While many fans pay attention to the affiliated minor leagues to get glimpses of the next big stars, it’s important to remember that the players are still trying to win games. Brandon Magee looks at the red hot Frisco RoughRiders, who hold the best record in minor leagues – along with some notable performances from this past week.
The Chicago Cubs have begun the season white-hot. Despite being swept in a doubleheader in San Diego on Wednesday, Chicago is the only team in MLB who has yet to reach double digit losses. While the 25-8 Cubs have four fewer losses than any other team in the big leagues, there is a team in the minors that can match them.
The Frisco RoughRiders, AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers, lead the Texas League with a 23-8 record. The Riders have accomplished their early success with great hitting and even better pitching.
The team is hitting .269/.335/.432 with 55 doubles, 28 home runs, and a league-high 14 triples. While the team is not particularly patient – walking only 86 times – it doesn’t mind a little pain, getting hit by pitches 20 times to lead the league.
Ryan Cordell, a 24-year-old outfielder/utility man, is leading the offense in his second bite of the AA apple. Over his first 30 games this season, Cordell is batting .355/.408/.709 with over half of his 39 hits going for extra-bases. Cordell ranks fourth in the league with nine doubles, and second in both triples (3) and home runs (8).
The surprise of the early season may be 21-year-old first baseman Ronald Guzman. After putting up a .752 OPS in the high-offense California League in 2015, the youngster has recorded a surprising line of .343/.405/.571 with seven doubles and five home runs in 28 games. However, Guzman is striking out an average of once per game.
Former first-round draft pick, Lewis Brinson, also calls Frisco home. The 22-year-old centerfielder, who played at three levels last season with a 1.004 OPS, is off to a somewhat slow start, batting .250/.305/.458 with a dozen extra-base hits.
However, it has been the pitching staff that has led the way for the RoughRiders. Frisco leads the Texas League with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.174 WHIP. In particular, it is their hit suppression that is noteworthy, giving up only 6.3 hits per game, 1.5 fewer than any other team in the league.
A pair of starters have each gone 4-0 in the early going to lead the pitching staff. Big, right-hander Connor Sadzeck has accomplished the feat in six appearances, putting up a 2.60 ERA and a miniscule 0.923 WHIP. Sadzeck, who walked 41 batters over 60 1/3 innings last season has only walked 11 in his 34 2/3 innings this season while striking out 29. Southpaw Victor Payano is performing much better in his second AA season, with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.260 WHIP over 33 1/3 innings in his six starts. Payano is also working on reducing his walk numbers as he issued free passes to 64 batters in 92 2/3 innings last season, a 6.2 BB/9. He has reduced that ratio to an even 4.0 early this season, while striking out 10 per 9 innings.
The starters have been good but, it has been the bullpen that has been the real cause of Frisco’s success. In nine relief appearances and 14 1/3 innings, Ryne Slack has allowed two hits and no runs, while striking out 12. Adam Parks has given up three earned runs in his ten appearances, but has a miniscule 0.474 WHIP as he has allowed only three hits – two of them landing outside the ballpark – and three walks in 12 2/3 innings. Parks has also struck out 20. Jose Valdespina, Juan Grullon, Richelson Pena, Jose Leclerc, and former 2004 first-round draft pick Matt Bush – who has been out of affiliated baseball since 2011 – have also been key bullpen components, each having a K/9 of at least 8.
While the RoughRiders start has been quite smooth, their reign at the top of the minor-league mountain may be short lived. There are three other teams that have yet to hit double digit losses in the minors: The Hartford Yard Goats – AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, the Akron RubberDucks – AA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, and the Salem Red Sox – High-A Affiliate of Boston.
It is well known that we are big fans of the unusual, and there were a pair of feats that caught our eye this week.
Last Thursday, as we sent the Minor League Report to the printers, Birmingham Barons starting pitcher Jordan Guerrero pitched six hitless innings against their Southern League rival Montgomery Biscuits. Reliever Kyle Hansen came in for the seventh inning and also did not give up a hit.
A minor league no-hitter is always worth noting. However, at the time the third Barons’ pitcher, Peter Tago, came into the game for the eighth inning, he was looking to keep the game a one-run contest with the hopes that the Barons’ offense could score in the top of the ninth. Tago, faced only three batters in the inning, but allowed a single to Keenyn Walker to end the no-hit bid. The Barons’ were unable to score in the ninth and would lose the one-hitter, 3-2.
So, how did the Biscuits score three runs without a hit? Patience and guile were the keys to the first two runs. Johnny Field began the first inning with a walk and stole second. With two outs, he stole third as well. Willy Adames also walked and then the team would execute a perfect double steal, securing the first run. Mike Marjama drew another walk before Adames picked up his second steal of the inning. A wild pitch by Guerrero allowed the second run of the inning to score. Three walks, five stolen bases, two runs, and no hits.
Guerrero would settle down over the next five innings, allowing a single walk to the sixteen batters he faced while striking out nine, adding to the two whiffs he from the first inning. The Barons offense scored a pair in the third to tie the game up, but was unable to garner any additional offense against Biscuit starter Jacob Faria.
Montgomery would once again use a walk and a stolen base to score the final run of the game in the seventh. After Kyle Hansen retired the first two batters he faced, the right-hander walked Granden Goetzman, Who stole second base, and advanced to third when catcher Jeremy Dowdy threw the ball into center and then went all the way home when centerfielder Keenyn Walker let the ball get by him. The Biscuits, thanks to a Little League-ish four walks, six steals, and a trio of “errors” scored three runs without a hit and won the game.
Five days later, Rancho Cucamonga’s shortstop Tim Locastro picked up four hits as the Quakes swallowed up the Lancaster JetHawks 12-1. While the four hits increased Locastro’s hitting streak to 13 games, the reason why a four-hit game becomes noteworthy is for one of two specific feats.
In the first inning, Locastro picked up his first hit of the game, a double to center field, and taking the four home run game off the table. In the third inning, Locastro would knock a ball to left field that flew over the fence. A pop up in the fifth put Tim at 2-for-3 on the day, but an infield single in the seventh put the cycle on watch. The Quakes would make certain Locastro would get the chance for the elusive triple in the eighth by batting around in the seventh, scoring four times.
They actually had a submarine pitcher [Jacob Dorris] come into the game the inning before. In the past, I usually break a bat or ground out to third against submarine guys. I was just fortunate he left one over the plate. I was able to shoot it into that right-center gap.
Locastro’s cycle was the second in less than three baseball months for the High-A Quakes, as Alex Verdugo accomplished the feat last August 28.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.