Some of baseball's top young players are headed to the Texas League this spring as Major League clubs break camp and look to challenge their prospects. While the Double-A level is often just a step away from the Majors, it's also a good test to see if those who dominated at Class A can hack it when the bar is raised.
The most notable of the new incoming class could be Jon Gaston, an Astros outfielder who led the Minors with 35 home runs in 2009. Royals right-hander Aaron Crow, MLB.com's No. 41 prospect, debuted in the Arizona Fall League and will get a chance to prove himself at Northwest Arkansas. Fellow AFL star Tanner Scheppers, a Rangers' first-round pick last June, probably will see time at Frisco this summer.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Texas League in 2010:
2009 record: 61-79
2010 manager: Bobby Magallanes
What's on deck: Magallanes, who led the Travs to the league championship in 2008, is back with his '09 staff for his fourth season as manager... Former sixth-round pick Jeremy Moore led Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga with 11 homers last summer and should see time with the Travs. ... 1B Efren Navarro hit .287 and led the Quakes with 61 RBIs last year, possibly enough to earn a bump to Arkansas. ... RHP Steve Geltz dominated in the bullpen at Rancho, with 73 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings. He went 7-1 with a 3.76 ERA and could be a key part of the Travelers 'pen this year.
Corpus Christi Hooks
2009 record: 61-79
2010 manager: Wes Clements
What's on deck: Slugging 23-year-old Jon Gaston will look to build on a hugely successful 2009 campaign in which he tied Mitch Jones for the Minor League home run crown with 35 for Class A Advanced Lancaster. Gaston totaled 100 RBIs, 119 runs scored and 14 stolen bases, so the Astros will be watching his progress at nearby Corpus Christi. ... Another name familiar to Texans is C Koby Clemens, who also posted impressive numbers last year in the hitter-friendly California League, winning the batting title (.345) and the Minors RBI crown (121). The son of former Astros ace Roger Clemens appeared in five games with the Hooks, so a full season at Double-A is likely. Clemens, MLB.com's Class A Advanced Hitter of the Year in 2009, said he's excited to play at home. "I don't know if I'll be able to take any days off and head home because we're mostly traveling, but I know the crew will be following me all over the state of Texas and it will be great since I haven't played a full season there since I was a high schooler," he told MLB.com. "I'm really excited for it."
2009 record: 72-68
2010 manager: Mike Micucci
What's on deck: All eyes will be on RHP Tanner Scheppers, a 2009 first-round pick who pitched well in the Arizona Fall League last year. Scheppers also was a first-rounder in 2008 but did not sign with Pittsburgh, so 2010 will be his first real taste of Minor League action, most likely with the RoughRiders. The belief is the Rangers will limit him to about 100 innings this season with the possibility of a late-season promotion to the Majors for some relief work. ... Frisco should have a nice lineup, featuring 1B Mauro Gomez, who led Class A Advanced Bakersfield with 28 homers and 94 RBIs last year. ... 1B Ian Gac will look to work on his average after hitting 22 homers in '09... RHP Tanner Roark appeared in one game for Frisco last season and finished 11-1 overall as a starter and reliever. ... Young LHP Martin Perez should see time at Frisco. ... Micucci is back for his second season with the Riders.
2009 record: 78-62, Texas League champs
2010 manager: Darren Bush
What's on deck: The defending champions will host the 74th annual Texas League All-Star Game on June 30. ... Former Cubs prospect C Yusuf Carter hit .318 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in 91 games at Class A Advanced Stockton last year and should see time behind the plate in Midland. ... RockHounds fans won't be seeing Grant Desme, a slugging outfielder ticketed for Double-A who retired over the winter to become a priest. ... 23-year-old LHP Carlos Hernandez reached Triple-A last season but may start the year back in Midland, where he went 6-1 in nine appearances last summer.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals
2009 record: 73-67, North Division champs
2010 manager: Brian Poldberg
What's on deck: Poldberg is back for his third season and should have some talent to work with, most notably first-rounder RHP Aaron Crow, the 12th overall pick in 2009 who failed to sign with Washington after being taken ninth overall in '08. Crow did not allow a run in three appearances with the big club in Spring Training, and the club has indicated he may start for the Naturals on Opening Night. ... One of the best names in the Minors, LHP Rowdy Hardy, will join Crow in the rotation along with LHP Blaine Hardy (no relation), who had a 2.05 ERA in 36 appearances at Class A Burlington in 2009. ... The Nats also may see former first-rounders 1B Eric Hosmer and LHP Mike Montgomery this year. ... Northwest Arkansas has outlined its projected 2010 roster.
San Antonio Missions
2009 record: 70-70, First-half South Division champs
2010 manager: Doug Dascenzo
What's on deck: Dascenzo joins the Missions after leading Class A Fort Wayne to the Midwest League title in his third season. ... 2008 Midwest League All-Star 1B Felix Carrasco, who led Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore wit 69 RBIs last season, is due for a promotion. ... CF Brad Chalk had 63 RBIs and a team-best 33 steals for the Storm last year and should see time at San Antonio. ... RHP Jeremy Hefner, a 24-year-old right-hander, had 14 wins for the Storm in '09 and earned a very brief trip to Triple-A Portland. He may start the season at Double-A.
2009 record: 71-69, First-half North Division champs
2010 manager: Ron "Pop" Warner
What's on deck: Warner enters his 20th season in the Cardinals system and fourth as Springfield skipper. ... 1B Curt Smith hit well at Class A Advanced Palm Beach last year, enough to earn a 24-game stint with Springfield, where he batted .308. He could get further seasoning at Double-A this spring. ... Former first-round pick SS Peter Kozma will look to prove himself again in 2010. ... Speedy CF Adron Chambers led Palm Beach with 127 hits and 21 steals, positioning himself to be a leadoff candidate for Springfield. ... 23-year-old RHP Blake King struggled in three Texas League appearances last season, but he's already proven himself at Palm Beach (9-3, 2.84 ERA, 96K in 76 IP), so expect him to assume a bullpen role with the Cards.
2009 record: 74-66,
2010 manager: Ron Gideon
What's on deck: Talented C Wilin Rosario spent last summer at Class A Advanced Modesto before a trip to the Arizona Fall League. MLB.com's projected Rockies Hitter of the Year, he may get a chance to catch 2009 first-rounder LHP Tyler Matzek later this summer. ... Look out for LHP Christian Friedrich, one of the Rockies top prospects who dominated last year at Class A Asheville and Modesto. ... 23-year-old RHP Juan Nicasio, who went 9-3 with a 2.41 ERA at Asheville, will open the season at Modesto. But if he progresses as expected, the Dominican native can challenge for organizational Pitcher of the Year honors. A strong showing at Modesto will have him headed to Tulsa this summer. ... 1B Kiel Roling is the reigning South Atlantic League batting champion (.331) and led Asheville with 20 homers. ... The Drillers' opener is sold out as the team moves into new ONEOK Field in Tulsa's historic Greenwood District.