Having bounced among five organizations in his 11-year major league career – a couple of them twice – Scott Servais never forgot who issued his paychecks.
So he found it a little irritating his first spring as Director of Player Development of the Texas Rangers when a couple of recently signed draft picks strolled into the minor league clubhouse at Surprise, Ariz. … wearing Yankees caps.
“We just paid you a $100,000 signing bonus – are you kidding me?” Servais remembered thinking. “Well, you don’t see that anymore. People are proud to be Rangers.”
Why not? Texas made its first trip to the World Series last October. A tough-minded franchise icon heads the ownership group. And in two of the last three years, the Rangers’ farm system has been regarded among baseball’s top two by people with the time to track 30th-round draft picks in Spokane and heat-throwing lefties in Hickory.
Apparently, you can’t just add up the wins and losses – although that math looks pretty good, too.
That the Indians return home for another Northwest League home stand having just let the first-half division title slip away was but a hiccup in the Rangers’ organization wide hot streak. Consider: Triple-A Round Rock leads its division by five games, Double-A Frisco has the second-best record in the Texas League. In Class A, Myrtle Beach and Hickory both were first-half winners of their division. The Rangers’ rookie league squad in Arizona is 20-8.
“Last year the big league team goes to the World Series and six of seven minor league teams go to the playoffs,” Servais said. “Nobody has done that in the last 50 years – and we have a chance to do it again this year. It’s so much better to come to the park when it’s a winning environment, and we can do that without sacrificing any of the development.”
So it appears. Three Rangers’ prospects – pitcher Martin Perez (who made a 2008 stop in Spokane), shortstop Jurickson Profar (who spent the summer of 2010 here) and pitcher Tanner Scheppers – are either among the top 50 in baseball or the 100, depending on who’s doing the rating.
Fourteen of the Rangers on the current active roster grew up in the farm system, including nine pitchers.
“You can talk all you want about your minor league talent,” said Servais, a catcher whose best years were spent with the Cubs, “but if they get to the big leagues and don’t do well right away, we lose credibility.
“People always say, ‘Hey, the big league club is going to do it this way and it’s going to filter down.’ I take the opposite approach: You start at the bottom and work up. If you ingrain in kids that we’re going to win – because you can get a bunt down or get a guy in from third or throw strikes – it will just grow as they take it up the ladder.”
If you’re going to go the grass-roots route, you might want to plant early.
And if there’s a trend here in Spokane, it’s been toward youth. Last year’s Indians had a 17-year-old shortstop and 18-year-old No. 1 picks in center and behind the plate. This season there’s a 17-year-old at second, and another 18-year-old catcher. Two more 18-year-olds are in the starting rotation.
Spokane’s average age this year is 20.3. In 2003, when the Rangers first landed in Spokane, there were just two teenagers on the roster.
“The quicker we can get our arms around them,” Servais said, “they usually take off a little quicker.”
Big league callups and trades have siphoned off a bit of the talent – Texas was 14th in the latest Baseball America organizational rankings. But behind the wondrous 18-year-old Profar – he has 10 homers and more walks than strikeouts at Hickory – and first-round pick Mike Olt from last year’s Indians, the Rangers are deep at shortstop and third base. There’s a 23-year-old Cuban center fielder, Leonys Martin, who has jumped from rookie ball to Triple-A this summer.
“It’s important that you hit on some guys in Latin America and certainly with your top picks,” Servais said. “But every now and then you have to have a 17th-round pick you’re not counting on – like Mitch Moreland, who played in Spokane – pop in your system.”
And you have to be patient.
“Players get caught up in their first year of pro ball – they all want to hit .300,” he said. “But with a kid like, say, (Spokane center fielder) Zach Cone, we’re not concerned about him until we get to opening day next year.
“This is about an adjustment to pro ball. We’ve had some MVPs of the league here who never got out of Double-A – although, yeah, a first impression can be important.”
Like wearing the right cap to the ballpark.