On my second day in Surprise, a random mid-inning Mariners hurler completely baffled Texas’s low-A squad, whiffing six of seven with a low-slot 93 MPH fastball and 83 MPH slider. I jotted down his last name to check later and learned he was Grant Anderson, drafted in last year’s 21st round out of McNeese State. Other than his stats, I discovered little else. He’s one of hundreds of late-round picks fighting the odds. Still, I liked what I saw.
The Rangers apparently did, too, because now he’s a Ranger. Headed northwest in exchange is Connor Sadzeck, who was designated for assignment a few days ago. I suppose the Rangers could have given his live arm one more chance, but they weren’t lacking for patience. Sadzeck was the last player in the organization from the 2011 draft and had expended all three options.
Here’s my video
of Anderson, who is Hickory-bound. HIGH-A DOWN EAST WOOD DUCKS (Kinston, NC)
Grainger Stadium (1949)
Park Factor: 0.97
Park-Adjusted Average Scoring: 4.1 runs per game
Home-Grown Players: 23
Back in 2003, when the Rangers moved Spring Training operations from Florida to Arizona, they also grabbed the westernmost farm clubs they could find, affiliating with high-A Stockton (CA) and low-A Clinton (IA). That didn’t pan out so well. They soon found themselves banished from Stockton to a comically poor facility in Bakersfield, and Clinton’s wet, snowy, chilly Aprils resulted in long layoffs and numerous make-up doubleheaders. As of 2017, they’re back in the Carolinas for good, having purchased Hickory (with which they affiliated in 2009) and Down East. Rotation (maybe):
A.J. Alexy (#20 MLB, #22 BA, #23 Fangraphs)
Tyler Phillips (#14 MLB, #20 BA, #17 Fangraphs)
Everybody rates Phillips slightly higher than Alexy, but if Alexy builds on his 2018 second-half trend of better control with no loss of strikeouts, their positions will reverse. Alexy’s stuff rates better, while Phillips has superior control.
Anderson isn’t too far behind, sporting a respectable fastball, hard curve, and a change that flashes okay. He's also a strong relief candidate. Trade acquisitions Bahr (for Austin Jackson’s contract) and Thomas (for Jesse Chavez) appeared briefly for Down East late last year. Relievers:
Emmanuel Clase (#27 BA, #21 Fangraphs)
Demarcus Evans (#24 MLB, #17 BA, #28 Fangraphs)
My favorite bullpen. From mid-May on, Demarcus Evans held opponents to a .139/.213/.209 line and fanned an absurd 51% of his opponents. Evans can deal upper 90s if he really reaches back, but mainly he delivers a 93-96 fastball with high spin than batters can’t line up. He also offers a mean curve.
Clase closed for Spokane last year and is skipping low-A. The 21-year-old doesn’t need to reach back to hit 98-99, and he can cut it, too. Texas acquired him from San Diego for catcher Brett Nicholas (who is now with the Rockies along with Chi Chi Gonzalez).
Unfortunately, Mike Matuella’s 2018 season rolled straight downhill after an impressive Spring Training. The stuff remains, but as a starter he couldn’t command it at all much of the time. Conversion to relief helped, but he spent the last two months on the shelf.
Peter Fairbanks is returning from Tommy John surgery and was dealing in the upper 90s in Surprise, well above what I’d seen before the injury.
In my 12 years on the job, Evans has the highest single-season strikeout rate of any Ranger. In second: Joe Barlow, who doesn’t throw as hard but adds a nice curve.
Novoa hit his way from Hickory to Down East in a month flat, after which he struggled badly for the first time in his career. Pozo is here for eht first time after a decent season at Hickory. Both have shown strong contact ability, especially for catchers.
Diosbel Arias (#19 MLB, #29 BA)
Tyreque Reed (#23 BA)
Anderson Tejeda (#4 MLB, #5 BA, #4 Fangraphs)
Tejeda improved his stock greatly last year and might have received an aggressive assignment to Frisco in April if not for taking up switch-hitting, which hopefully will boost his weak production against lefties.
Reed probably would have led the system in homers in 2018 if he hadn’t been held back a month. He’s the standout in a system that doesn’t show much corner power right now.
The Cuban Arias set a Spokane record (as a Texas affiliate) with a .451 OBP and batted .366. The lighter-hitting Yonny Hernandez can’t quite match Arias’s on-base prowess but is a threat for 60 walks and 40 stolen bases.
Dorow is older (23) but has enough positional flexibility that he’s not wholly dependent on his bat to advance. Outfielders:
Leody Taveras (#6 MLB, #3 BA, #2 Fangraphs)
Bubba Thompson (#5 MLB, #9 BA, #3 Fangraphs)
Texas escaped a CF time-share last year by keeping J.P. Martinez in Spokane, but this year it couldn’t be avoided, as Thompson earned a promotion from Hickory while Taveras needs more time. The latter is still the youngest on the team despite repeating the level. Either is suitable for right when not in the middle. To my mind, the #1 goal for the system is getting the AA/AAA rotation prospects to Arlington. #2 is getting Thompson, Taveras, Tejeda and J.P. Martinez to Frisco with their prospect statuses intact. I don’t mean they all need to reach AA this season, but I’m hoping at least three of the four will graduate to there by next April.
Youngest: Taveras (20 years / 8 months), Thompson (20 / 10), Hernandez (20 / 11), Tejeda (20 / 11), Alexy (20 / 11) LOW-A HICKORY
South Atlantic (Sally) League
L.P. Frans Stadium (1993)
Park Factor: 1.01
Park-Adjusted Average Scoring: 4.3 runs per game
Home-Grown Players: 24 Rotation (maybe):
Hans Crouse (#1 MLB, #1 BA, #5 Fangraphs)
Yerry Rodriguez (#14 Fangraphs)
Texas’s almost-indisputably #1 prospect (Fangraphs likes Cole Winn more) will head the rotation. Concerns about Crouse’s changeup have ebbed, and his fastball and slider will slay big game. The larger concern is his command, which is on the rough side right now, and his delivery, which… look, I’m no scout, and I’ve read reports of how it’s cleaner than it appears and isn’t an issue, but I still can’t help but wince slightly when I watch him.
Yerry Rodriguez took the short-season leagues by storm last summer, fanning 82 against just eight strikeouts in 63 innings. I don’t think I saw him at his best in Surprise; the fastball was arrow-straight and the curve ineffective.
King and Latz are college picks who’ve missed substantial time to injuries. Relievers:
Most of the bullpen is here for the first time. I mentioned Hever Bueno last week. He couldn’t offer velocity or control in 2018 but ranged 93-96 with several missed bats when I saw him in March. Last year’s last pick, righty Cole Uvila out of Georgia Gwinnett, was 93-95 with a slider during Spokane’s playoff run last September. Catchers:
Sam Huff (#21 MLB, #30 BA)
Huff arguably deserved high-A on the merits, but then he would be stuck in the same three-player position-share that he, Pozo and Novoa endured last April. He could lead the organization in homers.
Whatley’s (2017, 3rd round) 2018 was a mess. An injury delayed his arrival, and following a solid first week he couldn’t touch pitchers in the Carolina League (admittedly an aggressive assignment). He’ll reboot in Hickory. Infielders:
Sherten Apostel (#22 MLB, #13 Fangraphs)
Jonathan Ornelas (#18 MLB, #16 BA, #11 Fangraphs)
Chris Seise (#12 MLB, #19 BA, #12 Fangraphs)
I certainly haven’t seen him enough to know for sure, but Seise (2017, 1st round) seemed untroubled by the shoulder injury that ruined his 2018. He was fun to watch in Surprise, delivering some hard shots to the outfield fence and making several highlight-reel defensive plays.
The 20-year-old Apostel has the most advanced approach of any youngster I saw in Surprise, calmly drawing walks while waiting for a favorable pitch to attack.
Terry was the faintest of blips on the radar last April but resurrected his career with startlingly improved contact and patience to augment his power. In his fifth year, he’s drawing his first full-season assignment.
Chavez (2018, 22nd round) packs a quick bat, patience and multiple positions into a small package. He drew the assignment over 5th-rounder Jayce Easley, who will either wait for short-season Spokane or replace an injured infielder here. Outfielders:
Pedro Gonzalez (#18 Fangraphs)
Julio P. Martinez (#2 MLB, #2 BA, #10 Fangraphs)
Martinez didn’t take the short-season Northwest League by storm but drew solid reviews in the Arizona Fall League. At 23, he’s the second-oldest hitter on the roster. While the Rangers aren’t going to rush him, I don’t think they’ll hesitate to bump him up if low-A isn’t providing the proper challenge.
Gonzalez himself received strong reviews at instructionals in 2017 but couldn’t transform that into a solid season last year, so he’ll repeat low-A for the time being. Likewise, the athletic Aparicio, once a top-thirty guy and still just 20 years old, is getting a third shot at the Sally League.
Hope springs eternal for Jose Almonte, an expensive signing from 2013 beset by injuries the past three years.
Youngest: Ornelas (18 years / 11 months), Chavez (19 / 11), Aparicio (20 / 1), Apostel (20 / 1), Seise (20 / 3)