Minor League Season Review: Upper Levels
Aug 7, 2014; Frisco, TX, USA; Frisco Rough Riders third baseman Joey Gallo (24) hits a foul ball during the game against the Springfield Cardinals at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Springfield beat Frisco 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
With the Minor League regular season now ended it’s time to take a look on all that has happened in such an eventful MiLB season. Since the big league club has claimed many so players from the minors, it has forced the minor league clubs to be much more aggressive in their player placement. This is something the Rangers love doing. Currently, per Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster Nathan Barnett, the Rangers have the youngest player at 4 different levels.
Since this season has been so exciting, I’m going to break up this season review into 2 parts: upper and lower levels. The lower level preview should be out some time next week barring complications. Round Rock: Final record 70-74. Round Rock was ravaged by call ups this year and even with a first year AAA manager in Steve Buechele the Express still managed to stay competitive until the closing weeks of their season. Credit Buechele for keeping the guys focused on the task at hand no matter who was in the clubhouse that day. Round Rock thought they were getting a bona fide stud that might tear up the Pacific Coast league in Luke Jackson when he got his call up in late June but AAA wasn’t to kind to the young Floridian. It was actually the right handed utility power bat of Ryan Rua that had more of an impact with the Express. As much as I would like to, I can’t tell you that Jackson was better than his AAA numbers. He couldn’t hit the strike zone with his off speed stuff and just lacked a lot of confidence he showed in the Texas League. Michael Choice‘s time in Round Rock wasn’t anything spectacular, but two things he did well were take walks, and punish mistake pitches. If he carries over his patience to the bigs in his return I have no doubt he will be on the up swing in his September stint. Choice will likely start 2015 in Round Rock even if he has another fantastic spring training. A power surge occurred on the Express this year with 5 players slugging over .500 (only including players with 20 or more AAA games). As a team, Round Rock finished 5th in the league in homers with 148, which is 52 more than the Rangers currently have. Pitching has been this team’s undoing by far. The team finished with 11 pitchers who made at least 1 appearance and have an ERA over 7. Over 7 earned runs per 9 innings! That is not a great way to win ball games. A pleasant surprise in the strange Round Rock season has been the beauty of a season of center fielder Jared Hoying. I have to say I should have been paying more attention to Jared this season but I didn’t because he didn’t have the fanfare or noise surrounding most prospects. He wasn’t on anybody’s top 20 list of Ranger prospects. He didn’t have any loud tools or Jim Aducci‘s salon quality hair. Jared Hoying just quietly joined Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Lewis Brinson in the MiLB 20 steals 20 homers club via Scott Lucas
I also noticed while nerding it up looking at random prospect stats that Hoying only had 1 error all year. Through 129 games and 292 chances he only goofed up and got charged with an error once. That’s pretty special. I hope Texas assigns him to the 40 man roster this winter. They have a bunch of dudes they could lose in the Rule 5 draft if not protected and Jared Hoying could very easily be one of them.
Frisco: Final regular season record: 80-59 First and second half champions. Frisco has been a special place for baseball this season. The team has been stacked with talent from April to September. Despite losing two of the most talented players to promotions in Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, the Rough Riders have been drenched in incredibly talented players. The Riders have 4 prospects in the Baseball Prospectus 2014 Mid season top 50: Joey Gallo (13), Jorge Alfaro (25), Nick Williams (46), and Chi Chi Gonzalez (49). This AA group has had everything you can want in a baseball team: a fiery closer throwing triple digits, baseballs hit so hard they make grown men swoon like a teenage girl at a boy band concert.
Every starter in the pitching rotation has a decent chance to be a starter in the big leagues before 2017. Not many minor league clubs can boast that. What is even more impressive is the demeanor and maturity of the starters, in particular the two pitchers with whom I had the chance to speak. You can read my talk with Chi Chi here and with Eickhoff here. While we’re on the subject of maturity how about Nomar Mazara? He is the youngest player in AA and he is hitting over .300 and slugging well over .500. This kid sees the ball well and while he is still raw in the field, he still has an cannon for an arm. The front office decided Mazara could handle a two level jump because of how mature he was even at the young age of 19. Mazara proved JD and company’s faith in him was not misplaced. He speaks excellent English from what I have heard from Lonestarball.com’s Tepid P. Nomar handles the bat well and makes solid contact in all parts of the zone and has a great feel for the strike zone. His routs are less sloppy than his teammate Nick Williams but Williams is gifted with more speed than Nomar hence the organization’s repeated attempts to shove Nick in center field.
Williams has an incredible knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball no matter where it is pitched. This ability led him to swing at anything because most things he could barrel up at Myrtle Beach. The struggles in AA have been good for Nick because advanced pitchers will force him to be more selective. When Nick Williams becomes a selective hitter pitchers beware. The same can be said about Jorge Alfaro but he has a shorter journey than Nick. I was fortunate enough to attend 5 Frisco games this year and they were all an absolute joy to watch. Whether I was watching an Alex Claudio change up, Jorge picking off a guy on base, or Joey Gallo launching a ball into the stratosphere.
On the subject of Joey, my main thought is just wow. When I first saw him in batting practice I thought I knew all about his power. I had seen videos, spoke with people who saw him, and read from people who saw him. It was nothing in comparison. Yes it’s fun to oogle over his insane power but what is even more fun to oogle over is his work ethic. There isn’t a harder worker in the farm than Joey. He busts his butt off every day trying to get better in every facet of the game. He takes extra time with hitting coach Jason Hart to work on specific flaws in his swing almost every day. He no longer takes on field BP as a chance to put on a power show and actually works on specific aspects of his swing. He looked dreadful for the vast majority of August but now looks much more comfortable in the box and in the field. No prospect in baseball right now, aside from Joey’s childhood friend Kris Bryant, has had to deal with the ridiculous amount of media hype and fan obsession that Joey faces every single day. That takes it out of a guy. I look forward to seeing him next spring training after another off season with hitting stud Jason Giambi and the other baseball studs in Vegas. Get excited to see this dude in Arlington within 2 years.
This has been a fun season for the Rough Riders and I anticipate next season will also be a great one for the Riders. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to enjoy baseball!