Introducing the 2016 Frisco Roughriders

by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, April 10th, 2016

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Nathan Barnett
nathan@ridersbaseball.com

Opening Day: perhaps the two best words for any baseball fan.
Those in the Metroplex that missed Rangers Opening Day this week have
another chance to catch the best night of the baseball calendar this
upcoming Thursday, April 14 at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, when the
RoughRiders begin their 14th season’s home slate as the Double-A farm
club for the Texas Rangers.
Filled with over a dozen returning players from a year ago and
six players from Baseball America or MLBPipeline.com’s Top 30 Rangers
prospects, including second-ranked Lewis Brinson, the RoughRiders are
poised for a highly competitive season under long-time skipper and
occasional tantrum-laded, viral sensation Joe Mikulik.
Off the field, the RoughRiders have made headlines for
promotions (see “Miss Universe” flub-inspired “Runner Up Night” and
Game Boy uniforms for “8-Bit and Arcades Night”) and ballpark
renovations, like the massively talked about 174-foot-long Choctaw
Lazy River.
Any way you slice it, a night with the RoughRiders this summer
will make a great changeup to your summer plans on any of the club’s
70 home dates from April 14 through Labor Day.

Behind Brinson they follow
The highlight of the Opening Day roster is unquestionably Lewis
Brinson. The extremely toolsy 6’3” outfielder patrols center field
with fluidity and grace, hits for high average, and can knock the ball
out of the ballpark. He also runs the bases well enough that he
finished 2015 just two stolen bases shy of his second 20 home run/20
stolen base season in four minor league campaigns.
Brinson’s success does not necessarily come as a surprise, as
the Rangers took him 29th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft (10 picks
ahead of slugger Joey Gallo), but his meteoric rise last year was
perhaps a bit unexpected. A year that began at the Class A-Advanced
level in High Desert ended in Triple-A for Brinson, who, a little more
than a year after his last game with the Mavericks in A-ball, very
well could finish in Arlington this September.
The right-handed hitter mashed this spring, hitting .364
(eight-best among Rangers Spring Training regulars) with a pair of
extra-base hits, one of which was a walk-off home run for Texas in an
exhibition with the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals
at the Alamodome in front of nearly 30,000 fans.
The guy has a quiet confidence, and he can play. In many minor
league systems, Brinson’s 2015 campaign would have earned him Player
of the Year in the organization (that went to another RoughRiders
outfielder Nomar Mazara in what was likely a very tough decision), but
he still picked up Defensive Player of the Year among Rangers minor
leaguers.
Want to see Brinson? You better hurry to Dr Pepper Ballpark. He
might not be there very long. As locked-in as he looked in Spring
Training, he should be Triple-A bound very soon.

Youthful Experience
This season’s RoughRiders roster has a lot in common with the
makeup of the Riders’ rosters in recent seasons: it’s young. The
Rangers are extremely aggressive with their minor league players,
often putting young players at higher levels than other teams. Elvis
Andrus played in Frisco as a 19-year-old, as did his double-play
partner in the big leagues, Rougned Odor.
Of course it takes capable young talent to do that, and the
Rangers have that in spades. The club’s farm system has been
consistently ranked in the Top 10 among Major League Baseball teams
the last decade, and this year is no exception. Second baseman Rougned
Odor (21) is the third youngest player in the American League this
season, while 20-year-old Nomar Mazara is sure to be one of the
youngest players at Triple-A in 2016.
There isn’t the hyper-young player on the RoughRiders roster
this season, but it does have three 21-year-olds and has very few
older, minor league (or even Major League) veterans that you sometimes
see at the Double-A level.
The Riders have just three players older than 25: outfielder
Zach Cone (26), who has been derailed by injuries multiple years in
his career, free agent catcher Alex Burg (28) who has helped shore up
a hole in catcher at the upper levels of the minors in the Texas
system, and Matt Bush (30), who is attempting an improbable come back
after not pitching for the last four seasons.
The average age of a RoughRiders player is about 24-years-old,
younger than many teams in the circuit.
With that said, the team has tons of Double-A experience.
Seventeen players return from a year ago, including Brinson, and a
second (or even third) season in Double-A can make a huge difference
in what many in the sport believe to be the hardest jump to make,
outside of the jump to the big leagues.
The Riders might lack a ton of top-end power, with only Alex
Burg, Ronald Guzman, Lewis Brinson, and Kellin Deglan coming off of
double-digit home run seasons, and much of that damage came in the
hitter-friendly California League, but the offense should be good
all-around.
Catcher Kellin Deglan, utility man Luis Mendez, shortstop Luis
Marte, outfielders Zach Cone and Ryan Cordell, and first baseman and
outfielder Preston Beck all bring Double-A experience to a lineup that
should be deep, smart, and fast.

Hometown Hero
Speaking of Preston Beck, the former Bishop Lynch star and
UT-Arlington standout has a chance for the second straight season to
enjoy home cooked meals and tons of friends and family throughout the
year.
Beck looks to build off of a solid finish to the 2015 campaign,
rebounding from a slow start to his Double-A tenure. After completing
the first half under the Mendoza line, the Dallas native was one of
the more consistent offensive players on the team. His past could be a
good omen as well.
After a relatively quiet offensive year for Myrtle Beach
(High-A) in 2013, Beck raised his average by ten points and
significantly outslugged his 2013 efforts the following season in the
same league, posting career-highs in doubles (33), home runs (11), RBI
(77), and runs (66).

The newcomers
How good will the RoughRiders be in 2016? That will probably
come down to two major factors: 1) the starting rotation, and 2) the
newcomers.
Aside from Brinson and Cordell, the biggest star power offensively
will likely come from new faces. First baseman Ronald Guzman is coming
off of a career year and looks poised to regain high-level prospect
status after a disappointing 2014.
The lanky left-hander mashed a career-best 12 home runs in 2015
and hit .283 across three levels while batting just .218 in Hickory in
2014.
The Rangers fourth round pick from 2013, Isiah Kiner-Falefa also
makes his Double-A debut this week and could provide a spark from an
often-quiet offensive position, second base. The Hawaiian infielder
really put things together after a down year in 2014, and the
aggressive promotion from the Rangers (he’s the youngest RoughRiders
position player entering 2016) is a sign that he is ready to be the
next iconic second baseman in a long-line of Riders stars at the
position (Odubel Herrera and Rougned Odor of recent fame).

You’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher
If there was ever a team that knew that mantra, it was the 2015
RoughRiders. With an inexperienced rotation, the Riders struggled to
take a lead into the final third of games and severely overtaxed their
bullpen throughout the season, contributing to the highest team ERA in
the eight-team Texas League.
Four of the five starters in the Frisco rotation pitched in the
Metroplex for the Riders a year ago, so the question becomes ‘what
kind of growth can each one show in 2016?’
Lefties Victor Payano and Frank Lopez join right-handers Jose
Leclerc and flamethrower Connor Sadzeck who all take a second season
assignment at the Double-A level. The only newcomer to the group is
Sam Wolff, who was ticketed for Frisco in 2015 before he tore his
Achilles in Spring Training. Wolff, who was once clocked at 100 mph
out of the bullpen, could make for quite a pair of power arms with
Sadzeck should they retain their command and ability to miss bats.

Closing the door
Where Frisco will likely show the most improvement in 2016 is
the bullpen, which brings back late-season standouts in southpaw Ryne
Slack and right-hander Jose Valdespina and adds triple-digit hurling
Matt Bush to the mix.
Bush, who was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft by San
Diego as a shortstop, has been given a leash with Texas, who signed
the embattled right-hander to a minor league deal in December. The
California native flashes triple-digit velocity with a hard and nasty
curveball
That three-headed monster should mean far fewer blown saves in 2016.

The next wave
Another bright sign for the Rough- Riders’ prospects in 2016 is
the talent wave at the lower levels, knocking on the door to get a
chance to don a RoughRiders uni.
The Class A-Advanced High Desert Mavericks, one level below
Frisco, enters the year stocked with high-level talent. Many of those
players will make their way to Frisco by the end of the season, which
means if Frisco is in the playoff hunt, they could see a real infusion
of talent.
The Mavericks boast nine players who are ranked among the
Rangers Top 30 prospects by MLB.com, headlined by 2014 first round
draft pick, right-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz (MLB.com #5) and
Venezuelan left-handed pitcher Yohander Mendez (#10) who is on the
Rangers 40-man roster. Joining Ortiz and Mendez in the Top 30 ranking
are infielder Josh Morgan (#11), infielder Travis Demeritte (#14),
right-handed pitcher Ariel Jurado (#17) who competed for Panama in the
World Baseball Classic, infielder Michael De Leon (#19), outfielder
Jairo Beras (#23), catcher Jose Trevino (#27), and right-handed
pitcher John Fasola (#28).

Off the diamond
Whether the team wins or loses when fans make it out to a game
at Dr Pepper Ballpark, they are sure to have a fabulous time. The park
has seen over $7 million in renovations the last two seasons,
including a state-of-the-art video board, one of the largest in minor
league baseball, and the Choctaw Lazy River, which is scheduled to
open in June.
If you haven’t seen a RoughRiders game in the last year, then
you haven’t really seen a RoughRiders game as it is now. So much has
changed, while still retaining the beautiful sightlines and sounds and
a family-friendly environment for folks of all ages to enjoy.

Freebies!
One of the major changes for the franchise in the past two
seasons is an expansion of the club’s promotion calendar, which
includes 27 giveaways across the 70-home-game schedule.
A Joey Gallo “Big Stick” Bobblehead on Saturday, June 25
headlines the giveaway schedule that includes three bobbleheads of the
team “Ambassador of Fun” and former 1310 The Ticket celebrity Michael
Gruber, a.k.a “Grubes.” The team even plans on giving away a life-size
bobblehead of Grubes on Thursday, August 18.
Also included in the giveaway slate are magnet schedules for the
first 2,000 fans on Opening Night, Thursday, April 14; a bobblehead of
the Riders’ mascot Deuce on Friday, April 29; team posters on Sunday,
May 1; RoughRiders wristlets on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8;
RoughRiders kids capes on Superhero Night, Saturday, June 4;
RoughRiders ties on Father’s Day, Saturday, June 18; smiling Teddy
Roosevelt pillows to kids 12-and-under on Sunday, July 10;
back-to-school backpacks on Sunday, July 31; and RoughRiders footballs
on Collegiate Night, Saturday, September 3. Christmas comes early with
Christmas in July on Sunday, July 17 with an ugly Christmas
sweater-style t-shirt giveaway.
Theme-night jerseys are all the rave in Minor League Baseball,
and the Rough-Riders will don eight different alternate jerseys this
season at home, all of which will be auctioned off for charity.
Headlining the group is a Game Boy-inspired jersey on “Salute to 8-Bit
and Arcades Night” on Friday, July 8. The uniforms feature the text
“Riders” inside of the Game Boy “screen” on the front of the uniform
top, above of a directional pad, “A,” “B,” “Select,” and “Start”
buttons along with the classic Game Boy vent-style speaker on the
lower right-hand side. On the back of the uniform, each player’s
number will be represented with 8-bit digits and their name written on
the top of an inserted “game cartridge.”
The other confirmed theme-jersey nights are Paint the Park Pink
(Sunday, May 7), Military Appreciation Night (Saturday, May 21),
Vulcan Salute to Star Trek (Saturday, June 11), Salute to Top Gun
(Friday, June 24), Ghostbusters Tribute (Friday, July 29), Star Wars
Night (Saturday, August 20), and State Fair of Texas Night (Friday,
September 2).

Can I get your autograph?
Of course a season with the Riders wouldn’t be complete with a
few high-profile celebrity appearances in the mix as well. Baseball
legend Jose Canseco makes his way to Dr Pepper Ballpark on Saturday,
June 4 where he will participate in a home run challenge.
Erik Estrada (“Ponch” from CHiPs) comes to the Frisco on Friday,
June 17, and Ernie Hudson (“Winston Zeddemore” from Ghostbusters) is
coming out to the park for on Friday, July 29.
On each appearance date, fans will have the opportunity to meet
the celebrities as part of a free autograph session during the game,
and each will participate in promotional activities before and during
that night’s game.

Ok, I wanna come!
Fans looking to make out to Opening Day, or any of the
RoughRiders 70 home games, can purchase tickets online at
RidersBaseball.com, via email at info@ridersbaseball.com, over the
phone at (972) 731-9200, or in-person at the RoughRiders box office.
Full and partial season plans, as well as group tickets are
still available as well (even in the coming-soon Choctaw Lazy River!),
so there is still time to enjoy the best day of the baseball calendar,
Opening Day, or any other RoughRiders home game, because at Dr Pepper
Ballpark, every night is treated like Opening Night.

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