Texas's four full-season minor league teams announced their preliminary rosters late last week. Here's my recaps for AAA Nashville and AA Frisco. Players in blue are on the 40-man roster.
AAA NASHVILLE SOUNDS
Pacific Coast League
First Tennessee Park (2015)
Park Factor: 0.86
Park-Adjusted Average Scoring: 4.3 runs per game
Home-Grown Players: 7
After eight years in Round Rock, the Rangers recovered from their inevitable eviction by landing a four-year affiliation with the best of the three possible alternatives. (Nearby San Antonio with its substandard facility and distant Fresno were the others.) Nashville’s park on the edge of downtown is only four years old and needed a tenant because Oakland nabbed the new park in Las Vegas. I saw two games there in 2016 and can attest to its beauty. If you’re out that way, make a point of going to a game.
In the 16-team PCL, the western and eastern halves don’t meet very often. Even among the less offense-friendly eastern locations, Nashville is a tough place to hit, analogous to MLB’s San Diego. We’ll need to adjust expectations for hitters and pitchers accordingly.
Nashville rebranded over the winter. Contra the increasingly gimmicky and (in my opinion) cynical updating of mascots and uniforms, the Sounds opted for a gloriously clean, crisp look
Wes Benjamin Taylor Hearn (#11 prospect per MLB.com, #7 Baseball America, #9 Fangraphs.com)
Ronald Herrera Ariel Jurado
My understanding is that the Rangers will employ six-man rotations throughout the system. The list above is a guess on my part.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Texas won’t get through the season with five starters. At present, Jurado is probably next in line despite a shaky record, as he’s on the 40 and has some experience. Sampson was a late cut and would also receive consideration if he's employed as a starter in Nashville.
My hope is that Taylor Hearn rises on the depth chart to become Option A at some point during the season. Texas has only 40% of the current rotation under contract for 2020, and Minor could re-emerge as trade bait. The Rangers need a decent portion of their upper-level rotation prospects (Hearn, Burke, Hernandez, Palumbo) to pan out, or they’ll once again have to buy those innings on the free-agent market while they wait for the next wave of pitchers to advance. Relievers:
Miguel del Pozo
Brady Feigl Nick Gardewine
Ariel Hernandez Brett Martin
(#25 Fangraphs) CD Pelham
(#15 MLB, #14 BA, #22 Fangraphs)
Nashville has three young lefties nearly ready to contribute. Brett Martin’s season wasn’t quite as bad at his stats (7.28 ERA, .357/.397/.509 opposing line), but it was plenty bad. He put in some work over the winter and emerged transformed into the guy Texas has been dreaming about for years. He still throws four pitches and could switch back to starting, I suppose, but I like the idea of him as a multi-inning reliever.
Pelham was a fastball-only JuCo hurler when Texas selected him in 2015’s 33rd round, so he’s already a success. His cutter/slider will hunt, but he still gets walk-happy and throws some fat strikes.
Brady Feigl couldn’t quite crack the 40 last winter but is an option with his decent fastball and tough curve. Catchers:
Adam Moore Jose Trevino
2019 is huge for the 26-year-old Trevino. Last year, he made his MLB debut and swatted a walk-off single against Colorado’s Wade Davis. But he was also beset by injuries and didn’t hit much in his second year in AA. Trevino has a career line of .250/.290/.382 outside of high-A High Desert, which was the most hitter-friendly location in the United States before being shuttered.
Eli White (#16 MLB, #18 BA, #24 Fangraphs) Patrick Wisdom
Davidson and Wisdom are corner guys, while the others can play anywhere. White, acquired as part of the Jurickson Profar trade, is the fledgling of the group and will be making his AAA debut, but I believe he has as good a shot as anybody at being called up, especially if Texas needs reinforcement up the middle. Outfielders: Willie Calhoun Zach Granite
Danny Santana Carlos Tocci
Last year’s announced outfield contained only one player with significant CF experience (Jose Cardona) and only one more who had even played much on the grass (Destin Hood). The 2019 version has three who can comfortably man center.
Calhoun is technically no longer a prospect but may as well be under the circumstances. He doesn't have a clean path to Arlington via great performance alone; he’s probably going to have to wait for a trade or injury. Tocci (last year’s Rule 5 acquisition), Granite (a waiver claim) and Santana (who can also play infield) will vie for the front of the line should Texas need a CF replacement.
Youngest: Jurado (23 years / 3 months), Tocci (23 / 8), Herrera (23 / 11), Martin (23 / 11), Pelham (24 / 2) AA FRISCO ROUGHRIDERS
Dr Pepper Ballpark (2003)
Park Factor: 1.02
Park-Adjusted Average Scoring: 4.7 runs per game
Home-Grown Players: 15
With San Antonio moving into Amarillo’s new park, Frisco’s teenaged facility is now the second-oldest in the league. Only Midland’s stadium constructed in 2002 is older. It’s showing its “age” well, leading all of AA in attendance for the 14th consecutive season and setting a franchise record of 12,067 fans in July. (Attendance is actually down from the peak in the previous decade, but that’s also true of minor league ball in general.) Rotation (maybe):
Edgar Arredondo Brock Burke
(#9 MLB, #10 BA, #16 Fangraphs) Jonathan Hernandez
(#8 MLB, #6 BA, #19 Fangraphs)
Emerson Martinez Joe Palumbo
(#7 MLB, #8 BA, #6 Fangraphs)
In April, the rotation will generate most of the excitement, specifically Burke, Palumbo and Hernandez. What they and Hearn do in 2019 will have a major effect on how the Rangers decide to move forward into the new park and beyond.
Arredondo and Martinez have hovered around the fringe of top-thirty status the past couple of years. Relievers:
Yoel Espinal Wei-Chieh Huang
Locke St. John
Texas acquired the 25-year-old Huang for Jake Diekman last summer and added him to the 40-man roster. He’ll look to refine other pitches to compliment his fine changeup.
Only eight players in the organization predate Beras, who converted to mound work in the middle of 2017. He’s still raw but can reach triple digits and deal an occasionally filthy slider. Espinal, the back end of the Profar trade, runs mid-90s with a change and slider. Converted outfielder James Jones is another hard thrower.
Weickel is a former San Diego supplemental first-rounder released by the Pads on the eve of the 2017 season. He could start some games. Catchers:
Morgan adopted part-time catching duties in 2017 while maintaining roles at second, short and third. Tampa Bay selected Brock Burke immediately after Morgan in the third round of 2014.
The 30-year-old Sanchez hasn’t played in AA since 2013, and I’d expect him to spend most of 2019 either in Nashville or a different organization. Infielders:
Brendon Davis (#26 Fangraphs)
Michael De Leon
Everybody listed can play multiple positions. Davis you may recognize as the third player in the Yu Darvish trade. He hasn’t shown much statistically, but in watching him, I’d think improvement was possible. Leblanc (2016, 4th round) doubled his nine career homers in the first two months of 2018, after which he froze solid for two months.
Profar and De Leon are starting in Frisco for the third and perhaps final time, as both can become free agents after the season.
The free agent Lopes spent all of 2018 in AAA and played well enough to stay. Like Sanchez, I’d expect more appearances from him in Nashville. Outfielders:
Clark jumps from high-A. The 2015 12th-rounder has never hit much for average but has greatly improved his walk rate and is a decent power/speed combo.
In 2018, Altmann led all players originally signed by Texas with 20 homers in the location (Down East) and league (Carolina) arguably least suitable to going yard. He can play anywhere but shortstop and catcher, and he made eight (!) relief appearances for the Wood Ducks last year.
Beck is a UT Arlington product who re-signed with Texas after reaching free agency. Alvarez also liked Texas enough to stay despite being removed from the 40 last June and becoming a free agent.
Youngest: Davis (21 years / 9 months), Arredondo (21 / 11), Cordero (21 / 11), De Leon (22 / 3), Burke (22 / 8) Rule Changes
In 2020, MLB is instituting a rule requiring relief pitchers to face at least three batters or record the inning’s final out. On Friday, Minor League Baseball announced that same rule would take effect immediately in AAA and AA.
While it sounds drastic, I don’t see it having much effect. In the minors, relievers usually work on a semi-regular schedule and throw at least one inning. Even in AAA, where many pitchers are being tailored for their expected MLB usage, one-batter appearances are rare. Last year, Round Rock closer RJ Alvarez averaged only 4.1 batters faced in his 45 appearances, but only once did he face fewer than three opponents, when he entered an extra-inning affair and immediately surrendered the game-ending run. Once promoted to Frisco, CD Pelham was a conspicuous outlier, facing one or two batters in five of 24 appearances. But even then, every one of his short outings completed an inning. Managers and players will need to be mindful of the new rule, but I doubt most fans will notice a difference in how later innings transpire. Released Pitchers:
Adam Choplick (2015, round 14)
Brett Eibner (converted outfielder, signed last year)
Tyler Ferguson (2015, round 6) – Worth a shot, but he couldn’t overcome severe control problems.
Kyle Keith (2017, round 22) – I wrote him up favorably while in Surprise. Unexpected.
Luke Lanphere (2013, round 21)
Jack Leathersich (offseason signing)
Reggie Meyer (2018, round 38)
Chris Morris (2017, round 18)
Chris Nunn (offseason signing)
Braden Pearson (2017, undrafted) – Texas State alum.
Austin Pettibone (2014, round 24)
Kyle Roberts (2016, round 5) – missed 2017-2018 to injury.
Michael Tonkin (offseason signing)
Cole Wiper (2013, round 10) – Intermittently encouraging outlook, often injured. Infielders:
Luis Yander La O (2017, Cuba) – older, hit okay in Down East and Frisco.
Myles McKisic (2017, round 23)
Blaine Prescott (2015, round 28)
Tyler Ratliff (2017, round 17) – retired. Outfielders:
Troy Dixon (2018, round 24)
Marcus Mack (2016, round 23)
Austin O’Banion (2016, round 37)
Ben Revere (offseason signing)
Preston Scott (2016, round 34)
Kobie Taylor (2016, round 15) – signed above slot, couldn’t get out of short-season ball.