Well, that was fun. Frankly, it always is. Every year I mention how much fun Spring Training is and if you haven’t ever been, you oughta make a point of getting out there. And this year was no different. Beautiful weather, easy to navigate locale, and more baseball in a more laid back atmosphere than a person can really handle. It truly is a special time of the year in a special place. It’s the best, and if you ever need help planning your trip, feel free to hit me up for some pointers. Just go.
This camp definitely seemed more buoyant than the last few years. Just like you heard about a peppier vibe on the big league side, there was an upbeat step to the backfields this year too. I can’t really explain why. Especially with the inordinate amount of technology that was deployed this year. I wrote about it in the first part of this series and it was a bit overwhelming to see all the gadgetry at first, but then it just became part of the scene. As I mentioned before, I’m optimistic about the results, but it’s gonna take some time. Coaches and analysts gotta sort through the onslaught of new data and determine which is most important to building a winning team. They’ll get there, but it’s definitely gonna be a process.
As for the overall state of the farm, it’s safe to say the pendulum has swung the other way. Completely the other way. Just a few years ago we were all positively giddy about the offensive upside of more than a handful of dudes. Quite a few of them are big league regulars these days. Back in those days, say 2013, we would lament the lack of arms filling the pipeline. That ain’t the case anymore. Texas has a prettaayyyy prettaayyyy impressive cache of hurlers. There’s potential pitcher dudes way down on the farm, and definitive pitcher dudes way up the farm. There’s potential dudes folks haven’t even heard of. I mean I saw Peter Fairbanks throw 100mph. I saw John King throw 94mph sinkers. Hever Bueno sat 95 for an inning. (I asked the man himself; it’s “AY-ver, the H is silent) Francisco Villegas touched 2500RPM sidearming it from his left hand at 92mph. Kyle Keith. Kyle Keith? Yeah, he sat 94 for an inning and missed bats with both a CH and a few bendy CBs. Deep. Want more? How about Wyatt Sparks who looks like a middle infielder who signed up to pitch and never looked back. ‘Member that name. Ever heard of Josh Smith? Well, Josh Smith is a lefty who had injury issues, including TJ, and a transfer in college, but he’s healthy now, he’s shaped like a middle linebacker, he’s left-handed and he also throws 95mph. Nick Starr was drafted last year by the Reds, but didn’t pass their notoriously stiff physical and became a free agent. Texas said “yuuuup, why not” and signed Starr and he’s is a 6’3” 230lb righty who came in and dealt a torrent of hissing and diving FBs that were, you guessed it, 95mph. There’s uhhhhhlot of potential dudes down there and not just the one’s we already know.
There aren’t a ton of position players wildly jumping out at the moment. There’s tools, so it’s all but certain some of these kids are gonna grab the brass ring this season, but at the moment, there’s more hope than reality. I’m not sure I saw a potential double-plus glove, though Chris Seise, Ryan Dorow, and Frainyer Chavez stood out with the leather. I’m not sure I saw potential game-realized double-plus power, though Ty Reed, Big Rig Terry, Sam Huff and Sherten Apostel stood out with plenty of potential thump. Lots of speed, headlined by Bubba who is even faster than I remembered. He’s gonna grab unanimous 60s and likely a few 70s from scouts in that column. There’s an absolute fleet of scrappy undersized middle-infield types with names like Jonathan Ornelas, Jayce Easley, Keithron Moss, Keyber Rodriguez and the aforementioned Chavez and Dorow. Tons of baseball instincts among them. Of that crew, if I had to pick some early leaders in the clubhouse, I’d go with Ornelas and his lightning quick stick and Chavez who added to his salty glove with more pop in the bat than I expected. They’re all small and very young. Can’t wait to see how all these fellas grow both physically and on the diamond.
I got to see nearly all the players on my pre-trip checklist with a few notable exceptions being Dominican teenagers Randy Florentino (.454 OBP in 60G in the DSL), Heriberto Hernandez (12HR, .635SLG in DSL), and Ronny Henriquez (video game numbers: 8BB/79K in 58ip). Seems like a good excuse to go back next year. Like I need one.
As for the upper-level fellas with the familiar names, I’m happy to report no one did anything to indicate they’re at all interested in taking a step back in 2019. Unlike years past, no big ol’ bold names went down for TJ (that I’m aware of anyway) and all the guys seemed to be healthy and ramped up for the oncoming season. Taylor Hearn looked ready, Joe Palumbo looked ready, Jon Hernandez looked ready. On my final day I got to see several innings from Brock Burke and whoooo boy there’s puhlenty to dream on there. FB has lots of life and his control is dang good. Command will likely be one of several focuses for him this year in Frisco, but this is a dude of high order. He uses his CB a lot, because it’s really good and he can already throw it for a strike or chase. He sure as shit looks the part too. Big, strong, athletic frame and he repeats his downhill delivery well. We can get excited about Brock and if you’re a DFW local, ya might wanna get to Frisco sometime this summer to check him out as he keeps working towards his goal.
Brett Martin looks like a different pitcher than the one I’ve seen for the last several years. He was filthy in a sim game and I quickly found out why he generated so much buzz in big league camp this spring. He threw 4 pitches for strikes and whiffs in the outing, including his SL. His split-CH thingy is sharper than ever and breaks more down than it fades, and it was unhittable for some of the young fellas who were fed to him. The FB was 94-95 and was missing the middle part of the plate. I’ve had a handful of chats with him over the years and I’ve never seen him as calm and present as when we caught up on Thursday. He seemed confident. If he pitches this season like he did last week, he’ll be in the big leagues by June.
Well, as you know I could prattle on about the Rangers farm all day, but lets not do that right now. Just know there’s a lot of pitchers and a basket of really good position players. This is gonna be another big year on the farm as the next wave of big league help looks to begin washing ashore the upper-levels over the next 2 seasons. Tune in, pick some prospects to root for, buy MiLB swag, mail your favorite minor leaguers a Wal-Mart gift card, and support a team in person if you can, and, of course...
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!
(post script: there’s too many videos I didn’t include in these pieces on my YouTube page)