YO!!! Wake up, fools! Baseball's back! Well, not really. Not completely. But there's hitting and throwing and scrimmages and stuff and stuff happening, so yeah, BASEBALL'S BACK! Regardless of how you view Spring Training, I'm a bear crawling out of hibernation and I gotta talk ball. Specifically I'm gearing up for another year of oddly and obsessively tracking the progress of the next gen of Ranger greats. Eventually some dudes are gonna win the World Series with TEXAS across their chests and I'd like to be able to glibly declare, "I knew them way back before the parade." I'll be in Surprise in a couple of weeks to bombard you with words and vids, but in the meantime let's just get the bones awake with a lil chat 'bout what to look forward to in 2016.
1. Round Rock's resurgence will be real.
I know, I know, AAA is a bit of an afterthought these days. These days if you're not a MLB regular at age 20 after having played no more than a dozen games in AAA, were you really even a prospect? That action works great for about 5% of big leaguers. Correa, Trout, Harper all wreck the curve. Literally and metaphorically. Miguel Cabrera played a grand total of 0 games in AAA before becoming one of the best right handed hitters of all time. AAA is a finishing school and I'm a big fan of the re-emergence of the level with regards to player development. Not only is AAA a holding pen for players you're gonna need to win MLB games at some point during the season, but it's a place to put the final touches on a young player's overall mojo. Better than decent chance Round Rock features bold faced names like Gallo, Brinson, Mazara and Profar. Not to mention guys you already know and conceivably love; Faulkner, Jackson, Klein, and Rua. There will always be a handful of guys on every AAA team looking for an opening to make another cameo in the bigs, and that's what makes AAA ball fun to watch, but this year's Round Rock team will also have some guys with very legit chances at future stardom. Get thee to Central Texas for a game!
2. There's a new 3-headed monster to watch.
Look, Danks and Volquez turned out to have decent MLB careers, so yeah, they met the hype, mostly. Why not roll the dice and do it all again!!! It needs an name, but the triumvirate of Ortiz, Matuella, and Tate might prove to be one of the most interesting 3-player rotations in all of MiLB. Ortiz is a beast, but not perfect. Tate has 2 nasty offerings and 2 years to learn 1 more. Matuella might have the highest upside of them all, but packaged in a body that has to prove its fortitude. Mike had his TJ surgery last April, so hopefully he's on a competitive mound in June. His makeup was remarkable when he was working out in Frisco last season and I can't wait to see him turn it loose. Tate could be fastracked to the MLB 'pen in about 15 minutes, but you don't take someone with the 4th overall pick with the thought of fastracking him to the MLB 'pen in a year or so. That dude will be given every opportunity to start and that's super-exciting. Lulu is a personal fave and if you knew more of his story you'd be rooting for him too. He won't always make it easy, but you love Keone now, right? Give Lulu your love and hopefully he'll repay us all handsomely someday by living the life that's right there for the taking. Also, I asked Matuella and it's "match-you-ELLA".
3. Who's gonna be the next unsung guy to step up and have a big league career?
Frisco, High Desert, Hickory, will all be laden with guys who might not have been the flashy draft pick or high dollar international signing, but they're gonna make it to the big leagues despite their bank account. Watching those guys develop, have the light switch go on, put it all together- that's one of the real joys of watching minor league baseball. Nick Martinez was a 18th round pick and an infielder, then in AA he just kept getting guys out and out and out. There are guys like that on every team and it's fun as hell to watch it happen. Frisco might have a few, off the top of my head: Wolff, Fasola, Garia, Valdespina, Marte, Bolinger, Williams. All guys you may not know, but at least one of them is gonna help Texas win a game some day. Watching Gallo go bombo in Frisco was a thrill, but just as thrilling was watching Doobie Herrera refine his swing to the point where he just didn't miss very often. Getting to see Hanser Alberto refuse to be moved off of shortstop and prove that his feet were up to his arm, was a genuine gas. Last winter Connor Sadzeck was unheralded and coming off Tommy John surgery. This winter he's on the 40-man and in big league camp. It happens every year. Who's it gonna be in 2016?
4. Josh Morgan is a catcher.
5. Generation Next is on the scene.
Texas has a good farm system, but it's top-heavy. The consensus Top-3 of Brinson, Mazara, and Gallo are all obviously likely to feature in AAA. High Desert had a good season last year, but not necessarily a roster chock full of future everyday regulars. So there's a noticeable gap between the tomorrows and tomorrow's tomorrows. But make no mistake, there's talent down there on the low-farm. Guys like Yeyson Yrizarri, Michael De Leon and Ti'Quan Forbes have tools and will hopefully take a step forward. Eric Jenkins seems every bit the part of toolsy project pick the Rangers have done well with in the recent past. Big righty Tyler Phillips turned some heads in Instructs and there's at least a chance bonus baby Leody Taveras makes a stateside appearance before the end of the season. Brett Martin and Ariel Jurado both pitched in low-A last year, neither should ever return there and both have legit shots at ending this season in Texas' Top-10. London Lindley isn't a polished baseball player right now, but he stole 44 bases in 52 games last season in college and ran a 6.1 60-yard dash. I'm a sucker for cartoon-grade speed. What can I say, these guys are young, and we're still dreaming on potential.
So there you have it. This was just meant as an exercise to get your baseball blood boiling a bit. Before you know it I'll be shoving Surprise-shot videos down your throat and before we all know it, we'll be settling in to seats somewhere along the 3rd base line to watch some of these guys or their big league big brothers do battle. Can't wait, friends. Viva MiLB!
As Always, Enjoy Baseball,