On this mid-May Monday morning, I share with you a few brief thoughts I have on four Rangers minor leaguers — one at each level.
AAA Round Rock — Leody Taveras
It feels like we have been on Leody Watch since the beginning of the season — or at least, since he went five for five with a pair of doubles in his fourth game for Round Rock this season. With a four digit OPS for much of the season, Leody has been viewed as an increasingly attractive callup option, particularly with pretty much every non-Adolis outfielder/DH option flailing about.
Leody has cooled down since his hot start — he is slashing .250/.317/.444 in May, with four walks and 12 Ks in 41 plate appearances — and he sat for a couple of games after being pulled mid-game for not running out a dropped third strike that got away from the catcher. His overall numbers for the year are still quite good, however — his .339/.367/.579 slash line has him tenth in the PCL in OPS, and his home/road splits are pretty similar, so it isn’t as if he’s padding his stats with performances at the super-hitter-friendly western PCL parks. He also has hits in 20 of his last 21 games, the one exception being the game mentioned above where he was pulled.
There’s an argument to be made that Leody’s glove alone makes him good enough to be in the majors, even if he doesn’t hit much, and he can work on any adjustments he needs to make in the big leagues. That said, when I see Cristian Pache — who has a similar profile to Leody and who is also 23 — slashing .157/.202/.241 in 115 plate appearances for Oakland, when I see the M’s send down Jarred Kelenic after a .140/.219/.291 slash line to start the season, when I look at all the ugly offensive numbers in the Year of the Mushball, I think, let Leody stay in AAA a while longer. Let him have success, let him struggle there, let him work through his struggles and rebound. Let him experience maintaining the good and fighting through the bad in AAA some more before bringing him up to Arlington.
AA Frisco — Jack Leiter
Jack Leiter has been the Saturday starter for Frisco this season, and prior to this weekend, had shown instances of brilliance mixed with episodes of...not-brilliance. On May 7, he had his best start of his (admittedly very short) professional career, needing just 68 pitches to go six shutout innings against Arkansas, allowing just two baserunners and no runs.
This past Saturday, Leiter went the other way, putting up his worst start of his (admittedly still very short) professional career. On the road in Tulsa, Leiter was pulled with two outs in the second inning, having retired just five of the fourteen batters he faced, with a final line of 1.2 IP, six runs, seven hits, one walk, one HBP, one K. A disaster start from the Rangers’ best prospect, the best pitching prospect they’ve had in at least a decade, is going to trigger a certain amount of anxiety.
The question that one wants to ask after an outing like that is whether it was bad pitching or bad luck. The answer, as Dean Keaton said to Redfoot, is “a little of both.” Reports indicate that there were some balls that found holes and some squeezing going on. But Tepid noted that he wasn’t commanding any of his pitches, and that’s going to result in a short night, bad luck or no.
The two main things that have been said to be areas that Leiter needs to improve on to reach his ceiling are his command and his changeup. Fangraphs has Leiter’s command grades as 35 present/55 future. Improved consistency of command is what will help Leiter avoid the disaster outings, avoid the instances where he can’t locate his exquisite four seamer and it gets crushed by major league hitters. Saturday’s outing doesn’t change the outlook on Leiter — it is, though, a reminder that he’s still a work in progress.
High-A Hickory — Marc Church
If there’s anything the Rangers farm system seems to churn out in abundance in recent years, it is big, hard throwing righthanded relievers. We saw Pete Fairbanks, Emmanuel Clase, Joe Barlow and Demarcus Evans shoot up the organizational ladder in 2019. We saw Jonathan Hernandez emerge as a bullpen weapon in 2020 before TJS wiped out his 2021 season. We saw Nick Snyder start the year in Hickory in 2021 and end the year in the majors.
And in 2022, we are seeing impressive performances by a number of young righty bullpen arms in A ball, with the most interesting — to me, at least — being Marc Church. An 18th round draft pick in 2019 out of an Atlanta high school, possibly signed only because 7th rounder Brandon Sproat rejected the Rangers above-slot offer and thus Texas had extra bonus pool money to spent, Church caught the attention of Eric Longenhagen in extended spring in 2021.
Church pitched for low-A Down East in 2021, skipping the complex league altogether, and blew away a collection of overmatched Carolina League hitters for most the year, striking out 49 of 108 hitters he faced before his final outing of the year, when he gave up six runs while not retiring anyone, after which he was placed on the injured list for the year with an elbow issue.
Church was sent to Hickory to start 2022 and he’s been cruising, with the only earned runs allowed coming courtesy of three home runs allowed in a three day span at the start of May. For the year, Church has struck out 29 of 67 batters, walked just two, and allowed a .215/.239/.369 slash line with a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 IP over 12 outings.
Church isn’t Rule 5 eligible until after the 2023 season, so just from a 40 man roster standpoint, he’s much less likely to down the A ball to the majors journey that guys like Snyder, Fairbanks and Clase, who were going to be added to the 40 man in the offseason they made their debuts, did. But I would be pretty surprised if he’s not in Frisco this summer, and its not out of the question he makes it to Round Rock before the year is up.
Low-A Down East — Alejandro Osuna
Alejandro Osuna was signed by the Texas Rangers out of Mexico in October, 2020, right before his 18th birthday. I can’t find any information about his signing bonus, and the only reason his signing was at all notable is that he is the brother of pitcher Roberto Osuna, who is best known for bad things.
Osuna likely would have been assigned to Spokane in the Northwest League in 2021, but with the non-complex short-season leagues having been eliminated, that wasn’t an option. Rather than try to squeeze Osuna into an already crowded AZL depth chart, Texas sent him to Down East in mid-June, where he immediately went into the starting lineup.
We mentioned Osuna a little bit in our minor league updates last year, but he mostly flew under the radar, as one would expect with a corner outfielder slashing .226/.352/.380 with 76 Ks in 252 plate appearances. There were some lowkey positive signs, however — Osuna’s OPS went up each month, including a 782 OPS in September (after a 650 OPS in June), and literally every pitcher he faced in 2021 was older than him.
Flash-forward to 2022. Osuna is back in Down East. And Osuna is raking.
Osuna is currently slashing .333/.409/.510 in 110 plate appearances, with just 18 Ks against 11 walks. After an 870 OPS in April, he’s put up a 985 OPS so far in May. He’s still facing older competition — only five of his plate appearances have been against younger pitchers — but he’s thriving, posting the fourth-highest OPS in the Carolina League.
Osuna has played all three outfield spots, but has primarily played left field, and he profiles as a bat-only guy, which means he’s going to have to really hit. But he’s a 19 year old who has been one of the top hitters in the Carolina League this year, which means he’s someone we should probably at least be keeping an eye on.