August 14, 2008
The young woman entered the Frisco coffee shop filled mostly with professionals on a late Thursday morning. She walked from table to table, making a sales pitch. Her warmth and confidence quickly erased the initial dismay her targets felt at receiving a face-to-face solicitation. Unfortunately, she was offering an unsellable product: discounted ticket packages to the Texas Rangers.
After a time, she approached my table. I politely demurred, then asked whether she'd had much success elsewhere. She grimaced. Texas was 61-60 at the time but hopelessly out of playoff contention. Two days prior, the Rangers lost a soul-crushing 19-17 decision at Boston. In their last 24 home games, the Rangers would surpass 30,000 fans only three times.
How times have changed. Texas was rapidly constructing the foundation for long-term success. Already making his MLB debut was '07 acquisition Matt Harrison. Last year, the Rangers received 51% of their plate appearances and 37% of their innings from players acquired during 2006-2008. Average attendance was 42,719, 4,000 above the highest late-season figure from 2008. Despite the lack of ultimate success, the franchise is at its apex on the field, on the farm and in the stands and souvenir shops.
Why was I in Frisco? I'd arranged a D/FW business trip to coincide with seeing Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz. Holland had struck out ten Tulsa drillers in eight scoreless innings the night before. Neftali Feliz would start that night, albeit not nearly as effectively as Holland. Unlike the coffee shop patrons, my interest in the Rangers was plenty strong, just directed elsewhere.
My job is to tell you about these guys before they reach Arlington. So...
Greetings from Surprise, Arizona
I’m Scott Lucas, and I write daily minor-league game summaries and other features for the Newberg Report. Every March, I reintroduce myself to the newcomers on our expanding email empire. 18,500 of you receive our free service. When I began in February 2007, the Newberg Report had 3,500 subscribers.
I was born in Arlington, raised a Rangers fan. I watched battery mates Gaylord Perry and Jim Sundberg from the sun-scorched bleachers back in 1976, missed by inches a Pete Incaviglia foul to the deck above the press box in 1986, saw Darren Oliver best Jack McDowell late in 1996, cheered the clinching games of the ALCS in 2010 and 2011.
I moved to Austin in 1986 and have lived within a couple of miles of downtown ever since. Unlike seemingly so many bloggers, I’m not a lawyer, although most of my clients are. In real life, I appraise, consult on, and provide litigation support for real estate suffering from environmental contamination or other physical and legal problems. This year, that has meant trips to Chicago, Norfolk, and Shamrock, Texas.
My baseball-writing began in 2001 with a fantasy gig for ESPN, followed by my own site (rangers.scottlucas.com, updated sporadically these days), various freelance assignments, and an invitation from Jamey to replace the estimable Mike Hindman in 2007. Ah, I remember our initial conversation fondly...
I am not a scout and don't pretend to be. What I offer is engaged observations, history and perspective, along with plenty of video and photography.
I keep track of everyone on the Rangers and their six US-based minor-league teams: http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/org.htm. As of now, most players are listed on their final destination in 2012, but I’ll update the chart when rosters are announced and throughout the season. Even for me, it's a cat-herding exercise, so feel free to email corrections.
Correspondence / Twitter
Also Feel free to email questions and comments. My twitter handle is @scottrlucas (http://twitter.com/scottlucas). I'll comment on noteworthy prospect performances during my week in Surprise. During the season, I regularly update with in-game comments, roster moves, statistical tidbits, etc. Jamey is there too, of course (@NewbergReport). If you’re twitter-averse because of the noise factor, I understand, but I've got a respectable wheat-to-chaff ratio, if I may say so.
AAA – Round Rock Express (Texas), Pacific Coast League
Texas signed a four-year contract with the Express after 2010 and has already extended it through 2018. Round Rock is 360 miles closer to my house than former AAA affiliate Oklahoma City, so I've been able to offer much better coverage of prospects like Martin Perez and Leonys Martin.
A major function of AAA teams is to house potential replacements for the injured and ineffective. As such, some are prospect-free and rather dull to watch (Florida-affiliated New Orleans was a prime example last year), but Texas's AAA squads have been reasonably well stocked.
Round Rock typically plays neutral, meaning much less hitter friendly than elevated settings like Albuquerque and Colorado Springs but more so than other teams in its time zone. Lately, the Dell Diamond has suffered from multiple personality disorder, playing like Coors Field during a miserably hot 2011 and becoming an extreme pitcher's park last year.
AA – Frisco Roughriders (Texas), Texas League
Frisco began play in 2003 and will likely be a Texas affiliate as long as it exists. The RoughRiders play an extremely unbalanced schedule including 30-32 games each against the affiliates of the Astros, Athletics and Padres. So, if you live near Corpus Christi, San Antonio or Midland, you've got plenty of opportunities to see Frisco.
Usually, Dr. Pepper Ballpark is a neutral setting in a hitter-friendly league, although it does allow more home runs than average. You are encouraged to visit there, especially if you've never seen a minor-league game.
High-A – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (South Carolina), Carolina League
Post-2010, Chuck Greenberg’s simultaneous ownership of the Rangers and Pelicans afforded a massive upgrade over Bakersfield, home to one of the worst physical plants (and worst situations) in affiliated baseball. Texas and Myrtle Beach signed a four-year agreement. Greenberg is no longer with the Rangers but the affiliation has proceeded smoothly.
The Carolina League favors pitchers, and Myrtle Beach is among the most forgiving parks aside from a short porch down the left field line. Balls hit to right-center have a particularly hard time escaping the yard.
Low-A – Hickory Crawdads (North Carolina), South Atlantic League
Texas returned to the Sally League in 2009 after six years in Clinton, Iowa, and extended its contract after 2010 and 2012. Hickory is a mere 220 miles from Myrtle Beach, making player transactions and management visits between the teams much more convenient than the old Bakersfield-Clinton trek.
Hickory's home park is a hitter-friendly locale in a hitter-friendly league. The Crawdads came into existence in 1993 after moving from an ancient park in Gastonia, which was, oddly enough, a Texas affiliate.
Short-A – Spokane Indians (Washington), Northwest League
Once a Triple-A city affiliated with the Rangers, Spokane is the pride of the Northwest League, routinely outdrawing several AA and AAA cities. Most college draftees and precocious high-schoolers first experience the grueling nature of professional ball in the “short season.” Soon after the June draft, the Indians will play 76 games in 80 days. Invariably, Texas stocks Spokane with more teenagers than the competition. In 2011, the five youngest players and seven of the youngest eleven in the league belonged to the Rangers, led by 17-year-old 2B Rougned Odor. Last year's squad wasn't quite so baby-faced but still well below the league average age.
Rookie – Arizona Rangers, Arizona League
The rookies play a 56-game schedule beginning in mid-June. It's also known as the “complex league” because teams play in their Spring Training homes. There’s no admission, no concessions, no radio broadcasts, and no fans as such. The range in talent and experience is very broad. These games are often sloppy affairs with many more errors, wild pitches and other miscues than in MLB and the upper minors. I don't mean to badmouth the participants. They're talented, to be sure, but often very raw.
The rookie Rangers won the league last summer.
Newberg Report (newbergreport.com)