Good morning, LSB.
With the 40-man cutoff approaching and the Rangers sporting a whole bunch of room at the end of theirs it was expected that there would be a decent amount of adds, and Monday it was announced that six lucky youngsters will be getting the bump in pay. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jonathan Hernandez, Brett Martin, Joe Palumbo, Ariel Jurado, and Jose Trevino were all added, bringing the Rangers 40 up to 37 after the trade for pitcher Robert Herrera. It's a particularly young batch of players, none of whom have played above the AA level. Let's take a look at the new rosterees, starting with catcher and fan favorite Jose Trevino.
I’ve written at length about Trevino’s profile and about his rough 2017 from an offensive standpoint. He hit .241/.275/.323 in 105 games for the RoughRiders in his first year at the AA level. He’ll probably be spending at least a big chunk of 2018 there as well, but the Rangers feel he’s advanced enough to warrant an add to the 40. Trevino is going to be a big league catcher at some point thanks to the solid defense and the off-the-charts makeup, but he’ll need to hit more to profile as starter.
You wouldn’t have to squint too hard to envision an NL team rule-fiving Trevino’s teammate and backup, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the IF/C hybrid who started to draw a lot of national eyes in Frisco this season. Improved defense and versatility and a flash of power put IKF on the map in 2017. I saw him play a ton this year and I think he’s got that buzz of MLB readiness around him. Perhaps not as a serious roleplayer at this particular moment in time, but he’s played well enough and he’s an intriguing enough prospect to have many curious as to what he could do in the bigs. And what an infielder-slash-catcher could provide in terms of lineup flexibility. So, yeah, he was probably worth the 40 add.
IKF spent the entire year in Frisco and led the team in games and plate appearances. He hit .288/.350/.390 with 5 home runs and those 5 home runs were the first 5 of his professional career. The bat and the approach are solid; Kiner-Falefa doesn’t swing and miss (4.6%) and he doesn’t strike out (12.6%). He’s got above-average speed (especially for a catcher, ha!) and he steals bases. This is all while starting 48 games at 3B, 35 at 2B, 10 at SS, and of course 31 behind the plate. He even mixed a game in CF in there. He’s at least average at every position he plays. He’s a better infielder than he is a catcher right now, but he’s improving behind the plate, perhaps even faster than would be expected. The catching experiment has only been going on since the beginning of 2016, and that IKF looks as good as he does after 64 career games behind the dish speaks to the work he’s put into it.
Ariel Jurado is the third and final fulltime RoughRider added to the 40. Usually ranked somewhere between third and fifth on the list of Rangers’ minor league arms, Jurado joined his Frisco and 40-man cohorts Yohander Mendez and Connor Sadzeck in having a pretty meh season. Jurado doesn’t walk many batters and he doesn’t give up many home runs, but he struck out a meager 5.5 per 9 in 2017 and opponents hit .301 against him. His problem is pretty simple and becomes apparent when watching him live: he leaves a lot of pitches out over the plate. He’s always going to be a guy who pitches to soft contact and he has the kind of sinking fastball to have success in doing that, but he has to be sharper. He’s got upside and is probably ready for AAA, and his big frame and durability could make for a nice 4/5 workhorse type. 2018 is going to be a big year for him.
Brett Martin and Joe Palumbo pair together nicely because they’re both lefties with injury issues and they’re both being added to the 40 despite neither having pitched an inning above High A. With Martin they’re more of the lingering variety, as he’s had elbow problems in the past and he missed about a month and a half in 2017 with what was called back spasms. Palumbo, meanwhile, suffered a torn UCL and required Tommy John surgery and is expected to be out until mid-2018, at which point he’ll no doubt be handled gingerly as he recovers. It was a low-point in what was already a bummer of a year on the farm. Palumbo had a breakout 2016 and entered 2017 as one of the Rangers’ top lower-level arms, and in his second start of the season he spun 6 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and 2 hits allowed. His injury occurred at some point in his next start. At 23 Palumbo was an easy call to add to the 40 and stash on the 60-day DL.
Martin had a fairly disappointing 2017, though it was better than it appears on the surface. Before the season started it was suggested that he could start the year in Frisco at the AA level, and that if he didn’t start there he’d probably be there for a large chunk of 2017, barring injury or poor performance. Brett had a little of both and spent the entire year Down East. But Martin put up a 3.12 ERA in his first 5 starts of the season, and if you take out the first 3 or 4 starts post-injury his numbers after returning look a lot better. Perhaps Martin’s 2017 was derailed by the back spasms and given good health he’ll show more consistency with the solid repertoire he fires from a very projectable left-handed frame. But health has been a frequent quandary for Brett, and given the Rangers’ across-the-board roll-slowing with their minor league arms, I wouldn’t be totally stunned if he spends even a bit more time Down East before making his AA debut.
Jonathan Hernandez is the youngest of the new 40-man additions, and probably the least-known as well. The son of a former big leaguer, Hernandez was the Rangers’ lone representative in the 2017 Futures Game. Hernandez signed with Texas as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He was 16. Now 21, Hernandez is a tall, thin righty with your basic fastball/slider/change arsenal but with some surprising gas for someone so slight. He can pump it up to 97 mph at times with a good downward plane. His fastball is by far his best pitch as it stands, both the slider and the change still developing. He’s had success at the lower levels though, striking out close to 9 per 9 in a combined 111 innings with A-ball Hickory and High-A Down East. Really, of the major names in the Rangers’ system, Hernandez was one of the only pitchers to be promoted in 2017. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 65 innings with the Wood Ducks, and it’s a toss up on where he’ll start in 2018 between Kinston and Frisco. Where his career goes will largely depend on how his secondary pitches develop, and if his frame can hold up to a starter’s workload. If not, upper 90s out of the pen is always nice to fall back on.
Some names of note that the Rangers leave exposed to the Rule 5 Draft: RHP Sam Wolff, RHP Collin Wiles, 3B Juremi Profar, SS Michael De Leon, RHP (weird) Jairo Beras, RHP Pedro Payano. I would think only Wolff and maybe possibly Beras as a longshot are possibilities to be picked.
Thanks for reading and have a good Thanksgiving, LSB.