Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 18 July

Texas has purchased the contract of 2016 2nd-round pick RHP Alex Speas.

Speas’s stretches of statistical success in real games have been remarkably limited. A month-plus at short-season Spokane in 2017. A month in Hickory in 2018 preceding elbow surgery. The past three months, more-or-less. That’s it, in seven years since being drafted. I don’t point this out to demean him. Far from it. I just want to emphasize how unlikely and remarkable his ascent.

Speas lorded over low-A hitters in 2018 before blowing out his elbow. Most (in)famously, he registered glowing reports in side sessions in 2020, such that a Major League debut was under consideration. That didn’t happen, and by the time the broader populace got an extended look, whatever magic he possessed at that time had vanished. During a dire 2021, he had a one-in-three chance of not being able to complete an inning. He retired to become a youth coach in 2022. He returned rejuvenated this season and generated some heat prior to to my arrival in Surprise. I made a point of watching him, but my assessment was lukewarm: “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.” No offense, but I’d seen this before. But after a few so-so- outings, Speas began showing the form that precipitated his MLB debut.

Speas’ control in 2023 is still below average (12% BB/HBP) but not bad by current standards, and he’s struck out 40% of opponents with an oppo line of .158/.260/.221. Statcast lists Speas with five different pitches: four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, sweeper. I’m skeptical of that number, but regardless, Speas does at least have the ability to manipulate what he throws across a broad range of horizontal and vertical movement.

Round Rock Express pitchers have reached triple-digit velocity 12 times during 2022-2023. Ten of those pitches belong to Speas, topping at 101.5 MPH. Six were balls, another a single, none for swinging strikes. Impressive though it is, pure velocity is not responsible for his success. What has elevated Speas to this level is a monstrous cutter averaging 92 and reaching up to 98. He’s throwing it two-thirds of the time, he’s throwing it for strikes two-thirds of the time, and opponents are missing it on 44% of their swings. Speas has also thrown a handful of mid-80s pitches classified as sliders or sweepers. They have the same spin rate and more horizontal movement as the cutter, and they’ve largely been ineffective.

Is there reason for concern? Sure. To reiterate, Speas has a lengthy history of poor control, even at his best. In an admittedly small sample, the exit velos off him in AAA are well above average. Opponents are hitting .417 when they put a ball in play. But on the whole, Speas has earned this chance.

Unfortunately, I do not have personal video. He’s only pitched in Round Rock twice, and his schedule and mine haven’t meshed. I had expected him to pitch tonight in Round Rock and was planning to attend. I’m okay with missing that opportunity under the circumstances.

The unfortunate consequence of Speas’ addition is that LHP Taylor Hearn was designated for assignment. Hearn was okay overall in Round Rock (3.66 ERA, .232/.352/.338 oppo line, 16% BB/HBP, 30% SO), allowing only two homers in a nasty environment but often struggling with control. On a team and in an era where so many relievers look the part if you catch them on the right day, Hearn hadn’t set himself apart enough to get a callback since being optioned in mid-April. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in another organization in a few days via claim or trade.

History Of A Sort
The Rangers are over .500 in a 162-game span for the first time in nearly six years. On September 12, 2017, the Rangers were 82-80 in their most recent 162. They fell to .500 with a loss the next day, not to return to a 162-game winning record for 822 games and 2,135 days. Good as they’ve been this season, clawing back to above .500 in a 162-game set has been difficult because the worst stretch of 2022 was in the second half, and those games haven’t begun falling into the distance until recently.

Are the Rangers emerging from their worst stretch in franchise history? That depends on the definition. Roughly, every worst stretch where the number of games is 440 or below incorporates the 1972-1973 period (and into 1974 at the longest lengths). And nearly every worst stretch from 440 to 1,000 games encompasses recent history. What about 1982-1985, when the Rangers were a combined 272-374? Recent history was actually worse. At the end of 2022, the Rangers had fewer wins (as few as 269) over the same number of games.

For what it’s worth, I ignore the 11 years in Washington in these calculations because 1) it was Washington, and 2) the ’72 Rangers were bad enough that they can be thought of as an expansion team.

Up to Frisco: LHP Robby Ahlstrom
Up to Hickory: RHP Jacob Maton, IF Cam Cauley
Up to Down East: RHP Bryan Chi, LHP Brayan Magdaleno
To IL: RHP Mitch Bratt
To Rehab: OF Miguel Villarroel
Released: RHP Eudrys Manon

Manon was part of that eight-walk, eight-run meltdown against Midland two weeks ago, and even by recent standards his control had been exceptionally poor: 34 BB/HBP in 20.2 innings at Frisco. Getting a hit against him was a tough task, but any batter with a decent eye had a fighting chance to reach base.

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 3, Reno (ARI) 6
Round Rock: 8 hits, 5 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 8 hits, 6 walks, 4 strikeouts
Record: 11-5, 1 GB, 55-35 overall

SP Robert Dugger: 0.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 SO, 36 P / 20 S, 5.02 ERA
RP Fernery Ozuna: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO, 3.89 ERA
RP Jake Latz: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 6.14 ERA
RP Chase Lee: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 3.02 ERA
1B Blaine Crim: 1-3, BB, .276/.395/.502
SS Jonathan Ornelas: 2-3, BB, .266/.376/.367

Robert Dugger has been Round Rock’s MVP in a manner of speaking, consistently delivering five or six innings for a squad that doesn’t really have a rotation anymore. Last night wasn’t his night.

What I’d planned to write about Blaine Crim will have to wait a day.

AA: Frisco 6, San Antonio (SDG) 2
Frisco: 10 hits, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 6 walks, 6 strikeouts
Record: 8-8, 3 GB, 39-45 overall

SP Dane Acker: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 2 SO, 74 P / 42 S, 3.00 ERA
RP Nick Starr: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 6.69 ERA
RP Matt Bush: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA
LF Aaron Zavala: 3-5, .212/.360/.294
CF Evan Carter: 2-3, 3B, HR (9), 2 BB, .302/.411/.465

Evan Carter is hitting .354/.426/.622 in 21 games since returning from Arizona.

Dane Acker has been successful in 2023 but lacking a middle ground with his control.

As for other competitors for a Texas bullpen spot, Matt Bush certainly has the experience, but I don’t think that imparts much of an advantage at this point. Bush’s velocity has been down, and he was very homer-prone with Milwaukee. He’s a worthy addition for stabilizing one of the upper-level bullpens, but probably not beyond that. We’ll see.

Hi-A: Hickory 6, at Rome (ATL) 8
Hickory: 14 hits, 0 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 10 walks, 10 strikeouts
Record: 14-4, 2.5 G up, 41-38 overall

SP Luis Tejada: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 76 P / 38 S, 4.65 ERA
RP Larson Kindreich: 3.2 IP, 2 H (1 HR), 2 R, 6 BB, 6 SO, 5.65 ERA
3B Keyber Rodriguez: 3-4, .270/.329/.351
DH Max Acosta: 3-5, 2B, .268/.318/.373
RF Abi Ortiz: 2-5, HR (13), .343/.401/.715
SS Cam Cauley: 3-4, 3 SB (3)

20-year-old Cam Cauley announced his presence with authority in his high-A debut. Cauley batted .244/.331/.405 in low-A, which might sound vanilla but is actually a slug-driven 119 OPS+ at pitcher-friendly Down East. Cauley has shown more power than I anticipated. One item to watch is his strikeout rate, which has consistently hovered just over 30% regardless of year or level.

19 minor leaguers have 20 homers. Abimelec Ortiz and Chris Newell (a 22-year-old with the Dodgers) are the only two to accomplish that feat entirely below AA. Colorado’s Jordan Beck also hit 20 in high-A before advancing to AA and collecting one more.

Lo-A: Down East 4, Salem (BOS) 2
Down East: 6 hits, 8 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 4 hits, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts
Record: 10-9, 0.5 GB, 47-33 overall

SP Leandro Lopez: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 SO, 64 P / 41 S, 3.42 ERA
RP Jackson Leath: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 2.73 ERA
CF Anthony Gutierrez: 2-4, .253/.318/.315
RF Tommy Specht: 1-2, 2 BB, .229/.348/.305
2B Andres Mesa: 1-4, HR (4), .176/.252/.324

Somebody wearing Leandro Lopez’s jersey made a whale of a start last night. Okay, that’s not fair, but Lopez has almost always succeeded despite his control. not because of it. Lopez’s curve is already beyond what the typical low-A hitter can handle, and when he can throw strikes, he gets stellar results.

Tommy Specht is drawing walks and not striking out excessively, but since the end of June he’s hitting only .158 when he puts the bat on the ball. Specht turned 19 less than a month ago.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Rodriguez
AA: Slaten
Hi-A: Santos
Lo-A: McCarty