Rangers Farm Report: Games of Sunday 14 April

720 days ago, while cruising through one of his better outings, Cole Winn took a sharp comebacker off the inside of his foot. From my viewpoint at the time, the incident was scary but inconsequential. He was removed for precautionary reasons but walked to the dugout without difficulty. He would not miss a start; indeed, he next pitched on four days rest for the first time that season. A summer promotion to the big-league rotation beckoned.

The consequences were in fact severe. For whatever reasons, the incident ruined his ability to retire batters with any consistency. He didn’t lose any velocity, nor did any particular pitch become useless, but basic control often abandoned him, as did command within the zone. He had intermittent success, sometimes an entire outing’s worth, but in general, success was an inning-to-inning or even pitch-to-pitch proposition. At its onset, I pointed out a vaguely similar stretch, when after a terrific spring of 2019 he struggled mightily at low-A Hickory but found himself toward the end of the season. This time, the recovery never arrived. Since the incident, opponents have batted .275/.392/.457 against him in AAA. In 20 of 57 outings, he allowed at least as many runs as innings pitched. One of every six batters reached on a walk or HBP.

I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in the head’s of pro athletes. I don’t know if Cole Winn ever stared up at the ceiling late at night after one of his rougher outings, wondering about his future. I do know I have stared up at the ceiling late at night after one of his rougher outings, wondering about his future. Imagine being a step from the pinnacle and finding you can’t do what you’ve done virtually your whole life. Imagine having a terrible outing, resting, throwing on the side, working with coaches, maybe working with a mental health coach, waiting an entire week for your next chance, and then being pulled after six runs and 37 pitches in the 1st. And then going through the process again, and again.

Whenever a Texas transaction involving the 40-man roster is impending, I glance at the list to ponder who might be designated for assignment. At no point in the last two years had I ever thought Winn’s day was at hand, but last month I expressed the possibility of reaching that point, even though he has an option in 2025. His March in Surprise didn’t allay any concerns, after all. Eventually, a player has to appear as if he can contribute.

Somehow, barely two weeks into the regular season, Winn is a Major Leaguer. He suddenly looked much better in Round Rock, not always successful but certainly with better control and command that enabled him to fight the opposition instead of himself. Then, in a one-inning stint on Thursday, he looked better than I’ve ever seen. I broached the idea of an eventual callup pending further success. The Rangers instead said “Cole baby, whatcha doin’ this weekend?” Or words to that effect.

I don’t have a list of MLB debuts that made me the happiest (a project for another day, perhaps), but Winn has to be in the top five. I’d guess I’ve seen him person more than any other pitcher except perhaps Martin Perez. Whatever else happens, he and everybody with a stake in his success went through an awful lot to get here.

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 5, Oklahoma City (LAD) 14
Round Rock: 5 hits, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 12 hits, 9 walks, 12 strikeouts
Record: 7-8, 4 GB

SP Danny Duffy: 1.1 IP, 2 H (1 HR), 1 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 48 P / 28 S, 3.12 ERA
RF Trevor Hauver: 2-3, HR (1), .308/.408/.436

Texas promoted 25-year-old righty Bryan Chi from Hickory prior to the game. Chi was successful in low-A last year, but this was a “we need a guy” promotion. Typically, such players aren’t really ready for the level but hopefully can provide some service and also have the fortitude to handle what could be a seriously adverse situation. His day began by stranding three bequeathed runners in the 3rd. After escaping a two-runner 4th, his 5th was catastrophe: 30 pitches and eight runs without a batter retired.

In 2023, reliever Grant Wolfram was quite successful in AA (2.02 ERA with matching peripherals) but found AAA a daunting challenge (10.80 ERA, 26 runners in 13.1 innings). In his first outing back in AAA, he allowed two runs in 2.2 innings but retired seven of nine batters, so we’ll take it.

AA: Frisco 10, Corpus Christi (HOU) 2
Frisco: 11 hits, 8 walks, 5 strikeouts
Opponent: 7 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts
Record: 7-2, tied for first

SP Nick Krauth: 6 IP, 4 H (1 HR), 1 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 72 P / 49 S, 6.52 ERA
RP Tyler Owens: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO, 0.00 ERA
RP Andy Rodriguez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 5.40 ERA
LF Aaron Zavala: 0-2, 3 BB
CF Kellen Strahm: 2-4, 2 2B
RF Josh Hatcher: 3-5
3B Cody Freeman: 3-4, 2B

Frisco took five of six from Corpus by an aggregate score of 40-20. Liam Hicks was held hitless for the second time but managed a walk and has reached safely in all nine games.

Rehabbing Nathaniel Lowe homered and walked.

Hi-A: Hickory 10, Jersey Shore (PHI) 8
Hickory: 11 hits, 6 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 12 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts
Record: 3-6, 3 GB

SP Brock Porter: 3 IP, 2 H (1 HR), 1 R, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 3 SO, 62 P / 29 S, 3.60 ERA
RP Jackson Kelley: 3 IP, 1 H (1 HR), 1 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 1.42 ERA
DH Yeison Morrobel: 2-4, 2B, BB
C Tucker Mitchell: 1-5, HR (1)
SS Sebastian Walcott: 2-5, 2B
LF Yosy Galan: 1-2, HR (1)

Hallelujah. Ten runs. 17 runners, including at least one in seven of eight innings.

Sebastian Walcott had his first two-hit game and is trending sharply away from the frightening ball-strike data I provided last week.

Walcott’s first five games: 77% strike rate, 30% swinging strike rate, 51% swinging strike rate on swings, 56% ball rate on pitches taken.
Four games since then: 60% strike rate, 4% swinging strike rate, 11% swinging strike rate on swings, 59% ball rate on pitches taken.

2B Ben Blackwell drew three walks. RF Anthony Gutierrez doubled. CF Daniel Mateo reach on two singles and an HBP. Tucker Mitchell’s homer, Hickory’s first of the season, was a grand slam.

Top pitching prospect Brock Porter missed on more than half his pitches for a second straight outing but didn’t suffer too badly. Per observer Mark Parker, he emphasized the curve, and the fastball was mostly 89-91, not the digits you want to see. However, he was in that range when I saw him last year in Surprise, and he regained velocity as the season progressed.

Skylar Hales entered the 9th and reached to within a strike of a 1-2-3 conclusion. He left with five runs on the board as Jersey Shore collected six consecutive hits, three of them cheapies. Life as a reliever.

Lo-A: Down East 4, @ Carolina (MIL) 6
Down East: 5 hits, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts
Opponent: 13 hits, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts
Record: 4-5, 4 GB

SP Luis Valdez: 3 IP, 6 H (1 HR), 4 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 50 P / 34 S, 5.40 ERA
3B Gleider Figuereo: 1-5, HR (3)

Gleider Figuereo is one-third of the way to his 2023 homer total after just nine games. Well-regarded 1B/OF Marcos Torres is batting .040 with a 59% strikeout rate.

Five Years Ago Yesterday
Nashville’s Willie Calhoun improved to .285/.400/.500 with a homer and two singles.