Future of Rangers on display in Frisco

by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, April 14th, 2013

By Alex Vispoli & Ryan Garrett

What do Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz all have in common?  Yes, all are star players on the Texas Rangers, but they also played somewhere else in North Texas before suiting up in Arlington.  Those four, and more than one hundred other big league players, made their way to the majors after spending time wearing the uniform of the Frisco RoughRiders. 

The ’Riders are the Double-A affiliate of the Rangers, meaning that Frisco’s players all have a shot to reach “The Show.”  Whether or not they make it depends on their performance in the minor leagues.  To make it to Frisco, players have to climb the ladder of the minors, playing in rookie ball, “low” Single-A, and then “high” Single-A.  Then, they usually have to prove themselves at one more level (Triple-A) before getting the call up to the majors.

It is a long and difficult road to make it to Double-A, never mind all the way up to the Rangers.  At each level, a player has to improve his abilities before getting a promotion while competing against others who have the same dream of getting to the top.  Typically, a player with Frisco has already played professionally for three-to-five years before even making it this far!

 

Impressive Alumni

Even young phenoms Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals), Bryce Harper Washington Nationals) and Mike Trout (LA Angels) toiled in the minors for multiple seasons before getting to the big leagues.

Because of all of the success that the Rangers have had finding and developing young players over the last decade, many familiar names to baseball fans have found themselves playing for the RoughRiders since the team was established in 2003.  We mentioned some of the best-known at the start of the article, but several other former ’Riders have distinguished themselves as well.

Left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson, who starred with the Rangers before signing a big free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels, pitched for Frisco in 2003 and 2005.  He was Double-A teammates with another future big league all-star in 2005 when Edinson Volquez anchored Frisco’s rotation.  A few years later, Volquez would be traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Josh Hamilton, and he is now in Southern California pitching for the San Diego Padres.

The RoughRiders have also produced talented hitters in addition to an impressive haul of hurlers.  Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is a perennial all-star and one of the best bats in the game.  He was a ’Rider in 2003 and made his big league debut a year later.  Others, such as Kinsler and Andrus, have also been all-star position players.

Productive major leaguers John Danks (Chicago White Sox), Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles) and Chris Young (Nationals) have come through Frisco as well on their way to the big leagues.

 

Ready to Break Out

Many former RoughRiders have not yet made a large impact on the major league level, but will very soon.  Craig Gentry, Leonys Martin, Mitch Moreland, Robbie Ross and Martin Perez, while well-known to Rangers fans, are looking for breakout seasons in Arlington this year.  Others are even less-known but could be providing an impact for Texas for the better part of the next two decades.

The Rangers’ brightest future star is shortstop Jurickson Profar.  The Curacao native only turned 20 years old this past February and is the consensus top prospect in all of baseball.  He played almost the entire 2012 season in Frisco before getting a call-up to the Rangers last September, where he did not play much but primarily observed how things work in the majors.

Profar is a five-tool player with tremendous instincts and leadership for a person his age.  The only thing holding him back is his position, which is currently occupied by Andrus.  At the start of spring training there was some uncertainty about where Profar would play this season; he was later optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.  He definitely is a rare talent who will be a fun player to watch for years to come.

The Rangers have a similar predicament regarding another one of their top prospects in Mike Olt.  Like Profar, Olt played most of his 2012 season with the RoughRiders before finishing it with the Rangers.  His immense power is his calling card, as he hit 28 home runs last year to lead the Texas League despite missing the last month of the season.  Olt’s primary position is third base, but Texas’ current third baseman, Adrian Beltre, is perhaps the team’s best player.  To find a solution, the Rangers have experimented to see if Olt is capable of playing first base or in the outfield to find a way to get him into the lineup on a regular basis.

In the coming years, other former RoughRiders will find themselves in Arlington, from pitching prospect Cody Buckel to catcher Tomas Telis.  If and when those players do reach the major leagues, their time at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco will have been part of the reason why.

 

2013 Season

The ’Riders will compete once again with seven other teams for the Texas League Championship.  Frisco lost in the Texas League Championship Series last year to the Springfield Cardinals (affiliated with St. Louis) and will look to finish the job in 2013.  In addition to the RoughRiders and Cardinals, the other Texas League opponents are the Arkansas Travelers (Los Angeles Angels), Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston Astros), Midland RockHounds (Oakland Athletics), Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals), San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres) and Tulsa Drillers (Colorado Rockies).

One of the players we will see wearing the RoughRiders uniform this year include relief pitcher Ben Rowen, who was the Carolina League Reliever of the Year while playing for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas’ Advanced Single-A affiliate).  Others from last year’s Myrtle Beach squad include toolsy middle infielder Odubel Herrera and outfielder Teodoro Martinez, whose father played in the majors and hit a home run that bounced off of former Ranger Jose Canseco’s head before going over the fence!

With returning players like Texas League All-Star Zach Zaneski, and speedy outfielder Ryan Strausborger, it should be another talented group playing this season at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

 

Meet the 2013 RoughRiders

The Frisco RoughRiders will field a team balanced with youth, experience, prospects and veterans to make up their 2013 Opening Day roster.  Manager Steve Buechele will once again lead the RoughRiders, who will be seeking a fourth straight trip to the Texas League playoffs and the franchise’s second championship. Buechele played for Texas in the 1980s and finished his career with stints in Pittsburgh and in Chicago with the Cubs.  His return is encouraging for ’Riders fans everywhere because in his first three seasons with Frisco, the team made the playoffs every year.

This ‘Riders squad features six players listed in Baseball America‘s top 30 prospects for the Texas Rangers organization, highlighted by 20-year-old pitcher Cody Buckel (8). The others are pitcher Roman Mendez (13), infielder Hanser Alberto (15), and pitchers Wilmer Font (22), Neil Ramirez (23) and Randy Henry (29). Font, who pitched for Frisco at the end of the 2012 season, is noted by Baseball America as having the best fastball among Rangers farmhands. He was the only player last season to throw a triple-digit pitch as recorded by the Dr Pepper Ballpark radar gun.

While there are nine RoughRiders players on this year’s team who will be new to the Double-A level, there will plenty of experience on hand as well. Seventeen players have previously played at the Double-A level or higher, with 17 of those players combining for 35 seasons of Double-A playing experience. Six players (Chih-Hsien Chiang, Ryan Feierabend, Kevin Pucetas, Guilder Rodriguez, Tyler Tufts and Ross Wolf) own a combined 21 seasons of Triple-A experience in their playing careers. Three players have reached the highest level of baseball, with Feierabend (Seattle), Font (Texas) and Wolf (Florida, Oakland) combining for six seasons in the big leagues.

Other notes from this year’s Opening Day roster:

  • Chiang, who has previously played in the Red Sox and Mariners organizations, will become the RoughRiders’ first-ever Taiwanese-born player.
  • The RoughRiders have 14 players returning from last year’s South Division Championship team: Jake Brigham, Alex Buchholz, Buckel, Font, Jared Hoying, Mendez, Carlos Pimentel, Ramirez, Ryan Rodebaugh, Rodriguez, Strausborger, Tufts, Wolf and Zaneski.
  • Ten players were on the 2012 Myrtle Beach Pelicans team that qualified for postseason play in the Carolina League: Alberto, Buckel, Font, Randy Henry, Herrera, Mendez, Brett Nicholas, Jimmy Reyes, Rowen and Telis.
  • The average Opening Day age of this year’s team is exactly 24 years old. The pitchers’ average age is 24.3 while the hitters’ is 23.7. Alberto (20) is the youngest player while the oldest is Wolf (30).
  • The players making up this year’s team hail from 13 different states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia) and four countries (Dominican Republic, Taiwan, United States of America and Venezuela).
  • Alejandro Selen will be skipping the Advanced-A level to join the RoughRiders after playing with Single-A Hickory for each of the last two seasons

Entering his fourth year as manager of the RoughRiders, Buechele headlines a coaching staff that remains intact from last season’s squad, which advanced to the Texas League Championship Series. He will be joined by pitching coach Jeff Andrews, hitting coach Jason Hart (a former Ranger who also suited up as a Frisco player in 2005) and Double-A coach/Rangers scout James Vilade. Carlos Olivas (athletic trainer) and Eric McMahon (strength & conditioning coach) also return after being honored as the best in the Texas League at their respective positions last season.

 

More than just the game

The terrific baseball is enough of a reason to plan your trips out to Dr Pepper Ballpark this season, but coming to a RoughRiders game has always been more than just balls and strikes.  Deuce and Daisy, the RoughRiders’ hilarious mascots have a way of making even the grumpiest person crack a smile.  Then there are the between-innings skits, videos and games that keep you on the edge of your seat, even when there’s no batter at the plate.

When you come to a RoughRiders game, you could get an autograph from a future big league star, win a free t-shirt, take part in an on-field game, have a party by the outfield pool, play on the two playgrounds at Dr Pepper Ballpark, run around the bases like the players after the game or watch an out-of-this-world fireworks show before heading home.  The fun never stops in Frisco, where the experience is never less than major league quality with the RoughRiders.

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