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.

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.

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.