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Top 12 Games of 2012 (No. 9)

TOP 12 GAMES OF 2012
Throughout the fall, we’ll take a look at the top 12 games of 2012. Today, we look at Game No. 9 on our list.

No. 9
April 22:  Express 10, at New Orleans 0
Neil Ramirez, Aaron Heilman and Mark Hamburger combined on a three-hit shutout at Zephyr Field in Metairie, La. It proved to be the most productive start of the season for Ramirez during his time with the Express. Meanwhile, Round Rock batters pounded out 12 hits, including four home runs, pulling away with a six-run ninth inning.

Ramirez struck out six, scattered three hits and walked one over six innings. Heilman then took the baton and struck out two over a pair of perfect innings. Hamburger retired the side in order in the ninth with one strikeout.

Matt Kata led off the second with a double and later scored on a Luis Martinez groundout. Then, the home runs. Joey Butler, who played collegiately at the University of New Orleans, clubbed a two-run homer in the fourth, and Yangervis Solarte added a solo shot in the sixth.

Round Rock sent 11 men to the plate in the six-run ninth. Solarte led off with a double, and Martinez followed with a two-run homer. After walks from Julio Borbon and Luis Hernandez, Mike Bianucci drilled a three-run homer that was his fifth in 18 games at the Triple-A level. Back-to-back doubles from Kata and Butler capped the scoring.

Solarte finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk, while Bianucci, Kata, Butler and Martinez all enjoyed two-hit games.

The win began a 16-game stretch during which the Express were 11-5 – the season’s best stretch until the torrid stretch over final five weeks.

No. 10:  at Omaha 9, Express 8 (16 innings; April 10)
No. 11:  Express 6, at Oklahoma City 3 (Sept. 1)
No. 12:  Express 14, at Reno 1 (Aug. 15)

News and Notes (Sept. 11)

FRISCO VIES FOR TEXAS LEAGUE CROWN
Texas Rangers Double-A affiliate Frisco begins play in the 2012 Texas League Championship Series tonight. It will be a rematch – of sorts – of the 2011 World Series as the RoughRiders face St. Louis Cardinals affiliate Springfield Cardinals. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08 p.m. CDT at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.

It is a best-of-five series with Game 2 scheduled for 7:08 p.m. Wednesday at Springfield. The series then shifts to Frisco’s Dr Pepper Ballpark for Friday’s 7 p.m. Game 3 and continues Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (7 p.m.) if necessary. The Texas League Championship Series can be heard online at www.ridersbaseball.com.

Frisco got a boost to its roster this morning as it was announced that catcher Mike Napoli will join the RoughRiders on a rehab assignment. He is expected to be with the RoughRiders for at least the series’ first two games.

RoughRiders catchers – Jose Felix and Zach Zaneski – combined to go 2-for-10 (both singles) in Frisco’s three-game sweep of Houston Astros affiliate Corpus Christi in the division series. First baseman Chris McGuiness led the RoughRiders’ offensive attack, going 6-for-12 with two doubles and four RBI. Val Majewski (3-for-6, home run, three runs), Tommy Mendonca (3-for-10, run) and Guilder Rodriguez (3-for-9, two RBI) – each of whom played for the Express this season – also were strong contributors.

However, Frisco dominated Corpus Christi on the mound, outscoring the Hooks 14-7. RoughRiders hurlers posted a 2.33 ERA with 21 strikeouts against eight walks and held Corpus Christi to a .206 average. Game 3 starter Nick Tepesch was most dominant, yielding only three walks and one hit over seven scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Wilmer Font and 2012 Express member Ross Wolf finished Frisco’s 5-0 win.

Leury Garcia and McGuiness had consecutive RBI singles in the sixth inning, and the Riders added three insurance runs in the top of the ninth on a Rodriguez RBI single and Engel Beltre’s two-run double.

Highly touted right-hander Cody Buckel starts tonight’s championship series opener for the RoughRiders. The 20-year-old and 2010 second-round draft selection was 10-8 in the regular season, splitting the year between Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach (5-3) and Frisco (5-5); he posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the season with 159 strikeouts in 144.2 innings. Buckel did not pitch in the division series. He was considered the Rangers’ sixth-best prospect entering the season by Baseball America and has risen quickly through the system, going 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA for Class-A Hickory last season in his first full professional season (he pitched four games for the AZL Rangers in 2010).

Buckel faced Springfield once this season – a June 29 loss at Hammons Field when he allowed six runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks over 6.1 innings. It was not smooth transition to Double-A for Buckel, who was 1-5 with a 4.45 ERA (16 ER/32.1 IP) in his first six games with Frisco (he worked six shutout innings July 4 at Arkansas in the lone victory). However, Buckel was 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA (13 ER/36.2 IP) in his final seven outings. Runs allowed in his final four starts:  one, one, none, none (21.2 IP).

Tepesch is scheduled to start Game 2, followed by right-handers Barret Loux and Wilfredo Boscan. Frisco has not announced a potential Game 5 starter, meaning 2011 and 2012 Express member Neil Ramirez is at least a possibility.

Frisco won seven of 12 meetings with Springfield in the regular season, going 2-4 at Hammons Field.

 

PCL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
The Pacific Coast League Championship Series opens tonight as the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks) host the Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals). Omaha (83-61) won the American Northern Division by 16 games, while Reno (81-63) won the Pacific Northern Division by six games. Sacramento (86-58) had the PCL’s best record for the second straight season, but failed to return to the PCL Championship Series for a second straight season.

Omaha, however, is back to defend its 2011 league crown. Only one franchise has won back-to-back PCL titles since 1998 – Sacramento accomplished the feat twice (2003-2004, 2007-2008). The only other franchise to win consecutive PCL crowns since Albuquerque’s three-year run 1980-1982 was Edmonton (1996-1997); seven years later, the Edmonton franchise was purchased by Ryan Sanders Baseball and the Round Rock Express joined the PCL.

For the first time since 2005, both division championship series went five games. Omaha got three field goals a touchdown to edge Albuquerque 16-7 in Sunday night’s series finale at the ever-offensive Isotopes Park. (One night earlier, the Isotopes used four field goals to nab a 12-10 victory.) In all seriousness, the Storm Chasers scored at least once in eight of nine innings Sunday night (we’re still not sure what happened in the anomalous sixth inning).

Meanwhile, Mike Jacobs’ three-run homer sparked a four-run seventh inning as Reno defeated Sacramento 7-4 in Sunday’s series decider at Aces Ballpark. The homer, which snapped a 3-3 tie, was off Merkin Valdez – a member of Round Rock’s 2011 division-title squad. That was not the only Express tie in the game; Reno’s starter was none other than Brett Tomko, who was 9-6 with the E-Train last season. Furthermore, Aces shortstop Wladimir Sutil played for Round Rock in 2010 while both were members of the Astros organization.

Omaha right-hander Jake Odorizzi (11-3, 2.93 ERA) faces Reno right-hander Trevor Bauer (5-1, 2.85 ERA) in tonight’s championship series lid-lifter.

Reno wielded the league’s most potent lineup this season, including PCL Player and Rookie of the Year Adam Eaton. In fact, the Aces posted three of the league’s four best individual batting averages in Eaton (first, .381), Ryan Wheeler (second, .351) and Jake Elmore (fourth, .344). However, that trio combined to go hitless in the division championship series. Eaton was busy hitting safely in each of his first five major league games with the Diamondbacks (four multiple-hit outings). Wheeler was promoted to Arizona in mid-July, and Elmore has been with the Diamondbacks since early August.

On the other hand, Omaha was fifth in team average (.290) and third in staff ERA (4.24). The Storm Chasers have the bulk of both their lineup and rotation intact for the postseason. Omaha hit .323 with nine homers and 8.8 runs per game against Albuquerque. Former Express member Jason Bourgeois was 7-for-24 with two triples, a homer and five runs scored in the division series; he was one of six Chasers with at least six hits in the five-game series.

Given Omaha’s rotation of Ryan Verdugo (12-4, 3.75 ERA), Nate Adcock (8-6, 5.53 ERA) and Doug Davis (9-4, 4.66 ERA) behind Odorizzi and a deep bullpen, we like the Storm Chasers in four games. The series begins with a 9:05 p.m. CDT first pitch tonight at Aces Ballpark.

 

FORMER EXPRESS MEMBERS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES
Several former Express members currently are in the majors with organizations other than Texas. Here is a look at a few; we’ll check in with others throughout the remainder of the season.

If at some point this season you’ve caught a Baltimore Orioles game and thought, “Hmmm. This team looks familiar,” you were onto something. Eight 2012 Orioles played for the Express in 2011:  catcher Taylor Teagarden, infielders Chris Davis and Omar Quintanilla, outfielder Endy Chavez, and pitchers Tommy Hunter Darren O’Day, Zach Phillips and Pedro Strop.

Teagarden (.119, two homers, five RBI) spent the season’s first three months on the disabled list but returned to the O’s in mid-July. Quintanilla (.240, three homers, 12 RBI) began the season in the Mets organization; he spent the first two months with Triple-A Buffalo before a 29-game stint in New York. The Orioles nabbed Quintanilla in mid-July. Chavez (.190, two homers, eight RBI) has been on the disabled list since early August.

Davis (.256, 24 homers, 67 RBI) has split time between first base and the outfield, playing in 118 of Baltimore’s 140 games. How good was he with Round Rock last season? Well, Davis had the same number of homers and one fewer RBI in 48 games. Then again, Davis does have a 1-0 record and a 0.00 ERA in one relief outing with the Orioles this year.

Hunter (4-8, 5.85 ERA) has started 20 games for the Orioles abut worked in relief in each of his last two outings. He has surrendered 32 homers, tied for third in the American League. O’Day (7-1, 2.22 ERA) has been one of the league’s best bullpen arms; he’s allowed one run since July 19 – a stretch of 19.1 innings over 21 outings (0.47 ERA). Phillips (0-0, 11.57 ERA) spent nearly the entire season with Triple-A Norfolk (2-2, 3.17 ERA, seven saves), rejoining the Orioles last week; he’s pitched only three games with Baltimore. Strop (5-2, 2.26 ERA, three saves) has struggled of late, allowing eight runs over 12.2 innings in 16 games since Aug. 1 (5.68 ERA).

Baltimore arguably is baseball’s biggest surprise this season. The Orioles are one game behind the Yankees in the American League East standings entering tonight’s game against Tampa Bay (one game back of Baltimore). Furthermore, the O’s currently are in the lead for the American League’s second wild card spot.

A lot has changed in Charm City over the past 24 months. The Orioles went 66-96 and finished 30 games back in last place in 2010. Last year, former Rangers manager Buck Showalter took over the helm. After a 69-93 record in 2011, Showalter has the Orioles in legitimate postseason contention with what would be at least a 20-game turnaround even if the Birds go 11-11 the rest of the regular season.

All this begs the question:  When will the Orioles fire Showalter?

Confused? Check in next time for the explanation.

News and Notes (Sept. 7)

2012 EXPRESS MEMBERS STILL IN ACTION
Several 2012 Round Rock Express members still are in action this season. The current Texas Rangers roster features eight 2012 Express members:  pitchers Michael Kirkman, Roy Oswalt, Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers and Yoshinori Tateyama, catcher Luis Martinez, infielder Brandon Snyder and outfielder Leonys Martin. Additionally, the Rangers roster includes outfielder Craig Gentry, who was an Express member last season. Other current Rangers who rehabbed with the Express this season are pitchers Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara and infielder Mitch Moreland.

Meanwhile, Double-A Frisco is alive and well in the Texas League playoffs (more on that below). Former Express members Val Majewski, Tommy Mendonca, Guilder Rodriguez and Justin Grimm have seen action through the RoughRiders’ first two games of the playoff games. Right-hander Neil Ramirez also is on Frisco’s active roster.

 

ROUGHRIDERS BUILD 2-0 SERIES LEAD
Rangers Double-A affiliate Frisco is one win away from reaching the Texas League Championship Series. The RoughRiders lead their division series against Houston Astros affiliate Corpus Christi 2-0, winning both home games in dramatic fashion.

Wednesday, the RoughRiders got a one-out RBI double from Chris McGuiness that scored Leury Garcia with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as Frisco edged Corpus Christi 6-5. The RoughRiders got hits from all nine starters, including former Express members Tommy Mendonca (1-for-4, run), Val Majewski (2-for-3, RBI, run, walk) and Guilder Rodriguez (1-for-3, RBI, walk). One of Majewski’s hits was a second-inning leadoff homer that tied the game 2-2. The RoughRiders plated three runs in the third to take a 5-2 lead before the Hooks posted solo spots in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to tie the game.

Frisco got another walk-off win Thursday night as Garcia blasted a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 victory. Rodriguez walked to open the ninth and moved to second on an Engel Beltre sacrifice bunt. Rodriguez then was caught trying to steal third with Garcia at the plate. Garcia, however, had the last laugh as he deposited a Ryan Rodebaugh 2-1 offering over the fence down the right-field line. Mendonca (1-for-2) and Rodriguez (0-for-2) both walked twice; Majewski scored the game-tying run as a pinch-runner in a two-run eighth. Justin Grimm worked two scoreless innings in relief for the RoughRiders, scattering a pair of hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Corpus Christi designated hitter Drew Locke, who played for the Express in 2010, was 0-for-4.

The best-of-five series now shifts to Corpus Christi’s Whataburger Field. Game three features former University of Missouri right-hander Nick Tepesch on the mound for the RoughRiders against Hooks right-hander Ross Seaton. Tepesch was 6-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 14 starts and two relief outings for Frisco during the regular season. He began the 2012 season with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach, where he was 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 12 starts. Seaton was 8-8 with a 4.07 ERA in 25 starts for the Hooks during the regular season.

Frisco has not announced starters for the final two games of the series should they be necessary. However, projections have Neil Ramirez going in game four and right-hander Cody Buckel in the series finale. Ramirez began the season with the Express and struggled through 15 starts (6-8, 7.66 ERA) after a promising Round Rock showing in 2011. He was reassigned to Frisco in late June and went 2-5 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts and one relief appearance with the RoughRiders. Like Tepesch, Buckel started the season with Myrtle Beach; he was dominant with the Pelicans, going 5-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 75.2 innings in 13 starts. Buckel was promoted to Frisco in mid-June and was 5-5 with a 3.78 ERA and 68 strikeouts over 69.0 innings in 10 starts and three relief outings with the RoughRiders.

 

FORMER EXPRESS MEMBERS ELSEWHERE
Pitchers Mark Hamburger and John Gaub, both of whom were Express members in 2012, completed their seasons with other Triple-A squads.

Hamburger, who was Round Rock’s pitcher of the year in 2011, was acquired by the San Diego Padres upon his mid-June release from the Rangers. However, he was not with the Padres long, going 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA in one start and four relief outings with Triple-A Tucson. Hamburger was released in mid-July and nabbed by the Houston Astros, who assigned him to Triple-A Oklahoma City. There, Hamburger was 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA in 17 relief appearances. His lone victory was Aug. 19 at Round Rock when he worked one and one-thirds scoreless innings with one strikeout and one walk in the RedHawks’ 5-2 win.

If you blinked in late May and early June, you likely missed Gaub’s stint with the Express. The veteran lefty started the season with Triple-A Durham (Tampa Bay Rays) of the International League and was released May 20. The Rangers signed him three days later and assigned him to Round Rock, where did not record a decision or allow a run in five relief outings – the first four of which were on the road. Gaub threw 12 pitches in an Express uniform at The Dell Diamond, those coming in one perfect inning June 5 against Albuquerque. He was released shortly thereafter and acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals, who assigned him to Triple-A Memphis. Gaub spent the remainder of the season with the Redbirds, going 0-3 with one save and a 6.68 ERA in 33 relief appearances. He pitched in three games against the Express, including a scoreless inning July 13 at The Dell Diamond.

 

FORMER EXPRESS MEMBERS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES
Several other former Express members currently are in the majors with organizations other than Texas. Here is a look at a couple; we’ll check in with others throughout the remainder of the season.

Luis Cruz (Express 2011) began the season with Triple-A Albuquerque (Los Angeles Dodgers) and hit .381 with eight homers, 46 RBI, 31 doubles and three triples in 74 games with the Isotopes. He was promoted to the Dodgers in early July and did not look back. His call-up was due to an injury to starting shortstop Gordon Dee. Cruz moved to third shortly after the Dodgers’ trade for Hanley Ramirez, who returned to shortstop after playing third with the Miami Marlins. (Remember all the ballyhoo surrounding his move to third when the Marlins acquired Jose Reyes in the off-season?) Cruz is hitting .306 with four homers, 30 RBI and 15 doubles in 54 games with the Dodgers. After leading Dodgers regulars with a .333 average in August, Cruz is off to an 8-for-20 start in five games this month (he had four hits Monday against San Diego). In fact, his August average tied for the National League’s seventh-best mark that month. Cruz has done most of his damage in key situations, hitting .352 with runners in scoring position.

Cody Ransom (Express 2006-2007) made it to the majors for the sixth consecutive season and the second straight with Arizona. This is his 10th big-league season with five organizations (Giants, Astros, Yankees, Phillies, Diamondbacks). Ransom started the 2012 campaign with the Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate Reno Aces, hitting .294 with two homers and nine RBI in 10 games before joining the Diamondbacks, for whom he played 17 games (.269, four homers, 12 RBI). He was claimed on waivers by Milwaukee in mid-May but struggled with the Brew Crew (.196, six homers, 26 RBI in 64 games). Arizona reclaimed Ransom off waivers last weekend, and he was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored in his first game back Monday night.

Promotion Candidates: July Edition

Photo Credit: Alex Yocum-Beeman, Frisco RoughRiders

By Andrew Brown

Round Rock, Texas - Last month we gave a report of several players we thought may get called up from Double-A Frisco and see time up in Round Rock. In some cases (four to be exact) we were dead on. Justin Grimm, Chad Bell, Fabio Castillo, and Joe Ortiz all got the nod to come pitch for the Express. In a few other cases we were a little off. On that note, we will try again this month to highlight a few names that Round Rock fans may see playing in the Dell Diamond this year.

*** Position Players ***

3B/1B Mike Olt - This one seems inevitable. Olt is leading Double-A in homers this year with 27, and is in the top 10 in pretty much every offensive category. Simply put, Olt is destroying Double-A pitching and has proven himself ready for a new challenge. When he is called up (and it really is a matter of when rather than if) it will be because he has earned it, not because the Express need him. As it is now, Bobby Jones already has a tough task of juggling all of the infielders, trying to get them equal playing time, and once Bianucci gets back his job will be even tougher. Throwing Olt into that equation would make the Express skippers job a nightmare.

That being said though, it would be a great problem for any manager to have. Olt would be an instant upgrade over any Express bat (maybe with the exception of Brad Nelson right now), and would provide an offensive spark to a team that, until just recently, has seemed to struggle at the plate all summer. Olt may stay down in Double-A a little bit longer than expected though as they try to move him around different positions and experiment with him at first base and in left field. Olt’s path to the big leagues will not be rushed, especially now that the Texas Rangers front office has made it pretty clear that he is almost as close to untradable as Jurickson Profar (Nolan and JD refused to part with Olt in exchange for Zack Greinke, which is what landed him in LA).

Even if the Rangers decide to take their time with Olt, I just simply cannot see a situation where he is not sporting an Express jersey at the end of the season. He is just too good for Double-A pitching and is ready for a new challenge. Estimated Arrival Time: Mid/Late August.

SS Jurickson Profar - I almost hate to write this, because I hate to get anyone’s hopes up. Heck, I hate to get my own hopes up. I just do not think, despite how phenomenal he is, and despite how well he has played this year, and despite how quickly he has adjusted to the Double-A level of play, there is anyway we see Profar in Round Rock this season.

Like Olt, he would be an immediate upgrade over anyone we have (that’s not to say anything about our middle infield, but just a comment on how amazing Profar is) but the Rangers are in absolutely no rush to move him up. And I completely agree with them. Profar is only 19, and already in Double-A. Why rush him up to Triple-A? Especially when he is blocked at the MLB level for a while, barring some kind of big move of Kinsler to the outfield or (God forbid) a trade of Andrus.

On top of that, the Express have now begun an experiment of trying Greg Miclat at shortstop (and to be honest he looks surprisingly good at the position, displaying a strong enough arm to make many of the throws). With this, it looks like the organization is committed to keeping Profar down in Frisco for the rest of the year. Estimated Arrival Time: Start of the 2013 Season.

*** Pitchers ***

RHP Barret Loux - Loux has been hurt this year which has been a road block in his path to Round Rock. But let’s get one thing straight: this guy is a stud. Loux has posted a record of 12-1 this season, while striking out 77 batters in 93.1 innings. Keeping Loux down in Frisco will be tough, but it may have to happen. Grimm and Bell have already secured spots as starters in Round Rock, and with the Rangers’ expected addition of a starting pitcher before tomorrow’s trade deadline, Martin Perez’s return to the Dell Diamond also seems inevitable. Jackson has a pretty secure spot in the rotation as well, which leaves on opening for all of the promotion candidates. Even that is not a sure this, considering how well Greg Reynolds pitched in his last start. Loux will get a serious look though, and if he does not end up with the Express this season, it will likely be due to his health set backs this season. Estimated Arrival Time: Start of the 2013 Season.

RHP Neil Ramirez -  Ramirez began the season with the Express, as well as a ton of expectations. Ramirez was one of the Rangers’ top five prospects at the beginning of the year, and got started in Round Rock this season with the idea that he would continue to dazzle the way he had at lower levels and maybe receive a shot at pitching in Arlington at some point. Ramirez struggled though to start the year, seeing a dip in his velocity and experiencing issues with his control. He appeared to be on the upswing after getting a chance to work with Greg Maddux, but was demoted to Frisco anyway. Since being moved a level down, Ramirez has rediscovered his mojo, and is dominating again. Because he started the year at the Triple-A level, I would expect to see him back in Round Rock this season. Especially because of how he has bounced back in Frisco. Estimated Arrival Time: Mid/Late August/After the Trade Deadline

E-Train First Half Recap

OF Julio Borbon

By Will Weinstock

The 2012 Express season has been known for its inconsistencies. At the halfway point in June, the team was 32-40 and was 10.5 games back in the American Southern Division. Coming into the season expectations were tempered because much of the key contributors from the 2011 division champion team were gone. No longer could the Express count on timely hitting from Chad Tracy, Chris Davis, and Esteban German. But poor hitting has not plagued the Express this season.

At times, the E-Train’s inconsistencies have come from its inability to get consistent quality starts from the starting rotation. Coming into the year most thought that the rotation would hold down the fort till an overhauled lineup felt comfortable. But it has been the other way around. A projected rotation with top prospects Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez, Zach Jackson (who had a team-high 13 wins in 2011) and 2011 Express Pitcher of the Year Mark Hamburger looked formidable.

Things have not gone according to plan as the team is in the bottom third of the PCL in the ERA, 4.92. Even more telling, they are dead last in the league with only 485 strikeouts despite being in the top third with 700.1 innings pitched. Conversely, in the first 80 games, the Express have scored five or more runs 44 times.

There is hope that the pitching will improve. Left-hander Chad Bell had an impressive Triple-A debut on June 26, and when everyone is healthy in Arlington, the Express can expect reinforcements coming down from the big leagues in the second half.

Coming into the year the outfield was expected to be the strongest spot of the squad and they haven’t disappointed. The lone PCL All-Star selection, Joey Butler, has been the most consistent and has improved significantly from last year. In 2011, Butler became a fan favorite in Round Rock after hitting .322 with 12 HR and playing stellar defense. But there were still areas of his game he could improve. One was his lack of discipline at the plate as he led the team with 138 strikeouts in 113 games. The changes Butler has made have been noticeable. He leads the PCL in walks and already has more than he had last year, all while improving on his home run numbers (11 first-half home runs). Center fielder Leonys Martin has only played 31 games in Round Rock because of a thumb injury and a recent call-up to Arlington, but he has been productive in his short time here. Martin hit .344 with 22 RBI and 19 runs scored, and could be back in Round Rock before the season is over.

Last year’s team scored runs through its big power bats in the middle of the lineup. The 2012 squad has been productive offensively but in a much different way. In a span of two months, three Express hitters went on red-hot hitting streaks. Infielder Yangervis Solarte and outfielders Julio Borbon and Ryan Spilborghs each spent weeks hitting the ball all over the field. In fact, Solarte’s 22-game streak from April 19 to May 11 is now the franchise record. Borbon came one hit away from tying Solarte with a 21-game hitting streak from May 12 to June 12, a span which saw his batting average rise from .238 to .316.  Spilborghs had a 16-game hitting streak that began from his first game with the Express, May 5 to May 22.

After only making a few transactions in the first two months, injuries in both Round Rock and Arlington have a created a lot of roster turnover in June.  After only 16 roster moves through May, the number is now close to 50 at the end of June.

“It can get pretty crazy with guys going up and guys going down and half the time you don’t even know who’s on your team,” Express manager Bobby Jones said. “That is the fun part of it. You got to put bodies in and make things fit.”

The 2011 Express played some of its best baseball after the PCL All-Star break when they went 35-19 down the stretch. If some of talent from Frisco makes its way to Round Rock and the recently promoted players return, a run at a division title is not out of the realm of possibility.

“[Our team] will be better than the first half,” Butler said. “I think we are starting to come together and make strides.”

As the summer starts to heat up don’t overlook the E-Train.

Projections Part II

By Will Weinstock

Two weeks ago I wrote an article chronicling who I think will be in the field E-Train on opening day in 2013. Now I am taking my shot at trying to figure out which pitchers will be manning the five-man rotation and closing out the end of ballgames next season.

RHP Justin Grimm: Unquestionably, the 23-year-old out of the University of Georgia is having the best season of any pitcher in Rangers farm system. In 13 starts at Double-A Frisco he was 8-3 with a 1.87 ERA. Even more impressive is that in nine of his 13 starts he gave up one earned run or less. The Rangers brass thought so much of how well he was pitching that they called him up to the big leagues when injuries ravaged the pitching staff in Arlington. In his first start June 16 he went six innings and gave up three earned runs on six hits, struck out seven and walked none. Grimm makes his second start tonight against the Detroit Tigers. Once everyone is healthy he will most likely come down to Round Rock to finish out this season and start out 2013.

RHP Barret Loux: The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Loux with the sixth pick in the 2010 draft. After taking a physical, the medical staff saw some red flags and did not want to take the risk signing him. Through a unique rule, the Rangers were able to sign him as a free agent and a first round talent fell in the Rangers lap.  Loux has been absolutely dominant this season at Double-A Frisco posting an 11-1 record with a 3.87 ERA. Not only will Loux be in Round Rock to start next season, but don’t be surprised if he makes the jump to Triple-A before 2012 is over. Coming into the year MLB.com ranked Loux as the Rangers 17th best prospect and his strong play has positioned him to be considered one of the better pitching prospects in the system.

RHP Neil Ramirez: Coming into the year, no one would have been surprised if Ramirez was in Arlington at some point if he pitched well. However, that has not come close to happening yet. In his first 14 starts Ramirez posted an 8.02 ERA, opponents were hitting .285 against him and he had given up home runs in 10 straight games. Last Wednesday he seemed to turn the corner against the Cubs by working at a quicker pace. In that outing he only surrendered three earned runs on two hits and struck out a season-high eight batters. The strong start was not enough to save Ramirez from a demotion to Double-A Frisco two days later. The coming months will be important for Ramirez as he will need to make the necessary mechanical changes to get back to his form of last season (4-3, 3.63 ERA at Triple-A). One thing Ramirez still has going for him is he just turned 23-years-old.

RHP Jacob Brigham: On most Double-A rotations Brigham would be a star, but with Loux, Grimm, and Cody Buckel all having spent time in Frisco this season, he has been overlooked. The 24-year old is 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA in 15 starts with the RoughRiders. June has not been so kind to Brigham (1-2, 6.14 ERA in 5 starts) and it could push back an arrival to Round Rock in 2012. And Brigham might not be in the Rangers plans because of the amount of arms in front of him. Nevertheless he has the potential to pitch in the big leagues and will contribute to the Express in 2013.

LHP Chad Bell: Barring injuries the first four pitchers listed are locks to be in Express starting rotation to when the 2013 season kicks off. The last starter is truly anyone’s guess. I do not think the Rangers are going to rush 20-year-old stud Buckel (5-3, 1.31 ERA in 13 starts at Advanced-A) or push a struggling Tim Murphy (3-7, 6.51 ERA in 13 starts at Double-A). My best guess is recent promotion Chad Bell, who started the season as a reliever in Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and has now become a starter, gets the nod. In three minor league seasons Bell has never been a full time starter. He got his first start this season at Double-A Frisco May 19 and since then he has been 2-2 with a 3.89 in seven starts. It is a small sample size but if Bell can make the jump to facing Triple-A hitters, he will stick in Round Rock.

Closer: RHP Matt West: West has one of the more intriguing careers of any pitcher in the Rangers system. He was drafted in 2007 as a third baseman, but after four up and down seasons he was moved to the mound. He made such an impression after the transition that the Rangers put him on the 40-man roster. West has been compared most with Jason Motte, the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, because he has a compact build and throws power stuff. The problem for West is his inability to stay healthy as he didn’t debut this season until June 17. He has only made three appearances above short-season but once he gets healthy, look for him to move quickly through the Rangers farm system.

Obviously in baseball anything can happen. Of course, trades, injuries, performance and free agent signings can change my projections at a moment’s notice. Throughout the season I will continue to give updates to the 2013 projections. 

New Express Rotation ***FRIDAY UPDATE***

By Wade Hilligoss

Round Rock, Texas - With RHP Roy Oswalt’s promotion to the Rangers today, the Express will change up their rotation a little bit heading into the All-Star break. RHP Derek Hankins, who is 1-1 in three spot starts this season, will slot in for the time being. He will start Friday, pushing Zach Jackson to Saturday on five days rest. After that, things we have to be reevaluated.

The new rotation:

Thursday vs. Iowa: LHP Martin Perez

Friday vs. Iowa: RHP Derek Hankins

Saturday at Iowa: LHP Zach Jackson

Sunday at Iowa: RHP Greg Reynolds

Monday at Iowa: LHP Ben Snyder

Tuesday at Iowa: Perez

Wednesday vs Nashville: LHP Chad Bell

Thursday vs Nashville:  Hankins*

Friday vs Nashville: Jackson*

Saturday 6/30 vs New Orleans: Reynolds*

Sunday 7/1 vs New Orleans : TBA

*Projected

Ramirez, Wolf Sent Down; Bell, Ortiz Promoted

By Wade Hilligoss and Larry Little

Round Rock, Texas - Right-handed pithcers Neil Ramirez and Ross Wolf were assigned to Double-A Frisco, the Rangers announced Friday. Meanwhile, left-handers Chad Bell and Joe Ortiz were assigned to Round Rock.

Bell began the season with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach, going 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA (2 ER/11.1 IP) and 12 strikeouts against four walks in four relief outings. He made his first appearance with Frisco April 25 and moved into the RoughRiders rotation May 19.Bell was 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA (16 ER/50.2 IP) and 40 strikeouts against 13 walks in seven starts and six relief appearances with Frisco. He was the Rangers 14th-round pick out ofWaltersState [Tenn.] Community College in 2009.

Ortiz made 27 relief appearances with Frisco, going 1-2 with a 2.35 ERA (8 ER/30.2 IP), four saves and 29 strikeouts against six walks. He left Frisco with a 6.2-inning scoreless streak over his last six outings. Ortiz signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent Aug. 28, 2006, out of Venezuela.

Ramirez had one of his best starts Wednesday, allowing three runs (two after he was removed) in 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts against Iowa. It was his longest outing since May 3 when he pitched 7.o innings against New Orleans. his eight strikeouts were a season high. However, his ERA stands at 7.66 as he had allowed six more earned runs seven times this year.

Wolf appeared in just two games for the E-Train, allowing a run on one hit in 2.0 innings. He struck out one and walked two.

Derek Hankins takes the mound tonight for the Express in the series finale with Iowa at The Dell Diamond. Yesterday we posted the revised rotation. Still no word on who will take Ramirez’s spot on Monday.

All four players will be active for their teams tonight. The Express roster now has 24 players, one short of a full group, with right-hander Roy Oswalt’s contract being purchased by Texas today.

Express Pregame 6/20/12

Express Lineup:

1. CF Julio Borbon (.327, 7 HR, 32 RBI)

2. SS Luis Hernandez (.239, 4 HR, 30 RBI)

3. LF Ryan Spilborghs (.342, 4 HR, 23 RBI)

4. DH Brad Nelson (.293, 8 HR, 38 RBI)

5. 3B Matt Kata (.313, 6 HR, 37 RBI)

6. RF Joey Butler (.284, 11 HR, 39 RBI)

7. 1B Mike Bianucci (.280, 14 HR, 46 RBI)

8. 2B Yangervis Solarte (.275, 6 HR, 31 RBI)

9. C Dusty Brown (.231, 3 HR, 13 RBI)

Pitching: RHP Neil Ramirez (6-7, 8.02 ERA)

Express Player-to-Watch:

Andrew Brown:

2B Yangervis Solarte is my pick for the Player-to-Watch tonight. He is a spark plug type player, who is used all over the infield (he has seen time at second and third base, as well as short stop). He also has outfield experience although he is unlikely to be seen out there anytime soon. While not always consistent, Solarte is a steady defender for the most part, capable of making the jaw dropping, awe-inducing plays that are second only to Luis Hernandez (who he often teams up with on double plays).

Solarte is a little cold right now at the plate compared to back when he was hitting over .300 and in the midst of a franchise record, 22-game hit streak, but I have a hunch he is going to go off tonight. Solarte has a season average of .275, which is solid, but he is a switch hitter who hits .314 against lefties, and only .257 against righties. The Cubs are sending Brooks Raley (2-2, 5.93 ERA) out to the mound tonight, and the southpaw is allowing a .327 average to opposing hitters this season.

It all adds up to Yangervis having a big night offensively (I am predicting a multi-hit game and at least one of them being an extra base hit), and a win in the very first Express Player-to-Watch competition.

Wade Hilligoss:

If I could, I’d pick Matt Kata every night. But I can’t. I do like the fact that he’s hitting fifth tonight, right in the midst of some hot hitters. Kata has been spotty with the bat this season, but he still has a .313 average with 37 RBI in just 46 games. He also has 11 doubles and the ball has been flying well this week at The Dell Diamond.

Give me Matty tonight. He’d due for a few hits and he’ll have some chances to create some runs all night.

Will Weinstock:

Typically the worst thing you can do when picking a player-to-watch is to pick a player that had a great performance the night before. Last night Mike Bianucci sprang a 6-3 Express win with his two home runs over the left field fence. However, I am going to go against the grain and choose 1B Mike Bianucci, because their is just too much statistical evidence to pick against him having another repeat performance of last night. The Cubs and Express have had nine meetings this season and in those games the E-train have hit ten home runs. Despite playing in only eight of those nine games Bianucci has five homers, 11 RBI and eight runs scored in the series. Not to mention Bianucci has a .324/.367/.514 split against lefties compared to a .261/3.16/.478 split against righties, and left hander Brooks Raley happens to be on the mound for the Cubs tonight. Lastly, he is in the midst of a four game hitting streak where he is hitting .571 (8-for-14) and his birthday is in six days.

Cubs Lineup:

1. SS Alfredo Amezaga (.293, 4 HR, 18 RBI)

2. RF Dave Sappelt (.236, 3 HR, 22 RBI)

3. 1B Anthony Rizzo (.360, 23 HR, 59 RBI)

4. 3B Blake Dewitt (.190, 0 HR, 1 RBI)

5. C Welington Castillo (.320, 2 HR, 8 RBI)

6. CF Brett Jackson (.261, 8 HR, 28 RBI)

7. LF Ty Wright (.283, 4 HR, 25 RBI)

8. DH Blake Lalli (.205, 5 HR, 20 RBI)

9. 2B Matt Tolbert (.240, 1 HR, 6 RBI)

Pitching: LHP Brooks Raley (2-2, 5.39 ERA)

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