Rangers 40-Man Roster Preview

The Texas 40-man roster currently lists 34 players, and that includes Austin Hedges, who is or should be a free agent, plus reliever Matt Bush (arbitration-eligible but surely not receiving an MLB contract) and a small handful of others whose holds on their spots are tenuous. There is no roster crunch. Within reason, the Rangers can add whom they like. The deadline is Tuesday at 5pm CST.

At the same time, 2023 is the first Rule 5 period incorporating the covid-shortened five-round 2020 draft. College and JuCo picks from that draft are eligible. Texas picked only one of that type in 2020: IF Justin Foscue. Comparatively, Texas has eight 2021 picks who’ll be eligible in 2024. By my count, Texas has only 18 first-time eligibles, a plurality of them 2019 high-school picks, plus five international free agents and some trade acquisitions. The Rangers also have another roughly 30 players still under control who were previously eligible. My unofficial list is here under the ‘Rule 5’ tab.

So Texas has an unusually large number of available spots but a relatively small pool. The Rangers added six last year: pitchers Zak Kent, Owen White, and Cole Winn, infielder Luisangel Acuna, and IF/OFs Dustin Harris and Jonathan Ornelas. I would be surprised to see six this time. An especially thrifty approach might include only two.

I’ve had a tough time with several players, even though I’ve seen a few of them frequently. Some are close calls, some have no path to a role with the Rangers, and some are relievers, a group always loaded with potential additions depending on your mood. Also, as you might have heard, the Texas Rangers won the World Series. Ordinarily, I’ve pondered offseason moves intermittently for weeks, letting my thoughts coalesce, such that my annual 40-man preview largely writes itself at deadline. This time, I didn’t give any serious thought 40/R5 issues until Saturday morning, so I’m more wishy-washy than usual and more willing to just watch the results than set down a marker.

2B/3B/1B Justin Foscue
Yes. Foscue walked more than he struck out and banged 18 homers and 35 other extra-base hits. His plate appearances are as consistent and composed as any you’ll see. In a way, he resembles Marcus Semien, who actually doesn’t possess great exit velo but generates a huge number of reasonably well-hit balls. (I am not claiming he will match Semien’s production, although I suppose that is the hope.) Foscue does not resemble Semien in the field, however, and any club employing him at second or third is going to have to avert its collective eyes occasionally.

RHP Jose Corniell
Good enough to pitch in MLB now? No. Good enough to require protection anyway? Yes.

LHP Antoine Kelly
The gap between MLB ad AAA isn’t shrinking, but at the same time, the number of AAA relievers who look MLB-worthy sometimes has never been higher. Protecting every reliever you can dream on a little would result in a bevy of prospects clogging the 40 and a panic any time a non-reliever on the big-league club required replacement. A potential relief addition should either be extremely close MLB-readiness or have closer potential. Kelly’s progression toward the Majors has been unusually deliberate given his role. I wouldn’t say he’s ready this minute, and I wouldn’t necessarily pin “future closer” on him, but I think there’s enough going on to add him.

RHP Marc Church
I saw Church in person in high-A 18 months ago. He looked like he’d be in the bigs by now. Unfortunately, his once-terrific control was frankly terrible in AAA, and he veered wildly between having the most dominating stuff on the squad to struggling mightily to complete an inning. The slider is an absolute beast and makes a resounding case for addition by itself, but his fastball was alarmingly hittable. In September, when the Rangers badly needed another trustworthy reliever, they re-rostered Ian Kennedy and Jake Latz and Matt Bush rather than take a chance on Church. Still, he could be an above-average MLB reliever, and a competing club would be very tempted to take a look. 

RHP Dane Acker
I just never got a great look at Acker this season and have very little confidence in my evaluation of him. Covid, elbow surgery and a shoulder malady have limited him to 99 professional innings in four seasons. He sports a full repertoire. I’ve heard up to 96 on the fastball, although I saw 90-94 in his final start. A good strikeout rate (26%) but poor swinging strike rate (10%). Hard to hit (.198 average, .329 slugging in AA) but below-average control (15% BB/HBP). In conclusion, Dane Acker is a land of contrasts. I can make an argument either way and am going to cop out by saying the only relevant opinions are in within the organization. My hunch is their opinions are fonder than my description.

IF Davis Wendzel
Wendzel stayed healthy all season and significantly improved his production. The batted-ball data backs him up; the improvement is genuine. Is it enough? Despite tying for the league lead in homers with 30, Wendzel’s exit velocity still doesn’t jump off the page. What he does really well, better than anyone in the Pacific Coast League, is hit the ball skyward. On the down side, he also hits a bunch of flies exceeding 45 degrees, which are almost always caught. He’d hit for more power than Josh Smith in the Majors but wouldn’t defend or run as well and doesn’t play in the outfield. What he needs more than a 40 spot on the Rangers is a trade.

1B Blaine Crim
Crim’s 90th-percentile exit velocity is nearly equal to Nathaniel Lowe and better than Josh Jung, Leody Taveras, and Evan Carter. He’s more liner-oriented than Wendzel, muting his power a bit but creating plenty of firm doubles and singles. He’s moonlighted at third and the outfield corners, but I seriously doubt he’d ever play there in the bigs. Thus, the problem. Unless he really hits, what’s his role? Weak-side platoon mate for Lowe if the latter’s problems against lefties persist? Occasional DH? Bench bat for a team that rarely needs one? Crim would have gotten a shot Texas this season had the team been playing like it was in 2021-2022, but the situation on the parent club has changed drastically.

RHP Justin Slaten
Slaten’s walk and K rates improved substantially in 2023. In the weeks prior to his promotion to AAA, he was fanning 46% of opponents. Results in AAA and the subsequent Arizona Fall League weren’t quite so enthralling. It’s hard to see Texas adding more than two relievers, but with room to spare, maybe the Rangers will. How unusual would keeping three or more be? During the previous ten seasons, Texas has selected a total of four relievers: Demarcus Evans, Wei-Chieh Huang, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Ben Rowen. That does not include folks who were starters when protected but seemed headed to eventual relief duty (Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez, Luke Jackson, to name a few).

RHP Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa
Limited to 24 regular-season innings by injury, AHT tossed an additional 9.2 in the Arizona Fall League and earned solid reviews (albeit not at the level of the ineligible Emiliano Teodo) with his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider. He fanned two in a clean inning in the Fall Stars game, but unfortunately he saved his worst appearance of the season for the AFL finals: four batters faced, three walks. I think there’s enough pitchers of his ilk that he’ll slide through this process, but I can’t guarantee it.

RHP Daniel Robert
Robert’s fastball averaged 96 and touched 99, and his sweeper generated twice as many called strikes as whiffs because AAA batters just don’t want to offer at it. Opponents hit a modest .239/.342/.350, but his ERA was 4.40 because the bad days included a flurry of walks and extra-hard contact. Vaguely blaming inconsistency for a pitcher’s lack of progression feels lazy, but with many relievers, that’s truly the issue. Big leaguers have fewer bad days.

LHP Grant Wolfram
So… many… relievers. The bad news is Wolfram was knocked around when promoted to AAA (28 runners and 16 runs in 13.1 innings). The good is he resumed dealing upon return to AA (2.08 ERA, 8 BB, 45 SO in 34.2 IP). Has a shot, but not this time.

1B/OF Trevor Hauver
The one player in the Joey Gallo trade yet to reach the Majors, Hauver had a another decent, walk-filled season at the plate and improved defensively. He should reach AAA next year, but not as a 40-man member.

MIF Max Acosta
Showed some pop and got by as a 20-year-old in high-A (.260/.312/.390), but I don’t think there’s any way he’d last a full MLB season, and better options for MIF-curious clubs will be available. 

RHP Winston Santos
Unfortunately, Santos’s season didn’t live up to the buzz generated in Spring Training. Maybe next year.

Elsewhere
I’ve got some Arizona Fall League and free agency news, but it’s not pressing, so I’ll probably have that tomorrow when additions are announced.

Texas Rangers Organization Free Agents

MLB — TEXAS RANGERS
P Aroldis Chapman
P Ian Kennedy
P Jordan Montgomery
P Jake Odorizzi
P Martin Perez
P Will Smith
P Chris Stratton
C Mitch Garver
C Austin Hedges
OF Robbie Grossman
OF Travis Jankowski
OF Brad Miller

AAA – ROUND ROCK EXPRESS
P Kyle Cody
P Edwar Colina
P Robert Dugger
P Josh Dye
P Scott Engler
P Lucas Jacobsen
P Fernery Ozuna
P Nick Snyder
P Tyler Zombro
C Cooper Johnson
C Jordan Procyshen
C Matt Whatley
IF Diosbel Arias
IF Ryan Dorow
OF Sandro Fabian
OF Elier Hernandez

AA – FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS
P Aidan Anderson
P Reid Birlingmair
P Noah Bremer
P Jean Casanova
P Danny Duffy
P Kyle Funkhouser
P Seth Nordlin
C David Garcia
IF Chris Seise

HIGH-A – HICKORY CRAWDADS
P Juan Mejia

UNASSIGNED
P Joshua Javier

Rangers Prospect Reviews

Prospect Reviews
Following is MLB Pipeline’s early-season top-30 rankings of Texas’s prospects, new rankings, my opinion of how their status has changed (irrespective of rankings), and commentary. First, some general purpose comments to minimize repetition in the individual writeups. Nobody on this list is out of time to develop. The process is rarely linear, so some players with negative assessments could reverse that trend quickly. (For example, Cody Bradford carried a 6+ ERA into last August but was Frisco’s ace by season’s end). I prefer not to downgrade injured players much unless they’re clearly worse off. More players have negative assessments than positive, but that’s the nature of player development and not necessarily a knock on the system. Most players just don’t make it. Plus, a good number of prospects now in higher standing weren’t ranked entering the season. I’ve listed them at the end.

1 early season / 1 now. OF Evan Carter (Change: Slightly Up)
Carter has raised his floor and perhaps slightly lowered his ceiling. The concern is how much power he’ll eventually develop. On the whole, Carter has improved his status despite some relatively quiet periods and a nagging HBP injury that required some downtime in Arizona. No, I don’t think calling him up to replace Taveras now is a great idea. I wouldn’t say no to some time in Round Rock.

2/8. RHP Owen White (Change: Down)
A neck injury slowed White this spring and delayed his 2023 debut by a week. While his batted ball data is solid (outside of Las Vegas), his velocity is down, and he’s not missing nearly as many bats as in 2022. In AAA, the only pitch for which he has a better-than-team-average swinging strike rate is his slider, and that constitutes only 8% of his output.

3/traded. IF Luisangel Acuna (Change: Up)
As solid a season as anyone in the system. And now he’s a Met. That’s okay. Acuna has been auditioning for other clubs since the ’21-’22 offseason, and he was at or near peak value. Even if Scherzer is bland overall and Acuna a star, better for the club to act at the proper time than hold him well past his best-by date.

Interlude: In my opinion, it’s easy to conclude that Carter, Wyatt Langford, and Sebastian Walcott are Texas’s top three prospects. After that, the water gets murkier.

4/4. RHP Brock Porter (Change: Even)
Porter’s stuff is beyond the ability of most low-A hitters, but his control is not. He’s been handled very cautiously, averaging around 60-65 pitches per outing (excluding a couple of walk-heavy early exits). He hasn’t thrown quite as hard as advertised, but again, hitters haven’t much chance when forced to swing. He should begin 2024 in high-A.

5/5. RHP Jack Leiter (Change: Down)
Everybody’s saying the right things, and maybe it all turns out for the best, but the fact remains that the #2-overall pick in the 2021 draft isn’t pitching in real games. I’m concerned!

6/6. IF Justin Foscue (Change: Slightly Down)
Foscue has more walks than strikeouts, a rarity in this era. His contact was impressive earlier in the season, but he isn’t hitting as hard since a late-June injury and is slugging .364 during July and August. While he can play second and third, pretty much all of his value comes through the bat. He’ll be a 40 addition this fall.

7/10. 1B/OF Dustin Harris (Change: Slightly Down)
Harris’s lack of top-end exit velocity is strange and concerning. His median velo is actually above average, but toward the high end he’s the worst on the team with not a single ball in play exceeding 101.9 MPH. I’m gobsmacked, but I’m also cautiously hopeful that some sort of fine-tuning will unlock extra oomph that takes advantage of his solid launch attack. I tend to think of him more as a first baseman.

8/11. OF Aaron Zavala (Change: Down)
A year ago at this time, we could contemplate Zavala competing for some LF at-bats in Arlington. Instead, after brace surgery for his elbow, he carried into last weekend a batting average below .200, slugging percentage below .300, and a strikeout rate of 37% in AA. More than any hitter in the system, Zavala could stand for the season to be done, get some rest, and start fresh in 2024.

9/9. RHP Kumar Rocker (Change: Slightly Down)
Well, the good news is that he lorded over high-A, the fastball improved, and he largely cleaned up that seriously off-putting delivery from last fall. (No, I’m not a pitching expert and should probably stay silent, but that short, stiff step to catapult his hip forward made my skin crawl.) The bad news is he’ll be well into his third pro season and on the tail side of Age 24 before he returns to full-season ball.   

10/7. OF Anthony Gutierrez (Change: Even)
After a reset in Arizona, the 18-year-old Gutierrez has batted .276/.348/.372, good for a 115 OPS+. His walk and strikeout rates are acceptable, and he’s run well. He has some power and should gain more as he ages, but he’s hitting a ton of grounders. His three-spot climb in the rankings feels more about what others have and haven’t done than his performance.

11/traded. RHP TK Roby (Change: Up)
Roby struggled for six weeks in AA then began to dominate, allowing three runs and striking out 19 in his last three full starts before succumbing to a shoulder strain. He’s more control than command at present, but the latter is improving, and plain old control is increasingly hard to come by. Given who he was acquired for, I’m assuming no downgrade for the shoulder.

12/12. OF Yeison Morrobel (Change: Slightly Down)
Morrobel was limited to 37 games because of a shoulder injury. His batting eye was impressive, but the power was almost completely absent. Morrobel won’t turn 20 until December, and I could revise my grade to “even” by just by seeing some nice hacks form him next March.

13/28. RHP Cole Winn (Change: Down)
The troubles of 2022 have persisted. Since last May, Winn has walked or hit 153 batters in 187 innings. He’s genuinely improved in relief, but the walk/HBP rate is still worrisome, and he’s not the type who can prevent contact well enough to strand a bunch of free runners.

14/3. IF Sebastian Walcott (Change: Up)
Walcott is generally regarded as the most exciting professional 17-year-old after San Diego’s Ethan Salas. Walcott is an already muscular 6’4”, joined the complex league in late June, and batted .388/.425/.791 with 13 extra-base hits in 16 games. Since then, he’s struggled, badly: .179/.253/.299 with a 39% strikeout rate. A good reminder that he’s facing pitchers averaging 21.3 years of age, and he’s a project.

15/traded. IF Thomas Saggese (Change: Up)
21-year-olds who hit like him in AA reach the Majors, period. Many become solid role players, many become starters. Not many settle for a cup of coffee. His defense is a limiting factor.

16/17. LHP Mitch Bratt (Change: Even) – Bratt lacks above-average velocity and ranks well toward the low end of Sally League pitchers in swinging strike rate, but he still fans plenty of batters and possesses some of the best control in the system. A lat injury has shelved him for a month.

17/21. IF Jonathan Ornelas (Change: Slightly Down)
Ornelas is an up-and-down player today, and his defense is fine. Gaining a larger role on this or another team will require some offensive adjustment. While he’s held up adequately against AAA pitching, a predilection for grounders has dampened his production, and although he’s walking more, he’s also watching more strikes than anyone on the team.

18/18. IF Gleider Figuereo (Change: Slightly Down)
Figuereo’s offensive production has cratered the last two months. In fairness, he’s 19 and well past his previous career-high in games in a season.  Sometimes, players run out of gas.

19/19. RHP Marc Church (Change: Slightly Down)
Church’s cutter is fearsome. In AAA, plate appearances that conclude with his cutter have resulted in an opposing line of .159/.260/.227 and a 40% strikeout rate. Two problems. First, his fastball hasn’t been nearly as effective (.313/.476/.479, 14% K), and his walk rate has decayed considerably as he’s climbed the ladder. His strike rate in AAA is lower than Alex Speas, which is saying something. Still a very strong 40 candidate.

20/22. RHP Emiliano Teodo (Change: Slightly Down, maybe even)
Teodo’s ERA has jumped 1.56 between 2022 and 2023. Some of the difference is probably luck plus some slight degradation in walks, strikeouts, and grounder rate. He hasn’t been bad and is still missing a ton of bats, but after his intermittently amazing 2022, this season feels more of a holding pattern.

21/off. RHP Zak Kent (Change: Even)
Kent returned recently from an oblique injury that sidelined him for over three months. The absence delayed his development, of course, but so far he’s looked close to the same as before, so I see no reason to grade him lower.

22/off. RHP Dane Acker (Change: Slightly Down)
Fully back from Tommy John surgery, Acker has been fine in AA (3.00 ERA, .216/.328/.360 oppo line) but a little walk-happy, and I’m doubtful he’s added to the 40 this fall.

23/25. LHP Antoine Kelly (Change: Up)
Kelly pitched himself out of a probable 40-man spot last summer. Now, he’s pitching himself back into one. Kelly’s 11% BB/HBP rate is league-average, a vast improvement over 2021-2022, and he’s been tough to hit.

24/29. OF Alejandro Osuna (Change: Even)
Out since the beginning of July, Osuna has improved on his already-solid walk rate and reduced his caught-stealing frequency. His stats didn’t amaze, but he was hitting pretty well for a 20-year-old in high-A.

25/off. IF Max Acosta (Change: Slightly Down)
The same age as Osuna, Acosta stormed out of the gate but has batted .228/.270/.341 the last three months and change. His power has improved, but the strikeouts and walks are trending backwards.

26/graduated. LHP Cody Bradford (Change: Up)
Bradford isn’t as good as his display early in the season in AAA, but he’s pitched well enough to reach the Majors and been quite effective at times. In a perfect world, he would fill the back of the 2024 rotation. Maybe that also entails sliding into a lesser role late in the summer depending on the situation, but 15-20 starts within shouting distance of league-average ERA would be swell.

27/30. IF Danyer Cueva (Change: Slightly Down)
I’d written Cueva’s blurb early in this process, but Gleider Figuereo’s season is so similar I moved my Cueva writeup to Figuereo’s spot word-for-word except for the name. One difference: Cueva has an exceptionally high 21% swinging strike rate.

28/15. RHP Josh Stephan (Change: Up)
Superior control and three double-digit strikeout games in Hickory pushed the undrafted 21-year-old to AA, but he’s missed several weeks since his Frisco debut. Still, a strong and promising season.

29/27. RHP Winston Santos (Change: Slightly Down)
A little underwhelming given the buzz around him in March. Many Rangers experience a leap in homers moving from Down East to Hickory (tougher hitters, more generous home park), and Santos is no exception. He’s allowed 16 in 87.2 innings, and his strikeout and swinging strike rates have dropped significantly.

30/off. IF Chandler Pollard (Change: Even)
Pollard has struck out at an unnerving 36% rate in rookie ball, but otherwise he’s been fine at the plate. I guess we could have hoped for a promotion to Down East, but he’ll be there next April.

Biggest Upward Movers
OF Wyatt Langford — new at 2
SS Sebastian Walcott — 14 to 3
IF Cam Cauley — off-30 to 13
1/O Abi Ortiz — off-30 to 14
RHP Josh Stephan — 28 to 15
RHP Aidan Curry — off-30 to 16
IF Echedry Vargas — off-30 to 20
RHP Jose Corniell — off-30 to 23
1/O Marcos Torres — off-30 to 24
C Jesus Lopez — off-30 to 25

Biggest Downward Movers
RHP Owen White — 2 to 8
RHP Cole Winn — 12 to 28
IF Jonathan Ornelas — 17 to 21
LHP Zak Kent — 21 to off-30
RHP Dane Acker — 22 to off-30
OF Alejandro Osuna — 24 to 29
IF Max Acosta — 25 to off-30
IF Chandler Pollard — 30 to off-30

Draft Rounds 11-20 Review

Draft Day 3
11/321. OF Maxton Martin (Age 18.1, Southridge HS [WA], 6’1″, 205)
12/351. RHP Paul Bonzagni (21.2, Southern Illinois Carbondale, 6’3″, 180)
13/381. RHP William Privette (21.4 College of Charleston, 6’6″, 200)
14/411. LHP Josh Trentadue (21.4, College of Southern Idaho, 6’2″, 185)
15/441. LHP Michael Trausch (19.4,Central Arizona College, 6’2″, 190)
16/471. LHP Jake Brown (18.4, Sulphur HS [LA], 6,2″, 180) —
17/501. RHP Kamdyn Perry (17.9, Bishop Gorman HS [NV], 6’4″, 200)
18/531. RHP Brendan Morse (19.1, Niagara County Community College, 6’3″, 185)
19/561. SS Elijah Ickes (18.4, Kamehameha HS [HI}, 6’0″, 175)
20/591. RHP Laif Palmer (18.2, Age 18.2, Golden HS [CO], 6’6″, 209)

Privette is the #252-ranked draft prospect by Baseball America, a relief prospect with a 92 MPH fastball that plays up and misses bats. The secondaries rate weaker.

Brown isn’t this year’s Will Taylor, but the #118 draft prospect per BA and 93rd per MLB.com could conceivably be pried from LSU if the Rangers have extra money available. Brown is polished for his age but light on velocity. Coincidentally, Taylor announced today his intention to forego football in favor of baseball. Taylor had switched from QB to WR (he’s 5’10”) as a sophomore. He batted .362/.489/.523 with five homers and 11 SB in 62 games as an OF for the Tigers this season.

The final pick Palmer is Baseball America’s #219 draft prospect, committed to Oregon State. A fastball in the low 90s with room to improve.

13 of Texas’s 18 picks were pitchers. Of those, five were at four-year colleges, four were at junior colleges, and four came from high school. The other five selections consisted of a college catcher, one high school shortstop, one high school OF, one juco OF, and one Wyatt Langford.

2022 17th-rounder Carson Dorsey, a draft-and-follow from Gulf Coast Community College, did not sign with the Rangers and wasn’t picked in this year’s draft. He’s headed to Florida State.

All the high school picks were born in 2005. I am in pain.

Other News
When I mentioned Matt Bush’s release from Milwaukee, I wrote and then deleted a half-joke that he was already headed south. I need to keep that stuff in. Texas has signed Bush to a minor league deal.

Oakland released RHP Joe Wieland. Minnesota released RHP Connor Sadzeck. Detroit released OF Steele Walker. Cleveland signed catcher Sandy Leon.

Rookie: 7-2 record since last report, 12-13 overall, 3.5 GB

Counting stats are for the last two weeks, ERA and slash stats are for the season.

Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa (Age 22): 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 SO, 1.35 ERA
Biembenido Brito (20): 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 SO, 13.06 ERA
Bryan Magdaleno (22): 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 SO, 3.38 ERA
Luis Valdez (19): 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO, 4.50 ERA

OF Marcos Torres (18): 7-28, double, 2 triples, 3 HR (3), 5 BB, 4 SB (10), .272/.400/.556
OF Echedry Vargas (18): 10-27, 4 doubles, 2 HR (5), 4 BB, 3 SB (7), .283/.356/.533
SS Sebastian Walcott (17): 12-30, 2 doubles, 4 HR (5), 2 BB, 3 SB (3), .395/.422/.884

The three hitters listed above have 55% of the team’s extra-base hits since I reported two weeks ago. Catcher Jesus Lopez, who hasn’t played since the 1st, is the only other player with a homer lately. Walcott and Vargas are tied for fourth in the league in homers. Walcott’s .884 slugging percentage ranks third among players with at least 40 plate appearances. (40 is too low for a fair representation, but Walcott has only 45 PA and it’s my list.)  Walcott has played only three of ten games in the field. Vargas is bouncing amongst second, short, and third.

Like last year, Torres has played left, first, and right in decreasing frequency. That defensive profile might conjure an image of an unusually beefy young man, but Torres is a fairly economical 185 on a 6’3″ frame, and his ten steals lead the team. Baseball America placed him 25th on their updated top-30 rankings.

Catcher David Garcia is going to need a rehab stint for his rehab stint. He’s been hit five times in his last 16 trips to the plate.

Biembenido Brito has back-to-back fine outings after getting hammered his first three appearances. Valdez has made only four appearances in six weeks since joining the Rangers in exchange for DFA’ed pitcher Ricky Vanasco. Incidentally, the Dodgers successfully ran Vanasco through waivers. He’s pitched twice for AA Tulsa, avoiding walks but allowing two homers and three runs in 2.2 innings.

The Cubs have used 26 pitchers. 16 have more combined walks and hit batters than innings pitched. As a team, they’ve walked or hit 236 in 211 innings. Yuck.

Draft Rounds 1-10 Review

No games in the US today. Instead, a wrap of Texas’s picks through yesterday. Rounds 11-20 are occurring now. Texas drafted only one high schooler in the first ten rounds.

1st round / 3rd overall. OF Wyatt Langford, U of Florida, Age 21.6, 6’1″, 225
(#3 draft prospect per Baseball America, #3 per MLB.com, #2 per FanGraphs, #2 per The Athletic)
As I’d mentioned, some experts suggested the possibility of prepster Max Clark being picked in the top three, but nobody’s mock draft took that leap. The likely outcome was Skenes, Crews, and Langford in the top three, leaving Texas to chose between Clark and Walker Jenkins. That would have been a fine outcome, considering the quality involved, but Detroit instead opted for Clark, offering the Rangers the opportunity to grab the top college player on the board. They accepted. FanGraphs ranks him the #21 prospect in baseball, second in the draft behind Crews at #8.

Langford can hit. His swing is quick, clean, and compact. He generates plenty of lift but also has very solid contact skills and a keen eye. Some amateur experts have graded his speed at 70, but it hasn’t manifested in the form of steals (just nine in 2023) or in reports on his defensive acumen. Langford has mostly played left field in college but could get a chance at a different spot.

My guess is Langford will spend some time out in Arizona, get into a few rookie-level games, and then head to North Carolina, perhaps to high-A Hickory. I don’t stress at all about placement this early. Just having him in the system and on the field is enough for now.

4/108. RHP Skylar Hales, U of Santa Clara, Age 21.7, 6’4″, 220
(#179 per BA, mentioned but not ranked by FanGraphs)
As a junior, Hales moved back to a relief role after one year in the rotation, and both his control (7% BB/HBP) and strikeout rate (29%) improved considerably. Per Baseball America, Hales has a mid-90s fastball that has touched 100, a fringy upper-80s slider, and no changeup. I suppose Texas could attempt another go at starting, but relief is the likely outcome. Here’s MLB.com’s video.
5/144. RHP Alejandro Rosario, U of Miami (FL), Age 21.5, 6’1″, 182
(#228 per BA, #212 by MLB)
A regular rotation member but shifting between starts on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday as needed, Rosario appears to be a lengthy project despite three busy years at a major college. Rosario’s stuff is impressive: mid-90s fastball touching 100, a high-spin, bat-missing, low-80s slider, a functional upper-80s change, a 25% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his results have been poor and tracked sideways. He’s prone to both walks (15% BB/HBP rate) and hits (81 including 11 homers in 74 innings). Video from Miami.

6/171. RHP Caden Scarborough, Harmony HS (Harmony, FL), Age 18.2, 6’5″, 185
Scarborough looks under his listed 185 pounds in this video. He’s a giraffe that learned to pitch and struck out 70 in 38 innings as a senior. Diamond Prospect Media reported a 90ish fastball and 70ish curve. Undoubtedly, the Rangers are banking for additional velocity as he ages and fills out. Per this story, Scarborough was offered a scholarship by Dallas Baptist but is leaning pro. One must be wary of such stories, of course, but it has more background info you might find interesting. In their press release, the Rangers noted his prowess at basketball, a topic I personally would have avoided.

7/201. RHP Izack Tiger, Butler County Community College (KS), Age 22.4, 6’2″, 175
Tiger led the Grizzlies with 84 innings, posting a 3.93 ERA (in a very high-scoring league) with 29 walks and 121 strikeouts. A tweet with video from Perfect Game College Baseball reported a 94-97 fastball, 86-90 cutter, and 86-89 changeup in a summer league outing. Kansas-bound if unsigned.

8/231. C Julian Brock, U of Louisiana at Lafayette, Age 22.0, 6’3″, 220
(#371 per BA, #122 per MLB)
Brock is listed as a senior on the MLB Draft Tracker but shows as a redshirt junior elsewhere. MLB.com ranked him the seventh-best catching prospect in the draft and suggested he could be picked in the top five rounds, while Baseball America ranked him 22nd. Brock batted .300 the past two seasons but is considered power-first, and he hit 11 homers and 17 doubles in 64 games in 2023. Defense appears adequate.

9/261. OF Quincy Scott, Palomar College (San Marcos, CA), Age 20.4, 6’5″, 220
Batted .438/.522/.648 with six homers, eight steals, and more than twice as many walks as strikeouts in 41 games. (Note: The team slash line was .354/.450/.523.) Also played for Palomar in 2022, and will switch to Cal Santa Barbara if unsigned.
10/291. RHP Case Matter, U of Washington, Age 21.4, 6’2″, 180
(#362 per BA)
The Huskies’ quasi-closer. Mid-90s fastball, mid-to-upper-80s slider, upper-70s curve. Good strikeout rate (28% compared to Pac 10 average 21%) but poor control (22% BB/HBP) that forces heavy fastball reliance.

Note: BA ranks 500 players, MLB 250, FanGraphs 68 plus around 120 extra mentions, Athletic 100.

Cody Bradford’s MLB Debut

On Monday, Bradford allowed nine balls in play in excess of 103 MPH. His total in seven AAA starts was eight. Against Atlanta, 15 of 18 balls in play were over 90, and the median was 102.9. Bradford’s median exit velocity in AAA is only 87.1.

Bradford can command his fastball to any corner, but he tends focus on the high, outside part of the plate against righties. That type of location was noticeably absent Monday. (Charts below are against RHB only.)

Perhaps Bradford was influenced by the umpire, who didn’t give Bradford the call on two high pitches (and another on the outer edge) that would be robo-umped strikes on a weeknight in the Pacific Coast League. Bradford’s 1st-inning misses:


And, perhaps, the lack of high calls created a downstream effect on his slider. Bradford’s breaker is his weakest pitch, but it’s functional and plays well off a fastball that likes to hunt in the other direction. On Monday, it was as ineffectual as a pitch could be. He threw 11, resulting in seven balls, two homers, a double, and a groundout. No misses, no calls, not even a foul.

In a preview of his impending debut, I mentioned that Bradford solid change isn’t a pure chase pitch. He’ll throw it for strikes. Not so much Monday, which contained his lowest in-zone changeup percentage as well as the most fastballs in the zone by far. Another stat, perhaps the most telling, is that Atlanta offered at fewer outside-the-zone pitches than any of Bradford’s AAA opponents:

DateLevelFB in
Zone%
CH in
Zone%
Outside
Zone Swing%
4/01AAA464720
4/08AAA444641
4/14AAA594228
4/20AAA632839
4/26AAA526737
5/03AAA403331
5/09AAA526436
5/15MLB822718

Another possibility is the Atlanta’s offense is just really, really good, particularly against lefties, and Bradford could have suffered this fate even if he’d already established himself as a back-end starter. Atlanta is batting .285/.357/.502 against lefty starters.

I don’t think the Rangers were punting this game. Not in 2023. They wanted to give the rotation an extra day of rest while not overtaxing the bullpen, but my thought is the Rangers also believed Bradford could keep the game competitive.

I thought Texas would pull Bradford after four innings and four runs. That’s not quite keeping the game close and isn’t quite saving the bullpen, but it’s on the fringe of both. Bradford had retired seven straight. Instead, Atlanta’s lineup received a third look at him in the 5th, and two more runs scored.

Minor League Roster Assignments

The minor league season begins at 700pm CDT in Round Rock. The weekend rotation will be Cole Winn, Cody Bradford, and newly acquired Robert Dugger.
Minor League Roster Assignments

We’ll see some changes before tonight and next week’s commencement of AA and the A levels. For example, the Express have 31 players listed on a 28-man roster. That doesn’t mean three players have been assigned to AAA only to be cut two days later, but not all will be active tonight.

Red = new to the level, bold = on 40-man roster, numbers in parentheses = prospect ranking at MLB.com

AAA — ROUND ROCK EXPRESS
Location: Round Rock, Texas
Stadium: Dell Diamond (opened 2000)
Affiliate since: 2021 (also 2011-2018)

Pitchers
Grant Anderson
Joe Barlow
Jacob Barnes
Cody Bradford (27)
Kyle Cody
Robert Dugger
Bernardo Flores
Lucas Jacobsen
Zach Kent (22)
John King
Jake Latz
Chase Lee
Dominic Leone
Zack Littell
Fern Ozuna
Daniel Robert
Yerry RodriguezCole Winn (14)

The rotation has three top-30 prospects topped by Winn, who’ll try to rebound from a semi-lost 2022. Any of four homegrown relievers (Anderson, Jacobsen, Lee, Robert… and maybe Ozuna as a fifth) has a shot at an Arlington debut, and four more (Barlow, Cody, King, Rodriguez on his last option) are looking to get back. The nature of relief pitching in the 2020s insists that a decent number of these pitchers will log some innings with the Rangers. It’s just a question of who’s hot and giving the appearance of consistency at the particular time of need. I’m stretched to find six starting pitchers in this group, but we’ll see. Sometimes, Texas’s AAA and AA squads would shift to a five-man rotation, but in general the weekly six-on, one-off schedule fosters a six-man rotation.

Catchers
Sam Huff
Sandy Leon
Matt Whatley

At some point, Texas will probably need a third catcher or injury replacement. Whether the Rangers call up Huff (already on the 40, on his final option) or the more experienced Leon may provide some insight into Huff’s future with the club. Matt Whatley hasn’t hit enough to warrant a Major League debut but is well-regarded within the organization.

Infielders
Diosbel Arias
Blaine Crim
Justin Foscue (7)
Jonathan Ornelas (18)
Yoshi Tsutsugo
Davis Wendzel

On any given night, the right-to-left infield could be the quartet of Crim, Foscue, Ornelas, and Wendzel. None is banging on the MLB door as of Opening Day, not that the Rangers have a spot for them in any case. They and several other prospects are in the quirky situation of finding a home in Arlington only if they don’t develop into everyday players. If they do, they’re blocked and become trade chips (excepting a move to the outfield, a major injury to a current Texas infielder, or something unfortunate like Jung failing to maintain his spot). Positional flexibility contributes to their possibility of actually playing for the Rangers. That especially favors Ornelas, who can play just about anywhere, and Wendzel, who can handle short. Foscue spotted at third last year (his most frequent college position) and could conceivably handle first as well.

Outfielders
Sandro Fabian
Clint Frazier
Elier Hernandez
Julio P. Martinez

Texas cleared an excess of potential AAA outfielders by adding Travis Jankowski to the Major League club, releasing Joe McCarthy, and placing Dustin Harris and Josh Sale in AA. Frazier is trying to rebound from a dismal 2022. Hernandez is likely the best of the group.

AA — FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS
Location: Frisco, TX
Stadium: Riders Field (opened 2003)
Affiliate since: 2003
Pitchers
Marc Church (20)
Ricky Devito
Ryan Garcia
Antoine Kelly (24)
Nick Krauth
Jack Leiter (5, 78th in MLB)
John Matthews
Theo McDowell
Triston Polley
Tekoah Roby (12)
Justin Slaten
Alex Speas
Nick Starr
Owen White (3, 66th in MLB)
Grant Wolfram

My guess at the rotation is Garcia, Krauth, Leiter, Roby, White, and… I’m not sure. One among Devito, Kelly, Slaten, and Wolfram, all of whom have starting experience? A bullpen day? Leiter’s second full season is a big one for him and organization. While there’s no rush to get him to Arlington, he does need to make forward progress after an occasionally disquieting 2022. White just needs to stay healthy. Up from high-A, TK Roby pitched better than his 4.64 ERA and in particular has better control than the average starter, but homers sometimes troubled him.

Church is the marquee reliever. The slider is a Major League pitch, and the fastball works well, too. Kelly will try to improve last year’s woeful control. Nick Starr was Frisco’s go-to in high-leverage situations last year.

Catchers
David Garcia
Ryan Gold
Scott Kapers

Garcia is repeating a level for the first time. In the past, he’s acclimated to a new level slowly and shown second-half improvement, but that didn’t quite happen in 2022. He’s still just 23.

Catcher is not a position of strength in the system. No list I’ve seen has a Texas catcher among the top 30, and I don’t disagree. Offhand, I thought “Ian Moller’s probably somewhere around 40th,” and found him ranked 36th by Jamey Newberg.

Infielders
Luisangel Acuna (4, 71st in MLB)
Jax Biggers
Frainyer Chavez
Thomas Saggese (16)
Josh Sale
Chris Seise
Nick Tanielu

Acuna survived two months in AA as a 20-year-old (.224/.302/.349) and impressed enough to hop into top-100 lists. He should earn the majority of starts at short. Like Evan Carter, Saggese hit exceptionally well after a late-season promotion. I expect he’ll wander among third, second, and short as in past years. Biggers, Chavez, Sale, and Tanielu have experience in AAA, albeit in brief, need-filling roles for Biggers and Chavez. The 31-year-old Sale spent most of 2022 in Round Rock’s outfield.
Outfielders
Evan Carter (2, 41st in MLB)
Dustin Harris (7)
Trevor Hauver
Kellen Strahm

Carter joined late last year and batted .295/.479/.432 across ten regular and playoff games. Harris was transferred to AA after originally being optioned to Round Rock. Don’t be disappointed. He’s still working on his outfield proficiency and played only 85 games last year because of a wrist injury. Hauver’s path to the bigs runs through his bat, His ability to walk is without peer, but the challenge is handling pitchers with improved command. An AAA assignment for Strahm wouldn’t have bothered me. He’s mature and was solid in Frisco last year. Hopefully he won’t spend too long here.  


HIGH-A – HICKORY CRAWDADS
Location: Hickory, NC
Stadium: L.P. Frans Stadium (opened 1993)
Affiliate since: 2003

Pitchers
Robby Ahlstrom
Mitch Bratt (17)
Michael Brewer
Gavin Collyer
Larson Kindreich
Eudrys Manon
Yohanse Morel
Spencer Mraz
Kumar Rocker (10)
Andy Rodriguez
Winston Santos
Josh Stephan (30)
Leury Tejada
Emiliano Teodo (21)
Bradford Webb

Bratt, Kindreich, Rocker, Santos, Stephan, and Teodo would appear to be the rotation, although several others have experience and could be used in tandems. They would also appear to be the deepest rotation of the four squads, with four top-30 prospects, another who probably should be (Santos), and yet another on the cusp (Kindreich). Rocker’s assignment feels right, and not just as a cautious response to Leiter’s 2022. He had a lot of down time, and he’s kind of a two-pitch guy right now, at least based on what I saw from the AFL and in Surprise last week. Ramping up at a lower level and in a more isolated environment makes sense.

Catchers
Cody Freeman
Liam Hicks
Cooper Johnson

Still relatively new to catching, Cody Freeman repeats the level but will be in Frisco before long with a good showing. Hicks has the bat to play first and DH when not catching.

Infielders
Maximo Acosta (26)
Griffin Cheney
Jayce Easley
Josh Hatcher
Yenci Pena
Keyber Rodriguez

Acosta had a respectable showing in low-A last year, batting .261/.341/.361 with 26 doubles and 44 steals. Cheney (2B, 3B, SS) and Hatcher (1B, OF) were 5th-year college seniors drafted and signed at steep discounts last year to free money for other picks. Easley is a speedy super-utility type who has spent most of his time in the outfield.

Outfielders
Angel Aponte
Geisel Cepeda
Daniel Mateo
Alejandro Osuna (25)
Marcus Smith

Osuna appeared larger than his listed 185 pounds last week, borderline burly. He was Down East’s best hitter last year. Osuna has played some center, but I’d expect Daniel Mateo to receive the majority of those starts. Smith received promotion despite an absurd 42% strikeout rate. Smith still reached at a .336 clip because he’s very patient, and he can steal at will. Cepeda, 25, is a recent Cuban signing.  

LOW-A – DOWN EAST WOOD DUCKS
Location: Kinston, NC
Stadium: Grainger Stadium (opened 1949)
Affiliate since: 2017

Pitchers
Matt Brosky
Seth Clark
Jose Corniell
Aidan Curry
Josh Gessner
Jackson Kelley
Jackson Leath
Dylan MacLean
DJ McCarty
Damian Mendoza
Joseph Montalvo
Ivan Oviedo
Brock Porter (6, 94th in MLB)
Luis Ramirez
Adrian Rodriguez
Kai Wynyard

Four 2022 picks will make their pro debuts in low-A: Brock Porter (4th), Luis Ramirez (5th), Matt Brosky (a money-saver 8th-round pick), and Jackson Kelley (12th). Undrafted Seth Clark out of Georgia State is also new to the pros.

Catchers
Tucker Mitchell
Ian Moller
Konner Piotto

My earlier mention of Moller wasn’t a criticism. I’m actually quite fond of him, but a lot has to happen.

Infielders
Cam Cauley
Danyer Cueva (29)
Gleider Figuereo (19)
Andres Mesa
Abimelec Ortiz
Miguel Villarroel

Down East has a highly entertaining collection of position players. Will it win a bunch of games? I don’t know. It’s greener than it appears, as so-called repeaters Cueva, Figuereo, Blackmon, and Morrobel collected only a handful of low-A games last year as the season ended. Cauley and Cueva both play up the middle, and in fact they swapped positions mid-game in the outing I saw last Thursday. Figuereo will handle third.

Outfielders
JoJo Blackmon
Jeferson Espinal
Yosy Galan
Anthony Gutierrez (11)
Yeison Morrobel (13)

I didn’t get enough of a look to form an opinion, but Gutierrez’s #11 ranking may be selling him short. Morrobel (along with infielders Figuereo, Cueva, and Villarroel) lorded over complex-league pitchers last year before making a late-season jump to Kinston. Galan repeats the level but stands a good chance of being the first position player to reach Hickory.

Also

A large handful of additional players didn’t receive assignments. Some I saw in Surprise, some I didn’t, and some might be injured. I’ll keep an eye on their whereabouts.

Texas released infielder Hunter Bryan (2019, 31st round).

Mason Englert allowed a full-count homer to Wander Franco in his debut MLB appearance. No shame in that. He retired the next three, Randy Arozerena among them.

The White Sox released OF Leury Garcia.

For a lengthy reflection on what the pending minor league CBA means, for good and ill, read Michael Baumann at Fangraphs.com. Minor leaguers overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract.

Notes from Surprise: Thursday through Saturday (and other news)

Podcast

Sean Bass of the Ticket, Michael Tepid of Lone Star Ball, and I recorded the latest Diamond Pod yesterday. Thoughts on opening day, initial roster assignments, observations from Surprise, much more. Links are in my signature.

Minor League Roster Assignments

The break-camp assignments are out. I’ll cover them in a separate email. I came down with something after the podcast and have been on a couch or in bed since around 5pm yesterday, so I’m running behind. I will probably post my annual two-part primer beginning next Monday or Tuesday. Round Rock commences play tomorrow, but the others don’t start until next Thursday.

Major League Roster
Texas added RHP Ian Kennedy and OF Travis Jankowski to the 40 and active roster. Pitchers Spencer Howard and Jake Sborz and Spencer Howard plus OF Leody Taveras hit the Injured List, while pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Glenn Otto were moved to the 60-day IL. So, for the moment, the Rangers have avoided any 40-man subtractions while keeping Dunning, Ragans, Duran, and Thompson.

Minor League Agreement

Per national reports, the minor leaguers have reached an agreement with ownership on their first collective bargaining agreement. Annual pay will increase from a range of $4,800-$17,500 to $19,800-$35,800, depending on level, and salaries will be paid more-or-less year-round instead of only during the season. Also, players who initially sign at the age of 19 or above can become free agents after six years instead of seven (this applies only to future signings). Improvements in housing, transportation, nutrition, and publicity rights are part of the agreement.

On the downside, MLB will reduce the limit of domestic players under contract from 180 to 165. Ownership has pushed for this ever since last year’s lockout ended. MLB can’t reduce the number of minor league teams during this five-year agreement, but that’s a moot point because they had already committed to the current system through 2030 via Player Development Licenses with affiliate clubs. via  After 2030… I don’t want to think about that right now.

This is almost certainly the greatest improvement in compensation and working conditions in the history of professional minor league ball. Prior to now, minor leaguers’ conditions were up to ownership with an assist from the MLB Players Association, which, to put it politely, did not always have the interests of minor leaguers at the forefront.

Surprise

The intersquads resumed last Thursday after a day off and another spoiled by rain. One odd and slightly disappointing consequence of the schedule is that I saw the low-levels squads only once in four days. Ordinarily, I’d focus on the younger players because I’m unlikely to see them again for a year. On my first day, cancellation of one of the A-level games compelled me to stay in Surprise for the AA/AAA games. On Friday, Jack Leiter started for AA, so I watched him. Saturday morning, I grabbed the lineup determined to watch low and high-A, only to see Kumar Rocker listed as the AA starter followed by Owen White. Even though I’d seen the likes of Anthony Gutierrez and Sebastian Walcott for only a few innings, and even though Mitch Bratt and Winston Santos were starting for the A squads, I couldn’t pass on Rocker and White. (I didn’t see Santos but heard plenty. Keep him in mind.)

Photos (and one video) from Monday

Photos from Thursday and Friday
Photos from Saturday
Videos from Thursday through Saturday

Thursday

On my one day in A ball, Brock Porter and Emiliano Teodo pitched against Kansas City. Porter is last year’s fourth-rounder, a first-round talent who fell into Texas’s lap because of money issues. I liked what I saw from him, especially the changeup which is advanced for his age and is going to destroy lower-level hitters. Had I not checked his velocity, my report would be more glowing, but his fastball was in the 89-93 range, well below advertised. My understanding is I caught him on a down day; he’d been more in the 90-95 range with some higher outliers in previous efforts. Thursday’s velocity was disappointing, but it’s just one outing, and I’ve seen many pitchers in March underthrow or overthrow their usual speed.  

Unfortunately, Emiliano’s Teodo’s outing was a mess, marked by poor control, weirdly lower and wider velocity ranges (FB 92-99, CB 82-85), and baserunners stealing at will. Last year, Teodo fanned 33% of opponents with a fastball that frequently topped 100, a low-90s curve, and occasional change. In 12 of 22 outings in 2022, he allowed more walks than hits.

Top 2023 international signing Sebastian Walcott is listed at 6’4” and a sturdy 190 pounds, so he’s less boyish than your average 16-year-old. Walcott smacked a hard grounder for a single and showed off his strong arm on a slow grounder. The throw was a touch late but still impressive; it’s available for viewing in my Porter video.

I would have liked to have seen more of last year’s marquee international addition, OF Anthony Gutierrez. He drew a walk after a 1-2 count, and no balls were hit that gave him an opportunity to show off in the field.

Catcher Ian Moller rapped an opposite field double. He tended to work that direction when I saw him last May. Moller slugged only .315 last year, but I think he has more to offer.

Friday

Jack Leiter’s first inning was nearly immaculate, ended by an errant curve on his eighth pitch. He would retire that batter on a fly to left after striking out the first two. An excellent start. His first pitch of the 2nd was an elevated fastball taken deep. He retired the next three around a walk but lacked the control exhibited in the 1st. The next two innings were largely the same. Leiter’s fastball velocity was fine: mid-90s peaking at 99. His slider was often impressive. But as with much of 2022, his fastball control wavered such that the ongoing battle seemed within himself as much as against the opposing batter.

I’ve always liked Luisangel Acuna, and he’s given me no reason not to. Acuna really sells out on his contact but doesn’t strike out at an outrageous rate (23% in 2022). While not a great source of homers, he can reach out and pull a slider with authority. He’s impressed at short. Acuna’s showing in Frisco was muted (.224/.302/.349, but he debuted there at the age of 20 years, four months.

Saturday

Kumar Rocker completed three innings with relative ease. In the inning I charted, the fastball never strayed from 94-95, and the slider was mostly 87-88. Rocker also missed on what appeared to be a single curve (79 MPH) and change (84), although I leave open the possibility they were mis-gripped sliders. He missed several bats with both the fastball and slider, with the latter pitch looking more impressive. Rocker still has a fairly short stride to the plate, albeit lengthier than his initial Arizona Fall League appearance, and he still appears to be generating most of his oomph from hip rotation and little from his legs. I’m neither a scout, pitching coach, nor biomechanist, so I’m not qualified to get too deep into his throwing motion, but it undoubtedly looks different than most pitchers.

In terms of at-bat results, Owen White’s first inning was noisier than anything from Leiter or Teodo the day before: grounders just inside each line for doubles, another double off the wall, a no-doubt homer. When the inning finally ended, White screamed a word unsuitable for children that was audible in Flagstaff. The second inning was cleaner: two innocuous flies and a grounder to himself. White offered all four of his pitches that inning: FB 93-95, SL 88, CB 79, CH 85-87. Even with that first inning, he threw with conviction and appeared ready to resume his ascent to the Majors. White pitched only two of his scheduled three innings because the staff let him work through the lengthy first rather than rolling it.  

Cole Winn started for AAA. I saw Winn more than any other pitcher in 2022, and he’ll return to Round Rock, so I didn’t focus on him while Rocker and White pitched. Even in limited observation, I saw strikeouts on a fastball, slider, and curve. He seemed sound mechanically, which I’d hoped for after some time off. Recall that a comebacker off Winn’s ankle in late April 2022 didn’t seem cause more than superficial damage but precipitated a months-long decay in mechanics and loss of control.

A year out of baseball hasn’t cost Alex Speas any velocity, nor has it aided his control. He ranged from 97 to 99 with the fastball plus a 91-92 MPH slider. He missed several bats but struggled to find the plate.

The small potions of Cody Bradford’s outing I witnessed seemed effective. I don’t know how hard he threw, but velocity isn’t his forte. Hitters don’t know what he’s going to throw and probably won’t like where he locates it. Bradford didn’t earn a 40 spot over the winter but is a worthy prospect.

Dustin Harris homered while I watched Rocker on the other field. I later returned to capture video of him striking out. Such is life. Harris also dumped a short fly the opposite way for a single.

I didn’t get much of a look at IF Justin Foscue, as he was often busy with the big leaguers.

OF Yosy Galan played in Saturday’s AA game and homered. Galan is athletic, loose-limbed, and speedy, and I enjoy watching him as much as anybody. Galan also really loves to swing the bat, regardless of what’s headed his way, resulting in a 33% strikeout rate and .206 average last year in Down East.

As for Evan Carter, I’ve just never had any luck catching him on a memorable day. I’ve got video, but it’s a snooze, to be honest.

These aren’t the only folks I saw, of course, and I’ll mix in additional Surprise observations during the regular season.

Also

Per local reports, Ricky Vanasco injured his knee in his final intersquad outing and will miss several weeks.

Texas released reliever Reyes Montoya and OF Joe McCarthy. Texas also released and re-signed catcher Sandy Leon and pitcher Dominic Leone.

Nomar Mazara received his release from Baltimore. Kole Calhoun has departed Seattle. The Mariners released OF Leonys Martin. I did not import that sentence from 2018. Martin had returned from Japan and signed a minor deal with the M’s. Seattle also signed OF Delino Deshields Jr. last week.

Rule 5 selection Mason Englert has made Detroit’s Opening Day roster.

Per MiLB.com, the AAA leagues will play a split-season format for the first time in… I don’t know. At least as long as I’ve been covering the game, probably much longer, maybe ever. The first and second-half champs will meet in a best-of-three with the winners of the Pacific Coast and International Leagues meeting in a single-game championship on September 30. I don’t see any mention of divisional rounds, leading me to believe the divisions will be eliminated or won’t serve any purpose if retained. Traditionally, AAA was the only classification that didn’t employ split seasons.

Thoughts On The Pitch Clock

Beat The Clock

You’ve probably seen or read any number of stories on how players, umpires, fans, and the media themselves will adjust to the clock. I wanted to offer my analysis and observations from watching plenty of games at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond and elsewhere in 2022.

Strange as it seems, players and umps may have the easiest task. The pitch clock has existed in upper minor league classifications since 2015, although it wasn’t enforced in its present form across all levels until 2022. Most players are already at least passingly familiar with the new rules. I analyzed lists of everyone who played in the Majors and minors in 2022 and found the following:

Number of MLB hitters in 2022: 694
Number who also played in MiLB: 475 (68% of all MLB hitters)
Number with 50+ PA in MLB and MiLB: 221 (32% of all MLB hitters)

Number of MLB pitchers in 2022: 872
Number who also pitched in MiLB: 591 (68% of all MLB pitchers)
Number with 10+ IP in MiLB and MLB: 300 (34% of all MLB pitchers)

The Rangers used 29 pitchers last year excluding Charlie Culberson. 23 threw at least one inning in the minors in 2022, and 15 of them threw at least ten. Similarly, 18 of Texas’s 26 hitters in 2022 also appeared in the minors, and 15 registered at least 100 plate appearances.

Assuming the rule is retained beyond 2023, the proportion of MLB players who will have worked under these conditions will quickly approach 100%. Admittedly, those who haven’t to date include many of baseball’s biggest names, but a significant number already have. 23% of MLB players with at least two wins above replacement in 2022 played in the minors last year.

My impression is that AAA umpires’ enforcement of the game clock was moderately strict but not punitive in 2022. Pitchers had plenty of time to retake the mound if involved in a fielding play. Hitters didn’t have to rush back to the box after running out a drive that landed foul. Pitchers could ask for a new ball, and occasionally something would happen to cause a pitcher to make a circular motion with his pitching hand, code for “restart the clock, pretty please.” Much of the time, these requests were granted. What pitchers couldn’t do was get set, let the clock dwindle to three seconds, and then claim the ball was too slick.

I did see one opposing pitcher on rehab accrue six or seven automatic balls, including two in one plate appearance. He was plainly indifferent to the clock, strictly in a rehab mindset and working at his preferred pace to the extent possible. Major Leaguers in town for the evening weren’t given leeway. When Jose Altuve played two games for AAA Sugar Land, the plate ump did not bow and say “enter the box at your leisure, my lord.”

Most of the time, the clock receded to the background, both for players and fans. Players internalized the pace it dictated. Games proceeded faster but didn’t feel rushed. As a fan or in my “official” capacity, I was never distracted by the clock even though it was almost always near my direct line of sight. The goal of the clock isn’t to saddle umps and players with nitpicky obligations. It is to create an environment in which the game flows faster organically. That said, I too had to adapt. More than once, I would study something I’d written down or glance at my phone after a pitch, only to miss the following pitch that came more quickly than expected. This year’s adaptation will be acceptance that by the time I get home from the Dell Diamond on a given night, the Rangers will probably also be done for the evening. Last year, the shorter games in Round Rock often allowed me to see an inning or two of the Rangers after I drove home.

Best as I can tell, I mentioned the clock or an automatic ball or strike only four times during the 2022 season. It just wasn’t newsworthy. Calls were rare. Calls that ended plate appearances were rarer still. Yes, an early spring game had a game-ending auto-strike, but I’d be surprised to see one in a real game, and if it happens, well, the hitter can’t say he wasn’t warned.

Undoubtedly, pitchers and hitters will try to use the clock to their advantage. Hitting is timing, pitching is disrupting timing. That type of gamesmanship has existed since the 1800s. Hopefully, pitch-clock craftiness won’t become overbearing and detract from the natural duel between pitcher and batter. Assuming clock infractions in MLB are as rare as in the minors, I don’t see the point in having the countdown clock as a tv graphic. It’s a distraction.

I’m a strong supporter of the clock rule, and I expect most of you will enjoy it too.

Jack Kruger, who caught for Round Rock in 2021-2022, offered his thoughts in a twitter thread.

Prospect Lists

MLB.com (free link) and Baseball America (subscriber link) released their top-30 prospect lists for the Rangers recently. As always, Jamey Newberg has his thorough and engaging top 72 at the Athletic (subscription link).

MLB.com rated Texas’s system the best in the division, noting the Rangers’ six top-100 prospects are one fewer than the other four teams combined. I’ll have more on these lists and others in the coming weeks.

Transactions and Other News

Texas released top 2020 signing Bayron Lora a few weeks ago, and now the priciest signing from 2018 is also gone. When signed, Jose Rodriguez was described as a bat-oriented catcher, but he never played catcher in a real game, and, unfortunately, there wasn’t much orientation to his bat. Folllowing a decent opener in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguez lost 2020 to covid and all but 15 games in 2021 to injury. After two years with little on-field action, he joined low-A Down East and hit .197/.280/.285 with four homers in 87 games splitting time between right, first, and DH. Texas also released IF Junior Paniagua, a noteworthy signing from the same period.

LHP Joe Palumbo is back. Once among the club’s most promising prospects, Palumbo tossed 19 innings for the Rangers across 2019-2020. In 2021, Palumbo had trouble staying on the field and lacked velocity and control, leading to the loss of his 40 spot. In 2022 as a Giant, Palumbo fared no better, limited to five innings and released in July. I think Palumbo’s last fully injury-free season was 2016. Hopefully, at the least, he’ll be healthy as a returning Ranger.

2016 2nd-rounder RHP Alex Speas is also back after a year out of the system partially spent as head coach at Georgia’s Combine Academy. Speas, Demarcus Evans, and Joe Barlow made some noise in 2018 as a Hickory relief trio with otherworldly strikeout rates. Speas unfortunately needed elbow surgery by June. In 2020, he was dealing 102 on the side and rumored to be a potential MLB addition. That call never came, and he slid through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed after being left off the 40. His always-iffy control worsened in 2021 at Frisco, where he struck out 23 in 12 innings but walked or hit 24.

RHP Avery Weems underwent Tommy John surgery. Last year’s commentary ahead of the 40-man deadline: “A hard-throwing lefty with a mean slider, better control than I had in mind when reviewing his stats. He’s started most of his career, but I’m inclined to forecast him as a reliever.”

Prospect Mitch Bratt threw 1.1 scoreless innings for Team Canada in a warmup against the Cubs. Bratt, who hasn’t pitched above low-A, retired Eric Hosmer, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner.

Former Rangers righty Mason Englert, swiped by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft, has allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings. I’ve not seen anything noteworthy about his likelihood of making the Tigers’ roster. One article said he “came to camp ready to compete,” reassuring to those of us concerned he might have spent all winter on the couch eating lard from a bucket. As of yesterday, the Tigers still had 32 pitchers in their Major League camp including 21 on the 40-man roster.

Mitch Moreland has retired.

Sparks, “Beat The Clock,” from No. 1 In Heaven, 1979

Rangers Farm Report: Offseason Action and Transactions

Talk
Sean Bass, Michael Tepid, and I found quiet spaces away from our weather-marooned kids to record the year’s first Diamond Pod. Rotation, left field, a look at prospect and system rankings, much more. Links in signature.

International Signings

Texas’s major signing was Bahamian shortstop Sebastian Walcott for a report $3.2 million, accounting for roughly three quarters of a bonus pool that had been reduced by $1 million for signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien the year before. More famous than Walcott, if not nearly as amply compensated, is OF Pablo Guerrero ($200k), son of Vlad. Texas also signed 25-year-old Cuban outfielder Geisel Cepeda.

International Releases

Per local reports, the Rangers released OF Bayron Lora, the marquee signing from the 2019-2020 period. Lora received a $3.9 million bonus, higher than for all but three players outside of Japan and Korea. In early 2021, he was the driver in an auto accident that resulted in injuries to himself and the death of one passenger. He didn’t come stateside or play anywhere in 2022, and now we know why: a two-year suspension related to allegations of domestic violence.

Even ignoring all that, Lora’s brief professional career was disconcerting. Reviews were polarized from the get-go, with all acknowledging his massive power potential but many skeptical of his likelihood of achieving it. Lora batted .218/.431/.401 in 2021’s Dominican Summer League, superficially productive but with many more walks than hits and a 38% strikeout rate. Not that DSL stats are trustworthy, but my analysis of a dozen or so years of batter data revealed exactly zero successful big-leaguers who’d struck out that often at that level.

It’s not uncommon for international prospects of his stature to lose luster quickly. The nature of the system, in which players are scouted and unofficially signed at such a young age, practically guarantees early flameouts. Indeed, of the five highest paid international signings of 2019-2020, only one currently ranks among his organization’s top ten prospects: Jasson Dominguez of the Yankees. Unlike Lora, however, the rest are at least employed.

Minor Transactions

Back with the Rangers: LHP Lucas Jacobsen, RHP Jean Casanova, RHP Scott Engler, RHP Fern Ozuna, RHP Nick Snyder, C David Garcia, OF Sandro Fabian, OF Elier Hernandez, OF Josh Sale.

Among Texas’s minor league free agents, I had Jacobsen, Engler and Garcia atop a mental list of who I’d like to see return, so thanks to the Rangers for thinking of me. Engler is recovering from TJ surgery but should be available for a majority of the season assuming a typical recovery.

New to the organization: LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Kyle Funkhouser, RHP Jacob Barnes, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Zack Littell, RHP Reyes Moronta, C Sandy Leon, 1B Yoshi Tsutsugo, OF Jackson (fka Clint) Frazier, OF Travis Jankowski.

Kennedy hasn’t pitched that well since being traded by the Rangers in July 2021: 20 saves also but 18 homers and 110 runners in 74.1 innings. The Royals traded Duffy to the Dodgers mid-2021, but he’s pitched only a handful of minor league innings since then because of a flexor tendon injury. In the Majors, he’s worked almost exclusively as a starter. Known best as a 4th outfielder with the Padres, Jankowski has bounced around four organizations in the past three years. A top-100 prospect for several years, the 28-year-old Frazier has struggled to reach his potential. The Yankees and Cubs have outrighted him the past two seasons.

Some Texas minor league free agents signed to deals elsewhere: RHP Demarcus Evans (Yankees), LHP James Jones (Dodgers), RHP Ryder Ryan (Seattle), C/1B Yohel Pozo (Oakland), C Meibrys Viloria (Guardians).

And more signings by former Rangers: OF Willie Calhoun (Yankees), 1B/P(?) Ronald Guzman (Giants), OF Nomar Mazara (O’s), RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (Marlins), IF Hanser Alberto (White Sox), RHP Robbie Erlin (Dodgers), RHP Joe Wieland (A’s), RHP Reed Garrett (O’s), RHP Wilmer Font (Pads), LHP Alex Claudio (Brewers), 1B Curtis Terry (O’s), LHP Locke St. John (Twins).

RHP AJ Alexy was traded to the Twins after being designated for assignment by Washington. Then, the White Sox claimed him on waivers. IF Yonny Hernandez was traded to the Dodgers after Oakland DFA’ed him. The Giants traded outrighted OF Steele Walker to Detroit for cash.

Winter Ball

RHP Grant Anderson, Cangrejeros de Saturce (PR) – In 19 innings across 14 appearances, Anderson fanned 24 (38% rate) against just three walks with just two runs allowed. Anderson received more attention as a potential 40 addition / Rule 5 loss than I envisioned, but he remains a Ranger and will try to crack the Rangers’ bullpen during 2023.

OF Angel Aponte, Leones del Caracas (VEN) — .238/.304/.333 in 16 regular-season games, .333/.385/.500 with two doubles and a triple in nine postseason games. Caracas made the Serie Del Caribe which is being hosted in that very city, but Aponte isn’t on the current roster.

OF Jax Biggers, Auckland Tuatara (AUS) – Playing entirely in the outfield, Biggers batted .278/.390/.313 with 21 walks and seven steals in 34 regular season games. He added three singles and a double in three postseason games, but his Tuatara were eliminated in the semifinals.

Tuatara are indigenous only to New Zealand, and despite the resemblance, they are not lizards. Thank you, Wikipedia.

1B Blaine Crim, Indios de Mayaguez (PR) – Crim joined at the end of the regular season and was hitless in eight trips to the plate. In the postseason, Crim batted .217/.308/.370 with one memorable homer that sent his squad to the league finals. Mayaguez won again to reach Serie del Caribe in Caracas, but like Aponte, Crim’s winter excursion is over.

IF Ezequiel Duran, Aguilas Cibaenas (DR) – .255/.283/.431 with two homers, three doubles and a steal in 13 games. Starts in left (5), right (3), second (2), third (2), and center (1).

RHP Josh Gessner, Auckland Tuatara (AUS) – Gessner enjoyed the southern hemisphere less than his two Texas teammates, surrendering six runs on nine hits and four walks in four innings while fanning six. Gessner did not appear in the postseason.

OF Abi Ortiz, Gigantes de Carolina (PR) – Ortiz played only twice but delivered, collecting a single, double, and walk in five plate appearances.

IF Keyber Rodriguez, Auckland Tuatara (AUS) — .265/.289/.434 with five homers, six other extra-base hits, and six steals in 34 games, mostly at short. Rodriguez added five singles and a walk during the three-game playoff.

IF Chris Seise, Cangrejeros de Saturce (PR) – Seise batted .158/.179/.211 in 16 games. In addition to his usual shortstop, Seise started one game and third and another in center.

OF Kellen Strahm, Cangrejeros de Saturce (PR) – A teammate of Seise, the outfielder hit .180/.317/.200 with seven walks in 17 games.