Bianucci, Profar climb Rangers ladder

Duo helps Texas affiliates produce top winning percentage

Michael Bianucci hit 30 homers with 89 RBIs. (Shawn E. Davis/

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | December 19, 2011 5:00 AM

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

The Texas Rangers have a lot to feel good about as the new year approaches, despite an absence of hardware. Their seven Minor League affiliates combined for a .565 winning percentage (431-332), the best mark of all 30 big league teams.

Triple-A Round Rock won the Pacific Coast League's American South Division by 17 games before falling in the first round of the playoffs, while Double-A Frisco posted the second-best record in the Texas League.

Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach captured the first-half South Division title in the Carolina League but also went down in the opening round of the playoffs. And Class A Hickory locked up the first-half North Division crown in the South Atlantic League before losing to eventual champion Greensboro in the postseason. Short-season Spokane fell just short of a playoff berth in the Northwest League.

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Tomas Telis, Hickory (115 games): Telis split time between catching and designated hitter, putting up big numbers in both slots. He hit .297 with 69 RBIs and 67 runs scored, and only Round Rock's Taylor Teagarden hit more homers (12) than Telis' 11 among backstops in the system.

The 5-foot-8 Venezuela native also stole a career-high 12 bases in 18 tries to rank first among Rangers catchers. He was named a Sally League midseason All-Star after batting .305 in the first half, but his production dipped slightly in the second half. That might have been expected, considering he appeared in only 152 games over the previous three years.

First base -- Chad Tracy, Round Rock (134 games): Tracy led all Rangers' Minor Leaguers with a career-high 109 RBIs, two more than the mark he set at Double-A in 2009. The 2006 third-round pick also matched a personal best with 26 homers, ranking second in the system behind Michael Bianucci.

After playing only 79 games in 2010, Tracy hit .259, drew 55 walks and scored 80 runs in 134 games. He shared the PCL lead in RBIs and ranked fifth among all Minor Leaguers.

"Everybody has personal goals going every season," the 26-year-old said in August. "As a hitter in the middle of the order, my job is to produce runs and drive guys in. I'm not going to hit .300, even though I'd like to, but that's not my job."

Second base -- Odubel Herrera, Hickory (119 games): There were two choices at this position, with Herrera getting the nod over Round Rock's Matt Kata. In his third year as a pro, the Venezuela native batted .306 with 32 extra-base hits, 34 steals and 72 runs scored.

To put his season in perspective, he spent virtually all of 2010 in the Rookie-level Arizona League and played only four games for short-season Spokane. Herrera batted .317 or better every month except May, ranked fourth in the SAL in hitting and steals and was named a postseason All-Star.

Kata, 33, batted .293 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 106 games for the Express.

Third base -- Tommy Mendonca, Frisco (125 games): Mendonca provided an explosive bat while manning the hot corner for the RoughRiders. He ranked third in the organization with 25 homers and 87 RBIs and was fifth in the Texas League with 55 extra-base hits.

The 23-year-old struck out a worrisome 160 times in 504 at-bats, but he still batted .278 and slugged .492. Mendonca scored a career-high 75 runs in his first season above Class A Advanced, raising his average 30 points and more than doubling his homer total.

"[2010] was a bad year for me, and I will be the first to admit it. I didn't do anything to reach any of my expectations," said Mendonca, who registered his second career three-homer game on July 22.

"He put together a great season, especially after the season he had in 2010. ... He was in the middle of the order all year and he was a guy we rode for production," Frisco manager Steve Buechele said. "As the season went on, he suffered a little bit with the heat we experienced here in Texas, but he had a really good year and he deserved every honor he got. His average would have been a lot better if he had not struggled at the end, but he had a good approach to the game."

Shortstop -- Jurickson Profar, Hickory (115 games): The youngest player in the South Atlantic League on Opening Day, Profar lived up to the hype of being one of the Rangers' top offensive prospects. Just a year removed from the short-season Northwest League, the 18-year-old switch-hitter smacked 12 homers and plated 65 runs while batting .285 and stealing 23 bases.

Profar ranked among the SAL's best in several categories, including doubles (37, second), runs scored (86, third), triples (eight, third) and on-base percentage (.390, sixth).

"We liked Jurickson's ability," Rangers director of international scouting Mike Daly said, "but the energy and intelligence he plays the game with set him apart for us. Jurickson has embraced every challenge we've put up in front of him and it's no surprise to us that he's quickly adjusted to pro ball. He has been all we thought he'd be -- and more -- since he signed."


Joey Butler, Round Rock (113 games), Frisco (13 games): Butler ranked third among Rangers farmhands -- first among full-season players -- with a .313 batting average.

Having spent all of 2010 in Frisco, he made the jump to the Pacific Coast League appear effortless. His Round Rock batting average (.322) was a career high, and his other statistics were almost identical to those he posted a year ago at a lower level as he totaled 14 homers, 28 doubles, 61 RBIs and 84 runs scored.

Butler also stole a career-high 15 bases and was named a PCL postseason All-Star. Showing his versatility, the 25-year-old played all three outfield positions and batted everywhere in the lineup except the top two spots.

Jonathan Green, Frisco (130 games): The former eighth-round pick graduated to the Texas League full-time after getting a taste of Double-A at the end of 2010. With more experience and a clean bill of health, Green bounced back with an impressive campaign. He smacked 18 homers and plated 75 runs for the RoughRiders -- both totals ranked first among all Rangers' full-time outfielders -- and batted a career-best .292.

The North Carolina native also set personal highs in runs scored (73) and doubles (29) and played a key role in helping Frisco reach the playoffs. Green may start next year back in Frisco but should see Round Rock at some point.

"Green is a kid that I would call a gamer," Buechele said. "He plays hard and competes every single night. He's another one that may not be on the prospect radar in the organization, but he plays with passion and does everything you could ask for out of a player. ... For us, he was huge in the middle of the lineup.

"He's had some knee injuries, but he's a tough kid. He won't tell you that he's hurt, though. You have to take him out of the lineup when something's bothering him because he won't let you know. He just wants to play when he comes to the ballpark."

Ryan Strausborger, Myrtle Beach (126 games): Boasting a combination of power and speed, Strausborger proved to be one of the Carolina League's top players. His .270 average was up 15 points from his 2010 debut in the short-season Northwest League, but what really stood out was his prowess on the basepaths. He shared the league lead with nine triples and ranked fifth with 31 steals.

Strausborger also posted eight homers and 29 doubles, scored 71 runs in his first full season and earned mid- and postseason All-Star honors.

Utility -- Michael Bianucci, Frisco (133 games): The RoughRiders' designated hitter put up monster numbers as he continued his climb through the system. He tied a career high and led all Rangers' Minor Leaguers with 30 homers, while his 89 RBIs ranked second behind Tracy. Adding 29 doubles and a triple, the Auburn University product ranked among the Texas League leaders with 60 extra-base hits.

Bianucci was a midseason All-Star but cooled off in the second half (.209 average, 35 RBIs). Overall, however, his numbers were in line with the career year he enjoyed in 2009, his first full season. Expect the 25-year-old to get his first shot at Triple-A early in 2012.

"'Nooch' is a kid that is unique," Buechele said. "People will say that Texas might have a hard time finding a place for him to play, but when we played him in left field he did a very good job. Offensively, if he ever figures out how to be consistent with his approach -- in other words, not changing his stance or mechanics every single day -- and finds something that works for him and that he can be confident in, the kid can hit.

"He's got unbelievable power. He might have the best raw power of anybody in the organization in the Minor Leagues. If he learns how to hit and take the ball the other way, he has the chance to become a really good offensive player."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Joe Wieland, Myrtle Beach (14 games), Frisco (seven games), San Antonio (five games): After a stellar season across two levels, Wieland was traded with left-hander Robbie Erlin to the Padres in the July trade for reliever Mike Adams. He was 6-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 14 Carolina League appearances, then went 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in seven Texas League starts before the deal.

Across the two levels, Wieland recorded 132 strikeouts in 129 2/3 innings. On July 29, he became the first pitcher in Frisco history to hurl a nine-inning no-hitter.

"If you're going to get something good in a trade, you're going to have to give up something good. And we gave up something good in Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin," Buechele said. "For his age, Joe can command his fastball and get his breaking ball over for strikes. He's a kid that will show up in the big leagues, no doubt about it.

"Actually, in the playoffs, he beat us when he was in San Antonio and he might have had better stuff that night than when he threw the no-hitter."

Roman Mendez deserves a mention after going 9-1 with a 3.31 ERA in 26 games, including 20 starts, for the Crawdads.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Robbie Ross, Myrtle Beach (21 games), Frisco (six games): The Kentucky native reached Double-A by the end of his third season in the system. Ross was 9-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 21 games in the Carolina League before making six starts for Frisco.

In his next-to-last outing for Myrtle Beach, the former second-round pick pitched his first complete game in a 1-0 loss to Frederick. Across the two levels, Ross fanned 134 over 161 1/3 innings, both career highs.

"Robbie is a great competitor," Buechele said. "He comes to the ballpark every day, excited to put the uniform on and get his work in. There was a great improvement this year from last year. He's got a slider, fastball and changeup, and even though there's not a whole lot of difference in speed, the ball moves like crazy. And that's going to give him a chance to be really good."

Miguel De Los Santos also toiled at Myrtle Beach and Frisco, compiling a 7-6 record and 135 strikeouts over 91 2/3 innings.

Relief pitcher -- Johan Yan, Myrtle Beach (26 games), Frisco (19 games): Rangers fans are spoiled when it comes to closers coming through the ranks. Yan logged a 1.06 ERA for the season and was a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the Pelicans. Following a July promotion to Frisco, he did not allow an earned run in his first 18 innings. He finished up with a 0.34 ERA and two saves in as many chances in 19 Texas League outings.

Overall, the 23-year-old was 5-3, struck out 66 over 68 innings and held opponents to a .206 batting average.

"When he came to us, he got better and better as the year went on," Buechele said. "He's one of those kids that you need to throw him.

"He comes sidearm, but he's such a big kid with a huge wingspan that he comes from even a different kind of angle than the norm for a right-hander that throws sidearm or submarine. When he throws strikes, he's so hard to hit. He was outstanding for us."

Ryan Rodebaugh saved 16 games and posted a 1.87 ERA between Hickory and Myrtle Beach, while Justin Miller went 9-1 with 13 saves and a 1.81 ERA for Frisco, where he struck out 77 over 69 2/3 innings and held foes to a .185 average.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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