Rangers Farm Report: Games of Saturday 30 March

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 8, Sugar Land (HOU) 6
Round Rock: 15 hits, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 3 walks, 13 strikeouts
Record: 1-1, tied for first

SP Michael Lorenzen: 2.2 IP, 3 H (1 HR), 3 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 50 P / 34 S, 10.13 ERA
RP Jack Leiter: 5 IP, 2 H (1 HR), 2 R, 0 BB, 9 SO, 3.60 ERA
RP Marc Church: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 9.00 ERA
2B Justin Foscue: 2-5
3B Davis Wendzel: 1-4, HR (1), BB
LF Dustin Harris: 2-4, SB (1)
RF Trevor Hauver: 2-4, 2B
SS Jonathan Ornelas: 4-4, HR (1)

Jack Leiter has a couple of outings that are statistically superior, but I’m here to tell you that last night was his best performance as a professional. Certainly, I’ve never seen him look more comfortable. So many of his nights have involved such struggle just to get by, with him seemingly having to recalibrate mentally and physically before every pitch. Last night, he made a difficult task look easy. 

Leiter fanned nine of 17 batters and missed 11 bats out of 33 swings. Yet what impressed me most is not that he simply blew the ball by people. Six of his nine strikeouts were looking, five of those on fastballs. He consistently got ahead, and instead of snapping off a slider as might be expected, he usually dealt another fastball, very consistently inside lefties and outside to righties. Sugar Land didn’t catch on. Across his 3rd and 4th innings, four consecutive batters stared dully at fastballs for strike three.

Leiter has always missed bats, and the Space Cowboys* swung through several elevated fastballs and diving sliders. But for him to succeed repeatedly with location is another matter.

Sugar Land finally did catch on in his final inning. He wasn’t quite so sharp. He retired two of the first three batters but needed seven pitches for each out. Then, on an 0-2 count to lefty slugger Joey Loperfino, Leiter again turned to the inside fastball. Loperfino sent it 420 feet the other direction. Leiter then worked another seven-pitch out culminating with Trey Cabbage’s swing through a high fastball.

Leiter’s fastball reached over 22 inches of induced vertical break on three occasions. That is truly elite, particularly for pitches thrown 96-97 MPH. In case that term is alien to you, for purposes of judging four-seamers, it represents the apparent ability to rise, and to the extent the ball differentiates itself from the average fastball, it is often harder to hit.

Leiter’s less frequent curve was most effective as a first-pitch strike-stealer, and one change (deemed a sinker by Statcast, but I think not) resulted in a groundout.

I have to provide the caveat that it’s just one night. If he belly-flops his next outing, we’ve got a different discussion.  But last night, living in the moment, I hadn’t been that excited since he was drafted. I’ll have video later. The Express have video now.

Michael Lorenzen didn’t have an attractive line, but for what was essentially a Spring Training start, he was fine. The velocity was typical. I didn’t see anything to worry about.

Unfortunately, Marc Church was closer to the 2023 version than the one who nearly claimed a bullpen job in Arlington to start the season. Called to protect a three-run lead in the 9th, he missed on seven of his first nine pitches, and three balls in play afterward were medium-hard or worse. With what already might be the defensive play of the season, CF Elier Hernandez pulled back what would have been a game-tying homer. Please watch.

I whined Saturday about Jonathan Ornelas continuing 2023’s trend of hard but fruitless grounders. Last night, he added three more balls in play of at least 100 MPH. All airborne this time, all hits, including a two-run homer.

* (that’s their actual name, not something I made up)

Podcast
Sean Bass of the Ticket, Michael Tepid and I has resumed podcasting. Links to our first episode of the season are in my signature.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Adrian Sampson
















Diamond Pod S4E1


Sean Bass of The Ticket, Michael Tepid and I talk the Rangers defending their World Series title (if you missed it, the Rangers won the World Series) and the state of the farm entering 2024. Link on the top-right banner.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Friday 29 March

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 2, Sugar Land (HOU) 4
Round Rock: 4 hits, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 8 hits, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts
Record: 0-1, 1 GB

SP Owen White: 4 IP, 4 H (1 HR), 4 R, 2 BB, 6 SO, 79 P / 50 S, 9.00 ERA
RP Cole Winn: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 3 SO, 0.00 ERA
RP Grant Anderson: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
LF Dustin Harris: 1-3, BB

Owen White offered the reverse of the Jekyll/Hyde performance I saw in Surprise. This time, Hyde (the bad guy) arrived first. White needed 51 pitches to complete the first two innings, walking two and allowing a two-run homer and deep double to right-center. His velocity was fine (92-95 fastball), a couple of tics above what he often dealt in 2023, but basic control was absent, resulting in three three-ball counts in addition to the walks.

Dr. Jekyll arrived in the 3rd. White needed only 26 pitches in the next two innings, regaining his control such that he could deceive opponents with first-pitch changeups and sliders, and nothing but sliders to one batter followed by nothing but fastballs to another. Much, much better. A single to start the 5th ended his night. On the whole, White did throw a higher percentage of swinging strikes than he averaged last year, and he dealt first-pitch strikes to 12 of 18 batters.

I don’t wish to make such an ominous pronouncement on day one of the minor league season, but here it is: The difference between White’s second two innings and first two is the difference between getting back to the Majors and not. Mr. Hyde can’t be out there throwing half his innings.

I’d marked a couple of early pitches from Cole Winn as changeups, but they looked a little funny, tending to dive in toward left-handed batters’ feet. Statcast called them sinkers. Statcast can get a little carried away with pitch categorizations in the minors, and the spin and movement figures were in the same range as his straight change, but yeah, many of them appeared to be sinkers. Winn hit a batter and walked another, but the sinker (or sinker-change tandem) was effective, and every pitch had its moments. A new, effective pitch in Winn’s arsenal would be a blessing, and after his trying Spring Training, it’s nice to be able to look forward to his next outing.

Offensively, the Express didn’t cause a fuss until the 9th. Facing Wander Suero, who as an OKC Dodger threw the final pitch of Round Rock’s season in the Pacific Coast League finals, Davis Wendzel was hit by a pitch and Matt Duffy doubled. With two out, Sandro Fabian doubled them home. After another, uglier HBP that forced CF Derek Hill out of the game, Justin Foscue lined a 3-2 cutter directly into Suero’s glove.

Sugar Land starter Spencer Arrighetti had his own trouble throwing strikes, walking five in 4.1 IP, but he allowed only two singles and befuddled the Express with a mean sweeper. 11 swings against it generated eight whiffs, two fouls and a batted out. All eight misses were on pitches outside the zone.

Jonathan Ornelas generated solid exit velocities last year, but his production was limited by the highest grounder rate in the PCL. He had Round Rock’s two hardest-hit balls last night (105.3 MPH and 104.2), both on the ground, resulting in three outs.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Leiter (and Lorenzen)

Round Rock’s starting lineup (minus catcher Sam Huff), right to left

Rangers Farm Report + High-A & Low-A Roster Previews

Let The Games Begin
Round Rock commences the 2024 season tonight at home. The other teams will start next Tuesday. Owen White draws the opening start, followed by Jack Leiter Saturday (albeit potentially as a reliever in favor of Michael Lorenzen’s rehab outing), and Adrian Sampson.

Something I noticed in writing the roster previews is a relative lack of players advancing to higher levels to start the season. At first I wondered if that was a reflection on quality, but I think it’s more the staggered schedules. Last year, the complex league ended with about two weeks remaining in the A schedules, which ended a week before AA, which ended a week before AAA. The Rangers often push selected players up a level to finish their seasons, so we have players like Jack Leiter, Sebastian Walcott, Echedry Vargas, and others who have a small handful of innings or plate appearances at a level they wouldn’t have reached under the old format in which all full-season leagues ended on Labor Day.

Missing Players
40-man pitcher Jose Corniell and hard-throwing reliever Izack Tiger from last year’s 7th round are out with elbow inflammation per local reports. Neither requires surgery (although I suppose there’s always a chance, eventually) but will miss several weeks and then need to get back into game shape. Sad to say, I didn’t even notice how long Corniell had been missing. Too many folks to keep tabs on. He threw a couple of early spring games, was pulled from the Prospect Game roster, and hasn’t appeared since to my knowledge.

A sizable number of pitchers and several hitters, some of whom I saw in games last week, have yet to receive assignments. That said, best as I can tell, the Rangers don’t have any immediate worries in terms of the limit on domestic minor leaguers under contract. However, they also have an understaffed rookie team, and play starts in early May instead of the traditional mid-June.

Missing Primer
Every year I have a primer on the minor leagues games: how they’re played in comparison to MLB, how I cover them, what stats to focus on or ignore. I’ll probably have part one on Monday and part two on Tuesday, when all four teams will be playing.

HIGH-A HICKORY CRAWDADS

Players reaching the level for the first time are in italics. In parentheses are age and how acquired. IFA = international free agent, NDFA  = non-drafted free agent, meaning they weren’t drafted but signed originally with Texas, FA = free agent, someone who was released or became a free agent after playing for a different club). Rosters are subject to change.

Pitchers
Mitch Bratt (20, draft)
Bryan Chi (25, IFA)
Seth Clark (24, NDFA)
Gavin Collyer (22, draft)
Aidan Curry (21, NDFA)
Josh Gessner (23, trade)
Skylar Hales (22, draft)
Jackson Kelley (23, draft)
Larson Kindreich (24, draft)
Dylan MacLean (21, draft)
Jacob Maton (24, draft)
Joseph Montalvo (21, draft)
Yohanse Morel (23, trade)
Brock Porter (20, draft)
Luis Ramirez (22, draft)
Adrian Rodriguez (22, draft)
Winston Santos (21, IFA)

Maybe the most interesting rotation of the four. Candidates include Porter, Bratt, Chi, Curry, MacLean, Montalvo, Ramirez, and Santos. And a couple of others conceivably. At this level, almost anyone can be a swingman. Five of the listed nine are new, headed by top pitching prospect Porter, who didn’t look so good when I saw him in person last week, but it’s nothing to fret about. His control is erratic, and on off days he runs into basic strike-throwing problems. On good days, he’ll steamroll the opposition. I’m sure consistency is a focal point in 2024. Everything he throws is worthy.

Bratt is repeating the level despite a 28% strikeout rate against just a 6% walk rate and a 3.54 ERA. He did so as a 19-year-old and was limited by injury to 61 innings, so no rush. Assuming he pitches well, I’d guess he’ll spend a good portion of the season in AA, perhaps the majority. Curry moved to Hickory late after manhandling the Carolina League. Like AA starter Josh Stephan, he’s an undrafted 2020 signing.

Santos drew attention in last year’s camp but at Hickory had a line that suggested too many hittable fastballs: 117 hits, 19 homers, 88 strikeouts in 98.2 innings. He’s better than that and will attempt to prove so with the Crawdads again.

Hales is new to Hickory in terms of the regular season but actually joined last year during the high-A playoffs. Assuming adequate control, I expect him to dominate this level. I’ve bestowed similar praise on Adrian Rodriguez in the past, and he led last year’s Wood Ducks with nine saves, but his control disappeared, as did his placement in high-leverage situations by year’s end.

Catchers
Ian Moller (21, draft)
Konner Piotto (26, NDFA)
Tucker Mitchell (23, draft)

If anything, Moller hit slightly worse in 2023 than 2022 in Down East. He nonetheless advances to high-A rather than threepeat. Moller can catch, and he even received Arizona Fall League placement despite his low-A level and lack of hitting prowess. I didn’t get a good luck last week, but I’ve seen in him a better hitter than last year’s .190/.325/.295 line, and he deserves more time to improve.

Mitchell has the bat to play first when not catching, posting a .282/.387/.454 line among the A levels last year.

Infielders
Ben Blackwell (24, NDFA)
Cam Cauley (21, draft)
Jayce Easley (24, draft)
Devin Hurdle (23, NDFA)
Sebastian Walcott (18, IFA)

Walcott played four games here to conclude 2023, so technically he’s a repeater, but for practical purposes, he’s a newcomer skipping low-A. In intersquads, he was playing in a higher-level group than his age peers, so I’m not surprised at his assignment even though he turned 18 just two weeks ago. I’ve now seen firsthand his occasional troubles against breaking stuff, and at this level, sometimes he’s going to look silly. But he’s a special athlete, and I trust he has the fortitude to deal with adversity.

You’ve heard much about Cauley over the past year, including his Arizona Fall League stint and several spring games despite not turning 21 until last month. I thought AA was possible, but he’ll resume duties in Hickory for the time being. His aggressive bat generates more power than you’d expect from his physique but also a very elevated strikeout rate that is worth tracking.

Outfielders
Yosy Galan (22, IFA)
Anthony Gutierrez (19, IFA)
Daniel Mateo (22, IFA)
Yeison Morrobel (20, IFA)

Gutierrez is a year older than Walcott but perhaps more of a surprise in reaching Hickory to start the season. He was okay last year but had the kind of season that I expected would warrant at least a little additional time in low-A. Regardless, I expect more power from his reconstituted swing.

The same applies to Morrobel, who missed much of 2023 and was absurdly power-deficient when healthy. As best as I can tell, Morrobel only DH’ed during intersquads, so we’ll see whether he’s similarly limited in April. He appears to have spent every day of the winter adding muscle.  

LOW-A DOWN EAST WOOD DUCKS

Pitchers
Paul Bonzagni (21, draft)
Wilian Bormie (21, IFA)
Kolton Curtis (19, NDFA)
David Davalillo (21, IFA)
Kohl Drake (23, draft)
Jose Gonzalez (22, IFA)
Kyle Larsen (20, draft)
Ryan Lobus (23, NDFA)
Bryan Magdaleno (23, IFA)
Case Matter (22, draft)
Brayan Mendoza (20, IFA)
Alberto Mota (21, IFA)
Justin Sanchez (20, draft)
Luke Savage (22, NDFA)
Josh Trentadue (22, draft)
Luis Valdez (20, trade)
Kai Wynyard (21, IFA)

A bunch of new faces and several more with scant experience at the level. Two I saw approvingly in Surprise were Kyle Larsen, a finally healthy 2021 pick, and side-armer Luke Savage. I did not see undrafted Kolton Curtis out there, but obviously the Rangers liked what they saw because he’s the only teenager on the staff.

Bonzagni (12th round), Matter (10th), Trentadue (14th) are from last year’s draft, all from college. Bonzagni actually arrived in Down East late last season and immediately drew some critical relief situations.

Catchers
Julian Brock (22, draft)
Jesus Lopez (18, IFA)
Jesus Moreno (22, IFA)

8th-round pick Julian Brock is one of only four position players from last year’s draft, and he didn’t play last season.

The younger Lopez was limited to 13 complex league games last summer but reached safely in 11 and batted .289/.396/.644.

Infielders
Danyer Cueva (19, IFA)
Arturo Disla (23, FA)
Gleider Figuereo (19, IFA)
Chandler Pollard (19, draft)
Echedry Vargas (19, IFA)

Disla and Figuereo will man the corners, and for the most part the other three should mix in the middle. Figuereo is one of several who dominated the complex league in 2022 only to find full-season ball orders of magnitude harder. He repeats despite leading the team in plate appearances last year, but there’s room in Hickory if he gets off to a good start.

Among players I hadn’t seen before, Vargas excited me the most in Surprise. Congrats to the opposing pitchers who gave him a 25% strikeout rate last year, because contact was a certainty when I saw him. There’s questions about where he’ll eventually settle, but not because of any lack of assurance at any position. He played one game in low-A last season.

Cueva played 101 and will try to improve on last year’s .226/.273/.318. The 2022 5th-round Pollard started slowly at the complex last summer but improved as the season progressed despite a lofty K rate.

Disla is roughly the size of Cueva and Vargas together and could be a leading power source.

Outfielders
Wady Mendez (19, IFA)
Marcus Smith (23, trade)
Tommy Specht (19, draft)
Marcos Torres (19, IFA)

Torres played a little CF in intersquads and the 2022 DSL, but he’s generally been limited to the corners and first base. He stole 23 bases and knocked 20 extra-base hits in 48 games in Arizona preceding a shorter, less successful trip to Down East.

I mentioned Tommy Specht last week as a hitter who surely has more to offer than last year’s .221/.323/.288 line at the same level.

Eight of 12 Down East hitters are teenagers, and while everyone has to share the plate appearances, the youngsters aren’t there to sit and watch.

Rangers Farm Report + AAA and AA Roster Previews

Trade!
Texas traded RHP Zak Kent to Cleveland for international slot money. Kent missed much of last season with an oblique injury but had put himself back in the starting depth line by the end of 2023. A rough spring erased whatever chance he had of making the club out of Spring Training, however, and he’d been assigned to AA to begin this season.

Also, Texas selected the contracts of 1B Jared Waslh and RHP Jose Urena. RHP Tyler Mahle hit the 60-day IL, while Max Scherzer did not. He’s on the shorter injured list along with 1B Nathaniel Lowe and pitchers Jonathan Hernandez and Michael Lorenzen.

Today, roster previews for the higher level minor league squads, plus other transactions. Tomorrow, high-A and low-A.

AAA ROUND ROCK EXPRESS

Players reaching the level for the first time are in italics. In parentheses are age and how acquired. IFA = international free agent, NDFA = non-drafted free agent, meaning they weren’t drafted but signed originally with Texas, FA = free agent, someone who was released or became a free agent after playing for a different club). Roster are subject to change.

Pitchers
Grant Anderson (26, trade)
Tim Brennan (27, draft)
Marc Church (22, draft)
Danny Duffy (35, FA)
Shane Greene (35, FA)
Antoine Kelly (24, trade)
Jack Leiter (23, draft)
Austin Pruitt (34, FA)
Daniel Robert (29, draft)
Adrian Sampson (32, FA)
Chasen Shreve (33, FA)
Blake Taylor (28, FA)
Jesus Tinoco (28, FA)
Owen White (24, draft)
Cole Winn (24, draft)

The spirited battles for the MLB bullpen spots aren’t over. They’ve just entered a new phase. 24 different pitchers made relief appearances for the Rangers last year. Hopefully this year’s number is smaller, but it won’t be eight. Conceivably, every pitcher on this list has some chance, even newcomer and TJ-recoveree Tim Brennan, who doesn’t many many bats but knows where to throw. Whether in the form of a youngster or an experienced offseason addition, this is a respectable group from which to draw reinforcements.

I saw mild speculation about Jack Leiter making the active roster after an encouraging spring, but I’m glad he’s here. Leiter has never strung together many consecutive quality outings. I’d like to see that before we discuss his MLB debut. Regardless, he’s in better form than last March.

Cole Winn has another option in 2025, but I feel we’re looking at his last chance to put things back together in this organization. His downturn is approaching two full seasons. I’m fully on board with Texas’s patience, as even in his most troublesome outings he usually offers glimmers of who he could still become.

Owen White is in a similar if not identical spot, having retained more basic control than Winn but losing some of his velocity. He’s a bulldog, for sure, but that only goes so far. He needs his old stuff back. I saw the old White in two of his four innings last week in Surprise.

I should point out that pitchers can rebound. Look no further than 2024 Opening Day roster member Jacob Latz. Latz was awful much of last season’s first three months, or more specifically, pretty good more often than not, but a batting-practice pitcher the rest of the time. A third of his outings produced multiple runs. Then, over an equal number of outings, Latz surrendered multiple runs only once and fanned 30% of his opponents, making hay with his changeup and breakers.

Many express dismay when I reported Marc Church’s option to AAA on twitter (by “report,” I mean “got the news out first because I set my computer to chime whenever the transaction page is updated.”) Having options and no MLB experience worked against him, but only for the moment. Not now, but soon, I’d say he has an MLB spot waiting for him assuming he continues to pitch well.

Catchers
José Godoy (29, FA)
Sam Huff (26, draft)
Andrew Knapp (32, FA)
Matt Whatley (28, draft)

10 hitters are back, responsible for 71% of last year’s plate appearances. That incudes slugger Sam Huff and Matt Whatley, a light-hitting but highly regarded backstop who returned after becoming a free agent. Four or five years ago, Whatley was my dark-horse pick to reach MLB. He hasn’t, but he’s a strong AAA catcher.

Huff picked up a fourth option, giving Texas one more year to evaluate whether he’d be a suitable #2. Beginning in 2025, his status as an up-and-down catcher becomes complicated by having to enter and exit the 40-man roster.

Knapp and Godoy are veteran depth. I don’t expect both to hang around the entire season.

Infielders
Jose Barrero (25, waivers)
Jax Biggers (26, draft)
Blaine Crim (26, draft)
Matt Duffy (33, FA)
Justin Foscue (25, draft)
Jonathan Ornelas (23, draft)
Davis Wendzel (26, draft)

Please welcome back last year’s infield. Ornelas reached the majors last year, Foscue should before too long, and Crim and Wendzel are hoping for a chance. Regarding the latter two, both might have already become Major Leaguers by now if MLB had expanded along with the population the past two decades, or if the Rangers were in the same shape last year as 2020-2021. Poor parent clubs create more “let’s see what this guy can do” chances.

Foscue returns to AAA to reinforce his trade value or engender the idea that he, not Nathaniel Lowe, ought to be Texas’s starting 1B. (Or maybe a DH.) Like Lowe, Foscue isn’t the ideal power source for a 1B but compensates with on-base prowess.

Texas also outrighted IF Jose Barrero to AAA (he doesn’t have the right to bail). Ornelas probably has the upper hand as a Texas bench replacement since he’s on the 40, but Barrero has hit AAA pitching very well and at the least should be fun to watch with the Express.

Matt “Schrodinger” Duffy is listed on the roster despite showing up as “released” on the transaction wire. He is indeed in Round Rock.

Outfielders
Sandro Fabian (26, FA)
Dustin Harris (24, trade)
Trevor Hauver (25, trade)
Elier Hernandez (29, FA)
Derek Hill (28, FA)

Fabian, Harris, and Hernandez are familiar faces. Harris should also see some time at first and perhaps even third. He played there on my last day in Surprise, but I barely saw him (and didn’t see anything hit his way) because the game started two hours earlier than usual and I didn’t know until I showed up… in the 8th inning. Hopefully, that’s the dumbest thing I ever do out in Arizona. Harris’s exit velocity is a key metric amongst the hitters. It lagged last year.

Part of the Joey Gallo return, Trevor Hauver wasn’t great in 2023 but good enough to move up to AAA, improving his defense but trading some homers for doubles. He has a keen eye and should enjoy the automated strike zone.

Newcomer Hill is the best defensive CF.

AA FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS

Pitchers
Dane Acker (24, trade)
Robby Ahlstrom (24, trade)
Aidan Anderson (26, FA)
Ben Anderson (25, draft)
Reid Birlingmair (27, FA)
Ricky DeVito (25, trade)
Ryan Garcia (26, draft)
Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa (23, draft)
Steven Jennings (25, trade)
Zak Kent (26, draft)
Nick Krauth (24, NDFA)
Tyler Owens (23, trade)
Andy Rodriguez (25, IFA)
Josh Stephan (22, NDFA)
Emiliano Teodo (23, IFA)
Avery Weems (26, trade)
Grant Wolfram (27, draft)

Emiliano Teodo might become a Ranger in 2024. He might not. The stuff is there in abundance, the control is better but not there yet. Hard as he throws, his ultimate effectiveness hinges on his breaker, which when on will both miss bats and prevent hitters from keying fastball.

Josh Stephan was felled by a back injury after just one AA start. He’s a legit prospect despite being undrafted (because of 2020) and from South Grand Prairie, so there’s your rooting interest.

Dane Acker has the opportunity to complete his first fully injury-free season as a professional and make the “Andrus-Davis” trade even worse for Oakland. (The other guy acquired in that trade was Jonah Heim.)

In original writeup, no longer applicable: “I assume Zak Kent’s lower placement is an attempt to get him properly tracked after a rough spring. A roster crunch in AAA crossed my mind, but if that were the case, having Kent in AAA and Tim Brennan in AA would make more sense.”

Catchers
Liam Hicks (24, draft)
Cooper Johnson (25, FA)
Scott Kapers (27, draft)

Hicks impressed in last year’s Arizona Fall League. He lacks power, not even hitting that many doubles, but he’ll hit around .275 with a zillion walks and HBPs. Hicks has a career .426 OBP.

Infielders
Max Acosta (21, IFA)
Frainyer Chavez (24, draft)
Alex De Goti (29, FA)
Cody Freeman (23, draft)
Abimelec Ortiz (22, NDFA)

Jamey Newberg had Abi Ortiz ranked 55th in the system entering 2023. I was hopeful but leaned on the skeptical side, to be honest. As a 20-year-old at low-A Down East, he hit 11 homers in 94 games, solid for the level, but he offered little else, and he’s essentially a 1B. 12 games into 2024, he was batting .256/.326/.308 with a 39% K rate. Not great.

And then he was the lower minors’ best power hitter, blasting 33 homers and slugging .659 in a 95-game stretch. Now we’ll find out how he handles AA.

I guessed that Frisco would receive Acosta or Cam Cauley but not both to start the season. Acosta won the imaginary battle. Now 21, Acosta mustered some pop last year at Hickory, slugging .390 with an unprecedented 11 homers.

Cody Freeman is effectively a newcomer, having played a lone game at Frisco after a full season at high-A Hickory. Freeman spent two-thirds of his time behind the plate last year but is listed as an infielder, and he wasn’t listed as the starting catcher in any intersquads that I saw this spring.

Outfielders
Geisel Cepeda (26, IFA)
Josh Hatcher (25, draft)
Kellen Strahm (26, draft)
Aaron Zavala (23, draft)

Let’s not be coy: bat-first OF Aaron Zavala had a dreadful, terrible, no-good 2023. Brace surgery for his damaged elbow delayed his debut, after which he never regained form and even declined in the second half, batting .175 with a 40% K rate across August and September. He continued to walk at an otherworldly rate, but his path to the bigs is predicated on consistent, solid contact. Until last year, Zavala was a solid bet to reach MLB and even start regularly. Here’s hoping for a better 2024.

Now 26, Cuban émigré Geisel Cepeda didn’t offer much power (as expected) but put the ball in play and reached at an acceptable clip.

Released
RHP Deston Dotson. Dotson was Texas’s 12th-round pick from 2018, signed for $300,000 in lieu of Tulane. In 2021, he was entrusted with high-leverage situations down the stretch in Down East’s playoff run, and in front of me at Hickory in May 2022, he was impressive, pushing the fastball up to 96 and mixing two breakers. His control overall that season was poor, however. He didn’t pitch at all in 2023, however, and when I saw him last Wednesday, his control-absent fastball hovered around 87-88.

RHP Teodoro Ortega, part of return for righty reliever Cory Gearrin way back at 2018’s trade deadline. Now 24, Ortega had been limited by injury to 15 innings the past two years.

RHP Leury Tejada, 2018’s 10th-round pick. After a solid if homer-prone 2022, his strikeout rate plummeted last year.

RHP CJ Widger, a 2021 10th-rounder. Widger didn’t appear in a game until 2023 and was actually quite successful, fanning 35 against five walks in 28.1 innings amongst the complex league and low-A.

RHP Nick Bautista. The 22-year-old was picked in 2022’s 16rh round. He fanned 35 in 19.1 innings at the complex last summer but also walked or hit 17.

RHP Trevor Kuncl, signed as a free agent out of George Washington six weeks ago.

RHPs Jonathan Holder and Diego Castillo, both signed in the offseason. Castillo was a worthy reliever for years but fell apart early last year and hasn’t recovered.

As sometimes happens, I saw the final outings of Ortega, Widger, Bautista, Kuncl, and Dotson while in Surprise.

60-Day Minor League IL
RHP Kumar Rocker (TJ recovery)
RHP Chase Lee (hip)
RHP William Privette (last year’s 13th-rounder, don’t know the injury)

Full-Season Minor League IL
RHP Nick Lockhart (2019, 11th round)

Elsewhere
Arizona released IF Elvis Andrus.

IF Rougned Odor left Japan’s Yomuiri Giants. After a poor spring, the Giants wanted to send him to their farm club.

RHP Carl “don’t call me CJ” Edwards Jr. took his release from Chicago.

The Cubs released catcher Jorge Alfaro. I’ve always wanted Alfaro back in the organization, if only because he’s fun to watch, but I don’t see a fit in AAA right now.

Detroit re-signed RHP Nick Starr ten days after releasing him.

St. Louis optioned infielder Thomas Saggese and lefty John King to AAA. Saggese was under consideration for the Opening Day roster. RHP TK Roby doesn’t have to be added to the 40 until after this season.

Reliever Ryder Ryan, who spent two season in Round Rock and briefly reached the Majors with Seattle last year, has made Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster.

Reliever Jesse Chavez made the Braves. Chavez was originally a 42nd-round pick by the Rangers in 2002, when Fernando Tatis Jr.’s dad played third base for the Montreal Expos.

One More Thing
The Texas Rangers won the World Series last year and commence their title defense today.

Rangers Farm Report: Day 4 in Surprise

Wednesday
Three of Emiliano Teodo’s eight fastballs I charted reached triple digits, and an earlier one touched 102 per the board operator. The curve ran 85-87. I’ve seen it referenced as a slider lately, but it looks more curvy to me, and it’s more fun to say he throws a mid-to-upper-eighties curve. In any case, after some early control issues, Teodo (video) snapped off three stellar benders in a row, one swinging, the other two viewed in helpless despair. Teodo does tend to be wild within the zone with the heater sometimes, and even A-level hitters can line it up. Still, the makings of a quality Major Leaguer are there.

Regarding my commentary on Brock Porter earlier this week, it’s worth a reminder that that one outing does not make the man. For example, Teodo was a wreck when I saw him last March: velocity down, already-dubious control even worse, some pitches I couldn’t even categorize. Six months later, he was the talk of the Arizona Fall League, receiving not-totally-facetious discussion of joining Texas’s playoff roster. I love watching these guys, but I’m only getting snapshots.

Lefty Mitch Bratt (video) is a control/command type. The latest Baseball America review listed his fastball at 89-91, but on Wednesday it ran 92-93, augmented by an 83ish slider, upper-70s curve, and an 87 change. Neither the heater nor the slider heater has a ton of movement, but he mixed and spotted both well and missed a few bats with them. I saw two effective changes (called strike, foul tip) and curve (ball, tailed outside). The statcast data doesn’t wow, but he knows how to pitch.

Kyle Larsen. Not a household name. Honestly not a name even to me when I saw the jersey. I originally assumed he was an undrafted free agent, but in fact the righty Larsen (video) was Texas’s 18th-round pick in 2021, and furthermore, the Rangers delivered $575,000 to his front porch to dissuade him from his Florida commitment. But Larsen has pitched only 2.2 innings across three seasons. I assume Tommy John and maybe more, but I haven’t checked. Larsen offered a 93-94 MPH fastball, a mid-80s slider, and I believe an upper-80s change. He missed several bats with both the fastball and slider. So, we have some understanding of that signing bonus, and hopefully we’ll be seeing much more than 2.2 innings in 2024.

I already reported on Echedry Vargas, but I saw more of him Wednesday (video), and I again liked what I saw. It’s just two days, but his ability to make consistent, firm contact stands out.

Last year, Gleider Figuereo (video) was one of several Rangers hitters who didn’t really build on impressive complex league campaigns from 2022. Possibly, his first full season took a toll, as sometimes happens; he batted .205/.264/.267 during the last three months at Down East last summer. I expect he’ll rejoin the Woodies at least for a little while. He loves to pull and elevate, but contact can be an issue. He singled up the middle and drove a fly to the CF track for a triple yesterday.

Catcher Jesus Lopez hasn’t played much while I’ve been here, or I’ve missed him. I only saw the tail end of his first two plate appearances Wednesday (both swinging strikeouts), after which he lined a single to left. Lopez signed for around $350,000 out of the Dominican Republic in early 2022 and posted a .289/.396/.644 line in 13 complex league games last year.

Signed in 2019 and stateside for the first time last summer, 23-year-old righty Victor Simeon (video) deals a 97-98 fastball and 84 slider. His control is poor; if you watch the video, you’ll see a pitch nail the backstop. When he gets near the plate, opposing batters haven’t much hope.

2022 signing David Davalillo popped up at Down East late in 2023 and fanned seven against zero walks in 4.2 innings. Now 21, Davallilo displayted a 91-94 fastball and a bender that ran 76-83. The slowest ones still looked slidery with plenty of horizontal movement. He didn’t have a good showing Wednesday but has some promise.

I didn’t see enough of 2023 7th-round pick Julian Brock to form an impression, other than to say he was playing. The catcher was the only of four signed position players from that group not to receive any game action last summer.

At 6’3” and a listed 200 pounds, OF Tommy Specht (2022, 6th round) isn’t quite hulking but is in the vicinity. At Down East last year as a 19-year-old, he had a 26% strikeout rate (not good but not terrible), a solid 24% line drive rate, a decent fly rate, and he somehow slugged .288. I don’t know what’s to become of him, but he surely has more to offer than that. I didn’t get a great look yesterday but did see a firmly lined single.

Transactions
Texas signed RHP Michael Lorenzen. More later. Have one more game to catch.

Monday and Tuesday Pix From Surprise

I have to add some
Lines to this so the first pic
Renders the right size

Corey Seagar taking live bp
Josh Jung fielding drills
Sebastian Walcott and Cam Cauley
Sebastian Walcott
Cam Cauley
Skylar Hales
Anthony Gutierrez
Daniel Mateo
Echedry Vargas (bobbling a grounder, sorry)
Arturo Disla
Flags Fly Forever

Rangers Farm Report: Days 2 and 3 in Surprise

Monday
I watched the AA/AAA squads, as the lower levels were at Milwaukee’s complex near central Phoenix, and I wasn’t in the mood for that drive.

Consensus #3 Texas and top-100 overall prospect Sebastian Walcott (video) rewarded me with a stellar day: a single, double, walk, and two steals in five trips to the plate. Both hits were lined to left-center, the double gapping the outfielders and reaching the fence with serious haste. Walcott struck out again against a slider-heavy approach, but he also laid off a few to draw a walk. In addition to the steals, Walcott raced from first to third on an Anthony Gutierrez hit and beat the throw.

Walcott played with the AA group. Note that assignment to a particular team in intersquads doesn’t foretell where the player will be assigned next week. Among Monday’s lineup, only catcher Scott Kapers had significant AA experience, and I expect most of the starting nine to be at a lower level to start the season.  

Walcott shifted to third base in favor of Cam Cauley. 21 as of last month, Cauley (video) smacked a homer to the opposite field. Yes, we’re in Arizona, but he had the necessary oomph regardless. Cauley has much more power than his 5’10”, 170-lb. frame would leave you to believe. He also strikes out nearly a third of the time (and 44% in an admittedly aggressive Arizona Fall League stint), something to watch as he climbs the ladder. Cauley added an infield single. After sharing splitting short and second with Max Acosta in 2022, he spent about 80% of his time at short last year.

CF Anthony Gutierrez (video) grounded up the middle for a single and hit a fly that seemed promising off the bat but didn’t carry. He also snagged a deep fly with his back to the plate.

RHP Skylar Hales (video), 2023 4th-rounder, very likely Major Leaguer. The stuff will play, certainly. Hales’ fastball ran 96-98 but has touched 100 previously. Irrespective of top speed, it also has serious rise and run. Hales adds a tight slider at 85-86. The delivery is short and funky. With the bases empty, he starts his motion fairly slowly, but then the ball rockets out from just over his right shoulder. In 2023, Hales pitched a handful of innings at the complex and Down East before concluding with two scoreless innings and four strikeouts during High-A Hickory’s playoff series. A concern with someone like Hales is control, and he did walk and hit a batter in two innings, but the results in real games have been stellar so far. He walked or hit only two of 46 batters last year, and 6% of his opponents in his final college season.

Converted outfielder DJ Peters (video) offered a 93-95 fastball with intermittently impressive run and 79-81 slider with well-above-average sweep. In his first attempt at pitching with the Tigers last year, Peters had truly dreadful control, but yesterday’s strike-throwing seemed no worse than adequate.

Pictures from Monday and Tuesday are here.

Tuesday
Echedry Vargas (video) drew an elongated walk to start the low-A contest and added a single and two doubles, one a laser to right, the other a medium grounder just inside the 3B line. The first double would have been a triple had not runner Yeremy Cabrera hesitated on whether the RF would have a chance. Vargas isn’t an imposing specimen but sure swings hard. He led the complex league last year with 11 homers, 27 extra-base hits, and 112 total bases on hits while moving between short, second, and third. Vargas played second yesterday. I didn’t get a good look at his arm. He botched an easy grounder (might have been a slightly bad hop) but otherwise looked very comfortable at the position. He turned 19 last month and I expect will be headed to low-A Down East and earning plenty of coverage from yours truly.

Brock Porter didn’t have a good day. I’ve provided video out of a sense of duty, but you’d be better off spending a minute or two meditating or thinking about what you want for dinner instead. Some individual pitches were dandy, but on the whole he had poor control, leading to a bunch of lengthy, labored duels even when successful. In the 1st, a hard fly missed being a homer by perhaps two feet, and the next batter was thwarted by LF Edgar Basabe’s catch up against the fence. Porter then walked the next two, and the inning was rolled.* His second and final inning was quicker although marked by another walk. Porter is a promising pitcher but has some days where it’s just not happening, and Tuesday was one.

As a 19-year-old in low-A, OF Yeison Morrobel’s season was nasty, brutish, and short. A shoulder injury ended his campaign in early June, but before then Morrobel (video) somehow slugged only .313 with three extra-base hits, a drastic decline from his rookie season. Best as I can tell, Morrobel decided every day last winter was leg day, arm day, ab day, and everything else day. He’s pretty cut. If he slugs .313 again I’ll eat my Myrtle Beach cap. Morrobel drew a walk the same inning as Vargas off control-averse Seattle prospect Brandyn Garcia (TAMU alum) and later tripled to center.

1B Arturo Disla (video) was born in the Dominican Republic but played college ball at Wayland Baptist in Plainview. Signed as a free agent, Disla returned to the DR to bat .274/.416/.468 in 19 Summer League games. He homered late. Disla is listed at 240 but I have my doubts. He’s also as much a “have bat, will travel” prospect as you’ll find.

IF Max Acosta has two triples in 218 full-season games. He hit two on Tuesday. Honestly, the first stat is the greater surprise, as Acosta has a combination of some pop (11 homers last year) and speed (26 steals) to suggest three-baggers should be more frequent. Acosta has produced two decent seasons at the lower levels, but Cauley has surpassed his prospect status, and whenever they’re on the same squad, I’d expect Cauley to receive a higher proportion of the starts at short.

* For those unfamiliar, in intersquad games coaches have the right to terminate the inning when the pitch count reaches an excessive level, and the yelled phrase is “roll it!” Occasionally, a pitcher will try to get a fourth out of an inning if the first three proceed too quickly, and sometimes a batter hit by a pitch will stay in the box.

Elsewhere
Philly optioned LHP Kolby Allard to AAA. He’d signed a Major League deal with the Phils after Atlanta declined to offer a contract.

Rangers Farm Report: Day 1 in Surprise

Sunday in Surprise
I arrived in Peoria only to discover the two games I’d intended to watch had been moved to Surprise. So I hustled over to Surprise, skipped the media gate because the fan entrance was closer to where I’d parked and… wasn’t allowed in because I had a backpack. So I hustled over to the media gate. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to see more than a moment of Dane Acker.

I didn’t come to Arizona to watch Owen White, because I expect I’ll see plenty of him in Round Rock, but he caught my eye early, and I ended up viewing a good chunk of four innings.

White was an object lesson in not putting too much emphasis on short viewings. If I’d seen only his first two frames or his last two, I’d have very different stories to tell. Early, his stuff was at a level I witnessed rarely during 2023. While the control wavered (a walk per inning, I believe), he missed a bunch of bats. Recall that his swinging strike percentage in AAA was well below average. The fastball was a snappy 94-96 augmented with a high-80s slider and change and an upper-70s curve.

The next two innings were reminiscent of last year’s struggles. The heater dropped to 92-94, and the slider lost a few tics while acquiring some loop, almost like it aspired to become a curve. He walked three and surrendered a homer (admittedly a constant hazard for any pitcher in Arizona).

I did come away mildly heartened that the White of old was still present, if only for a while.

Sebastian Walcott is an amazing athlete who had a bad day, at least what I saw of it. Against M’s righty Jose Geraldo, Walcott took two close pitches for strikes before waving at a slider well outside. In the field, he turned a routine third-out grounder into a run-scoring error with a wide throw to first.

OF Anthony Gutierrez rapped a solid single to left. Grant Schiller of Baseball Prospectus mentioned that Gutierrez had adopted a much more airborne-oriented swing compared to last year, and I can confirm. In 84 games as an 18-year-old in low-A, Gutierrez hit only two homers while producing one of the Carolina League lowest fly rates.

Josh Stephan: 90-93 two and four-seamers, 83-85 slider, change. The repertoire doesn’t impress on paper, but he gets the job done, and did so again on Sunday. Stephen has very good control and wields the slider uncommonly well. Pitchers with one advanced non-fastball can chew up the lower levels, and opponents in high-A batted only .175/.235/.327 with a 32% K rate last year. His promotion to AA was cut short by a back injury, but in 2024 we’ll get a better idea of how he’ll fare against tougher competition.

Venezuelan Ismael Agreda signed with Texas in 2021. Of medium height and maximum slenderness, Agreda nevertheless delivered a short-armed fastball at 97-99, and opposing Mariners had little chance at anything close to the zone. Last year in the complex league, he walked or hit 12% of his opponents, actually much better than average for the level. The control I saw wouldn’t have fared as well, I don’t think. He also mixed in an 83-84 slider with varying success. He’s pretty raw but another name to keep in mind.

21-year-old Alberto Mota pitched well in relief for Down East last year, tallying 41 strikeouts against just ten walks in 25 innings. Sunday didn’t measure to his best outings I saw on MiLB.tv in 2023. He was fairly hittable. Mota was also pitching in an AAA game, which in Arizona in March doesn’t mean a true AAA lineup but still stouter than his usual opposition. The fastball was 95, the curve 82.

Annoyingly, I missed every plate appearance by Abimelec Ortiz save his last, when he managed to pull an outside pitch into short center-right for a single. As a 21-year-old, Ortiz clubbed 36 homers between the A levels and three more in the Fall League. Dustin Harris turned a pitch into a souvenir (or a practice ball, I guess).

Early Monday
Corey Seager took live batting practice. Here’s a photo and quick video. I’m sure the beats will have much more to say. He seemed fine to me. Josh Jung fielded grounders and joined Seager with the bat.

Manpower
I while back, I mentioned the decrease in permitted domestic minor leaguers under contract from 180 to 165. After writing that, I reviewed my (admittedly very unofficial) list and thought the Rangers were in pretty good shape in that regard. What I didn’t know was that optioned players count against the total. I’d assumed anyone on the 40 was exempt, but apparently not. That changes things. Not that I’m going to need 5,000 words on all the upcoming releases, but perhaps more than I anticipated.

Transactions
Last week, Texas claimed IF Jose Barrero off waivers from Cincinnati. Now 25, Barrero registered as high as #33 on Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list prior to 2022, but he hasn’t registered at all with the bat. His divergence between AAA and the Majors is extreme as you’ll find: .254/.326/.501 in 180 AAA games, .186/.242/.255 in 139 MLB games. In the Majors vs. AAA, Barrero walks 32% less often, strikes out 18% more, and loses 85 points of average and 349 (!!) points of slugging on contact. Whew.

Barrero is out of options, so he’ll make the club or hit the waiver wire again. Optioned to AAA was Jonathan Ornelas, who I thought might have a shot at a backup job given the situations of Seager and Jung, and he might yet. Texas placed Rule 5 RHP Carson Coleman on the 60-day Injured List to make space for Barrero. Coleman is recovering from elbow surgery.

Detroit released RHP Nick Starr, originally signed by Texas in 2018 after being drafted but unsigned by the Reds. The Tigers had selected Starr in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. (The Rangers don’t have any reversion rights. Starr becomes a free agent.)  

Atlanta signed RHP Tyree Thompson (Texas’s 2016 26th-rounder). Thompson pitched at both A levels for Atlanta last year.

Toronto signed RHP Evan Elliott, Texas’ 15-thround pick in 2021. Elliot saw all of 15 rookie-league innings across three seasons and was released last June.

Tampa Bay signed RHP Jake Odorizzi to a minor deal.

OF Kole Calhoun retired.