Rangers farm report: GM Young can sympathize with Leiter, Winn as they navigate tricky leagues
(ProLook Photos/Eddie Kelly)
The team ERA in the Double A Texas League entering Wednesday was 5.16. In the Triple A Pacific League, the ERA was 5.41.
The Rangers have a team in each league.
So, when 2016 first-rounder Cole Ragans posted a 2.81 ERA for Double A Frisco, he was actually dominating and more than earned his promotion to Triple A Round Rock. He’s scheduled for his Triple A debut Thursday.
Clearly, these are not pitcher-friendly leagues, either because of heat and winds (Texas League) or heat, winds and altitude (Pacific Coast League).
“I pitched in both leagues,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “The Texas League was miserable, in my opinion. It was a really tough place to pitch.”
It’s against that backdrop that the Rangers are less concerned about their upper-level pitching prospects than others might be.
The two at the top, right-handers Jack Leiter and Cole Winn, have numbers that would indicate they have struggled. At times they have, like all pitchers, but the 5.91 ERA Leiter will carry into his start Saturday and the 5.33 ERA Winn has aren’t as much of an eyesore as they seem.
“The numbers don’t tell the full story with both pitchers,” Young said. “I think they’re both adjusting. They’re both young for their level their respective levels. Jack was challenged in Double A straight out of college. He basically has skipped two levels of development that we felt he was ready for.”
The Texas League isn’t the Southeast Conference, in other words. Triple A is not Double A, in Winn’s case. Hitters are older and more experienced this season in both leagues. They take pitches that hitters at lower levels swing at and miss or hit weakly.
“There’s a learning curve,” Young said. “Cole and Jack are equipped to handle the challenges that come along with that. And I think the way they respond to this adversity sets them up for success moving forward.
“So, we’re very pleased with both players, and the full expectation is that they’re going to have a strong second half of the season as they continue to improve and get better.”
Carter being monitored
The youngest player in the South Atlantic League to start the 2022 season was outfielder Evan Carter, the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2020.
He was a ripe 19.68 years old on Opening Day at High A Hickory, and he won’t turn 20 until Aug. 28. He also barely played last season at Low A Down East because of a back injury.
Some might have noticed that Carter had some time off recently, and wondered if he was injured. Well, he was dealing with a bruised foot, but mostly the Rangers were managing his workload.
No, this isn’t the NBA, but Rangers player development and their peak performance folks believe in workload management, especially for someone as young as Carter. He needed a break.
“We try to have a beat and a pulse on all our guys,” Hickory manager Carlos Cardoza said. “In Evan’s case, this being the most baseball he’s played in his life, it becomes that much more important.”
Carter’s numbers have sagged, too, though. After batting .317 in April, he cooled to .261 in May and entered Wednesday batting only .156 in June. He was off June 5-7, has gone 4 for 20 since returning, and his season average was at .261 with a .748 OPS.
Pitchers make adjustments in High A, too, and as is the case in the majors, a hitter must counter the change in the way he’s being pitched. Carter, rated by Baseball America as the Rangers’ third-best prospect, is learning the mental grind in addition to the physical grind.
“As far as his performance, it’s just a kid who came in right away and performed well, and the league started to adjust to him,” Cardoza said. “Now, he’s starting to adjust back to the league. It’s just a young kid navigating and playing a lot of baseball for the first time in his life.”
Trey Hair is a 27 and at Double A Frisco. He was playing in independent ball last season before the Rangers added him to the system and placed him at High A Hickory.
None of that screams prospect, and Hair is not on the cusp of making his MLB debut. He’s probably not even a top-75 prospect in the system.
But Hair is the reigning Texas League Player of the Week.
Taking advantage of the hitter-friendly environs at Amarillo last week, Hair connected for five home runs and 10 RBIs and became the first player in Frisco history to homer in five straight games.
“It’s a nice story,” Frisco manager Jared Goedert said.
Hair entered Wednesday batting .243, though with an .837 OPS thanks to a .536 slugging percentage. He was tied for the team lead in homers (11) with Blaine Crim and Dustin Harris.
Hair is at his best when he stays disciplined and doesn’t try to do too much.
“He’s got legitimate power,” Goedert said. “He can drive the ball to left-center, and then if he catches one out front, he, obviously, can hit it out of the park on the pull side, too. He can fill in defensively at third, second and first, and he generally gives you a good at-bat.”
Harris played first base in a game last week but only out of necessity, Goedert said. Harris’ move to left field is going well at Frisco, and his bat has started to heat up, too.
That’s probably not a coincidence.
The 2021 Rangers Minor League Player of the Year, Harris is getting better reads on flyballs and taking better routes to them. Left field is tricky, too, with Kole Calhoun calling it the toughest of the three outfield positions.
“He’s better than at the beginning of the year, as far as reads, initial reactions off the bat and going after balls confidently,” Goedert said. “Sometimes, honestly a credit to him, you almost forget like, ‘Oh, yeah, he was an infielder’ because most of the transition has been pretty smooth.”
At the plate, Harris has made adjustments to some tough pitching. He entered Wednesday with nice numbers across the board — 11 home runs, an .837 OPS 13 steals — and is on pace for a second straight 20-20 season.
“I don’t know if it was just coincidence or what, but he just seemed to be the guy that would be pitched the toughest, watching the sequence to him,” Goedert said. “And it didn’t seem like they ever missed. When they tried to go inside, it was inside and never over the heart of the plate.”
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org