Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 9 July

Kelly and Robert
The Rangers designated reliever Antoine Kelly for assignment eight months after his addition to the 40-man roster and being crowned the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year. The Rangers had acquired him in 2022 from the Brewers for Matt Bush. Expected to be added to the 40 that fall, Kelly unfortunately offered the Rangers an easy opposite decision with dreadful control down the stretch. Last year, Kelly improved dramatically, fanning a third of his opponents and reining in the wildness.

As for this year, well, which day are we talking about? Kelly hinted at an MLB debut from the jump but then missed nearly a month. In mid-May, Kelly exited after just two batters tapping his lower forearm. Fortunately, he missed only a week with a cramp instead of 14 months with a reconstructed elbow. He would never be the same, however.

First 5 appearances in AAA:
4.2 IP, 1 R, 3 BB/HBP, 8 SO, .125/.263/.125

Last 11 appearances in AAA:
10.0 IP, 14 R, 16 BB/HBP, 12 SO, .326/.500/.500

His slider remained exceptionally effective, although he continued to use it rather sparingly (28%). The fastball veered wildly in speed and direction, dropping down into the upper 80s on occasion. His strike rate with it fell from 65% to 51%, and the miss rate from 29% to 11%. Most tellingly, during his bad stretch, he concluded only two strikeouts with his fastball but 11 walks, and opponents batted a nightmarish .500/.658/.769 against it. Texas shipped him to Arizona and then AA Frisco, but after just one more appearance, they decided to move on. Kelly is only on his first option. Assuming a story no more complicated than “he’s terrible lately,” he should be claimed.

Meanwhile, Rule 5 loss Justin Slaten has a 3.38 ERA, nine walks and 45 strikeouts in 42.2 innings for the Red Sox. Not that Kelly over Slaten was a binary decision, but the two outcomes sure aren’t pretty. As I wrote in my 40-man preview, both Kelly and Marc Church seemed probable to join the roster, but I had Slaten farther down the list, mostly because the likelihood of adding a third reliever was low. In the previous ten seasons, the Rangers had protected a total of four relievers at the Rule 5 deadline.

Replacing Kelly on the 40 and joining the active roster is righty Daniel Robert. Primarily a 1B at Auburn, Robert was drafted as a pitcher by the Rangers in 2017’s 21st round. Upon discovery that he needed elbow surgery, Texas didn’t offer a contract by the deadline but eventually signed him as a free agent. By 2022, he’d worked his way to Round Rock as a legitimate relief prospect. Unfortunately, his control often abandoned him in AAA. In 2022, Robert had several lengthy stretches of consistency, but the occasional bad outings were sometimes catastrophic. In 2023, he never had a stretch of more than two appearances without a run or multiple walks. He would be omitted from the 40-man roster in two straight seasons. (Writing about Robert in the annual 40-man / Rule 5 previews, I’m embarrassed to say I used a variation of “Saying a reliever needs to be more consistent sounds like lazy analysis, but…” in 2022 and 2023. Lazy, indeed.)

In 2024, Robert started typically, walking at least one batter in four of his first five outings. He began to show better control in May, if not better overall results, but since the beginning of June he’s displayed the control and consistency that eluded him for two seasons: 14.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB/HBP, 15 SO.

Robert’s money pitch is a sweeper, which is responsible for concluding 33 of his 40 strikeouts. He threw a sweeper 58% of the time, averaging 84 MPH, topping out at 87, with an average of 14.5 inches of horizontal movement. If he maintains his style, you might be surprised as how often he works up with it. Robert’s four-seam fastball (30% usage) averaged 95.6 and peaked at 98.4. Despite a high spin rate, his induced vertical break is fairly ordinary, if I’m reading the data correctly. There’s nothing fancy about it. Statistically, its effectiveness comes from generating a high percentage of fouls (as opposed to balls in play), forcing hitters to contend with his sweeper in an unfavorable count. Robert will also mix in an occasional sinker to righties, and against lefties he’ll deal a handful of changes.

Robert’s control and strikeout prowess are legit, but that .132 opposing batting average has a large element of luck. Opponents are hitting only .069 on grounders, and only .091 on grounders hit at least 95 MPH. That can’t persist. On the other hand, it’s not as though opponents are continuously hitting the ball 105 MPH into gloves. The contact data doesn’t portend disaster.

Top 30

Baseball America updated its team top-30 prospect lists including the Rangers. BA is a subscriber publication, so I’m not going to reproduce it, but will say that 1) it’s a fine publication, and you should subscribe if you can, and 2) Texas’s new #4 prospect has a video shot by yours truly.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 9 July
Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 10, @ Reno (ARI) 14
Round Rock: 19 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts
Opponent: 17 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts
Record: 6-7, 6 GB, 43-44 overall

SP Owen White: 4 IP, 11 H (1 HR), 10 R, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 1 SO, 79 P / 56 S, 5.48 ERA
RP Brock Burke: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO, 2.84 ERA
CF Dustin Harris: 5-5, 2 2B, .274/.358/.382
1B Justin Foscue: 5-5, 2B, .276/.462/.431
DH Blaine Crim: 3-4, 2B, BB, .234/.340/.371

Welcome to Reno. The teams combined for 30 balls in play of at least 95 MPH, tied for seventh most in the PCL this year. Taking one for the team and then some, Owen White allowed 11 of those hard hits and pitched two more innings after a six-run, eleven-batter 2nd. Aidan Anderson joined twin brother Grant in allowing homers to three consecutive batters. (Grant did so in the 9th inning of Jack Leiter’s professional debut.) I suppose the upside is Round Rock threw only 148 pitches, fewer than expected against such an onslaught. The Aces were swinging.

Both Justin Foscue and Dustin Harris were 5-5.

Texas signed righty Matt Festa, just released by the Mets. The 31-year-old had pitched very well for AAA Syracuse, and as well as could be expected at the video-game environment of El Paso before then.

AA: Frisco 1, NW Arkansas (KAN) 6
Frisco: 6 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts
Opponent: 11 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts
Record: 8-5, , 52-30 overall

SP Tyler Mahle: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 32 P / 23 S, 0.00 ERA
RP Josh Stephen: 4.2 IP, 10 H (1 HR), 6 R, 0 BB, 4 SO, 4.94 ERA
RP Andy Rodriguez: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 2.06 ERA
CF Alejandro Osuna: 1-3, HR (2), BB, .371/.389/.800
C Liam Hicks: 2-4, .264/.371/.356

Tyler Mahle again handled minor league hitters with ease. Incidentally, I saw a couple of comments online expressing concern at Mahle pitching in AA as if it were a demotion from the previous rehab outing at Round Rock. That idea hadn’t occurred to me, at least not with someone of Mahle’s stature. Don’t be concerned. Some rehabbing players gradually build up from the lower levels, but more often than not, assignment location is based on convenience. Round Rock was at home last week but in Reno now, so Mahle switched to Frisco where he can be more easily observed. The San Francisco Giants have sent six different rehabbing Major League pitchers to nearby low-A San Jose. Washington’s Joey Gallo played two games for low-A Fredericksburg (about 50 miles from DC) against Down East (and homered off Josh Trentadue).

Hi-A: wet

Two today.

Lo-A: Down East 8, Salem (BOS) 6
Down East: 8 hits, 2 walks, 15 strikeouts
Opponent: 8 hits, 2 walks, 15 strikeouts
Record: 7-8, 4.5 GB, 42-38 overall

SP Brayan Mendoza: 4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 SO, 66 P / 44 S, 2.70 ERA
RP Willian Bormie: 2 IP, 1 H (1 HR), 1 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 3.83 ERA
SS Echedry Vargas: 1-3, BB, SB (13), .273/.335/.454
DH Arturo Disla: 3-4, HR (7), .278/.361/.411

Disla’s seven homers are tied for 14th in the league. Only five players have ten, while a whopping 78 have at least ten steals. In the Pacific Coast League, seven homers gets you a 15-way tie for 48th.

Echedry Vargas might finish with at least 20 steals and a slugging percentage of .450 or better. Post-2020, the only Rangers to do so at one of the A levels are Dustin Harris and Evan Carter. Further back, Scott Heineman accomplished the feat in 2016, albeit at High Desert, the hitter-friendliest location in affiliated ball at the time. Heineman slugged .464 in the minors and skipped low-A, so I’m inclined to give full credit.

Today’s Starters
AAA: Garabito
AA: Garcia
Hi-A: Drake
Lo-A: Davalillo

Five Years Ago Yesterday
Organization SO rate leaders:
Joe Barlow, 47%
Demarcus Evans, 45%
Peter Fairbanks, 39%
Scott Engler, 37%
Locke St. John, 36%

I don’t know where he ranked, but Emmanuel Clase’s rate was a relatively modest 29%. His forte was a combining a good, if not elite, level of strikeouts with fewer walks. At that time, he had nine for the season compared to 21 for Barlow and 28 for Evans.