Gallo powers Rangers Organization All-Stars
This offseason, MiLB.com 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.
Much like the D-backs organization that was profiled a few weeks back, the seasons of the Rangers' Major League and Minor League squads told very different tales.
The big club finished with a 67-95 record, third-worst in the Majors ahead of only Arizona (64-98) and the Rockies (66-96). While their big league brethren struggled, Rangers farmhands had no problem accruing wins this summer. Texas affiliates posted a Minors-best .565 winning percentage with a combined 470-362 record. Six of the eight teams finished with records over .500, and four of those -- Double-A Frisco, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, short-season Spokane and one of the Rangers' two Dominican Summer League affiliates -- were good enough to qualify for the playoffs. The DSL Rangers1 team, in fact, repeated as the low-level circuit champion after a 54-16 regular season.
"The most important thing is the individual development of each player," said Rangers senior director of Minor League operations Mike Daly, "but we want that to happen within the framework of a winning environment. That's something we strive for. ... If we can get them in a winning environment early, when they get to Arlington, it can only help the big league club win.
"You look at the average age of our teams this year and they were very, very young. That's something we are proud of. We're winning with young players, and that's a good indicator for what's to come."
Rangers Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Jorge Alfaro, Myrtle Beach (100 games), Frisco (21 games): Alfaro started the season as the Rangers' top prospect and, although he was bumped to No. 2 by a certain power hitter who appears later on this list, he showed in 2014 why he's so highly touted. Playing mostly in the Carolina League, he put up a .261/.323/.440 line with 17 homers, five triples, 26 doubles and 87 RBIs, setting career highs in those last three categories. His slash line actually lines up quite nicely with his career numbers (.262/.326/.432), and it's that consistency that has the organization hopeful about the 21-year-old's future.
"You look at all the playoff teams this year and they each had catchers that were well-above-average, so we're excited about the potential he's showing," Daly said. "It was a real good year for him. He put in so much time with our catching coordinator, Hector Ortiz, on the defense aspect, but it didn't really affect his offense. He continues to learn how pitchers throw to him, how they should work together to attack hitters and he took that [information] into his offensive game as well."
Defensively, Alfaro threw out only 25 of 88 (28.4 percent) potential basestealers, but the organization believes those numbers will turn as the Colombia native gets more experience behind the plate, especially given a talented arm that has received a 75 grade on the 20-80 scale.
First baseman -- Preston Beck, Myrtle Beach (121 games): In his second full season, the 2012 fifth-rounder out of the University of Texas continued to show a solid combination of patience and power at Myrtle Beach, where he batted .255 but put up a .376 on-base percentage with 11 homers, one triple, 33 doubles and 80 walks in 121 games. The left-handed-hitting slugger moved to first base as his primary position after spending most of 2013 in right field, and he'll need to show even more power if that is to be his full-time position going forward.
Second baseman -- Seth Spivey, Spokane (67 games): You couldn't ask for a much better debut in a Draft year, outside of maybe Royals left-hander Brandon Finnegan. Spivey was third in the Northwest League with a .332 average and also finished among the leaders in hits (86, second), OBP (.424, second), runs (51, fourth) and walks (39, first). The 2014 10th-rounder spent the bulk of his time at second base but also saw action at third, shortstop and catcher, the last of which was his primary position at Abilene Christian in Texas.
Third baseman -- Joey Gallo, Myrtle Beach (58 games), Frisco (68 games): You might already know this, but it bears repeating: Gallo hit 42 homers between two stops in the system this year, giving him consecutive campaigns with 40-plus dingers in his first two full Minor League seasons. His overall numbers were fantastic in Myrtle Beach (.323/.463/.735) but took a bit of a dive (.232/.334/.524) in Frisco as he struggled to adapt to Double-A pitchers, who struck him out on 115 occasions or 39.5 percent of the time.
Still, he combined for a 1.009 OPS, good enough for fifth-best among full-season Minor Leaguers, and the .271 combined average is 20 points better than his 2013 number. That gives the Rangers plenty to dream on.
"Everybody sees the special power," Daly said. "I mean, you hit 40-plus homers back-to-back in your first two years, that's really special. Joey is more than that though. He's a good hitter, a good competitor. We're really happy with the strides he's made at third. ... He's ready for the next challenge in Frisco when he's back there and could really move quick from there."
Shortstop -- Hanser Alberto, Myrtle Beach (70 games), Frisco (50 games): Alberto gets the nod, primarily for his glove work. The 22-year-old won a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award after committing only 11 errors in 547 chances at short for a .980 fielding percentage. But there were things to like at the plate, as well. After batting .223 with a .555 OPS at the same two spots in 2013, those numbers jumped to .273 and .693 at Myrtle Beach and Frisco this summer.
Nomar Mazara, Hickory (106 games), Frisco (24 games): Mazara batted .236 as an 18-year-old at Class A last year, which meant a return visit to Hickory. But after introducing a toe tap to his batting stance in May, he took off. Mazara was batting .264 with 19 homers and 73 RBIs in 106 games in the South Atlantic League when the Rangers felt comfortable enough to skip him a level and send him straight to Double-A. He thrived in a brief stint with the RoughRiders, putting up a .306/.381/.518 line with three homers and 16 RBIs, and he' restored plenty of optimism to a still-youthful profile.
"That was all about Nomar," Daly said. "He's a mature kid for 19. He was mature even when we signed him [out of the Dominican Republic] at 16. There were pressures that came with the [$4.95 million] signing bonus when you're that young, but he's always been able to handle challenges. He wouldn't have been able to make that jump on talent alone, but he has both the talent and character to do it."
Nick Williams, AZL Rangers (three games), Myrtle Beach (94 games), Frisco (15 games): With grades between 50-55 for each of his five tools, Williams is seen as a solid all-around player, and that was on display this season. He had a .292/.343/.491 line with 13 homers, four triples and 28 doubles in 94 games in the Carolina League before earning a mid-August promotion to the Texas League, where he hit .226 in a short stint. The Rangers want him to work on his overall approach in the Arizona Fall League after he struck out 140 times this summer.
"I don't think there's a fastball he can't hit," Daly said. "He's very quick at the plate in the way he gets his hits and he's doing a much better job at catching up to breaking balls. He continues to work hard and attack balls in the zone, and it's good for him to face some high-caliber pitching there in the AFL. Guys there aren't scared to challenge him, so if he can get comfortable there, that should really help him going forward."
Jared Hoying, Round Rock (135 games): In his fifth year with the club, Hoying enjoyed his best full season for the Rangers. His 26 homers in the Pacific Coast League doubled his previous career high from 2013 while his .325 OBP, .517 slugging percentage and .842 OPS were his best numbers in those categories since his Draft year in 2010.
Utility player -- Ryan Rua, Frisco (71 games), Round Rock (58 games), Texas (28 games): As interesting as Gallo's power display was this season, Rua's rise from Division II Lake Erie to serviceable Major Leaguer might have been the coolest story in the system. A 2010 17th-round, the right-handed-hitting slugger broke out in 2013 with 32 homers between Frisco and Hickory. However, a .247 average did little to help his profile. He turned that around by batting .306 between Frisco and Round Rock this year, and the power still played plenty with 18 homers, three triples and 26 doubles. The Rangers called him up to the Majors in late August, and he had a solid .295/.321/.419 line with two homers and 14 RBIs in 28 games at the game's highest level.
"He used the whole field a lot more," Daly said. "The mistakes they made in Hickory, they don't make those as often in Double-A or above. So when they did make them, he did damage. When they didn't, he'd take his single. It's a real tribute to him that he was able to go from being a power-only guy to a guy who has succeeded in the Majors."
Rua played first base, second, third and left field this season, and that versatility could earn him another spot on the Major League roster come Opening Day.
Right-handed starter -- Alex Gonzalez, Myrtle Beach (11 games), Frisco (15 games): The Rangers took Gonzalez out of Oral Roberts with the 23rd overall pick in 2013, hoping he could be a quick mover. He's hit that main objective with positive performances at both Myrtle Beach (5-2, 2.62 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings) and Frisco (7-4, 2.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 73 1/3 innings). The 22-year-old has received 65 and 60 grades on his fastball and slider, respectively, with his changeup (45) and curveball (40) still lagging. But the organization is buzzing about where the first-rounder stands after his first full season.
"We're really happy with where he is," Daly said. "Starting in Myrtle Beach, he was working on his changeup and throwing his curveball early for strikes. He was clearly ready to move on after only two months there and we were really happy with how he handled Frisco, too. He's getting closer. He still has to mix his pitches and know when and how to use them, but he could be knocking on the door in 2015."
Left-handed starter -- Andrew Faulkner, Myrtle Beach (21 games), Frisco (seven games): The 22-year-old earns this spot for the way he impressed at Myrtle Beach following two seasons in Hickory. Faulkner went 10-1 with a 2.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 100 strikeouts over 104 1/3 innings for the Pelicans. He sputtered some (2-4, 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings) during a short stint in Frisco at season's end, but he'll get a chance to build off his Carolina League success with a return to the RoughRiders in 2015.
Reliever -- Phil Klein, Frisco (24 games), Round Rock (nine games), Texas (17 games): Like Rua, Klein was a little-known Draft pick (2011, 30th round) who'd put up some nice numbers entering 2014 (2.41 ERA, 11.5 K/9 in 2013) with one exception -- he had some control issues. The 6-foot-7 right-hander, perfectly sized for an intimidating reliever, averaged 6.3 walks per nine innings across two stops in 2013 and, at the time, it seemed that could be the roadblock to a potential Major League future.
Then he dominated in all facets in 2014, and there were no more doubts. Klein posted a 0.81 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 14 walks (3.8 BB/9) in 33 1/3 innings at Frisco before moving up to Round Rock, where he didn't allow a run over 18 1/3 innings. By Aug. 1, he was up with the big club, having posted a 0.52 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 12.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 51 2/3 Minor League innings.
"The walks are down now, but nothing was ever wrong with his delivery," Daly said. "It was just about getting more experience and a better understanding of pitching. This was a guy taken in the 30th round who signed for $1,000. There's little doubt that he will continue to meet every challenge we throw out there for him, given what he's done so far."
After giving up homers in his first two Major League appearances, Klein was solid in the Rangers bullpen (2.84 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, .164 average against), and those results have placed him squarely in position to start 2015 back in the Majors.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.