First: A Pop Quiz
Between last year’s Rule 5 deadline and now, the Rangers added 30 players to the 40-man roster. Only four remain. Can you name them? (Answer at bottom. I’m not including Ronald Guzman, who was added before last year’s deadline.) 40-Man Roster and Rule 5 Thoughts
The deadline for protecting players on the 40-Man roster is Monday. This is the weirdest year I can recall. Texas has ten(!) open spots and could create more via trade or deletion without too much heartache. So, the Rangers have an absurd number of opening, and they may use most of them. For various reasons, not a single player is an absolute must-protect, someone certain to be selected in the Rule 5 draft and stick with another team. Conversely, I’ve never seen so many bubble candidates. With these players, the Rangers have to weigh the downside of burning through a player’s options more quickly than they’d like against the even worse scenario of losing the player outright.
Basic Rule 5 Draft eligibility rules: Unless protected on the 40-man roster, anyone signed before the end of the 2013 season is eligible for the draft. Also eligible are those signed before the end of the 2014 season and were 19 or older at the time. And, pretty much any minor league free agent signing is eligible. In general, teams must keep R5 picks on their 25-man roster for a full season or place him on waivers. If he clears, he is then offered back to the original club.
My thoughts on various eligible players: OF Jose Almonte
– Not under consideration but worth a mention. Per custom, the Rangers spent willingly on international free agents in 2013 despite rules that would limit them to a maximum bonus of $250,000 the following year. They spent the most on Almonte, who hasn’t hit much stateside and has missed over half the schedule in each of the last two seasons because of injuries. RHP Jairo Beras
– The former outfielder and controversial signing might have the highest velocity of any Ranger eligible (at least in short bursts), but he’s awfully raw and had only middling success in low-A. I don’t see it. IF Michael De Leon
(Texas’s #28 prospect per MLB.com) – Three years ago, De Leon memorably made his pro debut in AA at the tender age of 17 before heading to Hickory. In 2017, he returned to Frisco and found conditions far less hospitable than in High Desert. De Leon is an silky smooth defender but will have to show better contact to merit a 40-man spot, in my opinion. He’s the most likely top-30 prospect to be omitted. RHP John Fasola
– Texas’s 2016 reliever the years had scouts purring during his AAA debut that May. (I was there. I heard the purr.) Unfortunately, elbow surgery erased his 2017. He’s on the bubble. At the least, you the fan should keep him in mind as someone who could help the Rangers next year. LHP Brady Feigl
– Hmm. Which Brady Feigl? Acquired for Luke Jackson last offseason, the lefty was a force of nature at times and struck out nearly one of every four batters. He also had several rough patches and was hit pretty hard on the whole. Did I mention he’s left-handed? RHP Reed Garrett
– Garrett’s 4.98 ERA in Frisco doesn’t impress, but half of his runs came in four April starts. Stronger in relief, he held opponents to a respectable .235/.322/.385. He can deal mid-90s without trouble. I think he’s down the list a bit and probably unprotected, but I won’t be surprised if he is. RHP Jonathan Hernandez
(#21) – I’d rank him higher than 21st. Like Yohander Mendez two years ago, I think Texas will protect him even though he’s yet to reach AA. Hernandez showed good improvement during the season and has a strong reliever profile if starting doesn’t pan out.
RHP Ariel Jurado
(#9) – Jurado is Texas’s highest-ranked prospect (per MLB.com) among potential R5 eligibles. I think the Rangers protect him, yet I wouldn’t be shocked if they didn’t. The 21-year-old had a trying season, allowing a .302/.350/.450 opposing line as he sought the complimentary pitches to his solid sinking fastball. He’s not ready now. C/IF Isiah Kiner-Falefa
– Virtually without power in four prior seasons, IKF hit the first five homers of his career and led the AA Texas League with 31 doubles in 2017. His occasional catching duties are no gimmick. He could become a genuinely useful 25th man, not just a guy who gathers dust at the end of the bench. I’m leaning “protect.” LHP Brett Martin
(#10) – My thoughts on Martin are similar to Jurado. The upside probably necessitates protection, but Martin had another up-and-down year beset by injury. He’s yet to reach AA. He does fit better in a bullpen role than Jurado. LHP Joe Palumbo
(#12) – The professionals understandably listed Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado and 2-3 other pitchers ahead of Palumbo last winter. By the time the season began, he might have been Texas’ best pitching prospect. Then, as I listened to his third start of the season on the radio, his elbow exploded. If all goes well, Palumbo could return to action next June or July. Even with the uncertainty of recovery, the arm has too much promise to risk losing. I think Texas protects him. RHP Adam Parks
– Like Fasola, Parks was in the midst of turning heads in 2016 when his elbow failed him. He underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. RHP Pedro Payano
– Payano can mix and match four pitches but lacks premium velocity, and nobody at any level of pro baseball exceeded his 25 hit batters. Maybe next year. C Yohel Pozo
– Pozo hits for contact as well as anyone in the system, but he’s just 20 and didn’t reach full-season ball until the latter half of 2017. He’d be a risky if justifiable addition. Catchers take time. IF Juremi Profar
– Profar the Younger surrendered a third of his extra-base hits and nearly half his walks in the transition from high-octane High Desert to Frisco. He’ll return to AA and hope for addition to the 40 next November. C Jose Trevino
(#13) – Trevino is a born leader and is going to reach the Majors, but he didn’t hit well in his AA debut (.241/.275/.323). Would an MLB team be willing to draft him and carry him all year as a third catcher? That seems too much to ask, but I still think Texas protects him. I said “catchers take time” but Trevino turns 25 in a few days. We’ll know what we have in him by the time his options run out. RHP Collin Wiles
– A rough final month marred his final stats, but the former supplementary 1st rounder displayed great control in a largely successful season in Frisco. I see too many names in front of him to be protected. RHP Scott Williams
– Williams lacks the increasingly commonplace upper-90s velocity, but he’s not a soft-tosser by any stretch and is as effective as anyone in the system. Playoffs included, he carries a 30-inning scoreless streak in 2018. He received a Major League camp invite in 2016 but was hurt last spring. A tough call. RHP Sam Wolff
– As you might have read though local media, Texas intended to bring up Wolff until he suffered an elbow injury, the latest of maladies that have chopped up his past three years. He’ll be out for at least the front half of 2018. So, like Palumbo, Texas must consider the risk that another team could draft Wolff, stash him on the 60-day DL until ready, send him on a month-long rehab assignment, and use September as part of his mandatory active period. Affiliation News
A local media report
indicates the Round Rock Express are unlikely to renew their Player Development Contract with the Rangers after it expires next September. That’s no surprise. The real news is that El Paso and Wichita, not San Antonio, are mentioned as potential replacements.
San Antonio’s AA squad is relocating to Amarillo in 2019, and AAA Colorado Springs will move into San Antonio's 25-year-old Wolff Stadium, which is functional but lacks the required number of seats and nearly all the amenities of modern parks. (It’s best to think of the newest facilities as multi-purpose entertainment/meeting complexes with an emphasis on baseball.) The City of San Antonio understandably considers itself worthy of a major franchise, and the new mayor expressed active disinterest
toward a new taxpayer-funded stadium after last year’s discussions faltered. So, the MLB team affiliating with the Missions in 2019 will occupy a substandard park by AAA standards and an uncertain future, good reasons for the Rangers to be leery. The Missions’ lease of Wolff Stadium runs through 2021.
El Paso’s contract with the Padres expires after 2018. The Pads and Chihuahuas have a good relationship as far as I know, but perhaps the Padres would settle for temporary confinement in Las Vegas’s antiquated Cashman Field because Sin City will be getting a new park soon. Wichita, at present, has no team and nothing in the pipeline, so I’m not sure how they’re a possible destination in 2019. In August, Wichita’s mayor stated the city would have an announcement
about a team by the end of this year. More recently, the city hired a consultant and postponed any announcement until 2018
. I’m not sure which team Wichita could grab. (Keep in mind the number of teams is finite; Wichita's gain must come at some other city’s expense.) Geography makes a low-A or high-A team virtually impossible. In the AA Texas League, San Antonio’s Wolff stadium is the only facility built prior to 2002. In the AAA Pacific Coast League, New Orleans plays in a slightly older park (1997) but has a lease in place through 2020. For various reasons, Fresno is nearly an affiliation of last resort, but the team draws reasonably well and just signed an extension with a costly non-relocation clause (contingent on the sale of the team closing).
By my count, 14 of 30 AAA affiliations expire after 2018, but most will renew. The number actually in play could be as few as three, meaning the Rangers, Nationals and Brewers would duel over spots in San Antonio, Las Vegas and Fresno. If the Padres bolt to Las Vegas and/or El Paso thinks it can do better than the Pads, that makes four. Other openings are increasingly unlikely. What makes the most sense to me is an affiliation with San Antonio and subsequent relocation to Wichita, which seems eager and willing to fund affiliated ball. Of course, I’m an outsider, so I’m sure I’m missing some of the facts, plus my money’s not at stake.
Happier news: last month, the Rangers purchased the Hickory Crawdads. Texas had a good relationship with the Crawdads, so I don’t think the Rangers were ever remotely in danger of banishment to a low-A outcast, like what happened with high-A High Desert. That said, the purchase assures long-term stability which includes a short drive to the Rangers-owned high-A club in Kinston. Over the winter, Texas will spend a healthy sum on a fancier scoreboard, new playing surface, upgraded dugouts, extended netting, and other features. Did You Know
Tanner Scheppers was the last of Texas’s 2009 draft class to leave. Nine from that year have reached the Majors, but only Scheppers did so as a Ranger. Two reached after being traded (pitchers Robbie Erlin and Chad Bell). The other six didn’t sign with Texas and were later drafted again by other teams. Quiz Answers
RHP Clayton Blackburn
RHP Ricky Rodriguez
OF Willie Calhoun
RHP Nick Gardewine
The full list is here