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.