The Rangers have a history -- OK, call it a recent history -- of bringing up some pretty good middle infielders.
It started with Michael Young, who was acquired as a second baseman from the Blue Jays in 2000 before moving to shortstop and becoming a seven-time All-Star for Texas. Then there was second baseman Ian Kinsler -- a 2003 17th-round pick -- who went to the Midsummer Classic three times before departing for Detroit this offseason. Now speedy shortstop Elvis Andrus (2007 trade with the Braves) and promising second baseman Jurickson Profar (international signing) will man both stations in 2014. (Note: Profar is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks to start the year due to a shoulder muscle tear.)
So who's next? The answer lies in Frisco.
Second baseman Rougned Odor and shortstop Luis Sardinas will team up for the third straight season to man the middle infield, this time for the Rangers' Double-A affiliate in the Texas League.
The pair of 20-year-old Venezuela natives played together at Class A Hickory in 2012 before making similar moves to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Frisco last season. Odor particularly broke out at the plate, following up his .259/.313/.400 slash line with 19 steals in the South Atlantic League with a .305/.365/.474, 32-steal showing between the two levels last year. As such, he climbed from No. 9 prospect in the Rangers system after 2012, up to No. 2 for the organization and No. 59 overall entering 2014.
Sardinas, who checks in at No. 76 on MLB.com's latest list, has been consistently solid at the plate in full-season leagues -- .291/.346/.356, 32 steals for Hickory; .288/.340/.347, 32 steals for Myrtle Beach/Frisco -- but he is superior in the field, where he earned 65 grades for both his arm and fielding tools. His impressive abilities at the premium position of shortstop have allowed the Rangers to keep Odor at second.
Frisco manager Jason Wood certainly likes his chances with Sardinas and Odor taking up the top two spots respectively in his batting order each game.
"They're the perfect one-two punch in the lineup," he said. "We've got some speed in both, and their baseball IQs are just so advanced for their ages. Obviously experience is something they need to get, but I think it won't be too long before they can help our big-league club."
Despite all the change involved with the new level for Odor, Sardinas and several other Rangers farmhands joining Frisco, there will be a sense of ease with Wood, who moved up to the Texas League after guiding Myrtle Beach to three straight above-.500 seasons.
"I enjoyed the team that I worked with last year," Wood said. "From a player development standpoint, seeing guys climb the ladder is what you want to see anyways. So I have some familiarity with these guys, and that means the transition will be easy and comfortable for myself and them too, I think. Not having to get to know new guys makes it easier on all of us."
Some of the familiar faces will also be on the mound, where No. 8 Rangers prospect Luke Jackson (2.04 ERA, 134 strikeouts last season) should anchor the RoughRiders rotation. No. 13 prospect Nick Martinez (2.50 ERA, 128 strikeouts) could also turn some heads. But it was Alec Asher (2.90 ERA, 139 strikeouts) who earned the biggest praise from Wood. The 6-foot-4 right-hander utilizes a four-pitch mix that helped him toss 32 consecutive scoreless innings, including playoffs, to end the season.
"I'm a big fan of his," said Wood. "He pounds the zone, he has a great changeup and his tempo is great too. … Obviously, we've got talent up and down here, but I would watch out for Alec Asher."
Make it a decade: The Corpus Christi Hooks will be celebrating their 10th season as a Texas League team this year -- the team moved from Round Rock following the 2004 season -- and given the state of the Astros system, there might not be a better time for celebration.
Of MLB.com's top 10 Astros prospects, four (George Springer, Jon Singleton, Mike Foltnyewicz, Domingo Santana) played for the Hooks last season. Even then, the best may still be to come. Speedster and No. 7 prospect Delino DeShields, who stole 51 bases last year, is expected to get the Hooks offense going to start the season.
No. 1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, along with 2012 first-rounder Lance McCullers, will begin their 2014 campaigns in Class A Advanced Lancaster but all are prime candidates to move up midseason, especially Appel who could follow Archie Bradley's path and move out of the California League quickly.
Big names: The highest-ranked prospect expected to start the year is Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who checks in at No. 24 on MLB.com's latest list. The 21-year-old is considered a defensive wonder behind the plate and should have a big effect on the San Antonio Missions' pitching staff.
Fresh look: The Arkansas Travelers rebranded in the offseason. The Angels affiliate will feature a red "A" with the profile of a horse surrounding it. "The two words we wanted to evoke with [the new identity] are 'determined' and 'majestic,'" general manager Paul Allen told MiLB.com's Benjamin Hill last October.
Everybody (don't) make some noise: Many teams ask their fans to get loud at games. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals, instead, will try to set a world record on May 23 for the quietest ballpark when the crowd goes silent for a TBD half-inning with the visiting Missions at the plate.
Last things last
Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Texas League.
- Last season's championship: San Antonio over Arkansas in five games MiLB.com coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: San Antonio, 2002-'03
- Last perfect game: Martin Perez, Frisco at Arkansas, April 19, 2011 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last no-hitter: Brooks Pounders, Northwest Arkansas vs. Midland, June 27, 2013 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Sid Fernandez (209), San Antonio, 1983
- Last cycle: Eric Duncan, Springfield at Arkansas, Aug. 28, 2011 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last three-homer game: Lane Adams, Northwest Arkansas vs. Corpus Christi, Aug. 13, 2013 MiLB.com coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Matt Fields, Northwest Arkansas, 31, 2013