For every person who checks the standings before he heads to the Fairgrounds ballyard, 99 check the weather forecast. Actually, it’s more likely to be a 100-0 shutout.
It’s just a fact of life in the low minors, where the yearly roster churn erodes the common baseball attachments to players and winning, and weighs the ballpark allure to other delights. As long as the turnstiles continue to move, all’s well.
But this is one of those summers when there is more baseball intrigue than usual with the Spokane Indians, and it seems a shame to not soak some of it up.
For example, in the lineup for the first time Tuesday night was 18-year-old catcher Kellin Deglan, the 22nd pick in Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft this past June. That gives the Indians two first-rounders on the roster, only the third time that’s happened in nearly three decades of short-season A ball here – the first time it’s been two position players (center fielder Jake Skole being the other). What’s more, Spokane also has a supplemental first-rounder in third baseman Michael Olt – that’s three picks among the top 50.
Then there is the 17-year-old shortstop, Jurickson Profar, who the parent Texas Rangers have about 1.55 million reasons invested in thinking he’ll be a star in the big leagues some day.
Spokane has already won the Northwest League’s first-half East Division title, which gives the marketeers a month to sell playoff tickets. Now all manager Tim Hulett has to do is keep the wheel steady – and hope the Rangers don’t strip the car for parts.
Most years, the come-and-go of players at this level is, well, minor. But for the Rangers, this isn’t most years.
On Monday, they plucked Spokane’s two top starting pitchers – Chad Bell and Miguel De Los Santos – and bumped them up to Hickory of the South Atlantic League, where they’d actually opened the season before the Indians assembled for camp. Ten players who were on Spokane’s opening-day roster are no longer here.
In the meantime, 12 others have arrived, most recently Deglan and hard-throwing Roman Mendez, the key figure in a trade with the Boston Red Sox whose debut in Spokane on Monday eased some of the concerns about the starting rotation.
This is almost as good as fantasy baseball – except that Hulett and the Indians have no say in the shuffle.
“We’ve always had some movement,” Hulett said, “but there’s more this year because the big league club is in the hunt. They’re trying to win a World Series and they’ve added some pieces and traded a lot of pitchers out of the system.
“When you lose four or five pitchers from the AA level, they have to be replaced from somewhere. If you take them off the A clubs, those guys have to be replaced, too. We had a couple of guys throwing the ball real well and they deserved to move.”
True enough, the Rangers have been busy – especially for a franchise in bankruptcy. Four major trades in the last month have brought them a Cy Young pitcher (Cliff Lee), a front-line catcher (Bengie Molina) and two valued infielders (Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman). The cost, among other things, has been six minor league pitchers (four of them Indians of a previous vintage) who were all having good-to-exceptional seasons.
“It presents a challenge,” Hulett admitted. “But our bullpen has done a great job – we’ve had a couple of guys step into starting roles and do well. It’s nice to have Mendez – he brings some velocity to the starting staff. We’re about ready to get (Jimmy Reyes) back and (Zach) Osborne is going to throw a bullpen later this week, so we should get stronger in a few days.”
Not that it’s just a Spokane problem. All four Rangers farm clubs higher up the food chain are in first or second place at the moment, and Double-A Frisco won a first-half title.
If continuity suffers, so might concentration. How many of the Indians, for example, might be surveying the call-ups and thinking, “Me next”?
“I hope they do,” Hulett said. “If it were me, I’d be thinking, ‘What can I do to further my career?’
“It’s great to be in the playoffs as we are, but we’ve talked about the fact that you still have a motivation to play – you don’t want to give the second half away. Those numbers count for something. You can get on rolls when you’re winning, just as things can sour for you when you’re losing. It’s best to keep the pedal down and play hard.”
And keep an eye on those standings.
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