Don’t call it a rebuild, but as recently as Monday morning, the Rangers found themselves with just 75% of a roster. A trade and a slew of contract purchases later, and they now sit at 37 slots filled on the 40-man roster. In all, six minor league players were added to the 40-man in advance of the deadline for the December 14th Rule 5 Draft.
That’s a lot for one off-season.
In years past, there have been obvious choices for this process. Sometimes it’s easy to predict who will be added. Not this year. Had the roster been under different circumstances, it’s possible to imagine scenarios where as many as ten or as few as zero Rangers prospects could have been justified additions.
Here is a list of the six who got the call, and a handful of others who were just outside the bubble:
Jose Trevino (C): the closest thing to a lock to be added this off-season, Trevino is likely the Rangers’ catcher of the future. He converted to catcher in college at Oral Roberts University, and the Rangers have liked what they’ve seen from him behind the plate:
(Here’s a short “Welcome Wagon” video and article about Trevino from Spring Training in 2017)
As for this season? Trevino won his second consecutive minor league Gold Glove, and threw out 41% of would-be base thieves last season, and while his batting average dropped over 60 points from 2016 (and his OPS by nearly 200 points), it’s important to remember that not only did he move up a level from High A to AA, he also moved from launchpad High Desert to the vastly-more-earthlike Frisco.
“Maybe not on Opening Day,” Jon Daniels said of Trevino competing for a big-league job in 2018, but did allow that Trevino could be in Arlington before the season ends. That sentence actually started with the words “Both guys will be in competition…” The other guy?
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (UTIL/C): the infielder-turned-(also)-catcher (and also centerfielder). “Kiner,” as those in the organization call him, is one of two players in the organization (Josh Morgan is the other) who the Rangers are putting at catcher, not as a full-fledged conversion, but as a hybrid über-utility player , which could be incredibly valuable on an MLB bench, assuming he can hit enough to stay.
He hit .288 with 31 doubles at Frisco last season.
That’s not just idle whispering: Kiner-Falefa was one of four players that one club official inquired about in a message to me last week. Also on the list:
Jonathan Hernandez (RHP): Hernandez split time between Hickory and Down East last season, representing Texas at the Futures Game during All-Star weekend in Miami. MLB.com has him listed as their #21 prospect, and struck out 110 batters in 111⅔ innings, walking 44. He also allowed 121 hits, but just 7 home runs, cutting his 2016 totals in half. He’s one of two right-handed pitchers to be added today, the other being…
Ariel Jurado (RHP): Jurado’s 2017 campaign was a little disappointing perhaps, depending on your expectations for the 21-year-old’s first full year in AA. He was named to the All-Star team, but had a 95 strikeouts and 37 walks in 157 innings. That’s not a lot of missed bats for a guy that has hovered just under that one strikeout per inning range for his career. A 1.43 WHIP didn’t do a whole lot to foster confidence either, but the stuff still shows enough sparkle that Texas felt they should protect him. Will be interesting to see if he can develop some better secondary pitches in 2018, likely starting the season in Frisco again.
Speaking of Frisco,
Joe Palumbo (LHP): …almost certainly would have been (at least) a RoughRider by season’s end, had he not blown out his UCL in the fifth inning of a one-hit shutout on April 18th. As it stands, in three starts as a Down East Wood Duck, Palumbo had a mind-boggling 0.66 ERA, a WHIP of 0.59, and 22 strikeouts to just 4 walks in 13⅔ innings. In short, Palumbo was Clayton Kershaw-ing High-A ball. That sort of performance might have made it tempting for a club to draft him, stash him on the 60-day DL, and bring him around through a series of rehab assignments. There are supposed to be rules to prevent this sort of thing, but they’re not hard to get around.
Speaking of left-handers, the last of the six 40-man additions was
Brett Martin (LHP): Martin was also a Down East Wood Duck in 2017, though his season wasn’t nearly as dominant as Palumbo’s. Martin was. He struggled enough that I was a little surprised that he was added to the 40-man this year; as stated before, though: there were ten spots open. And the Rangers weren’t the only interested party; Martin was the third name that the club official asked about.
The last one? Well, he wasn’t added to the 40-man today. Sam Wolff was another Ranger minor-leaguer having a great season before an elbow injury derailed him. Only Wolff was doing it in AAA, having succeeded well enough in 16 games in his second go-round at AA to warrant advancement. In Round Rock, Wolff held hitters to a 224 average, striking out 59 in 43 innings, walking just 19, and allowing 14 earned runs (2.93 ERA). There were some rumors that Wolff might be called up to help with the big league club’s bullpen, had he not injured his flexor tendon. Like Palumbo, he’ll miss the first part of the 2018 season.
Daniels spoke on Monday about the decision to leave Wolff off the 40-man. “We had a number of guys on the same level that could factor in,” Daniels said. “But with the nature of the injury… flexor tendon is a little different than Tommy John. He’s doing great, but different people respond differently.”
Daniels mentioned a few others in the Rangers’ recent history who have experienced the same injury as Wolff: Jason Jennings, Ben Sheets, and Colby Lewis, specifically. One need look no further than Sheets and Lewis to see how widely the recovery can vary. Lewis recovered from his injury in 2012 to pitch effectively at the big-league level again. Sheets never threw a pitch for the Rangers, and was never the same.
Whether Wolff is more Colby or more Ben is yet to be seen as the season progresses. Whether some other team is willing to take that risk, we’ll find out a lot sooner.