If there is any silver lining to the Rangers’ injury woes, they saw it last night.
In a 12-2 route of the tigers, recently called up Rougned Odor put up one of the best offensive performances of the 2014 season. He went for four for five with a double and two triples, including a long bases loaded drive that caromed off the wall, coming just short of a home run in deep right center. The 20 year old rookie finished the game with five RBIs, from the nine hole.
On the other side of the ball, 24 year old Nick Martinez was in control all night. He allowed only one walk as he held the American League’s sixth best lineup to just one run in his six innings of work. It was his first career win and just his fourth career start.
Martinez and Odor’s big nights could not have come at a darker moment for the Rangers franchise. After losing a litany of players to injury since the start of spring training – names from ace Matt Harrison to second baseman Jurrickson Profar – and somehow managing to hover around .500, the team received word that all star first baseman Prince Fielder would have to undergo season ending neck surgery. Profar, meanwhile, suffered a setback in his rehab and was shut down indefinetly.
The season looks lost, and with so many injured stars, Texas’s playoff chances may well be over. But as was evidenced in Saturday’s route of the tigers, this malfortune also offers the Rangers front office an opportunity rarely afforded to big market teams: a chance to evaluate their top prospects at the major league level.
Odor, the 42nd best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, wasn’t expected to make the majors until late this summer at the earliest. He is only and came into the 2014 season with just 30 games of experience above A ball. Injuries to three Texas infielders struck, though, and the Rangers gave him the call on May eighth, making him the youngest player in baseball. It’s been only 12 games but he hasn’t disappointed thus far, posting a .797 OPS over 38 plate appearances.
Recalled the same day as Odor was fellow middle infielder Luis Sardinas. Ranked by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo as the 76th best prospect in baseball (he was left off Baseball America’s top 100 list), the 21 year old shortstop had already been called up for a three game stint with the Rangers in April. Unlike Odor, he does not have a starting job, but the results in his limited action have been mildly encouraging. Through nine games, he is hitting .286 and has yet to make an error in the field.
Other guys don’t have the prospect pedigrees of Odor or Sardinas, but are making the most of the opportunities provided to them. Martinez was just an 18th round pick, but came in at #12 on Mayo’s top 20 Rangers prospect list after a strong minor league campaign in 2012. Injuries opened up a spot for him in the majors and he’s been solid, racking up a 2.14 ERA 33.2 major league innings over nine games (four starts).
Nick Tepesch, although not technically a prospect after tossing 93 innings of mediocre baseball last season, is getting another shot to pitch. When Martin Perez went down ith Tommy John Surgery, Texas called him up from Round rock, where he had been leading the Pacific Coast League in ERA. Through two starts, he is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA.
And there could very well be more players on the way, especially if GM Jon Daniels decides to fold on this season and trade veterans at the deadline.
22 year old Luke Jackson is currently tearing through Double-A, to the tune of a 5-2 record, 2.78 ERA, and 53 strikeouts over 55 innings. The former first round pick ranked as the Rangers’ seventh best prospect heading into the season, according to MLB.com. With his previously spotty control rapidly improving – he’s cut his walk rate by nearly half since last season – Jackson could be an attractive option to take Derek Holland or Matt Harrison’s vacant rotation spots should current fill-ins Martinez or Tepesch start to struggle. A trade of veteran Colby Lewis could also signal a promotion.
Should Daniels choose to move closer Joakim Soria, he may also choose to promote hard throwing right hander Wilmer Font. Font, 24, has struggled with command over the course of his minor league, but he’s got tremendous swing-and miss stuff and has been able to keep his walk rate under five for two consecutive years now.
The flip side of course, is that these prospects don’t necessarily perform. Rookie Michael Choice, who the Rangers acquired from Oakland in the offseason, has found himself with some extra at bats due to Texas’s health issues. He has used them to hit under .200 with an .563 OPS. Baseball Reference pegs his WAR at a nice round -1.0. But its still early, and, as evidenced by the home run he hit today, there is still plenty of power in that bat.
A rookie showcase may not be exactly what Texas had in mind for the 2014, but its what they are getting. Iars indeed, it could prove advantageous when their veterans finally return, giving them superior understanding of their young players’ talent level. Perhaps, just perhaps, a star could come out of this.