Rangers Farm Report

Lowe and Foscue
Per the local reporters, Nathaniel Lowe has an oblique strain.

I haven’t performed a study and I’m not Will Carroll, but in years of covering baseball I’ve come to believe that oblique injuries have the largest gap between hopeful and actual return dates. They just linger. The early prognosis is Lowe might miss Opening Day. I’m just assuming he will.

So, who might play in his stead? One candidate is Ezequiel Duran, who played first twice last season, and, at his best, has the bat to carry any position. Other possibilities include non-40 1Bs Blaine Crim and offseason signing Jared Walsh. Dustin Harris was recently optioned and has been dealing with his own oblique issue. Regardless, I think he’d rank lower on the list of choices.

I want to focus on another possibility, Justin Foscue, because I’d been intending to write about him anyway. Foscue batted .268/.394/.468 in 122 games for AAA Round Rock last year. He hit 31 doubles and 18 homers, and even stole 14 bases. (He’s a slow but astute baserunner.) He turned 25 a few days ago and has a very mature plate approach. Of 245 AAA hitters with at least 300 plate appearances last year, Foscue was one of 11 with more walks than strikeouts. He was in the 92nd percentile in combined walk/HBP rate (18%) and 97th in strikeouts (12%).

So what’s not to like?  Given Foscue’s 563 trips to the plate, an average AAA hitter would have 74 combined walks and HBPs. Foscue had 99, a huge difference. But an average hitter would also have 130 hits, and Foscue had 123. Foscue’s superior approach is translating into more walks and a better OBP, but not better results on contact.

Foscue’s exit velocity is okay. It’s fine at the median but tapers off toward the top. Several Round Rock regulars had a better 90th-percentile EV than Foscue’s 103.2 MPH: Blaine Crim, Sandro Fabian, Elier Hernandez, Sam Huff, Jonathan Ornelas, Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Davis Wendzel.

Foscue also tends to have a lot of vertical “spray” on his contact. Compared to the average Round Rock hitter, Foscue had more grounders and more high flies (at least 45 degrees, almost always an out).

Hitters can succeed without elite exit velocity. A good example is Marcus Semien, who doesn’t hit exceptionally hard but combines fewer strikeouts with a consistent line of attack, allowing him to pile up impressive numbers. I think that is what has yet to fully develop with Foscue. The difference between Semien and Foscue is an extra 35 balls hit at an angle more likely to cause damage.

I’m not suggesting Foscue can’t be a competent MLB hitter. He’s made steady progress every year since being drafted, and hopefully that trend continues. I’m just saying I wasn’t watching him and analyzing his data in 2023 and thinking “he’d be a competent MLB hitter right now.”  Almost, but not quite. Maybe that year is 2024.

Depth
The starting rotation at present is Eovaldi, Gray, Dunning, Heaney, and Bradford. Another possibility is Bradford in long relief and a different fifth starter, but either scenario presents the same conundrum. What’s more likely: this starting five rolling steadily into midseason when some of the injured starters (hopefully) begin to reappear, or needing significant innings from the starting depth because of injuries and/or ineffectiveness? Your first choice to replace one of the top five is… not an easy decision.  

The healthy 40-man choices are Owen White, Cole Winn, and Zak Kent. (Jose Corniell is also on the 40 but premature for this discussion.) Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for one to set himself apart.

White allowed eight runners and three runs in three innings Tuesday, followed by four runs in the 4th against Winn, who did rebound with a clean, three-strikeout 5th. Meanwhile, Kent has surrendered nine runners and six runs in 3.2 innings. Yes, we’re still three weeks from Opening Day, and that isn’t necessarily a deadline for establishing a pecking order, but some clarity would be nice.

As for non-40 choices, Danny Duffy pitched well in Puerto Rico over the winter, perhaps setting himself up for a swing role I was hoping he might fill in 2023. Adrian Sampson was a credible (if statistically somewhat lucky) starter for the Cubs in 2022. The other experienced starter, Jose Urena, had a rough outing on February 24th but threw four solid innings on Thursday.

I imagine Duffy and Sampson lead the pack right now. Jack Leiter is a candidate, and if he makes the Opening Day roster that would be a heck of a story, but realistically I’m more interested in just seeing forward progress.

Good News
In 2023, 16 MLB clubs had MiLB.tv coverage of both of their A-level squads. 13 had coverage of either the high-A or low-A team. And one club had nothing: your Texas Rangers.

That will change in 2024, as Hickory has announced that all home games will be part of the MiLB.tv package. Brian Rushing, who calls a bunch of sports including those at my mother’s alma mater Winthrop University, will call the home games and “select road games.” Hallelujah.

No such announcement was forthcoming for Down East, not a surprise given the team’s lame-duck status. I’m hopeful that coverage will begin in 2025 coinciding with the team’s relocation to Spartanburg.

Subscription Clarifications
To condense from last week’s overly long post: After years of inaction, I have finally created a new subscription list derived from the Newberg Report list. If you’re reading this via email, you’re subscribed.

Jamey Newberg and I now have completely separate subscription lists. He has a list for Substack subscribers and still uses the original Newberg Report listserv for announcing reports. Unsubscribing from me (via the button at the bottom of this email) won’t affect your status with Jamey at all. Likewise, whatever decisions you make regarding Jamey’s site won’t impact you here.

Unfortunately, my “reintroduction” missive from last week reached everyone successfully but  excruciatingly slowly. I am working on the delivery speed, but I’ve learned through tech support that the best delivery speed I can hope for is still longer than desired.  I am probably going to send an email asking you to join a new list (which I expect will result in a significantly smaller list) in order to streamline the operation. But not today.

Incoming
Texas signed 23-year-old free agent COF/1B Luis Mieses. Once a reasonably well-regarded prospect with the White Sox, Mieses backslid terribly at AA Birmingham, batting .236/.257/.356 despite going 6-for-6 with three homers and a double in late June. He’d been out of contract for three months. I’d guess he’ll get another shot at AA if he sticks around.

Elsewhere

IF Elvis Andrus signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks.
RHP Ricky Vanasco was optioned to AAA by the Dodgers. He’d become a minor league free agent over the winter but quickly re-signed an MLB deal.
IF Luisangel Acuna was optioned to AAA by the Mets.

Hector Ortiz
Last week, the Rangers announced the death of Hector Ortiz, who played briefly for the Rangers in 2002 and rejoined in various instructional roles during 2005-2020. Ortiz managed Hickory’s first season as a Texas affiliate in 2009 and the rookie squad in 2011. He also served as a minor league hitting coach and catching coordinator, and as a first base coach and catching coach for the big-league squad.

Voices
Rylan Kobre is the new voice for the Round Rock Express. Kobre had previously called games for the short-season Boise Hawks and low-A Augusta GreenJackets before joining the Express as manager for public relations and communications in 2022. He had also served as an occasional substitute or additional announcer for the Express the past two years.

Kobre replaces Mike Capps, who had been the lead announcer for the Express since their inception in 2000. That is to say, Capps was calling the games when the then-AA affiliate of the Astros featured prospects like Roy Oswalt, Morgan Ensberg, and Tim Redding. It’s the end of an era. Capps is presently handling games for UT San Antonio.

Surprise!
A week from Sunday.