Hello LSB, and welcome to MiLB Opening Day 2021.
As Tepid noted last week, it’s been over 600 days since the most recent minor league game in September of 2019. That stretch comes to an end tonight with the start of the Low-A, High-A, and Double-A seasons, with the Triple-A season firing up on Thursday.
With that the Rangers Double-A affiliate Frisco RoughRiders hosted a virtual media day and offered up a few guys via Zoom meeting to talk about the start of what will certainly be a weird season for them.
Aside from the covid-related safety measures, minor league baseball will see a smattering of rule changes, some permanent, some rooted in the protocols required to safely get the season off the ground. One of the most noticeable differences will be to the schedule, as was discussed in detail in the Tepid post linked above.
A lot of the talk with RoughRiders first-time minor league manager Jared Goedert had to do with his handling of the pitching rotation when they’ll be playing the same team for six straight days. He also laid out the rotation itself, which will feature some tandeming and piggybacking but will start the year looking like this:
- Tim Brennan tonight
- Jake Latz
- Tyler Phillips
- Cole Winn
- Yerry Rodriguez
Goedert also said that Hans Crouse is away from the team as he and his fiancé are expecting a baby “any day now,” but Crouse is tentatively scheduled to buddy up with Tyler Phillips on Thursday night. The rotation will be “scripted,” or close to that, Goedert said, for the first week of the season, meaning they’re going to adhere to a pre-set plan for innings and pitch counts (barring they have a dude who doesn’t get out of the first inning or something) to ensure everyone gets their feet wet without diving into the pool. Or Lazy River, if you will.
As a player, Goedert spent nine years in the minor leagues, topping out in Triple-A but never cracking a major league roster. He’s a young guy (35) but he’s got plenty of experience with the Rangers’ system, serving full seasons as the hitting coach for the Rookie League team, Spokane twice, and most recently Hickory in 2019. He was set to serve as the Down East hitting coach last season and got quite the significant promotion moving up to the AA manager for 2021.
“I think any first year managerial role presents a number of challenges. There’s some things I don’t even know that I don’t know yet,” Goedert said. “I’ve been fortunate to, I think with nearly everyone in [the clubhouse], at least experience an instructional league, if not having been their hitting coach in the past. That familiarity, being with them day in and day out with a good chunk of the guys on the team is definitely helpful in a role like this.”
Goedert also confirmed that Davis Wendzel will be getting “the bulk of his starts at shortstop” which is just one more bit of intrigue added to this Frisco group.
Up next was Rangers’ 2018 first-rounder Cole Winn, the highest ranked prospect on this Frisco opening roster. Winn will be taking the bump Saturday in what will be his Double-A debut.
Winn said he’s been ramping up after spending the entire gap year in Arizona, then he got some time in the big league camp in March before starting a work program that’s had him throwing more and more each time out. He said he’s gotten up to 65-70 pitches most recently (he thinks he can crank it up to 85-90 but I highly doubt he’s gonna have that long of a leash to start).
Winn was fairly positive about the lost season, and not in a spin-team type of way but in a way that made it sound like he genuinely took some plusses out of it.
“Being at the alt site you’re around much older guys, they were kind of helping me in the transition to kinda feel what it’s like to be in the big leagues,” Winn said. “The outcome of the year, I feel like we made some pretty big strides. Facing those guys, being around those guys...finding that comfortability in a new situation, I thought it was huge.”
Winn talked a bit about his repertoire, he’s throwing fastball/slider/curve/change, and said it was the curve that he wanted to work on the most. That surprised me, as I’ve seen some twitter video of his curveball and it looked filthy. Dunno, I mean, it would strike me out.
Next out of the locker room was outfielder Steele Walker, the Prosper native and former Sooner who is going to be extremely popular if he gets up around the big league level here in the next year or so. There are some pretty heavy McConaughey vibes in both the cadence and in the positivity with which he speaks about the game. And it sounds like he’s enjoying being on the cusp of the bigs.
“I remember when making varsity was a big deal my sophomore year in high school,” Walker said. “And then starting for OU was like the Super Bowl. You fast forward and now we’re on the RoughRiders, the big leagues don’t seem as far away as they once did. Each level presents different challenges, but if you allow yourself to be adaptable then you have a good chance.”
Walker will also be making his Double-A debut, and in fact hasn’t even played an official game in the Rangers system yet. He said he’ll primarily be in right field but there should be a mix of center too, on what will be a very athletic Frisco outfield with Bubba Thompson, Josh Stowers, and JPM out there as well.
Listening to Walker talk about hitting was pretty fascinating, referring to himself as a “craftsman who takes pride in the craft.”
“Hitting is one of those things, it’s very hit or miss. No pun intended,” Walker said, also seeming to relish the chance to get every-day ABs once again. “Playing every day is a whole different animal. You learn how to manipulate the bat in a way when you’re tired, in a way when you’re not seeing the ball, in a way when you feel overpowered. Your body finds ways to be really efficient.”
Walker will most likely be hitting in the meat of the Frisco lineup, and the 24-year-old could move up the ladder quickly if he hits like he was pre-shutdown. Especially if there are some, erm, “openings” at the corner outfield spots for the big league club.
Walker, Winn and the rest of Goedert’s crew will all get it going at 7:05 tonight, along with the Hickory Crawdads (first pitch 5:30 CDT), and the Down East Wood Ducks (6:00 CDT). There are numerous ways you can follow the minor league teams, with the RoughRiders themselves having a full livestream broadcast available with a MiLB.tv subscription. There’s also an LSB minor league thread that’s fun to keep up with and where I’ll be posting frequent game notes from Frisco.
Thanks for reading, and a happy baseball to ya.