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Quick Affiliation News
As reported Monday
, the Astros will move their AAA squad to Sugar Land next summer. Houston has a player development contract with Round Rock through 2022, but the MLB-MiLB Professional Baseball Agreement that governs those contracts expired in September. So, clubs can pretty much do as they please, subject to MLB approval. To date, the only official affiliation announcements involve the Yankees and Mets. MLB wasn’t thrilled at these disclosures and has directed other clubs to stay mum.
This reopens Round Rock to the Rangers, a possibility I wrote about in May
(two-thirds down the page). Like Houston, Texas has an agreement through 2022 with Nashville, but again, existing deals no longer matter. For selfish reasons, I’m in favor of such a move.
Former indy teams in Sugar Land and St. Paul are expected to join AAA along with AA Jacksonville, while San Antonio and Wichita will drop to AA and Fresno will fall all the way to low-A. Nothing is confirmed yet.
I’ll have more on the minor leagues later. 40-Man Roster / Rule 5 Preview
Texas must finalize its 40-man roster on Friday. I’ll spare the technicalities, but in general, anyone signed during the 2016 season or earlier is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if unprotected, as is anyone signed in 2017 if 19 or older. Drafted players must be kept on the team’s active roster the entire season or be passed through waivers and, if unclaimed, be offered back to the original club.
This year’s 40/R5 period will be uniquely difficult to predict. So many bubble players who didn’t get the chance to prove their worthiness. So many potential choices who’ve yet to reach AA, or even low-A. We’re also looking at a gloomy free-agent market (for players) that should include a flood of non-tenders.
Texas has 35 players on the roster at present including catcher Sam Huff and lefty John King, who under ordinary circumstances probably would have spent all of 2020 in the minors and been added this November. The arbitration-eligible Danny Santana could be non-tendered, as might OF Adolis Garcia and 1-2 others. The Rangers have room to add a few, if probably not the total of six added last year. But will they? No one is a lock like Leody Taveras last year. In most years, I gain confidence in my guesses as I write and feel even better by the time additions are announced. Not this time. I'm questioning the order of my list even as I hover the cursor over the send button. ("Just shut up and send it, Scott.")
Candidates in very rough order of likelihood of being protected: RHP Alex Speas (2016 draft / 2nd round)
– Yes? I think so? Two years ago, Speas claimed Hickory’s closer role, mowing down hitters at will while improving his control from abysmal to… not-quite-abysmal. Unfortunately, Speas’s elbow failed him within weeks of his newfound success. (Replacing him in that role and embarking on his ascent to the Majors was the similarly styled Demarcus Evans.) He’s been limited to side sessions and two rookie-level appearances in the two-plus years since. Despite that inexperience, he seemed poised to make his debut in 2020 but didn’t, which is slightly disconcerting. Still, I don’t think the Rangers will risk gifting his triple-digit velocity to another team. RHP Yerry Rodriguez (2015 international free agent)
– Opinions of Rodriguez are diverse, almost polarized. FanGraphs.com ranked him Texas’s best prospect entering 2020, MLB.com recently placed him 20th, and Baseball Amercia doesn’t even think he belongs in the top 30. In a sense, he’s a hybrid of Yohander Mendez and Jonathan Hernandez. Like Hernandez, he has genuine starter potential but should transition well to relief if necessary. Like Mendez in 2015, the upside is offset by injury concerns and zero experience above low-A. He’s not MLB-ready, but the idea of him being available in the draft doesn’t thrill me. C David Garcia (2016 IFA)
– Maybe the toughest decision. Always on the radar, Garcia showed improvement with the bat in the latter half of 2018 and carried it into 2019 at Spokane. That said, he’s just 20 and hasn’t even reached Rodriguez’s level. Even after a 2020 in which clubs willingly called up players before they were “ready,” Garcia really
doesn’t seem ready. I think his inexperience and good-but-not-great prospect status make him safe to skip this time, but I don’t say so with total assurance. RHP Joe Barlow (2016 / 11)
– A mildly surprising omission from the 2019 40 list, Barlow’s always-dubious control really began to cause trouble toward the end of that season, and his abbreviated 2020 spring didn’t alleviate those concerns. Texas used 25 pitchers in a 60-game season, but not him, which bodes ill for his chance to make the 40 now. He’s still a decent bet to reach the Majors in 2021. 1B Curtis Terry (2015 / 13
) – I love that Terry is in the conversation. In two straight springs I disliked what I saw and wondered if he’d ever escape short-season ball. Then, in March 2019, I saw Terry spray the field against pitches he’d missed before. Terry doesn’t just brute-force mistake pitches over the fence; he can actually hit. Unfortunately, because of where he plays, Terry has to prove himself in real games. It sounds strange, but I’d put better odds on him reaching the Majors than making the 40 this week. LHP Jake Latz (2017 / 5)
– Latz is 24 and has thrown all of 143 live innings since high school. Ten came this summer with independent Sugar Land, which apparently was permitted under the increasingly cozy relationship between MLB and the Atlantic League. He struck out 15 and walked ten in ten innings. I don’t think he’s picked but I guess I wouldn’t be shocked. RHP Jason Bahr (2017 / 5)
– Like Wes Benjamin, Bahr isn’t going to knock your socks off but can get the job done. And like Benjamin, I don’t think Bahr gets a 40 spot in November but could pitch well enough to reach the Majors when needed. RHP A.J. Alexy (2016 / 11)
– You could argue that Alexy deserves as much consideration as Yerry Rodriguez. Entering 2019, I’d say he was better than even money to earn a 40 spot after 2020. Unfortunately, he missed all but a month with injury and didn’t get a chance to catch up this summer. Alexy has pitched at a higher level than Rodriguez but has lacked control. A list of potential 2021 additions should have his name in bold. IF Yonny Hernandez (2014 IFA)
– Last year, I wrote up 12 players and expected 5-6 to be protected (six eventually were). Hernandez ranked eighth on that list and occupies the same general territory today. He feels more like someone you call up in-season. RHP Scott Engler (2016 / 16)
– Used to throw 90 with a curve. Now, a high-spin 95 with a slider. I feel like there’s enough of his ilk around baseball that Texas can expose him without too much worry, but at the same time, he could pitch in the Majors in 2021. RHP Nick Snyder (2017 / 19)
– Another high-spin 95 with a slider. Snyder had Tommy John surgery in mid-March, pretty close to ideal timing given what’s come since. IF Andy Ibanez (2015 IFA)
– Ibanez is already 27 and couldn’t crack the heavily retooled MLB squad in 2020, so I don’t know why he’d warrant a 40 spot now. He still has a shot at a 2021 call-up. RHP Kelvin Gonzalez (2015 IFA)
– With high velocity commonplace nowadays, control can set a pitcher apart. Gonzalez throws hard and throws strikes, walking only 15 in 45 innings with Hickory in 2019. RHP Stephen Villines (2017 / 10)
– The return for Ariel Jurado. Two exceptionally messy outings with AAA Syracuse prompted a demotion in 2019, and I think Texas will want to see more success in AAA before offering roster protection. IF Diosbel Arias (2017 IFA)
– Arias had one of Spokane’s best seasons in 2018 (.366/.451/.491) and jumped to high-A with diminished but respectable returns (.270/.346/.371). Won’t be protected but still of interest. RHP Josh Advocate (2017 / 20)
– A college reliever stretched into a long/swing role, Advocate will face AA hitters in 2021. OF Miguel Aparicio (2015 IFA)
– Rated a medium-high prospect a few years ago, Aparicio actually began looking the part toward the end of 2019. He’s not ready for anything above high-A. RHP Mike Matuella (2015 / 3)
– I loved the pick at the time, and for a while the pick loved me back, but injuries and inconsistency have stalled Matuella’s career. LHP Cole Ragans (2016 / 1)
– Ragans wouldn’t have pitched much in 2020 because of a second Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t thrown in a real game since September 2017. Despite being picked 30th overall in 2016, he won’t make the 40 or draw interest in the Rule 5 draft, but he will have the opportunity to reboot his career with the team that drafted him. RHP Reid Anderson (2016 / 17)
– Anderson steadily improved his control until backsliding in 2019. Might fare better in relief. IF/OF Yanio Perez (2017 IFA)
– A fairly well regarded Cuban emigrant, Perez hasn’t hit much beyond low-A and only plays corners. Notable Minor League Free Agents
Minor leaguers received service credit in 2020 despite the lack of games, so anyone in line to become a free agent after this season did so. LHP Yohander Mendez (2011 IFA)
– I’ve been writing about this guy for a while, often glowingly. I saw him pummel helpless San Antonio Missions at the age of 21 with a devastating changeup. I saw him begin a game with 48 consecutive fastballs to hone command, per coach’s instruction. And then I saw him begin a game with 88 MPH fastballs in a weird attempt at craftiness, definitely not per coach’s instruction. Injuries were always a concern, but for a while Mendez looked like a future starter. Now, he’s someone else’s bounceback project. RHP Jerad Eickhoff (free agent)
– Texas signed him as depth over the summer. I wouldn’t him returning, assuming he showed something throwing for the pool squad. C/IF Josh Morgan (2014 / 3)
– Resolutely decent at everything he tried, Morgan successfully transitioned to part-time catcher in 2017. Because of injuries and the pandemic, he’s played more in Australia than the US during 2019-2020. He just turned 25 and might find a home because of his flexibility. LHP Sal Mendez (2013 / 40)
– Not a hard thrower but a capable one, deserved a chance to joust against AA hitters in 2020. C Yohel Pozo (2013 IFA)
– A contact-oriented catcher who didn’t make much contact in 2019, even as he developed some power. Still just 23. OF Hunter Cole (trade)
– The return for Sam Dyson back in 2017. Cole hit well in AAA in 2019 but was injury-hampered and lacked the positional utility of Eli White or even Scott Heineman.