 2-5, HR (4), .380/.516/.640
LF Dustin Harris: 1-3, 2 BB, SB (5), .226/.391/.415
Another solid outing from White in the toughest destination for AA pitchers. Unfortunately, an attempt at more than six innings played out like the parent club’s issues the last two nights. Up 7-1, White allowed a single and his only walk (on four pitches) to open the 7th and was replaced by Tristen Polley, who retired one of four batters. High-leverage reliever Nick Starr fanned Jordan Lawler with a nasty righty-righty change but surrendered a game-tying homer in the 7th plus another homer and triple off the wall in the 8th.
In the lineup for the first time since a Friday HBP, Evan Carter homered.
Hi-A: Hickory 2, at Winston-Salem (CHW) 3 (7)
Hickory: 8 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
SP Winston Santos: 5 IP, 7 H (1 HR), 3 R, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 4 SO, 84 P / 55 S, 5.21 ERA
RF Alejandro Osuna: 2-2, BB, .257/.472/.314
C Liam Hicks: 2-3, .304/.448/.435
LF Marcus Smith: 1-2, BB, SB (2), .091/.333/.091
Hi-A: Hickory 2, at Winston-Salem (CHW) 5 (7)
Hickory: 8 hits, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 4 walks, 10 strikeouts
Record: 9-6, 2 GB
SP Gavin Collyer: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 6 SO, 85 P / 55 S, 5.68 ERA
RP Robby Ahlstrom: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 SO, 4.91 ERA
CF Daniel Mateo: 2-4, 2B, SB (2), .259/.273/.389
SS Keyber Rodriguez: 2-3, 2B, .298/.313/.383
Winston Santos is why I tack HBPs onto control stats. He’s walked only four in 13 innings for an excellent 6% rate, but he’s hit six, so his combined BB/HBP rate is a not-so-excellent 16%. He plunked 12 last year in 108 innings. Pedro Payano would approve.
In the second game, Hickory played as home team in the makeup of an opening-weekend contest.
Lo-A: Down East 8, at Fayetteville (HOU) 1
Down East: 11 hits, 9 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 4 hits, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts
Record: 7-8, 2 GB
SP Joseph Montalvo: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 SO, 68 P / 43 S, 2.77 ERA
RP Luis Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 3.86 ERA
RF Yeison Morrobel: 1-3, 3 BB, SB (5), .103/.340/.103
C Ian Moller: 1-5, HR (1), .250/.308/.444
CF Anthony Gutierrez: 2-3, BB, SB (5), .311/.360/.400
2B Cam Cauley: 2-5, SB (4), .163/.200/.256
SS Danyer Cueva: 2-5, 2 2B, .234/.229/.340
LF Jojo Blackmon: 0-2, 3 BB, SB (3), .065/.256/.194
Runs! By Down East!
The Wood Ducks have some flaky lines in the early going. Yeison Morrobel isn’t striking out excessively but has only four hits versus 13 walks. Jojo Blackmon: two hits, eight walks. Meanwhile, Danyer Cueva still seeks his first free pass and has an OBP below his batting average. Pretty all-around is young Anthony Gutierrez.
According to the Rangers themselves, 20-year-old Joseph Montalvo’s whiff rate (misses / swings) on sliders was 50%. Born in Puerto Rico, Montalvo attended high school in Florida and was Texas’ final pick of the 2021 draft.
Five Years Ago Yesterday
Hickory’s Tyler Phillips threw a seven-inning complete game on just 70 pitches. Joe Barlow whiffed four in two scoreless in the other half of the doubleheader.