The Farm Report -- 3/24/2021

DiamondPod

The podcast is back. Tonight at 7pm on The Ticket, Sean Bass of KTCK 96.7/1310, Michael Tepid of LoneStarBall.com and I will grace the airwaves for two hours along with Bass’s colleague Ty Walker. Future podcasts will be hosted here. We’re now known as DiamondPod in conjunction with Bass’s postgame radio show DiamondTalk.

The Minors

In case you missed the news, the Triple A season has been postponed for a month. The original schedule called for Round Rock to begin at the typical time of early April, while the lower levels would have to wait until May. A bunch of people, me included, wondered whether that was possible. In the short run, MLB’s bubble rules and need for continued alternative training sites conflict badly with the economic and practical realities of travel in AAA. While the postponement was virtually expected and probably the wise move, it’s still a disappointment for AAA teams finally given leave to promote themselves after a year at the mercy of the pandemic and MLB’s takeover.

Assuming no further delays, Round Rock will open at home against Oklahoma City (Dodgers) on Thursday May 6, two days after the commencement of the other full-season levels. All teams are scheduled for 120 games concluding in mid-September.

In the interim, Round Rock’s Dell Diamond will serve as Texas’s Alternative Training Site. Per yesterday’s announcement, 20-28 players will convene for workouts, scrimmages and potential exhibitions beginning the first full week of April. Limited fan attendance is possible.

As for the regular season, at present Round Rock and Frisco are maintaining the same attendance policies announced last month, contra the, shall we say, generous policy announced by the Rangers for the upcoming exhibitions and Opening Day. I’m told Round Rock’s attendance could reach about 30% of capacity under current standards. Frisco’s website indicates what appears to be a similarly restrictive setup. The season doesn’t begin for nearly five weeks, so it’s possible they could loosen standards by then, although I expect safety measures unrelated to attendance to remain in place indefinitely.

Rule Changes

MLB is implementing rule changes in selected minor league levels:

AAA – Bases will be less slick and increase from 15” to 18” in diameter.

AA – Shifts are allowed, but all infielders must be positioned fully within the infield dirt. Against lefties, second basemen often cheat onto the outfield grass, so this will affect most teams regardless of whether they shift. MLB might ban shifts during the second half of the season.

High-A – Pitchers must step completely off the rubber before attempting a pickoff.

Low-A – Pitchers are limited to two “free” pickoff attempts per plate appearance. A third attempt that doesn’t result in an out is ruled a balk, and all runners advance.

The Low-A West will have a 15-second pitch clock, and the Low-A Southeast will have robot umps. These rules won’t affect Down East in the Low-A East. (Oh, how I hate these new league names.)

The Triple A rule promotes safety, while the others are entertainment initiatives: fewer time-wasting pickoffs, encouragement of stolen bases, perhaps a bump in batting average for left-handed batters.

AAA and AA already employ a 20-second pitch count, which in my view hasn’t negatively impacted the game at all. One issue not directly addressed by these rule changes is the sharp increase in “true outcomes,” meaning plays that don’t involve most of the defense (homers, walks, hit-by-pitches and strikeouts). In the AAA Pacific Coast League, the number of plate appearances in which the defense didn’t participate declined by three per team per game from 2015 to 2019. In 2019, Houston’s high-A affiliate in Fayetteville surpassed the Carolina League strikeout record for pitchers by an unfathomable 206. 43% of opponents’ plate appearances resulted in a strikeout, walk, homer or hit-by-pitch. Increasing balls in play, which primarily means reducing strikeouts, may require moving the pitcher's rubber back, something contemplated but not instituted in the indy Atlantic League.

Players that rapidly climb the organizational ladder are going to have to adopt to rules that appear and then disappear.

Prospects, Hurt and Otherwise

LHP Joe Palumbo – Made his first “A” game appearance in three weeks on Tuesday because of back spasms. He looked pretty good, especially the curve. On a rebuilding club beset by injuries, Palumbo will be given a long leash. Tommy John surgery, ulcerative colitis and the pandemic have limited him to 159 innings over the previous four seasons. He’s on his last option if Texas decides to use it.

C Sam Huff – Out for a while longer with a hamstring injury. Huff was extremely unlikely to make the Opening Day roster but could have benefitted from live action.

RHP Demarcus Evans – Yet to pitch because of lat strain. Like Huff, he was probably AAA-bound from the outset, although a healthy version of Evans might have made the club because of all the bullpen injuries.

3B Josh Jung – A stress fracture in his left foot will sideline him 6-8 weeks.

LHP Brock Burke – Burke had shoulder surgery last year. He’s progressing well, but since his return is still a ways off and Texas will need to add several non-roster invites to the 40, he’s a strong candidate for placement on the 60-day Injured List.

RHP Ricky Vanasco – Underwent Tommy John surgery last September, presumably out for the duration of 2021. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if unprotected this December.

RHP Joe Gatto – Outrighted. Gatto has never pitched above AA, but the Rangers signed him to a guaranteed Major League deal (albeit at the minimum salary) on the basis of promising offseason sessions. Unfortunately, his sometimes iffy control completely abandoned him in Spring Training action, and the Rangers decided they needed his 40-man spot, which might go to another reliever like Matt Bush or Ian Kennedy.

Regarding the local reporting of Jose Leclerc’s elbow injury, I didn’t sense any of the cautious optimism that Leclerc might avoid major surgery like Jonathan Hernandez. We’ll see.

The Rangers have 13 healthy position players on the 40 with MLB experience, including the already optioned Sherten Apostel and the likely-to-be-optioned Anderson Tejeda. That’s not very many! (David Dahl is starting in left in a B game, so he's on the healthy list.)

Transactions

Texas released catcher Clayton Middleton (2016 / round 22) and signed catcher Isaias Quiroz (2014/20), who’d been released last summer. The Rangers also signed 27-year-old Blake Grant-Parks, listed as a catcher but experienced at several other positions including pitcher. Parks was drafted in 2014’s 39th round by Tampa Bay and has spent the last four years on various indy clubs including Cleburne. He’s assigned to Frisco. 

 
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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