Shhhhhh. Baseball is sleeping. It worked really hard for the last 9 months and now's the time for baseball to catch some zzzz's. The game treated us to its usual array of tricks and treats and left us wanting more, but every year at this time we take a break. Every year, it feels too soon, but every year it's necessary. For Rangers fans, this winter promises to be a bit of a doozy as some free agent hurlers, maybe a bat or two, and a few Rule 5 issues lie in wait for the front office's attention. A new skipper is manning the big leaguers and at least one new minor league skipper will be named during the cold months. One issue already resolved is the location of Texas' high-A squad as the Rangers will head to the High Desert following 4 lovely seasons on the Beach. They're called the Mavericks- which is nice.
As usual, I digress, so on to what we've just seen:
This was a helluva year for the Rangers farm. That's the bottom line and I buried the hell outta that lede, but by nearly any and all measurements, this was a successful season. The biggest story is that some of the organization's most notable pie-in-the-sky dream babies took big and legitimate steps towards big league futures. Every once in a while, it's important to remember that creating prospects matters fuck-all if they never become big leaguers. From some of Texas' vaunted and toolsy recent high draft picks, to a few hot-to-trot Latin American signings, and a few steady as she goes hurlers, lots of good news came out of 2014.
The Earth Shaker Award: Joey Gallo
Yeah, duh. A season that began with Gobbles mechanizing significant tweaks to a swing I'd seen only weeks earlier in Surprise, ended with him in AA hitting pop flies that landed on the berm 410' away. In the middle, an attention grabbing hop onto the national stage. I've written enough about him and you know the MO. He's working now in the Vegas sun and indoor batting cages to get better. He swung and missed a pack of pitches in the zone in Frisco, and I bet he doesn't want to do that anymore. An instructional league foray to the outfield, and even shortstop, gave him in-game moments to work on his footwork while the extra ABs allowed him to begin shortening his swing a bit. He's a hard working kid and he'll be ready to go in February.
That's the only award. TAH DAH!!!
As for the rest of the farm, here's the good news: far more kids went forwards than went backwards. Salty lefty Andrew Faulkner added weight and velocity and ended up being effective in AA (even when the club shelved his much loved splitter). Luis Ortiz came out of the first round, showed first round stuff, and ended up in full-season ball. Jorge Alfaro caught a career high number of games and kept hitting the ball hard. His batting practice sessions are so staggering, one can't help but to be rather bullish on his bat. Jairo Beras had very limited baseball skills when I saw him in Spring Training, but months later (and sans leg kick) he was able to make some plays. Still not sure he'll ever be worth the $ and the trouble, but we gots about 5 more years before we make that call. Travis Demeritte settled in at 2B in his first full season and can hit the ball hard, and he can miss the ball hard. Actually that doesn't make any sense- just know he needs to work on his approach. Nomar Mazara grew so fast he ended up as the youngest player in AA. Alec Asher took the ball every 5th day in AA and made a whopping 28 starts, throwing 154.1 innings and walking only 1.9/9ip. That's the stuff of a rotation horse, and he could play the whole season in AAA as a 23 year-old. Speaking of workhorses, Jerad Eickhoff showed an electric arm many were unaware he had. He too threw 154 innings while leading the farm in Ks with 144. More importantly, he showed a hard FB capable of running into the upper-90s late in his starts and a dynamic curveball. Odubel Herrera kept sharpening his + hit tool and ended up winning the Texas League batting crown. Perhaps just as important, he proved he can play 2B everyday and not kill his team. Personal fave, Chris Garia improved by leaps and bounds in high-A both with his bat and in centerfield. A late season leg injury scares me a bit as I believe he's the only Rangers farmhand with legit 80-grade speed. Jake Thompson came home mid-season and laid claim to some serious dude-ness. Spencer Patton looks like he might be a big league reliever for the next decade or so and Corey Knebel will certainly be a factor as long as his wonky elbow behaves.
Fireballing firebrand, Keone Kela took a huge step forward and by year's end was dominating AA with a wiggly 96-99mph fastball and a curveball he gained command of as the season wore on. He's got a major league arm and I think he'll get a chance to suit up with the big fellas for a few games in March before heading back to the incubator for a spell. Chi Chi Gonzalez got to Frisco and immediately frustrated opposing batters by keeping them off balance and inducing a zillion ground balls. Luke Jackson tormented AA then had it handed to him in AAA. I spoke with him after the season and he said his stuff felt fine in AAA. He just has to adjust to more disciplined hitters and smaller strike zones- that's the way it's gonna be. I'm not worried about Luke. Jose Leclerc simply overpowered high-A with his FB/CB combo and I expect to see him filling a slot in Frisco's bullpen for 2015. Some kids jumped up and surprised us, and that's always fun. High school junior Michael De Leon looks like he could be a big leaguer by age 21 if for no other reason than guys who can catch the ball like he can at shortstop usually stick around for a while. Ryan Cordell transitioned his sculpted physique and tool-shed profile into that of a legit prospect. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the remarkable growth and development of some of the guys who were so good they ended up sleeping at the Ritz-Carlton. Congrats to Jake Smolinski, Phil Klein, Nick Martinez, Ryan Rua, Luis Sardinas, and my little buddy Roogie Odor. None were 1st round picks, none were big signings (well, Sardi was) none were off-the-charts prospects. All became big leaguers and all showed well at the ultimate level. That's really cool.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and daisies. Once high-A was purged of the Gallo/Chi Chi/Alfaro/etc. group, the lower levels really kinda lacked pizzazz. Where those squads had once been packed with the juicy names we discussed above, I'm not sure the rosters that finished in A-ball have the same level of zip. Zach Cone and Kevin Matthews had fairly lost seasons and I'm not terribly optimistic about them reaching their baseball ceilings. Ronald Guzman almost completely forgot how to hit. Yohander Mendez and Kelvin Vazquez both had scary arm troubles and both left the low-A rotation a bit depleted of high-octane juice. Connor Sadzeck missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery while David Ledbetter got scorched early and will look to rebound in 2015. Akeem Bostick looked as raw as advertised and didn't miss many bats, while unrelated Christopher Bostick saw his low-A OPS drop by 72 points as he made the jump to the next level. David Perez will turn 22 in December and hasn't pitched above short-season Spokane. Wilmer Font broke my heart. Jake Skole, despite outstanding defense, didn't hit as well in Frisco as he wanted to. 2012 2nd rounder Jamie Jarmon retired and is reportedly headed to play football for the University of Delaware. Similar story for toosly outfielder Jordan Akins who is now a wide receiver and kick returner at the University of Central Florida. None of these guys were as big of a story as Mr. Jurickson Profar. Simply put, he's one of the most complete players I've ever seen in the minor leagues and I hope he gets a chance to sniff his ceiling. I hated writing every letter and every word in this paragraph, but hopefully next year every last one of these kids will be in one of the preceding stanzas rather than this one.
So there you have it. By no means is this breaking news for so many of you who followed the minor leagues as the season went along, but you gotta know where you've been before you decide where you're going. In our case, we're going forward. Not every year works out with jumps in progress and ability, health that for the most part stayed in tact, and a maturation process that kept nearly everyone out of the organizational doghouse. 2014 was one of those years. Most of the guys you cheered for and picked out at the beginning of the season had a good year and stayed healthy. Most trudged forward towards the goal of a big league career. That's what you want. That's what they want. Now be quiet, everyone's sleeping.
As always, enjoy winter league baseball! Love Ya!