The Farm Report -- 9/10/2016

Texas claimed RHP R.J. Alvarez off waivers from the Cubs.  The 25-year-old had a 7.71 ERA in 20 relief appearances for AA Tennessee; he struck out 30 in 23.1 innings.  In 23 MLB appearances between San Diego and Oakland during 2014-2015, Alvarez posted a 7.39 ERA and allowed seven homers in 28 innings.  The Rangers assigned Alvarez to High Desert, which sounds like a procedural move.  RHP Lucas Harrell moved to the 60-day DL.

Rangers Farm Report: Games of Friday 9 September


High-A: off

High Desert will face Houston-affiliated Lancaster, which clobbered Rancho Cucamonga by scores of 17-11 and 21-4 after losing the opener 4-3.  Brett Martin will start Game 1.  My series preview is below.

The Bakersfield Blaze also live to fight another day, beating San Jose 5-3 to advance to the second round against Visalia.

Short-A: at Spokane 0, Everett 8
Spokane loses best-of-three semifinal 0-2

SP Kyle Cody: 4 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 3 SO
RP Steven Bruce: 2 scoreless IP, 2 H, 1 SO
SS Anderson Tejeda: 2-4, double
2B Blaine Prescott: 1-4, double

Unfortunately, my fears about this matchup were fully realized.  Spokane added three critical infield errors to Thursday's six, and Everett fielded impeccably behind a formidable Matthew Festa (7 IP, 7 runners, 4 strikeouts). 

Taking the mound at Safeco Field, Kyle Cody faced 20 batters and allowed only two hits, both singles, but he paid the price for four walks (one with the bases full) and a wild pitch.  Nine of the 16 runs surrendered by Spokane in the series were unearned. 

The offense managed six hits and never mounted a serious threat once Everett took the lead in the 3rd.

On the upside, the young men had the thrill of playing a meaningful game in a Major League park. 

PLAYOFF PREVIEW
California League Semifinals (best-of-five)
High Desert Mavericks (82-58) vs. Houston-affiliated Lancaster JetHawks (79-64)

Season Run Differential: High Desert +96, Lancaster +71 (regular season)
Last 20 Games: High Desert 10-10, Lancaster 11-9
Season Series: High Desert 16-14 over Lancaster

At 43-27, High Desert won the first-half title by a single game over Rancho Cucamonga, earning a bye in the Cal League's fussy, six-team playoff system.  The Mavs went 39-31 in the second half, second-best in the division and league as a whole.

OF Jose Cardona, IF Juremi Profar, OF Luke Tendler and C Jose Trevino have played in three consecutive postseasons: Spokane in 2014, league-winning Hickory in 2015 and this year's Mavs.  IF Josh Morgan missed last year's postseason due to injury but was a regular-season fixture for the same three teams.

Lancaster treaded water in the first half (35-35), then claimed the second-half title with a 42-28 record and won the opening playoff round 2-1 over Rancho Cucamonga.

History 
In 2015, the only other season as a Texas affiliate, High Desert won the playoff's opening round (which it's skipped this time) and lost the fifth and deciding game of the semifinals in gruesome fashion.  Up 5-4 in the 9th with two out, none one and an 0-2 count, reliever Dakota Watts (who'd worked two innings the night before) issued four straight balls.  A single and walk loaded the bases, and then a grounder off 3B Alberto Triunfel's glove into short left-center scored the tying and winning runs. 

Lancaster won the league title in 2012 and 2014 but lost in the opening round to High Desert last season.

Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com
High Desert:
8. OF Eric Jenkins (2015, 2nd round)
9. LHP Brett Martin (2014, 4th)
12. OF Jairo Beras (int'l free agent)
13. IF Josh Morgan (2014, 3rd)
15. Michael De Leon (int'l FA)
21. C Jose Trevino (2014, 6th)

Lancaster:
2. OF Kyle Tucker (53rd overall)
8. RHP Albert Abreu
17. RHP Riley Ferrell (DL)
29. OF Jason Martin

Offense / High Desert Position Players
C Jose Trevino
1B Carlos Arroyo
2B Josh Morgan
SS Michael De Leon
3B Juremi Profar
LF Scott Heineman
CF Jose Cardona
RF Jairo Beras
DH Luke Tendler

High Desert scored 5.8 runs per game, which sounds amazing but rates only average in consideration of the home park.  That said, the Mavs were capable on the road, hitting .265/.332/.419 with 5.2 runs per game.  Even after adjusting for park and the loss of Travis Demeritte, High Desert's primary weapon is power.  Seven healthy Mavs hit at least nine homers and 20 doubles, and six batted .297 or better.  Scott Heineman (30 SB) and Jose Cardona (13) are the primary running threats. 

Lancaster scored 44 more runs than High Desert.  The JetHawks were humdrum in average (.272) and slugging (.432) but led the league in OBP (.359), walks (585, 142 more the High Desert) and steals (209).  They've lost more to promotions than High Desert.  Gone are Drew Ferguson, Ramon Laureano and Nick Tanielu, all of whom produced lines in excess of .300/.400/.500, plus 2-3 other solid contributors.  Still, the JetHawks scored 36 over the past two nights against a strong Rancho Cucamonga squad, so they're clearly still capable of gutting an opponent's pitching corps.  2015 5th-overall pick Kyle Tucker joined in August and acted like he belonged from the get-go (.339/.435/.661). 

Pitching / Possible Rotation
1: Brett Martin (4.24 ERA, .270/.320/.404, 17% SO) vs.
Elieser Hernandez (6.93 ERA, .311/.385/.542, 16%)
2: Jeffrey Springs (5.36 ERA, .277/.347/.489, 24% SO) vs. TBD
3: Collin Wiles (4.89 ERA, .285/.330/.472, 15% SO) vs. TBD
4 and 5: TBD

Behind the stellar trio of Ariel Jurado, Yohander Mendez and Luis Ortiz, High Desert's pitching staff was on pace to set the 26-year franchise record for fewest runs allowed through the first half.  Runs allowed jumped from 4.4 in the first half to 5.8 in the second.  Martin is a solid prospect who lost much of his season to an oblique injury; he's handled the league pretty well.  Springs strikes out the most batters and allows the hardest contact when he doesn't.  Wiles is a control specialist.  I've seen those types grounded down into dust in the harsh environment, but Wiles maintain his peripherals in the second half.  End-of-series options include Tyler Davis (6.59 ERA), David Ledbetter (5.45) and Adam Quintana (4.34).  Mid-May addition Nick Gardewine (2.47 ERA, .198/.250/.299 line, 28% K rate) led the Mavs with seven saves, and several solid, multi-inning relievers are available.

21-year-old Elieser Hernandez will lead off for Lancaster.  He was outstanding in low-A Quad Cities, far less so in the Cal League.  Next could be solid prospect Albert Abreu (5.40 ERA, .267/.389/.467, 20% SO) or Framber Valdez (3.19 ERA, .247/.315/.291, 26% SO at 3 different levels).  The next options started Lancaster's previous series and could be available in Games 3, 4 and 5, respectively:
Brock Dykxhoorn (5.02 ERA, .287/.335/.509, 17% SO),
 Jose Hernandez (3.48 ERA, .269/.303/.440, 23% SO),
Ex-Ranger Akeem Bostick (4.74 ERA, .285/.376/.404, 15% SO).

Andrew Thome (5 saves, 3.86 ERA, 17% SO) earned the late-season saves once primary closer Jacob Dorris departed. 

Defense
High Desert was more error-prone but turned more double plays relative to expectations and more batted balls into outs.  Neither team allowed many steals, although that's partly a function of being ahead more often than not.  It's hard to judge Lancaster's current defense given their greater personnel turnover, but the season-long stats give High Desert a small edge.

Advantages
Offense – Lancaster
Pitching – High Desert
Defense – High Desert

3-Year Park Factor
High Desert -- 1.15 for runs, 1.24 for homers. Arguably the most hitter-friendly park on the planet.
Lancaster -- 1.14 for runs, 1.22 for homers. Arguably the most hitter-friendly park on the planet.  Will no longer be arguable when High Desert closes shop.

Prediction 
High Desert lost several players responsible for its superior first-half pitching, but the same applies to Lancaster's offense.  As such, they look closely matched.  What I can predict with near certainty is runs.  Many, many runs.  In last year's opening best-of-three, they averaged 14.7 runs per game.

High Desert in five.

--
Scott Lucas
Newberg Report (newbergreport.com)
twitter: @scottrlucas
#teamjana      

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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