The Arkansas Travelers had one of the best pitching staffs in the Texas League. They may still -- time will tell -- but it's suddenly a staff with a very different look.
Late last week the parent Los Angeles Angels dealt Travelers starters Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg, both in the Texas League's top 10 in ERA, as well as shortstop and top hitting prospect Jean Segura to the Milwaukee Brewers for big league starter Zack Greinke.
"It's a blockbuster deal that goes throughout baseball," Arkansas manager Mike Micucci said. "You look up and you get rid of three key pieces that were on this club a majority of the year, and Jean just went up to the big leagues. But the two starting pitchers, you have to call them into the office and talk to them about the trade."
Segura joined the Angels from Arkansas the previous week because of an injury to infielder Erick Aybar. As the Travelers were getting used to life without their offensive star, they lost two key pitchers who had helped them claw within 3 1/2 games of North Division leader Springfield in the second-half race entering Monday.
Pena (6-6, 2.99 ERA) and Hellweg (5-10, 3.38 ERA) were both among the Angels' Top 20 prospects and major contributors to the team's 3.78 ERA, third best in the circuit. Still on the squad is right-hander A.J. Schugel, who sits second in the league with a 2.85 ERA.
Schugel, whose father is an Angels scout, was an infielder at Central Arizona Junior College when the Padres drafted him. He didn't sign and the Angels took him in the 25th round three years later and converted him to pitcher.
Schugel has been a revelation, bringing a 3.18 career ERA into his third pro season. But the organization is limiting his innings late in the year as he nears a threshold set by the organization. He tossed four scoreless innings in his most recent start Saturday at Tulsa.
Reliever Mike Piazza (3-3) started Sunday and got the victory, and new acquisition Jarrett Grube, recently released by Seattle, was slated to start Monday. The Angels also sent veteran slugger Paul McAnulty to Arkansas to help provide some offense.
"We're trying to get through the next few days and then reassess where we are," Micucci said.
Greinke lost a 2-0 decision to Tampa in his Angels debut, and the jury is out as to whether the new-look Angels or their new-look Double-A club will make a playoff push. But Micucci said the fact that the Travelers had players attractive enough to trade proves the team did its job.
"We were able to move three players who were very successful here and are going to be good big league players," Micucci said. "But to get a piece that might get you to the World Series, ultimately that's what it's all about."
Skid stopper: Corpus Christi's Jordan Kreke broke out of an 0-for-25 slump in a big way Sunday. The 23-year-old second baseman hit an eighth-inning grand slam to propel the Hooks to a 9-6 victory over Midland as they moved five games ahead of second-place San Antonio in the South Division race.
Healthy start: Rehabbing Texas Ranger first baseman Mitch Moreland helped set the tone as Frisco took the first three games of their series with San Antonio. Moreland went 3-for-4 in the RoughRiders' 14-4 series-opening win Friday. Chris McGuiness hit a walk-off home run to win Saturday's game, 2-1.
Crowning vacancy: It doesn't appear there will be a league Triple Crown winner in the Texas League this year, though Springfield's Oscar Taveres is making quite a run. Taveres is the leading hitter with a .321 average and a league-best 121 hits, but Frisco's Mike Olt is first with 27 home runs -- Taveres has 19 -- while San Antonio's Nathan Freiman has a league-high 83 RBIs compared to Taveres' 75.