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Year in Review: 2016 On The Farm

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"Year In My Rear View" more like it! Amirite?!?

Farm Products
Farm Products
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

No way in hell Immanuel Kant is a Rangers fan. My very layman's take on his 'categorical imperative', is that he thinks it profoundly uncool to use a human as a means to an end. Well, Kant ain't havin' any of the Rangers 2016 season on the farm then. I can't recall a single season in which a team expunged themselves of 5(!) former 1st Round picks. Four were traded for immediate big league help. Luis Ortiz, Lewis Brinson, Travis Demeritte, and Dillon Tate were all flipped for fellas who would step right into the fray in Arlington. The fates were less kind to the incredibly kind Zach Cone, who was released. Texas is clearly going for the whole enchilada, not only this season, but in 2017 as well. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran are Rangers. As is Hollywood Hamels. Let me first say, I'm 100% supportive of this mindest. Even if Kant isn't.  A farm system exists for one, and only one reason: to win big league games. The means justifies the ends. If that equates to shipping out kids you've earmarked for the future in exchange for the present, so be it. The Texas Rangers have never won the World Series. Not in 44 years. Nope. Nada one. There's a small window with 2 undeniable top-of-the-rotation pitchers and a Hall of Famer at 3B who is as hungry for a ring as the hungriest thing you can think of. Go for it. Flags Fly Forever.

Now, that said, flags are expensive, and the currency Texas is trading is farm depth. We're wrapping up the culmination of one of the greatest 4-6 year scouting runs Major League Baseball has ever seen. Seriously. Think about it. Between 2010 and 2014/15, Texas scouts identified and signed a truly preposterous number of future Major Leaguers. Some are delivering their impacts in Texas. Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara are baby beasts on their way to All Star Games. Others are making inroads at other ports of call. Kyle Hendricks, Jerad Eickhoff, and Odubel Herrera were all originally Rangers signees. There's a pack of guys who've contributed to big league wins right behind that group. Guys like Nick Martinez, Ryan Rua, and CJ Edwards. Justin Grimm, Alex Claudio, and Keone Kela were all spotted, popped, and developed by Texas employees. In short, it's been a helluva run. And there's more to come. Jorge Alfaro recently arrived in Philly, and Lew Brinson should settle in with Milwaukee at some point next season. And Luis Ortiz is gonna be in the big leagues too. Maybe Marcos Diplan and others I'm probably accidentally/deliberately forgetting as well. What a run. But prospects are one thing; championships are another and Texas has focused on the former long enough, time to hone in on the latter.

I think Texas still has a farm system that will rank in the top half of all of baseball. While there may not be as many of the potential Role 7 All Star ceilings, there is plenty of talent and a handful of kids capable of reaching those heights. The kicker is this: more than a few are a good ways away. So let's start there:

AZL Rookies/Spokane

The Rookies were pulsating. That's where a lot of the juice in the Rangers system began the season. First rounder Cole Ragans and 2nd rounder Alex Speas pitched sparingly after traveling, along with a bushel of other Rangers pitching babies, to Hickory and beyond in a new program where they learned some of the ins and outs of pitching as a pro. Charting pitches in the stands, identifying arm slots, followed by lectures on how to pitch- not just throw, and sitting in with coaches while game planning against a lineup- all essential skills that need to be taught. So Texas started the "Pitching School" and I think it's a great idea.  Enough about that. Seems 3rd rounder Kole Enright can hit. The switch-hitting infielder put up a .313/.378/.420 line. You---on the map, Kole Enright. My man Curtis 'Big Rig' Terry led the Rooks in homers before being pushed up to Spokane alongside Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejada. I've completely buried the lede, so here: Leody Taveras is currently the best position prospect the Rangers have. I was shocked when I saw him in Surprise. He's got swagger. A kind of quiet confidence well beyond his years that, frankly, reminds me of The Big Chill when he was Leody's age. LT was in Spokane at age 17 and will likely be in Hickory at age 18. He is a switch-hitting CF with a potential plus arm, plus glove, plus speed, solid hit, and good power. He's a dude of very high order. So is Tejada. AT's got a wild-ass humongo leg kick that may need to be toned down a bit and he he makes no secret of the fact he wants to hit the ball over the fence. Good thing is, he often does just that. Chad Smith and Charles Leblanc flashed a bit of mojo with the stick as well and are certainly worth keeping an eye on. Mound-wise, 18 year old Tyler Phillips definitely looks the part, though he took his lumps. Same for big lefty CD Pelham and big righty Demarcus Evans. They're both on the radar. Highly touted Mike Matuella pitched 1 inning before his surgically repaired elbow acted up and per his own Twitter account, he's back in classes at Duke this semester. Perhaps the most impressive surprise came from Texas' 6th rounder this year, 21 year old Kyle Cody. At 6'7" 245lbs, he was difficult to miss, but his pitches weren't. Kyle racked up 53K against only 13 walks in 47.1ip and unfortunately for him, he earned a place high up on my list of "guys I'm stalking in Surprise next Spring".

Hickory Crawdads

The 'Dads finished the season 8 games above .500, but fell short of the playoffs in both halves of the season. Truth: Hickory hitters frustrated me a bit this season. I just kept waiting for one of these toolsy kids to break out and say "Look at me and look at this! I'm on fire!". But alas, it didn't really play out like that. Of all the farm teams, I'm probably the most curious to see this group next season as they get the Kinston, or Down East, or whatever, era underway. There's good players there. Yeyson Yrizarri is only 19 and came alive at the end with a scorching .311 August. His arm is unparalleled amongst infielders in the Texas system, and every game he played for the 'Dads was at shortstop. I'd love for Yey Yey to break out next year and claim high order dude status. I thought Ti'Quan Forbes looked, physically, as impressive as any player I saw in Surprise. He's shaped like a D-1 wide receiver. Similar story to Yey Yey's for the former 2nd rounder from Mississippi in that he struggled at the plate, but played a boatload of 3B and by most accounts improved dramatically at the hot corner as the season wore on. Same song, different verse for 2015 2nd Rounder Eric Jenkins. Full-season ball is hard as hell and Texas pushed the young EJenk and he hit .221 with a .609 OPS, but played every day in CF and showed reliable 70 grade speed. Wheels are the unteachable tool and Eric used his to lead the league in stolen bases with 51. Tools are key, and EJs got at least 1 very loud one. Hickory's mojo this year was on the bump and a few hurlers jumped up and grabbed dude status. Jon Hernandez is good and was throwing 97mph in August despite being turning 20 in July and making 22 starts in his first year of full-season ball. Pedro Payano looks the part with 4 good pitches and a competitive streak that emerged in 2016 before a broken forearm on a comebacker ended his season prematurely. Adam Choplick is a sleeper dude. He's a colossus of a human man and has the FB to go with it. As a reliever he posted 74K in 59.2ip. That gets you noticed, but so does being 6'9" and 260lbs. The last new dude is one you might not be familiar with, but don't worry, no one was before this year. Joe Palumbo is a whip-thin 21 year old lefty who's been in the Texas system since being drafted out of HS in the 30th round of 2013. Joe's was a slow burn, taking a minute to learning how to really pitch. Well this year he put it together. A low-mid 90s FB, a good bender, and feel for a CH resulted in a gaudy 36bb/122k stat line after 96.1ip. He converted to starting about mid-way through the year, and I imagine that's the role he'll hold in for a while. Joe, you on da map, my man.

High Desert Mavericks

They won the whole damn thing. Just like they did last year in Hickory. This team kicks ass. They play hard. They play for each other. And they win. They're traveling en masse through the system and I absolutely can't wait to get this group to Frisco in 2017. They win because, like all team's who win, they have a championship-caliber catcher in Jose Trevino. Trevy's gonna play in the bigs. VASTLY improved defending went along with a .303 batting average. Jose knows the zone and has only 159K in 1233 professional plate appearances. The jury is out on whether or not he can develop into a front-line option, but the jury has returned a happy verdict on his 80-grade makeup and the fact that he'll play in the bigs. There wasn't a lot of coverage out there, and no video, but scouts mentioned the names Heineman, Profar, and Tendler as possible dudes. Josh Morgan, Michael De Leon, and Jairo Beras don't need me to anoint them dudes, they earned that title prior to this season and did nothing to lose it in High Desert. The jump to AA should be fun to watch for all 3 players. They're # 1 strength is completely different from each other; Morgan has a plus hit tool, De Leon's gonna need his stellar glove to carry him to The Show, and Jairo has to turn his raw power into "game power".  Can't wait to watch them. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how excited I am the High-A club is moving to Kinston, NC, but how gutting it was to watch Adelanto lose yet another distraction for what has become a rather hard-scrabble existence for more than a few residents. As much as we bitched when Texas landed there, and as goofy as the situation became with the City Council, etc. it's important for me to mention a bunch of die hard fans lost their team. And that sucks. Kinston could be great, but High Desert turned out to be alright too.

Frisco RoughRiders

Frisco went 7 games over .500 in the first half of the season. The end. The end? Could we just? No. The answer is "no, we can't". So I also have to tell you they went 25-45 in the second half of the season. Look, man, you traded Brinson and Ortiz, Cordell got hurt (then traded) and Fasola, Yohander Mendez, Preston Beck, Condor Guzman and even Victor Payano and Jose Valdespina were promoted to Round Rock. The first half closer, Adam Parks went down with his 2nd Tommy John surgery. Evan Van Hoosier returned from suspension, then promptly earned his own Tommy John operation. Zach Cone played his way into a release. Same goes for speedster Chris Garia. Sam Wolff pitched in a scant 10 games, which is 6 more than former top arm Cody Buckel threw before being released. My Canadian catching hope, Kellin Deglan played in 89G and hit .194. It was a tough one on the field for the 'Riders. But 3 things: 1) There's always next year for these guys. Truly. I still believe it could happen for a few of them. 2)THERE'S A LAZY RIVER IN RIGHT FIELD AND IT IS RIDICULOUS AND FANTASTIC! 3)There were still some remarkable performances and standout kids. Matt Bush began the year in Frisco with me telling people he was gonna end the season in the big leagues, same for Jose Leclerc. Joe Filomeno threw mid-90s funk from the left side and will head to further his season in the Arizona Fall League. Andy Ibanez earned a promotion to Frisco and played 3B a lot at the end of the season, which is probably a good idea. Ariel Jurado brought my favorite heater in the entire system to AA and cemented his high order dude status with his 91-94mph bowling ball. Ronald Guzman had a remarkable season in Frisco and as I mentioned, didn't finish there- for good reason. Isiah Kiner-Falefa might be my favorite story of the year though. Having never caught a game, he learned on the fly, at the AA level and more than held his own. He caught 31 games and more amazingly, 39% of would be basestealers. IKF also played 44G at 3B, 10 at 2B, and 19 at SS despite missing some time after a scary staph infection. He's headed to the AFL as well and could be on a muscle-adding diet this offseason in hopes of catching a bit more in 2017. Now for my man Connor Sadzeck. A 40-man addition, Connor made huge strides this season as a starter. Relying more on his moving 2-seamer and developing a SL, he managed to keep his huge frame moving in the same direction long enough to rack up a very impressive 140.2ip. Most scouts I know want him to jump into the bullpen and dial up the mega-velo (the 84th pitch Connor threw in his final start registered 101mph!), but I think given their lack of starter depth and the fact that he's come a long way already Texas will keep Connor a starter for the time being. Go get in in Round Rock next year, big fella.

Round Rock Express

84 players. Let that number sink in for a moment. 84 different players appeared in a Round Rock uniform in a sanctioned and approved MiLB game in 2016. Amazing. Hats off to the PR pros who have to crank out a press release for every single roster transaction. That's a lot of transactioning. Happily, all of the Round Rock standouts made it to Arlington. Regardless of their impact at the big league level, I'm ecstatic Jared Hoying, Brett Nicholas, Andrew Faulkner, and Hanser Alberto all saw big league time this year. My main man Joey Gallo had as uneven a season as he's ever had and will need to put in work this winter to earn his big league spot in Surprise. Yohander Mendez finished what will be a season capped with a "Minor League Pitcher of the Year" award with such a positive showing in Round Rock he earned a cameo (and more importantly a learning experience) in Arlington. Nomar Mazara began the year in Round Rock and then disappeared. Hope he's ok. Jurickson Profar played well in central Texas, then drove up I-35 to become a human Swiss Army knife and never came back. Chi Chi pitched in 25 games for the Express and will be expected to take a step forward in 2017. He's capable of it, just needs to get his stuff and his confidence back. Drew Robinson had another rock solid season and the lefty hitter added even more versatility to his already unique profile. He hit 20 homers, put up an .830 OPS and played, get ready for this(!), 14G at 1B, 27G at 2B, 1G at SS, 27G at 3B, 18G in CF, 2G in LF, and 38G in RF. As far as I know, he can't pitch and much to my man Kaz Yamazaki's chagrin, Drew has never played catcher. He's a 6-year free agent and still only 24, so if he's not added to Texas' 40-man, there's a good chance he's added to someone's in 2017. Chad Smith threw in 8G for Round Rock before retiring to face Tim Tebow. 47 different pitchers threw at least an inning for The Express. Amazing. In non-player news, Round Rock is an amazing ballpark and I don't think enough is said about that. Great food, mega-friendly employees, GREAT beer selection, nice sightlines and not a bad seat in the park. If the writing on the wall goes from chalk to Sharpie after the 2018 season, I'll be bummed out cuz Round Rock rules.

So there you go. That's a wrap on the 2016 season. Fall Instructs are underway for all the young fellas (nearly all the guys who played in A-ball are there) and the Arizona Fall League opens October 11th with 7 Rangers farmhands representing. Winter ball will crank up around the same time in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Domincan Republic, though I'm not expecting more than a handful of Texas farmhands to venture south to play this winter. Honestly, it was about as tough a season as I've seen the farm weather in while. Trades, injuries, suspensions- you name it, they faced it. But the good news is the entire premise of minor league baseball is centered around hope, and that's why I love it. I hope so many of these kids realize their dreams. I hope so many of them make a living in the game they love. And I have a hope for you too. I hope your favorite team wins the World Series. Kant be damned.

As Always, Enjoy Baseball! Love Ya!

-Tepid