We’re a month into the 2018 season and so far many of the infrequent highlights the Texas Rangers have provided have come from watching rookies Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman dip their toes into Major League waters. Both played five games with AAA Round Rock before getting the call, and both have held their own for the last three weeks.
If you’re hoping to look beyond those two, or you’re hoping to turn to the Rangers’ higher-level farm teams to see some kind of encouraging storyline or interesting prospect or future contributor, or you’re hoping for some reinforcements to maybe possibly help drag this thing out of the AL West basement, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that it just ain’t there.
The Rangers’ Triple-A and Double-A teams both had very, very awful months to start the 2018 season, going a combined 15-34. Win/loss records are a secondary concern in the minors, but the sticking point is the slow start for almost every single notable prospect that started the year at either the AAA or AA level.
The Express lost last night to fall to 9-16 with a -42 run differential. As Fraley noted, they didn’t have a starting pitcher win a game in April. The two highly-touted prospects remaining behind after Guzman’s promotion, Willie Calhoun and Yohander Mendez (#2 and #5 on the Rangers’ BA list, respectively), are struggling. Calhoun’s bat hasn’t been what it usually is, his strikeouts are up and his power is down. Mendez, on the other hand, is having a very similar season compared to what he did with Frisco last year, which is the problem. He led the Texas League in homers allowed in 2017 and is currently second in homers allowed in the PCL this season, having allowed six in 24 innings. I am rather impressed with his ability to wheedle his ERA to a perfect 6.66, but in the grand scheme of things I hope for him to lower that.
For the RoughRiders, April saw them post a staggering 6-18 record, the worst month of April in the history of the team, which is relevant because they’ve been the Rangers’ AA affiliate for the entirety of their 15-season existence. It speaks to the dearth of talent there is between the big league club and the more prospecty A-ball teams. It’s possible they have less young talent in that age 22-25 AA range than they ever have. Frisco’s roster has turned over and is currently filled mostly with organizational depth and floundering C-level prospects. The guys ranked by BA (Brett Martin, #18; Josh Morgan, #22; Yanio Perez, #23; Jose Trevino, #28) have been a mixture of injured and atrocious. Morgan and Perez have played a combined 8 games. Brett Martin has allowed more runs than he has pitched innings. Jose Trevino is OPSing .474 as a 25-year-old repeating AA. Michael De Leon, Pedro Payano, little/big Profar… they’ve been ‘meh’ at best through the first 20-some games.
Some guys deserve credit. Scott Heineman obliterated AA for a week before the trickle-down effect from the Rangers’ injuries opened a spot for him with the Express, and he’s been keeping his head above water in his first bout with AAA. Connor Sadzeck and Adam Choplick represent 13-and-a-half feet of impressive bullpen work, Sadzeck bouncing back from his rough 2017 and Choplick building upon his good one. Ariel Jurado is still just 22 with an ERA in the threes for Frisco and is a frickin’ ground ball machine.
And that’s about it, man. For the higher levels. There are a buncha 20-year-olds doing good things in High- and Low-A, but they’re far away. Like, the place they’ll be playing when they get here is currently a giant hole in the ground.
Why is there such an underwhelming gap of youthful upside between Gallo/Maz/Pro and the dudes in A-ball? You can probably guess. You know about the Brinsons and the Alfaros and the Lewises, but it’s the second-tier guys from those big trades that would be filling this AAA/AA gap.
Don’t look at Luis Ortiz’s line for AA Biloxi. Dillon Tate has been very solid for the Yankees’ AA team for 50 innings. Ryan Cordell slugged over .500 in AAA last year for the Brewers and is currently knocking on the door for the White Sox. These would be the guys providing, if nothing else, something to look forward to for the big league club that isn’t 3-4 years in the future. Combine that with disappointing drafts from 2013 and 2014 and the gap starts to make sense. These would be the possible reinforcements. Shiny new exciting ones. Instead the Rangers are supplementing Beltre and Andrus and Gallo and Mazara and Hamels with tweeners and retreads.
I’m not trying to harsh whatever mellow may remain, but the reality of the situation has been crashing into me the past week or so, a siren blaring a warning on what the next two or three years could look like. If the Rangers were going to start the year old, hurt, in last place, with a farm system ranked in the bottom third of the league and with their in-state rival as the reigning champion, a little run from the high-level minors and some hot starts from guys who could be here in the next year or so would’ve been nice.
It can still happen. It’s only April, and I really hope it turns around. Having to look four teams down the organizational ladder to find good baseball is exhausting.