Texas’s Top 100 Prospects
3B Josh Jung: 9th by FanGraphs, 19th by Kiley McDaniel (ESPN), 26th by Baseball America, 31st by Baseball Prospectus
RHP Jack Leiter: 20th by Baseball Prospectus, 24th by FanGraphs, 25th by Baseball America, 36th by Kiley McDaniel (ESPN)
IF Justin Foscue: 50th by Baseball Prospectus
RHP Cole Winn: 52nd by FanGraphs, 60th by Kiley McDaniel (ESPN), 61st by Baseball America, 91st by Baseball Prospectus
IF Ezequiel Duran: 68th by FanGraphs, 99th by Baseball Prospectus
RHP Owen White: 84th by FanGraphs
IF Josh Smith: 89th by FanGraphs
I believe all the Jung placements pre-date his injury. On a subsequent podcast, FanGraphers Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein suggested he’d rank in the sixties as is.
Organization Farm Rankings
8th by Baseball Prospectus, (13th in 2021)
9th by Baseball America (24th last year)
10th by Kiley McDaniel / ESPN (20th last year)
Both Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim have strong defensive reps, especially in terms of pitch-calling, but Texas’s catchers combined to hit .223/.257/.367 in 2021. Texas’s offense hasn’t been better than its pitching since 2016, and even then, just barely. 2020 was the franchise’s worst offensive season, and 2021 was no better than third-worst. This team desperately needs hitting. Mitch Garver will hit. (Also, the free agent market for catchers was exceptionally bleak.)
Isiah Kiner-Falefa admitted some grumpiness upon Texas’s acquisition of Seagar and Semien, and I can’t blame him. IKF’s bat has been worth about 1.5 wins below average (average, not replacement) per 600 plate appearances, but he’s compensated by fielding well at a premium position. Defense saved last year’s squad from a win total in the 50s. But again, the Rangers are focused on upgrading an atrocious offense. That’s not to pin it on IKF, who has an acceptable lifetime .316 OBP, but he’s the biggest trade chip if the strategy is to sacrifice some defense in exchange for hitting.
Kiner-Falefa received scant attention nationally while climbing the system, but those of us who focus mostly on the Rangers were on to him despite his lack of even doubles power at the time. IKF squeezes more out of his ability than just about any Ranger I’ve seen. He will not be denied. Best wishes to him.
I enjoy watching RHP Ronny Henriquez, but he’s the type you readily relinquish to push a deal for a starting position player over the line. His fastball is lively and angry, backed up by a capable if inconsistent slider and change. I saw him and Yerry Rodriguez back-to-back last July. Rodriguez’s fastball impressed the most, but Henriquez looked more likely to remain a starter. Henriquez induced nine swinging strikes with his slider. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Henriquez slide into a reliever role.
I hadn’t thought of Brad Miller as an option. He’s 32. He’s wandered through six clubhouses during the past four years. He’s made only 57 of his 700 career starts at positions needing the most help in Texas (3B, LF). But even with all the address changes, Miller has batted .250/.344/.487 against righties since 2018. Miller used to man short regularly, so I’d venture he could form the strong side of a platoon at 3B or LF despite the relative lack of experience. Against lefties, Miller actually homers at a similar rate, about one per 21 PA, but otherwise is of no help.
Martin Perez! Perez has averaged roughly one WAR per 100-150 innings in his career, and if he can give Texas 150 slightly-above-replacement innings in 2021, he’s a fine addition. Prior to his signing, Texas was in the position of asking some combination of Taylor Hearn, Spencer Howard, AJ Alexy, Glenn Otto, Kolby Allard, and perhaps a few others to fill three rotation spots behind John Gray and Dane Dunning. That’s a big ask. Perez will alleviate that pressure.
Free Agents back with Texas: LHP Sal Mendez, RHP Jesus Linarez, C Jordan Procyshen, IF Trey Hair, and as of yesterday, IF Charlie Culberson.
Among the recent signings to minor deals is OF Jake Marisnick, who’s totaled 11 wins above replacement in 800 games despite a .228/.282/.384 line, courtesy of superior defense. A nice depth signing and possibly more, depending on what Texas can do to fortify a still-thin outfield. Arlington native and Texas-Ex Brandon Workman is a Ranger following a second stint with the Red Sox. Workman has been off his game the past two years, posting a .5.66 ERA with 34 walks in 47.2 relief innings. Matt Moore, who threw 102 unmemorable innings for the unmemorable 2018 Rangers, is back. And, Texas just signed righty reliever Greg Holland, who’s been all over the map in terms of quality the past four years. The Rangers have some recent success snaring veteran arms, so perhaps Holland could be another.
IFs Nick Tanielu and Nash Knight are Rangers on minor deals. Neither appeared on any transaction list I’ve seen, but they’re on the Spring Training roster. Tanielu will be familiar to Express fans, having played for Round Rock as an Astro in 2019 and visiting last year as a member of the Padres’ El Paso affiliate. Tanileu excelled with the Express (.295/.360/.520) but was oddly ineffective at hitter-friendly El Paso (.233/.299/.415). The 29-year-old Knight -- born in Denton, schooled at Dallas Baptist, professionally a Blue Jay until now -- has played every position at some but it best regarded as a corner infielder with some moonlighting at second and in left. Both are seeking their MLB debuts.
1B Ronald Guzman signed a minor league contract with the Yankees.
San Francisco signed lefty Joe Palumbo to a minor deal. The Giants had declined to offer him a Major League contract after claiming him off waivers from Texas last fall, making him a free agent for a while. He’s a teammate of Luis Ortiz, who also signed with the Giants after spending 2021 in Round Rock.
Lefty Wes Benjamin, who became a free agent after being outrighted last fall, signed a minor deal with the White Sox.
Catcher Melvin Novoa and OF Pedro Gonzales signed with indy teams.
OF Lewis Brinson inked a minor deal with the Astros.
The Cubs signed OF Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85 million contract. Suzuki was the last available player in the “Other People’s Money” portion of my Nov. 16 report wherein I estimated value of lavishing $100 million annually (actually $108) on free agents. I had four and $44 in mind for Suzuki, so good for him on blowing by that.
Our long national nightmare is over. MLB is reinstating the traditional monikers for the minor leagues. MLB was able to recast the minors more to its liking after 2020, but it lacked the naming rights. Thus, the stilted Triple A West, Double A South, High A East, and Low A East. They’re gone, never to be uttered again in polite company, replaced by the Pacific Coast League, Texas League, South Atlantic (Sally) League, and Carolina League.
All full-season levels will institute a pitch clock of 14 seconds with bases empty and 19 (AAA) or 18 (elsewhere) with runners on. A 20-second pitch clock dates back to 2015 in AAA. I don’t know if the number of clock-enforced balls and strikes has declined, but my feeling is enforcement has become more lax over the years.
All full-season levels will play with the larger bases used in AAA last year. Also, the limit of two pickoffs or step-offs per plate appearance expands from low-A to all full-season leagues. A third pickoff that doesn’t result in an out is deemed a balk. Last year, Texas’s Down East squad set a low-A record with 2.42 steals per game. League-wide stolen base attempts increased 30% vs. 2019, and successful attempts jumped 47%.
The Pacific Coast League and Charlotte in the International League will employ the automated ball/strike system used last year in the Low-A Southeast and Arizona Fall League last year. I have a pet theory that players with superior batting eyes can walk at an outsized rate because they needn’t worry about varying strikes zones among umps or expansion of the zone in three-ball counts. Let’s check the stats:
Number of players drawing at least 1 walk per 6 plate appearances:
All Low-A in 2019 (no robo-ump): 6 players, 0.20 per team
2021 Low-A West and East (no robo-ump): 5 players, 0.28 per team
2021 Low-A Southeast (robo-ump): 18 players, 1.50 per team
Ranger Trevor Hauver is among them; he drew 64 walks in 66 games in Tampa prior to his trade to Texas. I don’t expect an explosion in the AAA walk rate like what occurred in the Low-A Southeast last year. AAA pitchers have better control and are another year removed from the lost 2020. But we might see some hitters really take advantage of a “perfect” strike zone.
Levels below AAA will ban the shift; the four infielders must divide equally on either side of second and plant their spikes in the dirt.
Back in 2014, some minor leaguers sued selected MLB clubs and MLB itself over alleged illegal wage and labor practices. The players eventually formed a class that withstood a certification challenge reaching the US Supreme Court. Last week, a federal judge ruled on a host of pre-trial motions, most notably granting the plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion and ruling that the players are indeed “employees” under federal and state law, that players’ currently unpaid activities in spring training complexes are indeed “work,” and that travel time to and from Cal League games is compensable. The judge ordered $1,882,650 in penalties on the Cal League claim, with penalties in other states to be determined at trial if the case proceeds that far. Prior to this ruling, you might recall that MLB’s counsel recently had to defend the notion that minor leaguers not only should not be paid during spring training, but that the instruction and “life skills” received are things the players would pay thousands for at private camps. The judge was not persuaded, stating “defendants’ creative professional exemption defense fails as to all of Plaintiffs’ claims” and “defendants’ method of allocating signing bonuses and tuition payments to offset minimum wage liability is incorrect as a matter of law.”
The amount of money isn't huge, relatively speaking, but it's not nothing, and paying players during Spring Training would certainly represent a drastic change in business practices. If a court tells clubs owners they have to pay minor leaguers more money, owners might respond by employing fewer minor leaguers. 40 minor league teams already lost their affiliations after 2020. Under the new agreement, clubs are committed to fielding four full-season minor teams through 2030.
Rule 5 Draft
Cancelled. Unfortunately, also cancelled is my annual trip to Arizona for the third straight year. Pre-CBA uncertainty about whether folks like me would be allowed in Surprise plus grim certainty about my current work schedule forced me to make an unappealing decision. Instead, later on this year I hope to visit Texas’s A-level clubs for the first time since 2011.