Texas Rangers: 2019 MiLB Review & 2020 Preview

Julio Pablo Martinez, Spring Training, February 25, 2019 - photo credit rd_79 on Flickr

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Despite this setback and negativity, it allows us to look back at last season and pick out the standout performers for each affiliate. This could give up some clue as to how 2020 could shape up if the season starts as normal.

The Rangers’ affiliates stretch from the Rookie level with AZL Rangers and DSL Rangers 1 & 2, through to Nashville Sounds at AAA level. We will be focusing on the 6 main affiliates and picking out the standout hitter and pitcher for each.

AZL Rangers (Rookie) – Arizona League (Winners)

2019 was a fantastic year for the AZL Rangers, clinching the title after beating AZL Indians Blue. They had ended the season 33-23, finishing 2nd in the Arizona League West.

Standout Hitter – Heriberto Hernandez 

His consistent hitting led to an impressive line of .344/.433/.646 with 17 doubles, 4 triples, 11 home runs and a league-high 48 RBI. This included 2 home runs and 5 RBI in the 2-game final.

The Dominican Republican spent his first year with DSL Rangers before joining the Arizona-based team for 2019. His standout performances earned him a well-deserved call-up to Spokane Indians (A Short) for the last few games of the season.

Although he was signed as a catcher, his questionable receiving skills behind the plate led to a shift in position. He split the 2019 season between first base, catcher and right fielder, ending the year in the latter position.

He is expected to start the 2020 season with Spokane Indians, and is certainly one to watch.

Standout Pitcher – Leon Hunter

Drafted in Round 35 of the 2019 Draft, the right-handed reliever showcased his ability to become a reliable closer, picking up 8 saves and finishing the game in 16 of his 17 appearances.

Signed from the University of North Carolina A&T, he finished the season with a 2-1 record and an ERA of 1.48. He pitched 24.1 innings, allowing just 15 hits and 6 runs.

His BB/9 of 1.1 and K/9 of 10.0 was hugely impressive, and this made him an extremely important asset towards the end of the game and cemented his position as number 1 in saves in 2019.

This led to an end of season call-up to Spokane Indians, where he is due to start the 2020 season.

Preview 2020 – The Rangers will look to follow up their success at this level in 2020. The loss of these 2 standout stars could make a difference going into next year but it t will be interesting to see what new additions are added to the roster ahead of the new season. Their first title since 2012 will certainly allow for some momentum moving forward.

Spokane Indians (A Short) – Northwest League (Division Winners)

Last season was a success, clinching the division in both halves of the season. They fell short in the playoffs against Tri-City, but their impressive 45-31 record was down to their solid pitching performances (2nd-best ERA) and their powerful batting performances (3rd best HR and RBI).

Standout hitter – Blaine Crim

Drafted in the 19th Round of the 2019 Draft, the 22-year-old first baseman from Mississippi College was incredible. Finishing with 15 doubles, 8 home runs and 45 RBIs and a line of .335/.398/.528, the hard-hitter led the team in most statistics.

The 5″11 corner infielder uses his lower body to produce power due to his small stature. His ability to finish with 24 extra base hits shows how he uses his short swing to make solid contact.

Mississippi College isn’t well-known for producing MLB stars, the exception being Hall of Famer Don Sutton, having just 7 players play in the MLB. The last player to make his debut in the MLB from Mississippi College was 1966, and since then just 1 player has been drafted before Crim.

Named in the Northwest League All-Star team and Top Star from the Northwest League in the game, his extreme abilities and potential in college were definitely showcased in 2019. Has a very bright future.

Standout Pitcher – Jeifry Nunez

Signed in 2015, the Dominican Republican starting pitcher made his A (short) bow in 2019 after 4 years at Rookie level. His role changed to reliever and both the team and the player gained from this decision.

This change led to a 5-0 record, 2 saves and an ERA of 3.06 from 18 appearances. He pitched 53 innings overall, allowing just 39 hits, 20 runs, 11 walks, and getting 55 strikeouts. He predominantly pitched between the 4th and 7th innings.

His abilities grew as the season progressed. With a 1-0 record and an ERA of 4.68 in the first half, he recorded 4 wins, 2 saves and an ERA of 1.61 in the second half. His runs allowed reduced from 15 to 5, despite pitching 3 innings more, and this upturn in form showed his potential as a reliable reliever.

He is due to start 2020 with Frisco at AA.

Preview 2020 – Spokane will look at progressing further in 2020 and capture that elusive title. Their batting average of .235 was the 2nd worst in the league, and their total of 759 strikeouts was the highest. If they can be more disciplined at the plate and pick up more hits, that should hopefully guide them to their first League title since 2008.

Hickory Crawdads (A) – South Atlantic League (Runners-Up)

It was a positive season for Hickory, finishing runners-up after coming 2nd in the Northern Division. They had a record of 83-52, but a disappointing final loss ended their chances of their first title since 2015.

They reached the final with a combination of the league high 142 home runs, the 2nd-best record of 501 runs allowed by pitchers and the best fielding percentage in the League (.980).

Standout hitter – Pedro Gonzalez

The 22-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic finished the season with a League-high of 23 home runs and a team-high of 67 RBI. Although his line of .248/.317/.471 wasn’t anything special, his hard-hitting ability showcased his solid power and was an improvement on 2018.

His minor league career hasn’t excelled as quickly as people would have liked since joining in 2017, but his career-high total bases, home runs and RBI in 2019 is definitely something to look forward to going into 2020.

Standing at 6’5, he is a big player that generates great power (as shown above), but his high strikeout rate is the one aspect of his game he needs to work on to develop further. Interestingly, he struck out less times against left-handers (29) than he did right-handers (100). His average was remarkably different too, .356 against LHP and .213 against RHP.

If he can improve on his discipline at the plate and turn his strikes into hits then he has a promising future, and at just 22, there is plenty of time to improve. He will start 2020 with Down East Wood Ducks in A-Advanced.

Standout Pitcher – Kelvin Gonzalez

The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic had an incredible first year at A level. He had a record of 6-2, 5 saves and an ERA of 1.99 in 28 appearances, whilst pitching predominantly in the latter innings.

He allowed just 28 hits and 13 runs, getting 58 strikeouts in the process despite a tough period in the middle of the season. This showed his determination and trust in his skills to turn things round.

His minor league record of 5-5 since being traded in 2018 was nothing to write home about, but a solid 2019 has shown how much growth he has and his potential for the future.

Preview 2020 – Last season was very good but it came to a disappointing end. If they can follow that up in 2020 and push themselves a bit further, then they could be a force to be reckoned with. A strong solid offense with a youthful, exciting pitching team, there is a lot of ability in the Crawdads’ armory.

Down East Wood Ducks (A-Advanced) – Carolina League (Division Winners)

They finished the season with the best record of 87-52, but a semi-final loss against Fayetteville Woodpeckers put a premature end to what could have been a special season.

With the second youngest batters’ average, they led the league in stolen bases and second in home runs hit. Their pitchers led the league with the lowest ERA and least amount of runs given away and their fielding percentage was the highest in the league.

Standout hitter – Julio Pablo Martínez

Signed for $2.8m in 2018, there was a lot of expectation on the 24-year-old Cuban to deliver. He had an average year in 2018, but showcased some of his talents by leading the team in home runs, RBI and stolen bases in 2019.

He finished with a line of .248/.319/.423 with 21 doubles, 4 triples, 14 home runs, 58 RBI and 28 stolen bases. However, his downside was his 144 strikeouts in just 456 plate appearances.

By this stage he should have been at AA, or even AAA, but his high strikeout rate and lack of consistency has held him back. If he can focus on base hits and finding the gaps, he could easily reach his full potential and show the reasoning for his high price tag.

Standout Pitcher – Sal Mendez

The 25-year-old left-handed pitcher finished the season with a 7-2 record, a save and an ERA of 2.37 in 26 appearances. He started the season with 9 relief appearances, before a change in role saw him start 16 of the last 17 games. He picked up a save and 2 wins in his relief appearances with an ERA of 3.25, before going 5-2 and an ERA of 2.10 as a starter.

Although he was solid in May, June and July, there is some concerns due to a drop in form in August. He impressed in both roles he was given, but his injury history and his record-high innings pitched in 2019 could have played a factor in his end of season drop.

He missed the 2014 season due to Tommy John Surgery, just after he was picked in Round 40 of the 2013 Draft, but had been used conservatively up until last season. It will be interesting to see how he recovers for 2020 with Frisco RoughRiders due to his high work load in 2019, but if he can stay fit, he could be a key part of their pitching team.

Preview 2020 – They will look to bounce back after a disappointing end to the 2019 season, and if their younger players can learn from the experiences of losing in the semi-finals, then there is room to grow in 2020. The future is bright for the young Wood Ducks, and if JPM can maximize his full abilities, then this is a team with great potential.

Frisco RoughRiders (AA) – Texas League (5th)

It was another disappointing season for Frisco. They ended with a 68-71 record and finished 5th in the League. However, this was an improvement on previous years so there is some positivity to take away from it.

Standout hitter – Andretty Cordero

There wasn’t much competition here. He finished with a League-high 82 RBI, as well as a team-high 16 home runs. A line of .270/.313/.408 with 21 doubles showed his level of consistency as well as leading to a mid-season All-Star appearance.

The 22-year-old first-baseman from the Dominican Republic arrived as a free agent in 2013 and steadily worked his way through the system to reach AA. His last 2 years have shown impressive progression, having 20+ doubles and 10+ home runs in each year. He potentially needs to work on his 20% strikeout rate, but his consistency and quickness between the bases makes him a valuable asset. Deserves a call-up to AAA sooner rather than later.

Standout Pitcher – Jason Bahr

There wasn’t many standout pitchers for Frisco in 2019, but one player that did do extremely well was Bahr. He started the season with Down East, finishing with a 6-1 record and an ERA of 1.71, before being called-up to Frisco for 12 appearances. He finished with a 4-3 record and an ERA of 3.23 at AA level.

The 6’5 right-handed starter was dominant for Down East, allowing just 13 runs in 58 innings, and establishing himself as a quality starter. This led to a promotion to Frisco and, although he wasn’t hugely successful, he had a positive record with a decent ERA, picking up 68 strikeouts in 64 innings.

Below is his 8th strikeout to complete seven one-hit frames.

A full season with Frisco could show his potential for serious development into a quality starter, but he will need to get used to tougher batters to reduce his ERA in RISP opportunities (13.89). If this can be improved then the majors isn’t far away.

Preview 2020 – The main goal for Frisco will be to ensure improvement on the last few years to either reach the playoffs, or to try and turn their record into a positive one. It will be interesting to see how the roster pans out for 2020 after the disappointments of the last few years, but they are definitely in a redevelopment stage.

Nashville Sounds (AAA) – Pacific Coast League (9th)

A disappointing season all round for Nashville, finishing with a 66-72 record and ending up in 9th place. In their first season as a Rangers affiliate, they had their worst record since 2015. It will take time for players to adjust to Nashville after 8 seasons at Round Rock Express, so the next few years will be key to see what level the players are at.

Standout hitter – Nick Solak

This is a bit of a cheat one after his call-up to the majors. However, he finished the 2019 season with a .347/.386/.653 line with 6 doubles, 10 home runs and 27 RBI in 30 appearances at AAA level.

His athletic build and quickness gave him a huge advantage, and despite his not-so-solid defensive abilities, he excelled at this level.

Traded to the Rangers in 2018, he has showcased the talents that made the Yankees pick him in the 2016 MLB Draft. He showed steady progression at the Yankees and although a trade could be detrimental for some, this one was perfect for him.

He is starting to identify himself as a regular for the Rangers, and if he can work on his defensive side of the game, then he will be a regular for years to come.

Standout Pitcher – Joe Palumbo

Standout pitcher was hard to choose. The 2 best pitchers in terms of record both elected free agency, and Kolby Allard spent the bulk of the year in Gwinnett. However, the Rangers’ number 9 prospect showed some solidity in a difficult season for Nashville.

He finished with a 3-0 record and an ERA of 2.57 in 6 starts. Although he only pitched 27 innings, the 25-year-old lefty allowed just 13 hits and 9 runs whilst picking up 39 strikeouts. This led to a majors call-up for the Round 30 pick in 2013. Despite a 0-3 record, it shows the progression made from the Round 30 pick in 2013.

He has a solid curveball that ranges between 78-82 mph and a high spin on his fastball that averages 91-94mph, however his Tommy John Surgery in 2017 requires a conservative approach and increased focus on his pitching technique. Below shows him getting his 7th strikeout in a 6-inning hitless spell.

He could be part of the majors starting rotation in 2020, but his work-load will need to be monitored.

Preview 2020 – There will need to be a vast improvement in 2020 after a disappointing year last season. Considering it’s the last step to the majors, having a negative record doesn’t bode well. This will need to change moving forward to allow Nashville to be successful again.

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