Rangers 40-Man Roster Additions

The Texas Rangers have added:
Pitchers Marc Church, Jose Corniell, and Antoine Kelly
Infielder Justin Foscue

Available in the Rule 5 draft will be IFs Blaine Crim and Davis Wendzel, SP prospect Dane Acker, and numerous relievers including Justin Slaten, Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa.

At present, the Rangers have roster space to participate in the Rule 5 draft.

Minor League Free Agents With Ties To Texas

Not comprehensive, but here’s a list of fresh free agents who played in the Rangers organization recently and/or were originally signed by the Rangers:

RHP Joe Barlow
LHP Alex Claudio
RHP Kyle Dowdy
RHP Jerad Eickhoff
LHP Robbie Erlin
RHP Luke Ferrell
RHP Brett de Geus
RHP Demarcus Evans
RHP Tyler Ferguson
RHP Wilmer Font
RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez
LHP Taylor Hearn
RHP Ronald Herrera
RHP Wei-Chieh Huang
RHP Drew Hutchinson
LHP James Jones
RHP Spencer Patton
LHP CD Pelham
RHP Ryder Ryan
RHP Tayler Scott
RHP Drew Strotman
RHP Tyree Thompson
RHP Ricky Vanasco

C Jorge Alfaro
IF Charlie Culberson
IF Yonny Hernandez
IF Charles Leblanc
IF Mark Mathias
IF Josh Morgan
IF Nick Solak
IF Tyreque Reed
IF Yoshi Tsutsugo
OF David Dahl
OF Steven Duggar
OF Clint Frazier

Texas Rangers: World Series Champions

I never recovered from 2011. I came to terms with it, after a fashion, but I wouldn’t call it closure. Yes, it’s just sports, but our lives would be different had Texas prevailed.

Some time in early 2012, one of the D/FW sports-radio hosts decided that re-listening to Eric Nadel’s call of that play would serve as an exorcism. Maybe so for him, but for me the call merely reopened a poorly stitched wound. I’ve never watched highlights of that Series. Any time a clip would appear on the tv, I would avert my eyes.

Worse still was something I’d mentioned to my wife, that Texas could be better in 2012 and not even reach the World Series, given the vagaries of playoff baseball. That fear became manifest, as the Rangers were indeed better for much of 2012, until they weren’t.

The Rangers weren’t quite done, at least in the regular season, winning two more division titles and even leading the AL in wins in 2016. That edition was essentially a .500 club with incredible one-run luck, but still, 95 wins! Texas even began 2019 with a record of 46-36 and were tied for the wild card at the end of June.

Then, the window slammed shut. Texas began what would become the worst 500-game stretch in franchise history, 204-296, which extended into May of this year. 1 There’s nothing magical about 500 games – it’s three full seasons plus two weeks – but it’s a long time. This period was the worst lengthy spell in franchise history, surpassing the dreaded 1982-1985.

Six months later, the Rangers are champions.

I’ve seen grumbling (mainly from an extremely online subset of Astros fans) about how Texas simply purchased a winner, an affront to the noble, process-oriented methodologies of other clubs. 2 Whatever. The Rangers had a process, too. They just compressed each step into the shortest time possible.

My podcast mates and I stressed for years that Texas would never construct a postseason-worthy squad with the farm alone. Sure, given that I write about the minor leaguers and you read about them, a squad stocked with homegrown talent is arguably more enjoyable. But at the same time, I have no delusions about team-building. Prospects are a means, not an end. Few reach their ceilings. Some are blocked. As such, their value to an organization is often maximized by trades. Holding onto them out of some warped sense of propriety is malfeasance.

This championship club is as genuine as any other. There’s more than one way to build a winner, and that’s very much a good thing. Ownership, management, coaches and players all pulled together and pointed the ship in the right direction, and their hard work paid off in the best way possible. (And Jon Daniels deserves plenty of credit, too.)

There’s something about being a fan. I guess, in a more cynical frame of mind, you could call it hypocrisy, but I prefer duality.

On the one hand, I’m careful to avoid the word “we” when writing about the Rangers. I’ve never worked for them. I can take zero credit for what they’ve accomplished. If I decide to ignore them, they’ll roll on, unimpeded and carefree. There’s no “we.” Plus, sometimes baseball dares you to pay attention. Work stoppages. An increasingly fractured and unnavigable collection of media rights-holders, but no end to blackouts. Eradication of a quarter of the minor leagues, with potentially more to come. The ever-obtuse Rob Manfred. I could go on.

On the other hand: No. We are the Rangers. You and me.

When Josh Sborz caught the corner for that final strike, I barely moved. 3 I just watched while listening to Eric Nadel’s call. 4 55 years of fandom distilled to an instant. A wave of emotions. Memories of attending games with my father as an official member of the Dr. Pepper Junior Rangers Kids Club, evenings at the ballpark after my work shift at Six Flags, get-togethers I organized in the late 90s and early 2000, Newberg Report nights. Happiness that my wife, who accompanied me to so many playoff games in 2010-2011, was with me. Happiness that a cat she and I named Ranger in 2010 lived long enough to claim “his” title. Sadness that my father couldn’t be here. 5

Maybe your parents took you to games as a kid. Maybe you went with friends, with partners, with your kids. Maybe you’ve never set foot in Texas and latched on for other reasons. However you got here, you have a lifetime of memories, some good, some bad, all building up to last night. The “Texas Rangers” are the shared experience. If you’ve been watching, waiting, hurting, you’ve got as much of a claim on that trophy as anyone.

The championship belongs to us. And it’s ours to enjoy for the rest of our lives.

Thanks for reading.

Ranger and me during Game 4

Footnotes
1 I know that sounds weird. How could any portion of 2023 belong to a “worst-ever” stretch since the Rangers started so well?  The explanation is 2023 with a solid 22-14 record, but in the 36 games before the worst-ever 500, they were slightly better: 23-13.

2 Texas’s payroll is $14 million higher than Houston’s. That’s a 6% difference. I tend to think fan bases around baseball are pretty much the same – mostly fine, a few jerks and trolls – but a small but vocal portion of Houston supporters fans are very tightly wound.

3 Admittedly, I spent most of the previous few innings pacing the living room in advance of what was shaping to be an unimaginably tense 9th (or extras!). Once Texas broke open the top of the 9th, I could finally just sit.

4 Not that we need to rank deservedness, but does anyone deserve this more than Nadel?

5 You can forestall Death with a game of chess, but asking him to wait until a Texas Rangers championship is a bridge too far. 

Some World Series Thoughts…

…as the Rangers enter their third World Series:

ADOLIS GARCIA
Texas acquired him for beer money in late 2019 and designated him for assignment on February 12, 2021, to create room for free agent pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. The move barely preceded the date when teams could stash injured players on the 60-day list, making a waiver claim slightly more difficult, but realistically just about any team could have found a spot for him if desired. But to what purpose? Garcia was 28 (!) with prodigious power but so-so contact and a 7:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks in AAA. I took scant video of Garcia and no notes during the “alt site” minor leagues games between the Rangers and Astros preceding the delayed start of the minor league season, in part because he was quickly called up when Ronald Guzman was injured, but mostly because he was a DFA’ed 28-year-old.

EVAN CARTER
Is Carter here if Garcia hadn’t injured himself trying to rob a Houston homer in early September? It’s easy now to say “don’t be silly, just look at him, he would have forced his way on regardless,” except that he really wasn’t forcing anything at the time. In the six weeks prior, he was walking at will but batting .273 with one homer and a .396 slugging percentage. I wasn’t worried about his composure in MLB at all, given his otherworldly maturity, but I can’t say I expected such an impact. And in fact, he cooled to a more modest .240/.321/.360 in the ALCS, but the timeliness of his hitting and fielding exploits has been heroic.  

JONAH HEIM
He’s a Ranger because a duffel bag crammed with 13,500 hundred-dollar bills accompanied Elvis Andrus to Oakland. He’d already been traded twice and was entering is ninth professional season. I was hoping he’d become a plus backup, like a “#1b” instead of a “#2.”

JOSH SBORZ
Whew, fans were tired of Josh Sborz in early 2023. When he was activated from the IL in April, out of options, my comment was “if you hate him, you should be glad he was called up, because if he’s bad he’ll be DFA’ed and you won’t ever see him again.” I was never a Sborz supporter, per se, but he had terrific stuff, certainly the best among the AAA options, so I thought he deserved another shot.

JOSE LECLERC
Leclerc has a chance to save more games in the postseason than regular season. He saved four games during the 2023 regular season. Four! After Will Smith’s 22nd and final save on August 11, only six of Texas’s 21 regular season wins involved a save, split equally by Leclerc and Aroldis Chapman. Incidentally, Leclerc is the only current player who was in the organization the last time Texas played in the World Series.

JOSH JUNG
He’s pretty much who I imagined offensively. While he was in the minors, I insisted he’d be the perfectly average defender, someone who’d rarely elicit an emotional reaction. He’s been better than that, sometimes shockingly so.

JORDAN MONTGOMERY
How much future money has he earned this month? Even if Thomas Saggese becomes a starting 3B and TK Roby a #3 starter, the Rangers have won their half of the trade, irrespective of where Montgomery lands in 2024. They aren’t here without him. The Rangers are making a strong organizational case for retaining him, but he’d be foolish not to test the market, and the Rangers would be foolish to bid against themselves while on an emotional high. Cliff Lee moved on, but he’s still a hero around these parts. Life goes on. Enjoy Jordan while you can.

MATT BUSH

Bush’s last MLB outing was with the Brewers in June. He’ll get a playoff share and maybe a ring despite not having thrown a pitch in for Texas since 2021.

MOMENTUM!
On a Diamond Pod immediately after Houston’s three-day demolition of the Rangers in early September, I said:


I don’t believe in momentum, and certainly the events of 2023 are a convincing argument against it.

Both Texas and Houston are good but flawed teams that kind of backslid into the postseason. The Rangers were 50-52 over their last 102 games and lurched into a wild-card spot with a collection of stomach-churning winning and losing streaks. Houston seemingly had the division in hand but lost seven of nine games to KC and Oakland before closing with four straight wins to reclaim it on the final day. Then the Rangers swept the 99-win Rays and 101-win Orioles before capturing the pennant against the Astros.

Meanwhile, Arizona began the season 50-36 and closed 34-42, a period during which only the Giants and Rockies lost more in the NL. The Diamondbacks were 10-3 against lowly Colorado and under .500 with a negative-46 run differential against everybody else. Getting into the playoffs depended heavily on the Cubs posting an NL-worst 7-15 record down the stretch. Then, then!, they swept the 92-win Brewers and 100-win Dodgers before capturing a pennant against the Phils.

Nobody knows anything.

Texas is a good if flawed team that got hot at the perfect time. The Dbacks… I don’t know. The totality of their 2023 is pretty much average. But their peaks have been lofty, and they’re unquestionably good enough to win the World Series.

As I’ve gotten older, I no longer have any expectations. The MLB postseason is not designed to crown the best team. Some of that is due to an ever-expanding number of teams permitted to play in October. Mostly though, the nature of baseball prohibits it. Bad teams can and do take two of three or even sweep good teams. Even elite teams lose a third of the time. There is no series of plausible length that can truly decide who’s best.

Much as I love minor league ball, it’s almost never a visceral, edge-of-seat experience. This certainly is: a lifetime of fandom and memories, years of occasional semi-glory and dashed hopes condensed into a handful of games.

It’s a heck of a thing to want something so badly and not only have no control over the desired result but not even be able to calculate its likelihood with any confidence. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Ah, well. I’m in this deep, I’m not getting out now. I don’t even want to. It’s an experience I want to share with family, friends, and y’all. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Go Rangers.

Ranger, 2010. Still with us, waiting for a championship.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Wednesday 27 September

The minor league season is over, save for instructionals and the Arizona Fall League. Today concludes my daily coverage of the system. I’ll be back occasionally with some wrap-ups, 40-man/Rule 5 coverage, and other news. Thanks to those who donated (see bottom of email if still interested), and thanks to all for reading. Go Rangers.

Box Scores

AAA Pacific Coast League Championship
Round Rock 2, at Oklahoma City (LAD) 5
Round Rock loses best-of-three 0-2
Round Rock: 5 hits, 2 walks, 13 strikeouts
Opponent: 8 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts

SP Owen White: 4.1 IP, 8 H (2 HR), 5 R, 1 BB, 3 SO
RP Grant Anderson: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO
RP Yerry Rodriguez: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO
1B Blaine Crim: 1-4, HR
RF Sandro Fabian: 2-4

I suggested yesterday that four innings and three runs from Owen White would be acceptable. He worked four innings and allowed only two runs on a single and Jonny Deluca homer to open the second. I was out last evening and happened to check the score just after the 4th ended. Mission (as defined by me) accomplished, yes?

Unfortunately, White was not done, nor were the Dodgers. With one out, Hunter Feduccia doubled, Drew Avans singled, and Michael Busch homered the opposite way on on a 3-2 slider well outside the zone to put the Dodgers up 5-1. Had Busch taken the pitch for ball four, the bases would have been loaded with one out and the score still 2-1. Grant Anderson was warming and perhaps could have escaped the jam or at least mitigated the damage. Or maybe White himself could have allowed fewer than three more runs. Instead, the game was practically out of reach.

Round Rock’s game-defining opportunity at the plate came in the 1st. Elier Hernandez singled, and Wyatt Langford and Justin Foscue walked on a combined nine pitches. Blaine Crim then grounded into a forceout of Hernandez at the plate, and Sandro Fabian and Dustin Harris struck out. After loading the bases, OKC starter Gavin Stone missed six bats the rest of the inning, five on changeups. For the next five innings, Round Rock generated only one baserunner in the form of Blaine Crim jogging after a solo homer.  Two reached in the 7th, and Jax Biggers drove in one on a sac fly, but the Express would never seriously threaten afterwards. Ricky Vanasco retired five batters, and Wander Suero again closed out the 9th.

Round Rock was 4-16 with -59 run differential versus OKC and 85-46 with a +207 differential against everybody else.

Wyatt Langford was 0-5 with three strikeouts and four walks in the series.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 26 September

Box Scores

AAA Pacific Coast League Championship
Round Rock 3, at Oklahoma City (LAD) 8
Round Rock trails best-of-three 0-1
Round Rock: 4 hits, 7 walks, 13 strikeouts
Opponent: 10 hits, 7 walks, 7 strikeouts

SP Robert Dugger: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 SO
RP Edwar Colina: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO
RP Triston Polley: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 1 SO
RP Scott Engler: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO
LF Wyatt Langford: 0-2, 3 BB, SB
3B Davis Wendzel: 2-4, 2B
RF Sandro Fabian: 2-4

I mentioned OKC’s favorable starting pitching yesterday in the preview, and it was indeed critical to yesterday’s result. In 29 starts, Round Rock’s most reliable starter Robert Dugger had failed to reach three innings only twice. Yesterday became the third. Dugger walked two and allowed four balls in play in excess of 97 MPH, all hits.

As for OKC’s Kyle Hurt, Round Rock had scored five against him in eight innings across two regular-season appearances, but on Tuesday Hurt matched his AAA-best eight strikeouts and limited the Express to a run in four innings. Hurt’s fastball hovered mostly around 96-97, and he added a highly effective changeup and a few curves.

Down 4-0 in the 4th, Davis Wendzel singled and later scored on a Sandro Fabian single. Another run came in the 5th when Wyatt Langford drew the second of his three walks, stole second, and scored on an error.

Round Rock had its best opportunity in the 6th. Wendzel began with a double and scored on another Fabian single following a Jonathan Ornelas walk. With two on and none out, the Express gained nothing more than another Langford walk, leaving the bases full. OKC catcher Hunter Feduccia rapped a solo homer off Kyle Cody in the 6th.

The 7th was a mess. With one on and one out, a hard grounder up the middle deflected off SS Ornelas’s foot (or maybe very hard off his glove) into center, ruled a hit. Then, reliever Antoine Kelly muffed a potential double-play comebacker. He retrieved the ball in time for a possible out at first but airmailed the throw. Instead of a 5-3 score heading into the 8th, OKC led 6-3 with two runners in scoring position and one out. Both runners would score on a subsequent single by leadoff hitter Drew Avans, 4-4 with a walk on the night.

The hits by Wendzel and Fabian that I mentioned were the totality of Round Rock’s batted output. The Express had one baserunner after the 6th. Ex-Ranger Ricky Vanasco threw a scoreless 8th despite throwing outside the zone on nine of 12 pitches.

Tonight, Owen White faces off against Gavin Stone, who has spent most of the last month in the Majors. Stone faced the Express three times during the regular season, twice dealing six scoreless innings in OKC and once allowing a lone run (on a Justin Foscue homer)  in 5.1 innings in Round Rock. I saw the Texas outing and had mixed feelings, as Stone had trouble with location but also induced a ton of whiffs against his changeup. Stone is good but not indomitable.

White faced the Dodgers on the road three times in August and never allowed fewer than five runs. If he can complete four innings with, say, three runs, that’ll be… okay. Fully rested bullpen members are Anderson, Bush, Church, Rodriguez, Slaten, and Speas. The roster also lists Josh Sborz on rehab.

Tonight’s broadcast is free per MiLB.tv, so everyone has a chance to watch. Or you could read a book, go for a walk, take a relaxing bath. It’s up to you.

Late news: IF Davis Wendzel was IL’ed, and IF Jax Biggers is active.

Awards
MiLB announced the AA Texas League award winners. OF Evan Carter is on the All-Star team along with LHP Antoine Kelly. The league MVP is IF Thomas Saggese, who batted .318/.385/.551 with 25 homers and 11 steals between Frisco and Springfield. Saggese was recently promoted to AAA Memphis, where he hit .207/.270/.345 in 13 games.IF Luisangel Acuna was named as a utility player.

Rangers Division Scenarios After Today’s Result

MLB eliminated single-game playoffs in case of regular-season ties, but that doesn’t make the situation any less complicated. More so, if anything, because Houston owns the tiebreak over Texas, Texas owns Seattle, and Seattle owns Houston, plus Seattle owns the three-way tiebreak, and there still a possibility that all three finish with 89 wins.

Houston is eliminated from division contention with a loss today, no matter what Texas does. Houston’s path is complicated by Texas and Seattle playing each other this weekend, meaning Houston can only gain ground on one team on any given day. The best scenario for Texas today is a win plus a Houston loss, which eliminates the Astros and reduces Seattle’s path to a four-game sweep of Texas this weekend. The worst would be a Texas loss and Houston win, which eliminates nobody and leaves a path for the Astros to claim the division without a sweep.

Best as I can tell, there are 512 potential W-L permutations between the three teams, and Texas comes out ahead in 460 (89.8%). Fangraphs gives Texas an 87% chance of winning the division.

Here’s a really confusing chart with all the paths for a non-Texas team to win the division depending on today’s results.

Playoff Preview: Round Rock vs Oklahoma City

Pacific Coast League Championship Series (best-of-three)
Round Rock Express (89-60) vs.
Dodgers-affiliated Oklahoma City Dodgers (90-58)
Season Run Differential: RR +156, OKC +149
Last 20 Games: RR 10-10, OKC 12-8
Season Series: OKC 14-4

How They Got Here
In early May, 21-11 Round Rock hosted a series against 22-11 Oklahoma City. The Dodgers won all six games, then another four straight, then eight of 12. By the end of May, the Express were 10.5 games back. OKC posted a 50-23 first-half record with the Express a strong but distant 44-30.

The second half belonged to the Express, though with far more drama. Six games out of first after a 2-4 series at OKC, Round Rock proceeded to win 14 straight and stormed to a three-game lead by the last Sunday in August. A 4-8 road trip (including another bad series against OKC) plus three straight losses to rival Las Vegas had the Express down two games with nine to play. Round Rock then closed out with a 7-2 record, 45-30 in the second half, claiming the title on the final day with a victory plus a required Reno loss.

OKC won 14 of 18 games between the two, and not by sneaking away with a bunch of one-run wins. The Dodgers nearly doubled the Express in runs scored. I don’t like to put much emphasis on head-to-head matchups, but in this case, it’s hard not to.

History  
Texas’ AAA team is in the postseason for the first time since 2015. That squad knocked off these same Dodgers in the semifinals but lost a 2-1 series lead and the title to Houston-affiliated Fresno. Texas’ best-regular-season team in 2011 (87-57) had unfortunately lost several keys players by the playoffs and was quickly dispatched in the semis. The last champion dates back to 1996 with the Oklahoma City 89ers. As I discovered this morning, the entire title-winning game vs. Indianapolis is available on Youtube.

In eight years as a Dodgers affiliate, OKC has seven winning seasons (including four with at least 80 wins) and four playoffs appearances but no titles. I think the last title-winning AAA team for the Dodgers was the 1994 Albuquerque Dukes.
 
Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
Round Rock:
2 / 1. OF Wyatt Langford (#13 overall per MLB, 8 per BA)
5 / 11. RHP Jack Leiter
6 / 5. IF Justin Foscue
8 / 4. RHP Owen White (82nd per BA)
10 / 6. 1/O Dustin Harris
19 / 26. RHP Marc Church
21 / 25. IF Jonathan Ornelas
26 / –. LHP Antoine Kelly
28 / –. RHP Cole Winn
— / 23. RHP Zak Kent

Oklahoma City:
2 / 4. IF Michael Busch (44th overall per MLB, 66 per BA)
4 / 9. RHP Nick Frasso (65th overall per MLB) (on Dev List)
5 / 3. RHP Gavin Stone (78th overall per MLB, 61 per BA)
6 / 6. OF Andy Pages (hurt)
8 / 11. RHP River Ryan
9 / 7. RHP Landon Knack (hurt)
10 / 15. IF Jorbit Vivas
12 / 12. RHP Kyle Hurt
29 / –. C Hunter Feduccia

Offense / Position Players
Round Rock Offense: 4% above average runs scored, .270/.369/.456, 106 OPS+, 106 wRC+
OKC Offense: 2% above average runs scored, .269/.370/.444, 101 OPS+, 100 wRC+
Round Rock:
C Sam Huff / Jordan Procyshen
1B Blaine Crim / Dustin Harris
2B Justin Foscue
3B Davis Wendzel
SS Jonathan Ornelas
LF Wyatt Langford
CF JP Martinez
RF Elier Hernandez
Also 2/3 Dio Arias, OF Sandro Fabian, C Matt Whatley (hurt)

Round Rock’s batting roster might be the most stable I’ve ever covered. Five players (Hernandez, Crim Foscue, Wendzel, Ornelas) reached 500 plate appearances, and another four reached 300. From 2016-2022, the total number of Texas AAA batters with at least 500 plate appearances was five.

The Pacific Coast League is ridiculously hitter-friendly. A park-adjusted league-average line for a Round Rock hitter is .264/.360/.440 compared to .251/.322/.420 for a Ranger. Even so, this is a strong, deep group lacking weaknesses. In Sunday’s must-win game, the #8 and #9 hitters were Dustin Harris (.273/.382/.455, 110 OPS+) and Dio Arias (.286/.361/.422, 96 OPS+). The only regular hitter with an OBP below .360 was Sandro Fabian, and he hit .288/.331/.523 with 23 homers. The only regular seriously lacking in power was Jonathan Ornelas (.253/.368/.359), and even he has solid power when he elevates. JP Martinez had a career year (.298/.418/.543, 38 SB).

Oklahoma City:
C Hunter Feduccia / David Freitas
1B Justin Yurchak
2B Jorbit Vivas
3B Miguel Vargas
SS Bryan Brigman
LF Ryan Ward (also 1B) / Steven Dugger
CF Drew Avans / Jonny Deluca
RF Oscar Mercado
Also 2/3/S Yonny Hernandez, 1/3 Michael Busch, OF David Dahl

The Dodgers have a pretty good offense that doesn’t quite measure up to the Express. Well-regarded Michael Busch has yet to hit much in the Majors, but after being sent back to AAA he closed the season with a nine-game hitting streak and a line of .375/.475/.750. He and Jonny Deluca (.306/.397/.548) are the only .500 sluggers. Miguel Vargas hit .288/.407/.479. The busy Ryan Ward (.234/.324/.424) had 54 extra-base hits. Yonny Hernandez, as usual, gets on base (.395 OBP). Unlike the Express, the Dodgers have some guys who don’t excel at either reaching base or hitting or power.

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Round Rock: 14% better than avg. runs allowed, .253/.347/.404 oppo line, 88 OPS+, 13% BB/HBP, 24% SO
OKC: 15% better than avg. runs allowed, .249/.337/.405, 83 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 24% SO

Round Rock:
1. Robert Dugger (4.31 ERA, .262/.335/.407 oppo line, 10% BB/HBP, 23% SO)
2: Owen White (4.99 ERA, .264/.381/.467, 16% BB/HBP, 14% SO)
3: Cole Winn (7.22 ERA, .279/.398/.462, 17% BB/HBP, 20% SO)

The rotation is not a strength. As I mentioned recently, Robert Dugger led the league in ERA among qualifiers (of whom there were few). He’s the best bet to supply five solid innings, but he’s not really a shut-down type. Owen White’s ERA is actually slightly better than league average, but the peripherals are not. Similarly, Cole Winn has been better during the second half of the season, but not good. Assuming a third game, I would expect Winn’s leash to be short. Round Rock has a zillion relief pitchers.

Yerry Rodriguez leads the club with eight saves including five in the last month, but I’m not especially enthused. He’s as good as anyone in AAA when on, but since his last MLB appearance in late July, opponents are hitting .284/.370/.469.

Matt Bush has allowed three runs in 12.2 AAA innings with one walk and 16 strikeouts. Antoine Kelly and Justin Slaten have been worthy late-season additions who could both see a high-leverage situation. Marc Church appears on the prospect lists and has a marvelous slider, but he’s been walk-prone and generally out of form for a while. Extremely erratic Daniel Robert has been great the last month, while Kyle Cody hasn’t been able to build on a nice August. Chase Lee has been on the IL for two weeks. Alex Speas can mow down a side while giving you serious heartburn.

Zak Kent threw 71 pitches Sunday, so even a Game 3 appearance would be on three days rest. Jack Leiter pitched Saturday, and I suppose he could be available in an all-hands-on-deck situation, but there’s a real risk that it wouldn’t go too well. Remember, I’m talking purely about expected performance right now, not the future.

Oklahoma City:
1: Kyle Hurt (3.33 ERA, .198/.284/.333 oppo line, 11% BB/HBP, 39% SO)
2: Gavin Stone (4.74 ERA, .226/.309/.375, 11% BB/HBP, 28% SO)
3: TBA

Hurt has spent most of the season in AA Tulsa, where he posted a so-so 4.15 ERA but struck out 110 in 65 innings. He also had a scoreless two-inning MLB debut two weeks ago. Next is Gavin Stone, who likewise gave up more runs than his peripherals would suggest. My one in-person look at Stone back in May didn’t wow me, to be honest, but on the whole (including Game 3 possibilities), OKC’s rotation appears more promising than Round Rock’s.

In relief, rehabbing Wilton Suero has 17 AAA saves with a 3.26 ERA, .178/.278/.317 oppo line, and a solid but not overwhelming 26% K rate. Also around are Bryan Hudson, a strikeout machine who might also start, a steady John Rooney, ex-Ranger Tyson Miller, and more recent ex-Ranger Ricky Vanasco. Vanasco has 5.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts in AAA. Like the Express, OKC has numerous options of varying skills and quality.

Defense
Teams tend to run less when losing, and they can’t run without baserunners. OKC somehow allowed the league’s most steals by far (214) despite the league’s best record and fewest baserunners allowed. Primary catcher Hunter Feduccia nabbed only 15% of opposing runners, so the Express have an opportunity. Conversely, Round Rock allowed the fewest steals. OKC committed more errors but was more likely to turn batted balls into outs. Notwithstanding OKC’s bizarre issues with opposing runners, the two teams have the league’s best defenses.

Park Factors
OKC – 0.98 runs, 0.93 HR

OKC’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark favors pitchers relative to the league, but don’t you dare call it a pitcher’s park. OKC’s close-to-average offense scored 6.0 runs per game at home, and a very good pitching staff allowed 5.2 per game.

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Round Rock
Pitching – OKC
Defense – Round Rock, because of the running game

Neither team snuck in. Well, Round Rock did sneak in on the last day, but the Express and OKC are the best teams in the league, and either would be a worthy champion. On paper, it’s very close, even though the Dodgers thoroughly dominated the series. I suppose the advantage goes to OKC because every game will be played in their house.

Playoff Preview: Down East vs. Charleston

Carolina League Championship Series (best-of-three)
Down East Wood Ducks (66-61) vs.
Tampa Bay-affiliated Charleston Riverdogs (66-65)
Season Run Differential: Down East +32, Charleston +17
Last 20 Games: Down East 7-13, Charleston 10-10
Season Series: Charleston 7-2

How They Got Here
Down East won the first-half division title with a 37-24 record. A good number of players moved on to high-A Hickory in early summer, and the Woodies would slump to 29-37. Down East won an taut three-game division series against 72-55 Carolina; all games were decided by one run, and two went to extras.

The RiverDogs had the league’s worst first-half record (27-39) but slowly improving after a poor start, and they ran off a stretch of 31 wins in 44 games en route to a 39-26 second-half mark and a three=game advantage over Myrtle Beach, which also win the first half. Charleston then knocked off the league-best Pelicans (75-55) in three.

History  
The teams also met in the 2021 finals, when only two teams reached the playoffs. Charleston was the class of the league but needed all five games to vanquish the Wood Ducks. Charleston also won last year’s championship. Down East won a co-championship in a hurricane-shortened 2017.
 
Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
Down East:
4 / 9. RHP Brock Porter
7 / 8. OF Anthony Gutierrez (hurt?)
12 / 13. OF Yeison Morrobel (hurt)
18 / 15. IF Gleider Figuereo
20 / 18. IF Echedry Vargas (hurt)
24 / 24. 1B/OF Marcos Torres
30 / 21. IF Danyer Cueva
NR / 30. RHP Joseph Montalvo
Charleston:
4 / 8. IF Xavier Isaac
5 / 5. IF Brayden Taylor
9 / 18. OF Colton Ledbetter
15 / 17. RHP Santiago Suarez
17 / 12. RHP Marcus Johnson
18 / 14. RHP Trevor Martin
24 / 23. IF Carlos Colmenarez
26 / 22. 1/O Tre’ Morgan (hurt)

Offense / Position Players
Down East Offense: 3% below average runs scored, .226/.317/.336, 94 OPS+, 94 wRC+
Charleston Offense: 2% below average runs scored, .240/.332/.359, 103 OPS+, 101 wRC+

Down East:
C Ian Moller / Konnor Piotto
1B Anthony Calarco / Marcos Torres
2B Devin Hurdle
3B Gleider Figuereo
SS Danyer Cueva
LF Miguel Villarroel
CF Jojo Blackmon
RF Quincy Scott
Also OF Wady Mendez, OF Tommy Specht

Check the division series for a deeper examination of Down East’s second-half misfortune at the plate. Short version: they were bad, exceptionally so after 1-2 hitters Scott and Blackmon.

The Woodies didn’t hit well overall against Carolina (.217/.288/.274, five extra-base hits but no homers) but did in the crunch, recovering from deficits in all three games. From an observer’s perspective, counting on continuation of that success is dubious, but perhaps the series was a morale boost for the hitters.  

Charleston:
C Bryan Broeker / Raudells Martinez
1B Xavier Isaac
2B Cooper Kinney
3B Braden Taylor
SS Ryan Spikes
LF Cristopher Barete
CF Colton Ledbetter
RF Jhon Diaz
Also IF Odalys Peguero, IF Carlos Colmenarez,

The nine most commonly used hitters in the playoffs had an average regular-season line of .236/.329/.374. It’s a decent if unexceptional bunch on the whole, although it did score 18 in the deciding game of the division series. In the second half, they haven’t hit for a high average but have bettered Down East in terms of walks and power.   

Much of said power comes from newcomer Braden Taylor, who hit five homers and slugged .512 in 22 games. Taylor also had a monster playoff series (.417/.533/.917) Xavier Isaac follows with 10 homers and .266/.380/.462 line in 90 games. Beyond them, no playoff starter slugged .400 in the regular season. Chandler Simpson (81 SB) took one-third of the team’s stolen bases with him to Bowling Green. Barete and Spikes can run, but neither excels at reaching base.

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Down East: 9% better than avg. runs allowed, .218/.309/.327 oppo line, 89 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 27% SO
Charleston: 5% better than avg. runs allowed, .237/.324/.363, 103 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 26% SO

Down East:
1: Brayan Mendoza (3.60 ERA, .228/.322/.321 oppo line, 13% BB/HBP, 22% SO)
2. Brock Porter (2.47 ERA, .160/.304/.202, 17% BB/HBP, 32% SO)
3: Joseph Montalvo? (2.83 ERA, .211/.300/.331, 11% BB/HBP, 27% SO)

Pitcher usage generally matched my division series preview, I’m pleased to say. Porter and Montalvo started as expected, and four potential starters tossed two or more innings in the finale. Adrian Rodriguez, who had a rough second half, never appeared with a game on the line despite leading the team in saves.

Instead of Rodriguez, 2023 picks Paul Bonzagni and Izack Tiger took the mound in the 9th or later. Alberto Mota also entered in some stressful situations, although he did surrender a homer in Game 3.

19-year-old Bryan Mendoza will throw the first pitch of the series. Mendoza was a little more walk-prone down the stretch and topped out at 73 pitches, so expect one or two other pitchers who usually start to contribute today. Porter will start Game 2, and Game 3 is TBD. I listed Joseph Montalvo, who started the middle game of the division series.

Both Porter and Montalvo pitched capably last week, and Down East has plenty of additional starters and relievers who offer a good chance at multiple quality innings. To repeat myself: effective if not flashy.

Charleston:
1: Jonny Cuevas (4.93 ERA, .281/.348/.435, 10% BB/HBP, 17 % SO)
2: Trevor Martin (3.52 ERA, .185/.227/.305/.370, 10% BB/HBP, 29% SO)
3: Marcus Johnson (3.74 ERA, .258/.292/.413, 5% BB/HBP, 21% SO)

Charleston had the league’s best second-half run prevention by far, 3.8 runs per game or 19% better than average. The opposing OPS+ was a good-but-not-amazing 95, however, and no team stranded a higher percentage of runners, so some of that dominance has an element of luck.

The well-rested Cuevas will open for Charleston. He had a better second half than the stats listed above. Martin and Johnson pitched the first two games of the prior series. Santiago Suarez and Jake Christenson were solid starters who are likely to appear in long relief.   

The bullpen is deeper than Carolina, led by save leader Drew Sommers (2.72 ERA, 35% SO) and Gerlin Rosario (1.96 ERA, 33% SO), who pitched three scoreless innings in Charleston’s series-opening one-run win. Cade Halemanu and Jack Hartman had nice second halves.

Defense
I mentioned in the division preview that Down East might have the league’s second-best defense after Carolina. Charleston is modestly above average, less adept at converting balls in play into outs.

Park Factors
Down East – 0.97
Charleston – 1.00 (but not homer-friendly)

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Charleston
Pitching – Down East, small margin
Defense – Down East, small margin

If you think a handicapping MLB playoff series is a fool’s errand, try the minors. The teams are closely matched, and all I can predict with even the slightest confidence is a likelihood of close, low-scoring games. As with the division series, Down East is dealing with a team that played much better in the second half. A third consecutive championship for the RiverDogs would be selfish on their part, so let’s go with the Wood Ducks.

Playoff Preview: Down East vs. Carolina


Carolina League Division Series (best-of-three)Down East Wood Ducks (66-61) vs. Milwaukee-affiliated Carolian Mudcats (72-55)

Season Run Differential: Down East +32, Carolina +88
Last 20 Games: Down East 6-14, Carolina 11-9
Season Series: Carolina 13-9

How They Got Here
Down East and Carolina battled for the first-half title, always within two games of one another until a fateful week in June in which Down East won five of six at Delmarva while Carolina was swept at home by Fayetteville. After the 39-24 first half, the Woodies were 29-37 in the second. I believe the Woodies’ second-half record of 29-37 is the worst by any playoff-bound Texas affiliate since 2007, when the low-A Clinton LumberKings finished 29-41 after a 41-26 start. 

The Mudcats would not be denied in the second half, finishing 39-25 with a four-game lead. I wasn’t paying too close of attention, but I believe they were never in serious trouble once they opened up the lead.

History  
Down East has made the postseason in four of six seasons since joining the Carolina League in 2017. In their inaugural season, the Wood Ducks nabbed a playoff spot on the season’s final day despite a 62-77 record and won a hurricane-abbreviated high-A co-championship. In 2019, an 87-52 squad, one of the best of Texas’s minor league history, fell in the opening round to Houston’s affiliate. In the 2021 low-A finals, the Woodies took a ’27-Yankees-esque Charleston (82-38, +263 run differential) to a deciding fifth game before succumbing.

Carolina hasn’t reached the postseason since 2008 as a member of the AA Southern League, which is astonishing. Irrespective of the parent club or situation, minor league teams tend to put together a solid-enough half-season to reach the playoffs every few years. (Even the Bakersfield Blaze, every parent club’s grudging afterthought, never went more than eight years without a playoff appearance in the 1990-to-present modern era.)
 
Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
Down East:
4 / 9. RHP Brock Porter
7 / 8. OF Anthony Gutierrez (hurt?)
12 / 13. OF Yeison Morrobel (hurt)
18 / 15. IF Gleider Figuereo
20 / 18. IF Echedry Vargas (hurt)
24 / 24. 1B/OF Marcos Torres
30 / 21. IF Danyer Cueva
NR / 30. RHP Joseph Montalvo

Carolina:
12 / 21. IF Daniel Guilarte
18 / 22. RHP Logan Henderson
19 / 23. OF Dylan O’Rae
21 / 27. IF Jadher Areinamo
22 / 16. IF Luke Adams
24 / NR. IF Juan Baez
30 / NR. OF Jace Avina
NR / 30. RHP Patricio Aquino

Offense / Position Players
Down East Offense: 4% below average runs scored, .226/.317/.336, 94 OPS+, 94 wRC+
Carolina Offense: 3% above average runs scored, .250/.348/.363, 104 OPS+, 104 wRC+

Down East:
C Ian Moller / Konnor Piotto
1B Anthony Calarco / Marcos Torres
2B Devin Hurdle
3B Glider Figuereo
SS Danyer Cueva
LF Miguel Villarroel
CF Jojo Blackmon
RF Quincy Scott
Also OF Wady Mendez, OF Tommy Specht

Over the last few weeks I’ve tried not to belabor Down East’s second-half malaise. Now, it’s labor time.

The season-long stats for Down East are lying shamelessly. Gone are Abi Ortiz, Cam Cauley, Yosy Galan, and Tucker Mitchell, drivers of a strong first-half attack. Also missing after what appeared to be a hand injury from sliding into second base is Anthony Gutierrez (.259/.326/.338, 97 OPS+). In the second half, Down East batted .216/.305/.297 (79 OPS+) and scored 3.7 runs per game, 17% below average. The aggregate line among players presumed healthy is an even lower .214/.302/.285 (74 OPS+). Only Jojo Blackmon (.254/.371/.393) and 2023 pick Quincy Scott (.376/.444/.412) were above average. The rest batted a collective .196/.282/.261. In the second half, Down East was last in runs, hits, doubles, and homers (just 22), and next-to-worst in walks and strikeouts.

Carolina:
C Jose Sibarian / Blayberg Diaz
1B Jesus Chirinos / Tayden Hall
2B Jadher Areinamo
3B Luke Adams
SS Gregory Barrios / Daniel Guilarte
LF Jace Avina
CF Dylan O’Rae
RF Kay-Lan Nicasia

Comparatively, Carolina has lost little to promotions or injuries. The offense had a 110 OPS+ in the second half, and seven of nine likely starters were above average. They aren’t great and more oriented to doubles than homers, but they lack glaring weaknesses.

Power sources are OF Jace Avina (.233/.372/.442, 14 HR), Luke Adams (.233/.400/.401, 11 HR), Jose Sibarian (.278/.358/.481, 9 HR), Jesus Chirinos (.291/.438/.460, 7 HR). As you can see from the OBPs, all three can also take a pitch.

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Down East: 9% better than avg. runs allowed, .218/.309/.327 oppo line, 89 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 27% SO
Carolina: 11% better than avg. runs allowed, .229/.332/.341, 93 OPS+, 14% BB/HBP, 26% SO

Down East:
1. Brock Porter (2.47 ERA, .160/.304/.202, 17% BB/HBP, 32% SO)
2: Joseph Montalvo? (2.83 ERA, .211/.300/.331, 11% BB/HBP, 27% SO)
3: So many choices

Porter is one of the league’s best pitchers when his control is under control. When not, his appearances can get out of hand. I don’t know who’s starting after him, but Montalvo seems the obvious choice, and while not as dazzling as Porter, he’s less likely to have a messy day. The Woodies have used a quasi-tandem system much of the year, and choices abound for Game 3 if needed: Dylan MacLean, DJ McCarty, Leandro Lopez, Bryan Chi, Luis Ramirez, Bryan Mendoza, perhaps some others.

Adrian Rodriguez is Down East’s save leader at nine, but he comes in with a 5.08 ERA, more walks pus HBP than strikeouts, and a .392 opposing OBP. He’s also allowed multiple runs in four of his last five outings, and I wonder if management might look elsewhere in a tight situation. The only others on the roster with a save during the second half are 2023 12th-rounder Paul Bonzagni and Alberto Mota. Skylar Hales would have been a closing option, but he was promoted to Hickory today. All of the Game 3 starting options I mentioned could also relieve, potentially in critical situations. It’s an effective if not flashy group.

Carolina:
1: Logan Henderson (2.75 ERA, .185/.259/.322, 9% BB/HBP, 35% SO)
2: Patricio Aquino (2.75 ERA, .244/.325/.351, 11% BB/HBP, 23% SO)
3: Will Rudy (3.46 ERA, .257/.328/.406, 10% BB/HBP, 21% SO)

Carolina suppressed runs slightly better than Down East on the whole, but they’ve lost some players, and apparently the defense played an outsized role. Tonight’s starter Logan Henderson is the standout, Carolina’s best combination of control and strikeouts. The Mudcats haven’t announced beyond the opener and were rained out the last two days, so I picked who I liked for the other games. Both have adequate control and aren’t especially easy to hit, although Rudy will give up his fair share of extra-base hits.

Closer Yerlin Rodriguez has 11 saves but is far from indomitable (.248/.382/.326, 18% BB/HBP rate), and on the whole the pen is ordinary in terms of strikeouts and control.

Defense
Carolina committed 29 fewer errors than any other team and 57 fewer than average. To be honest, my first thought was generous scorekeeping, but the Mudcats also excel at turned balls in play into outs, turning double plays, holding and catching runners, etc. They’re the best in the league. Down East might be second best, not in Carolina’s class but solid in all respects except slight error-proneness.

Park Factors
Down East – 0.97
Carolina – 1.04

Kinston’s Grainger Stadium is a low-run park in a low-run league. Five County Stadium in Zebulon favors the offense.

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Carolina by a wide margin
Pitching – Down East
Defense – Carolina

With the caveat that anything can happen in a short series, the matchup strongly favors Carolina, and if you had to put $100 on the winner at even odds, you’d pick the Mudcats.

Playoff Preview: Hickory vs. Greenville

South Atlantic League Division Series (best-of-three)
Hickory Crawdads (70-55) vs. Boston-affiliated Greenville Drive (63-69)


Season Run Differential: Hickory +51, Greenville -44
Last 20 Games: Hickory 12-8, Greenville 7-13
Season Series: Greenville 8-7

How They Got Here
In Hickory’s case, weirdly. During the first half, the Crawdads lost 13 consecutive games but were 27-21 otherwise. They won three straight to close the first half and 12 more to open the second, opening a lead that would never dwindle below 2.5 games. Additional win streaks of seven and a season-closing six resulted in a 43-21 second-half record and 5.5-game margin.

Greenville won the first half with a reasonable 36-30 record but only a +14 run differential. The Drive had a half-game lead with three to play and lost all three, but so did railing Winston-Salem. Greenville lost six straight at the end to finish 27-39 in the second half.  

History  
Hickory is back in the playoff for the first time in three years in the high-A classification. The Crawdads lost the low-A Sally league finals to Lexington in 2019. A game-ending homer off Tyree Thompson would be the last action by a Texas affiliate in a real game for 19 months, and Lexington would be relegated to indy status in the Great Reorganization. Hickory won the Sally in 2015.

Greenville won the league championship in 2017 but was one the worst teams in three of the next four years. The Drive also won in 1998 under the helm of current Round Rock manager Doug Davis.

Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
Hickory:

3 / 3. IF Sebastian Walcott (on development list)
9 / 12. RHP Kumar Rocker (hurt)
13 / 10. IF Cam Cauley
14 / 19. 1B Abimelec Ortiz
16 / 17. RHP Aidan Curry
17 / 22. LHP Mitch Bratt
22 / 20. RHP Emiliano Teodo
23 / 27. RHP Jose Corniell
27 / NR. RHP Winston Santos
29 / NR. OF Alejandro Osuna

Greenville:
7 / 19. IF Mikey Romero (hurt)
10 / 7. RHP Luis Perales
21 / 16. IF Eddinson Paulino
22 / 29. RHP Yordanny Monegro
27 / NR. LHP Dalton Rogers
30 / 27. OF Allan Castro

Offense / Position Players
Hickory: 2% above average runs scored, .250/.329/.391, 96 OPS+, 97 wRC+
Greenville: 3% above average runs scored, .260/.342/.411, 103 OPS+, 105 wRC+

Hickory:
C Cody Freeman
1B Abi Ortiz
2B Max Acosta
3B Ben Blackwell
SS Cam Cauley
LF Yosy Galan
CF Daniel Mateo
RF Alejandro Osuna
Also IF Jayce Easley, OF Geisel Cepeda, C Cooper Johnson

Hickory had several exciting individual performers, but on the whole, the offense was surprisingly average. Abi Ortiz (.290/.363/.624) lords over the Carolinas, raking third in homers in all of minor league ball through last week. Alejandro Osuna (.259/.381/.385) returned recently, and relative newcomers Cam Cauley (.248/.336/.424) and Ben Blackwell (.290/.355/.406) have helped.

Greenville:
C Ronald Rosario / Kyle Teel
1B Tyler Miller
2B Brainer Bonaci
3B Karson Simas
SS Eddinson Paulino
LF Nick Decker
CF Allan Castro
RF Gilberto Jimenez
Also OF Kristian Campbell, IF Cutter Coffey, OF Bryan Gonzalez

Greenville is missing some firepower (Roman Anthony, e.g.); the active roster has a slugging percentage 25 points lower than the team as a whole. Statistical standouts are Allan Castro (.283/.355/.446), Eddinson Paulino (.257/.338/.420), and Nick Decker (.218/.325/.422).

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Hickory: 6% better than avg. runs allowed, .244/.337/.392 oppo line, 99 OPS+, 13% BB/HBP, 25% SO
Greenville: 10% worse than avg. runs allowed, .254/.335/.427, 105 OPS+, 11% BB/HBP, 27% SO

Hickory:
1: Jose Corniell (3.09 ERA, .208/.274/.363 oppo line, 9% BB/HBP, 27% SO)
2: Emiliano Teodo (4.52 ERA, .231/.337/.410, 14%  BB/HBP, 21% SO)
3: Winston Santos (6.29 ERA, .295/.360/.500, .10% BB/HBP, 20% SO)

Corniell emerged as the staff ace. Teodo is wildly erractic and erratically wild, but he was on more often than not down the stretch and is the team’s most dominant pitcher when in form. Santos had a tough year, and I’d expect someone (perhaps Mitch Bratt) to be ready at the first sign of trouble.

Hickory’s 19 second-half saves were spread amongst 12 pitchers, with hard-to-hit but walk-prone Seth Clark (1.78 ERA) earning a small plurality of chances. Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa should see a high-leverage inning or two. The bullpen as a whole is okay and misses plenty of bats, but everyone has a weakness, usually wildness.

Greenville:
1: Zach Penrod (2.18 ERA, .205/.303/.256, 12% BB/HBP, 22% SO)
2: Yordanny Monegro (1.80 ERA, .222/.317/.333, 12% BB/HBP, 32% SO)
3: Luis Perales (4.95 ERA, .275/.371/.493, 14% BB/HBP, 26% SO)

Penrod was an undrafted free agent out of Idaho who pitched for the Rangers in 2018. Boston grabbed him out of the indy Pioneer League only last month. Monegro joined the team only 11 days ago after throttling low-A (2.43 ERA, 34% SO). Perales jumped from low-A in mid-July and saw his homer rate skyrocket.

Greenville hasn’t had many leads to protect lately, but Felix Cepeda has four second-half saves since joining in mid-July, holding opponents to a .152/.219/.242 with a 28% K rate. Beyond him, Brock Bell, and Robert Kwiatkowski, the bullpen looks distressingly thin.

Defense
Hickory is so-so on turning double plays and holding runners but solid in other respects. Greenville committed more errors (although they were fine at turning batted balls into outs ), didn’t stifle runners as well, surrendered more wild pitches and passed balls. Roughly, I’d put Hickory in the top third of the league and Greenville in the bottom third.

Park Factor
Hickory — 1.00
Greeneville – 1.01

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Even
Pitching – Hickory
Defense – Hickory

Hickory doesn’t grade out quite as well statistically as you might expect given the exceptional second-half record, but the Crawdads have several advantages over the Drive and are more likely to advance to the finals.