Minor league games have their own magic, to get embarrassingly romantic about baseball for a minute. Children line up around the ‘pen, watching the starter (in two cases this week, a major leaguer) warm up, and others gather around the wall next to the dugouts, begging for a signature on a cap or a ball or a glove, something that will be dug out of a box in 20 years time and deciphered with a “Remember when?”
Sitting in a major league stadium, sometimes you forget that players are people. Minor league baseball brings you closer, puts you right there- something about a small stadium and a single tier shrinks the players, turns them from our athletic demigods back into humans, making it both easier and harder to put numbers to broken-out parts of the whole.
Throughout the season, this space will be dedicated to prospects from all over the Rangers’ organization. However it’s difficult to watch six games of one team and not want to dump everything in the notebook on an electronic page.
Across these first few games, a few things have stood out. The ‘Riders are not immune to the endemic lack of power across the entire Rangers’organization, the pitching staff will be one to watch, and sunscreen is absolutely necessary even when the wind chill is down in the 50s. The weather is not predictable from day-to-day, and doubleheaders are a great way to get twice the baseball in one day.
Minor league opening days usually have all the hometown fanfare one could ever desire, except when said opening day is a) Thursday, and b) presided over by the seemingly imminent threat of death via Texas thunderstorm. Matt Harrison and Jason Adam threw two innings each, but when the skies opened up in the third, it became clear that a complete game was not going to happen on this night.
In a striking departure from the slightly terrifying clouds of the night before, the first actual game began at 4 p.m. on a crisp, clear Friday, one more suited to November than April. As the wind whistled through the mostly-empty stands, it was easy to see why so few people decided to leave work or skip school, and Luke Jackson threw 21 straight fastballs before a crowd of just a few appreciative viewers.
Jackson turned in a solid first outing, pitching five innings with three Ks, walking one and allowing two hits, but no runs. His fastball sat between 91 and 95, touching 97 once, and the single walk was encouraging despite some difficult counts, as Jackson’s had a higher walk rate in the past. One start is obviously far from enough to start drawing conclusions, but opinions are built one game at a time. Edwar Cabrera pitched in what possibly will be his only start of the season, the second game of the first doubleheader, and moved to the bullpen with the return of Nick Martinez from his brief MLB stint.
Alec Asher had his 33-inning scoreless streak broken on April 5th, but cold, damp conditions may have affected his pitching, and his second start, most likely Friday, April 11th, should be a better indication of how he’ll handle the transition to double-A. Jerad Eickhoff began his seventh double-A game decently, only giving up one run in a shaky second inning, though the number of pitches he threw in that second frame limited him to three innings. Kyle Lotzkar, a former first round pick of the Reds, pitched the second game of Monday’s doubleheader, and gave up three runs in 4.0 cold and rainy innings.
Other than the starters, a few Frisco guys to keep an eye on are Jimmy Reyes, 40-man roster member Matt West, and organization newcomer Martire Garcia. Reyes has a history of getting left-handed batters out, and if he can replicate prior successes against AA hitters, he could find a place in a major league bullpen at some point. He throws an 88-90 MPH fastball, with a big breaking secondary pitch in the 75-80 MPH range, mixing in an occasional changeup that usually hangs out in the mid-80s. Matt West has been in the organization since 2008, but only started pitching in 2011 after being drafted as a third baseman. He lost part of 2012 and all of 2013 to Tommy John surgery, and made his double-A debut against Northwest Arkansas, pitching 1.2 innings and striking out one. West currently throws 90-95 with a mid-70s breaking ball, and could be potentially a September callup. The Rangers signed Martire Garcia out of the Japanese minor leagues this winter, though the Dominican lefty pitched in the Minnesota Twins organization from 2007-2011 prior to that. Garcia’s pitched four innings with Frisco, striking out six and allowing no runs, and his 90-94 MPH fastball and low 80s slider mean that if he can keep that kind of production his name will keep coming up near the letters “MLB.”
On the offensive side, Frisco hasn’t really done anything of note, a victim of the tepid hitting seen in all Rangers affiliates lately. Top prospect Rougned Odor hit his first homer of the year in the first game of the Monday doubleheader, a ~340 foot shot to right, a hopeful sign after some very awkward at-bats in the earlier games. New acquisition Jake Smolinski has four hits, six walks, and three steals in six games, and could become a Jim Adduci-like player in the future. As of right now, the too-many-third-basemen problem has been solved by moving Drew Robinson to right field, where it’s been very clear that he just started playing there this season. Robinson does have four hits, tied for team lead, but has struck out seven times.
Despite a slightly lackluster start to the season, Frisco remains one of the more interesting teams to watch both in the Rangers’ system and in Texas, and even lackluster baseball is better than no baseball at all.
Schedules across the farm: AAA Round Rock faces Colorado Springs (Rockies) either in Round Rock or in Colorado until the 14th . . . AA Frisco begins an away series in Arkansas against the Royals-affiliated Northwest Arkansas Naturals on April 10th . . . High-A Myrtle Beach finishes a three-game set at Wilmington (Royals) on the 10th and plays three at Salem (Boston) beginning April 11th . . . Low-a Hickory has their home opener against Asheville (Rockies) on the 10th.