Taylor Hearn was in a familiar setting on Aug. 3, but it wasn't at all a familiar experience while making his Frisco RoughRiders debut.
"It felt weird," the left-hander said. "I was so used to coming to see them. But I was in the stands. Now I'm playing on the field."
Part of a trade that sent reliever Keone Kela to the Pirates last month, Hearn's final push toward the big leagues is now with the Rangers, the team for which he cheered while growing up in Royse City, Texas. Living in what Hearn called a "country town" about 50 miles southeast of Frisco, Hearn attended games at Globe Life Park in Arlington as a kid to see the Rangers as well as Dr Pepper Ballpark to see the RoughRiders. From the stands, he watched Alex Rodriguez and Michael Young play for the Rangers, and Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the RoughRiders.
Hearn struck out eight Hooks over 5 1/3 innings in his Frisco debut with some 400 or so friends and family in the stands, by his estimation.
"To be able to come back and pitch in front of family and friends, to have everybody who always supported me to be able to watch me play was amazing," he said.
The dream, of course, is to reach the big leagues no matter what uniform he's wearing. But Hearn admitted recently that there'd be a bit more meaning if it came so close to home.
"If I could do the same thing, and just have a big league debut back home at The Ballpark, that'd be great," he said. "But you never know."
Hearn, drafted in the fifth round by the Nationals in 2015 before being traded to the Pirates in 2017, is certainly making the case for a quick route to the big leagues.
The No. 7 Rangers prospect compiled a 3.12 ERA with 107 strikeouts in 104 innings over 19 starts at Double-A Altoona before being traded. Confident in his mix of a fastball that reaches the high 90s, a changeup and a slider, Hearn said his biggest concern is consistency and shaking off rough outings when they inevitably come.
After a three-start stretch at Altoona in which he allowed, five, seven and four runs, he held opponents to two or less in eight of his next nine starts. Then, after allowing four runs to Akron on July 1, Hearn held his next three opponents to one run or fewer.
"Just being able to repeat the delivery, and the biggest goal is being consistent," he said. "Because you're always going to have bad outings, and I always know that if I can respond with a good outing, then I'll be good."
If so, his path is pointed directly to Arlington, a familiar destination. And he insists that doesn't add any pressure to his journey.
"I really feel like if I do make it to the big leagues with the Rangers, the game in Frisco, I got a little taste of it," he said. "If I get that same feeling, I'll know how to handle it."
Top names moving on: Two of the highest ranked prospects in the Texas League won't be a worry to opponents there any longer. Midland starter Jesus Luzardo and Tulsa catcher Will Smith, both ranked among baseball's top 100 overall prospects, were promoted to Triple-A recently. Luzardo, ranked 12th, was 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings for Midland before being promoted to Nashville. Smith, ranked No. 72, was promoted to Oklahoma City after hitting .264 with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs.
Beating the park: Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers, isn't known to be kind to hitters, but Travelers first baseman Joey Curletta is making a run at league MVP anyway. Curletta leads the Texas League with 82 RBIs and his 22 home runs are one off the league lead, held by Tulsa's DJ Peters. Curletta, who is batting .308 on the season, has hit 10 of his home runs at Dickey-Stephens, which is tied with San Antonio's Wolff Stadium for the least home runs allowed in the Texas League.
Have a game, Tyler: Midland outfielder Tyler Ramirez, the Athletics' No. 20 prospect, is putting together his best at-bats in the season's final month. On Aug. 3, he hit five singles against San Antonio, his first career five-hit game and the ninth in the Texas League this season. Ramirez entered Wednesday's games having hit safely in nine consecutive games, and he's 15-for-27 (.556) since Aug. 1 to raise his average to .288 with nine home runs and 69 RBIs.