Position Player of the Year -- SS Anderson Tejeda (2014, int’l free agent)
Tejeda’s slash line of .259/.331/.439 doesn’t jump off the page, but we’re talking about a high-A hitter who didn’t turn 20 until May. The Rangers would have been perfectly within their rights to keep Tejeda in Hickory to begin the season, but he made the promotion pay off. On a per-plate appearance basis, Tejeda surpassed his previous bests in homers (3.6%), walks (9%) and strikeouts (27%). His 19 homers ranked third in the organization and fifth in the Carolina League, and everybody ahead of him on both lists was at least three years older. At fall instructionals, Tejeda resumed hitting right-handed against lefties, which he did early on until a wrist injury forced him to bat exclusively from the left side. Defensively, he’s eased some of the concerns about whether he can stick at short. Tejeda still has plenty of work to do, but he’s solidified his prospect standing and ought to spend most, perhaps all, of 2019 in AA Frisco. Evans, Phillips Starting Pitcher of the Year – RHP Tyler Phillips (2015, round 16)
I saw him throw a four-inning intrasquad in March. He offered four average-or-better pitches (four-seamer, two-seamer, change, curve) and had me confident that this could be his year. Phillips has always tantalized but had to return to Spokane during 2017 after a rough spell at Hickory. In 2018 he did the reverse, dominating the Sally League and earning an end-of-season appearance at Down East. Phillips walked two batters in his first and final starts of the season, In between, he walked a total of 12 in 124 innings. Phillips filled the zone with his fastball and put hitters away with a much-improved change. Phillips isn’t ever going to lead a rotation but could provide a heavy dose of league-average innings. Reliever of the Year – RHP Demarcus Evans (2015, round 25)
Contra Phillips, the Evans I saw in March was such a mess I chose not to write about him. He struck out three of six batters but had no idea of his location. That continued in the season’s first half, when Evans whiffed 37 of 103 batters (36%) but walked 21 (20%). Then, just as Alex Speas (who might have won this “award” himself if not for TJ surgery) hit the DL, Evans became the most dominant pitcher to wear a Texas-affiliated uniform, striking out an otherworldly 56% of his opponents (66 of 117) and walking only 5%. His fastball velocity isn’t elite by modern relief standards, but he spins it hard and places it and his hammer curve where he wants.
My Full-Season All-Star Team: C Sam Huff (2016, round 7)
None of Texas’s catching prospects crowding the lower levels took a huge step forward, but Huff was the best of them, knocking 18 homers for Hickory, third-most in the system. 1B Tyreque Reed (2017, round 8)
Reed didn’t arrive in Hickory until May and didn’t hit until June. His second half showed the promise: .293/.372/.550 with 13 homers in 62 games. 2B Yonny Hernandez (2014, international free agent)
In a league where nobody walks, Hernandez’s take-a-base, steal-a-base approach served Hickory well. He led all full-season Rangers in OBP (.372) and steals (44). 3B Chuck Leblanc (2016, round 4)
Like many Wood Ducks, Leblanc disappeared for a lengthy stretch of the season, and only one of his ten homers came after May 31. Before then, he was the hottest hitter in the organization. SS Anderson Tejeda (2014, international free agent) LF Willie Calhoun (trade)
A disappointing All-Star? I believe Calhoun will become a solid MLB hitter, but he spent far more time in Round Rock than anyone expected, didn’t hit to form, and was only a spot-starter for a team playing out the string in September. CF Bubba Thompson (2017, round 1)
One month younger than Tejeda, Thompson had a fine introduction to full-season ball (.289/.344/.446, 8 HR, 32 SB). Hickory no longer has radio, but I sure enjoyed listening to opposing teams' announcers rave about him. Next year’s to-do list includes improved pitch selection and stamina. RF Scott Heineman (2015, round 11)
In 2019, Heineman might take Ryan Rua’s job as an up-and-down guy with an opportunity to play his way into a larger role. He’s energetic and aggressive in all facets of the game. He could stand to be less aggressive toward umpires, who ejected him three times in the second half. SP Tyler Phillips (2015, round 16)
SP Jonathan Hernandez (2013, international free agent)
I saw his career-worst start (5.2 IP, 9 R) in person. I liked what I saw. Despite losing his way in AA (4.92 ERA, 13% walk rate), Hernandez still wasn’t easy to hit, and his stuff hasn’t regressed. SP A.J. Alexy (trade)
Alexy didn’t quite match Phillips’ season in Hickory, but his development was no less exciting as he greatly improved his control in the second half. His upside exceeds Phillips. SP Reid Anderson (2016, round 17)
Another Hickory starter. After a quiet, injury-interrupted first half, Anderson delivered a stout 70 second-half innings with a 2.93 ERA and .219/.267/.283 oppo line. He’s a large man with a large fastball and curve that will translate well to relief if starting doesn’t pan out. SP Adrian Sampson (waivers)
After a shaky April and a bullpen stint, Sampson closed out his AAA season with 14 consecutive starts of at least five innings and a 2.34 ERA. He’ll be a 5th-starter option for the Rangers or someone else next year. RP Demarcus Evans (2015, round 25)
RP Reed Garrett (2014, round 16)
Wow, did Garrett have a terrible first month. Then, he was great: 1.23 ERA, .207/.263/.293 opposing line and 54 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. Upper-90s fastball, upper-80s slider. RP Brady Feigl (trade)
The lefty with the big curve didn’t miss many bats in AAA (15% SO rate) but was still hard to hit. Opponents slugged .287 with no homers. RP Jeffrey Springs (2015, round 30)
Springs advanced from last year’s championship high-A squad to the Rangers with his four-pitch mix including a very nice changeup. When he’s off, he’s really off, but he’s got a future.
RP Joe Barlow (2016, round 11)
In my 12 years on this assignment, Demarcus Evans’ 40% strikeout rate is the highest of any full-season reliever. 2nd place: Joe Barlow, 38%. RP C.D. Pelham (2015, round 33)
Statistically, Pelham had the weakest season of anyone on this list, but the tell was his usage. Upon promotion to Frisco, Pelham occasionally pitched on back-to-days days, faced just one batter, and was inserted into mid-inning high-leverage situations, all highly unusual for AA. This translated into a September call-up.
Short-Season Position Player of the Year: 1B Curtis Terry (2015, round 13)
No Texas-affiliated hitter has hit better in 16 years in Spokane. Repeating the level, Terry paced the league with 15 homers, improved to 32 walks from last year’s seven, and hit an astounding .337. To be honest, if not for Tyreque Reed blocking him, Terry would have spent half his season in Hickory, where his numbers likely wouldn’t have been so stout. He’ll have to hit his way out of every level, but at least he’s unquestionably earned a shot at the next one.
Honorable Mention: IF Diosbel Arias (2017, int’l free agent), IF Jonathan Ornelas (2018, round 3)
Arias was the toughest out in the Northwest League, batting .366/.451/.491. Playing mostly at 3B, Ornelas batted .302/.389/.459 with a healthy number of extra-base hits, walks and steals. He was a young pick, not 19 until next May. Short-Season Pitcher of the Year: RHP Yerry Rodriguez (2015, international free agent)
Rodriguez spent most of 2017 on the suspended list after a positive test for a banned diuretic. He atoned with an outstanding 2018: 2.86 ERA and 82 strikeouts against just eight walks in 63 innings at the rookie complex and Spokane. The 20-year-old was the only Ranger to start twice in Spokane’s postseason run. Rodriguez deals a low-to-mid-90s heater, good change and okay slider. Honorable Mention: RHP Hans Crouse (2017, round 2), RHP Emmanuel Clase (trade)
Crouse is a better prospect than Rodriguez. He just didn’t hang around short-season ball as long. Before joining Hickory, Crouse twice posted double-digit strikeouts with no walks. Clase, acquired for catcher Brett Nicholas, reaches 100 MPH with an upper-80s slider.
Baseball America League Prospect Lists
AAA Pacific Coast League: #8 OF Willie Calhoun
AA Texas League: #17 RHP Jonathan Hernandez
AA Southern League: #19 LHP Taylor Hearn (as a Pirate)
Hi-A Carolina League: #6 SS Anderson Tejeda, #9 Hernandez (again)
Lo-A South Atlantic League: #5 OF Bubba Thompson, #9 RHP Tyler Phillips, #19 RHP A.J. Alexy
Short-A Northwest League: #2 RHP Hans Crouse, #6 Julio P. Martinez, #9 IF Diosbel Arias
Rookie Arizona League: not published yet
The most surprising name is an omission, that of Carolina League OF Leody Taveras despite ranking as Texas’s top prospect. BA weighs potential far more heavily than actual performance, particularly at the lower levels, so I expected to see him listed despite a disappointing season at the plate. Case in point: Hernandez made the Texas League list despite a poor showing after his promotion to Frisco. Simply put, Taveras didn’t drive the ball, especially from June onwards. Affiliation News
At long last, the Rangers and Spokane renewed their affiliation last week. As other short-season teams renewed, Texas’s options were essentially down to Spokane and Tri-City, the latter owned by the same corporation and affiliated with the Padres. Both teams ended up staying put.
Outside the AAA Pacific Coast League, few teams switched affiliations. The Padres will follow the former AA San Antonio Missions to their new stadium in Amarillo.
The Arizona Fall League began Tuesday. Rangers listed on the official roster are pitchers Joe Barlow, Demarcus Evans, C.D. Pelham and Tai Tiedemann, catcher Josh Morgan, infielders Chuck Leblanc and Yanio Perez, and OF J.P. Martinez.
Martinez started in LF for Surprise Tuesday and was 1-4 with a bunt single and a steal of home (on the back of a double steal). Last night as a center fielder, he singled and walked. Three more Rangers debuted Wednesday: 1B Perez (2-5, double, 3 RBI), 2B Leblanc (4-5), C Morgan (1-5).
OF Pedro Gonzalez was drafted in the Dominican Republic league’s tenth round by Gigantes. Play begins Saturday. If Gonzalez is on the Opening Day roster, he’ll see Scott Heineman in the opposing dugout. Heineman has signed up for five weeks with Escogido. The Venezuelan and Mexican Leagues commence a day earlier, while Puerto Rico waits until mid-November. Winter ball concludes with the five-nation Serie del Caribe in early February.
I enjoy fall and winter ball because, hey, it's baseball, but I don't put any stock in the stats. They're small samples under unusual circumstances. Actual news would be in the form of a player trying a new position or dealing a new pitch.