Over the last four weeks the Sky Sox have previewed all four teams in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division. Starting this week the Sox will take a look at each of the teams in the PCL's American Southern Division beginning with the Round Rock Express.
Ever since being signed by the Texas Rangers in 2009 highly touted shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar has flashed his vast potential. MLB.com's 2013 number one overall prospect, played in 126 games for the Rangers' Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders, and hit 14 home runs, 26 doubles, and stole 16 bases. The 20-year old shortstop made his Major League debut in 2012, and was just the third teenager in MLB history to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat. Profar is expected to bring his impressive skill set to the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate the Round Rock Express in 2013 and help the Express make it back to the playoffs.
After winning 87 games in 2011, Round Rock struggled to get their record above .500 last season and finished the year at the bottom of the American Southern division with a record of 69-75. Despite the Express's last place finish the team featured some of the organization's top prospects. Baseball America's third, fourth, and fifth ranked Rangers' prospects played significant time for Round Rock in 2012.
Left handed pitcher Martin Perez, Baseball America's third ranked Rangers Prospect, pitched in 38 innings for the Rangers, but spent the majority of the season with the Express. The lefty started in 21 games for Round Rock and hurled two complete games while striking out 69 batters. Following Perez on the list is outfielder Leonys Martin. Martin was the driving force behind Round Rock's offense. In 55 games Martin had a team-high .359 average. Martin also had 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases. The fifth ranked prospect, pitcher Jason Grimm, only started eight games for the Express, but struck out 30 batters.
Jurickson Profar has a chance to follow in the footsteps of his fellow top prospects by playing with the Express this year. Currently Profar's path to the Majors is blocked by shortstop and former Rangers' number one prospect Elvis Andrus. Profar might not stay in Round Rock long, but could positively impact the Express's odds of making the playoffs.
Possibly joining Profar in Round Rock is 2012 teammate and fellow infielder Leury Garcia. Garcia moved from shortstop to second base early in his career, but is still learning the position. Even though Garcia is still learning how to play defense, his offense could already be major league ready. Last season, Garcia had 110 hits in 100 games and finished fourth in the Texas League in stolen bases with 31.
In less than two months Garcia and Profar could also be joined in Round Rock by former Frisco Roughrider pitchers Cody Buckel, Neil Ramirez and Nicholas Tepesch. Buckel might be a long-shot to start the year at Triple-A, but could be promoted before the year is over. The Rangers' prospect began the year with the Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans and posted a miniscule 1.31 ERA. He was then quickly elevated to Frisco where he continued his success, posting a 3.78 ERA. In his combined 23 starts, the 20-year old right hander also demonstrated excellent command. Throughout both levels he struck out 159 batters, but only walked 48.
Ramirez began last year with the Express, but struggled in his 74 innings pitched. Once he was demoted to the RoughRiders he began to right the ship and lowered his ERA from 7.66 to 4.20. Ramirez is hoping this drastic improvement will earn him another shot with Round Rock for the upcoming season.
Tepesch is another pitcher who could find himself in the Round Rock rotation. Tepesch split time between Myrtle Beach and Frisco in 2012, but posted impressive numbers between both levels. Tepesch won 11 games in a combined 26 starts and had an under four ERA at 3.67.
Round Rock's young pitching staff and the rest of the Express will welcome the Sky Sox to the Dell Diamond from May 16-19. The Express came out on top against the Sox in 2012, at Security Service Field, winning three out of four games. The Sky Sox won the first game of the series after they roughed up pitcher Martin Perez for five earned runs. Sox outfielder Andrew Brown dealt the crushing blow to the Express when he hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning.
The Sox dropped the next three games and gave up 29 runs to the Express during the span. Former Sky Sox outfielder Ryan Spilborghs played a key part in the final game of the series for the Express. Spilborghs scorched his ex-team with three hits and one RBI.
Next week's "Previewing the PCL" looks at Round Rock's division rival the New Orleans Zephyrs. Despite dropping 11 out of 16 games to the Express in 2012, the Zephyrs finished ahead of the Express in the division and finished only five games back of the division champions, the Oklahoma City Red Hawks.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.