Throughout the minor league season, we'll take a look on the farm at Rangers prospects that are drawing attention for one reason or another. This week we have an update on two Frisco RoughRiders prospects and one Myrtle Beach Pelican.
Jake Smolinski is currently hitting like he wants to be written about. The 25-year-old outfielder might be considered “old” for the level, but with an active 12-game on-base streak and a .333 average in his last 10 games, he’s definitely worth mentioning.
The Rangers signed Smolinski after the outfielder became a minor league free agent last winter, after not being placed on the Marlins’ 40-man roster. The Nationals drafted Smolinski in 2007, and he reached low-A Hagerstown in Washington’s system before being traded to the Marlins as part of a deal that sent Josh Willingham and Emilio Bonifacio to Washington. Smolinski then played five years in the Marlins’ system, reaching AAA New Orleans last season, where he hit .258/.345/.401 in 95 games. Historically, Smolinski has had above-average walk and strikeout rates, though his stay in AAA last season saw him strike out more than at any level above Rookie ball. So far with Frisco this season, Smolinski has hit .256/.400/.476, and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 19:19. Additionally, in the interest of perfect ratios, Smolinski has three doubles, three triples, and three homers.
Smolinski began his professional career as an infielder, splitting most of his time between second and third, before transitioning to the outfield in 2011. As a fielder, Smolinski uses his speed to his advantage and can take good routes on flyballs, more than once making a well-timed diving catch to rob a batter of a hit this season. If he keeps hitting and walking the way he is right now, a promotion to AAA this year and the possibility of a Jim Adduci-like call-up in the future are not out of the question.
A third baseman most of his minor league career, Drew Robinson entered the year as one of the Rangers’ prospects to keep an eye on - maybe not a top 15, but someone with major league potential. So far in 2014, Robinson has struggled to display the on-base ability and hitting that he showed with both Hickory and Myrtle Beach. Currently, the 22-year-old is putting up a slash line of .187/.291/.373 through 23 games, a far cry from the numbers he put up in 2013 or 2012. Though he has 10 walks so far, Robinson has only walked once since April 20, a 10-game span.
One of the possible reasons Robinson is struggling this season is his move to the outfield. The 22 games Robinson has played in right are his most of any non-infield position in his career, and while he’s making routine catches, there’s not the evident comfort that a more experienced outfielder displays. This discomfort in his defensive role could (though this is reaching the area of speculation, here) be affecting his hitting, where his normally patient approach is hurt by his attempts to hit like a corner outfielder.
As the season goes on, the best result would be for Robinson to show adjustments in both the field and at the plate, bringing the average and the on-base percentage up enough to prove that the jump to AA wasn’t misguided. There is the chance that Ryan Rua, who currently occupies Frisco’s third base, could be promoted later into the summer, which might give Robinson the chance to play at a more natural position. Though Robinson’s had a difficult first month, the potential is still there.
The Rangers drafted Sam Wolff in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, and the righty spent his first 10 professional games in Spokane before being advanced to Hickory at the end of July. Wolff spent all of 2013 relieving, and allowed no runs in his 11 games with the ‘Dads, relying on a fastball that reportedly hit 99 mph. This season, Wolff has found a place in the Myrtle Beach rotation, and currently sports a 2.54 ERA and a team-leading 24 strikeouts (in a team-leading 28.1 innings pitched).
Though Wolff hit 99 mph as a reliever, as a starter he sits around 92-95 mph with his fastball, which he can cut in on hitters a bit, according to CJ Wittmann of Baseball Prospectus. His main secondary pitch is a 73-77 mph curveball, which could be a better pitch at higher velocities. Though Wolff is currently starting, he may find a long-term home in the ‘pen, a similar style pitcher to Aroldis Chapman, who backs up velocity with a decent-to-good breaking pitch. At 23, Wolff is right around the prospect age cutoff for the Carolina league, but continued success could see him promoted to Frisco before long.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.