At the Texas League all-star game in late June, shortstop Elvis Andrus seemed not far from becoming a one-man army at Double-A Frisco.
The first half of the season had been full of stars and then promotions for the Rangers affiliate. One by one prospects advanced on to Triple-A Oklahoma, some on to the major leagues: Catcher Taylor Teagarden and outfielder John Mayberry departed in April. Within a three-week span just ahead of the all-star game, lefthander Matt Harrison, first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Max Ramirez followed suit.
All of 19 years old and not yet a year removed from having joined a new organization, Andrus saw his calling as he recognized the need to take on a greater role of clubhouse leader.
“I tried to tell them that there’s really no difference between Double-A and A-ball,” Andrus said. “I tried to make them feel comfortable. I told them that, even if they were coming from Clinton or Bakersfield, it didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter if you lost a couple of games. We could still win a championship.”
The Rangers supplied Frisco with an abundance of prospects all summer, and the Riders rewarded the organization with an 84-56 season that fell a victory shy of capturing the Texas League championship. The RoughRiders’ all-around performance, as talent translated to success, led Baseball America to name Frisco its Minor League Team of the Year.
Prospects In, Prospects Out
Six key players—Davis, Ramirez, Teagarden and pitchers Tommy Hunter, Warner Madrigal and Harrison—reached the majors well before rosters expanded Sept. 1. Promoted in late May, Davis belted 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in his first 258 at-bats.
Twelve of BA’s Top 30 Rangers prospects powered the Riders to a sweep of the South Division first- and second-half titles before Arkansas (Angels) used a seven-run sixth to win the decisive Game Five of the league championship series.
Other teams had more wins—Myrtle Beach led the minors with 89 victories, and seven others won at least 85 games. But Frisco won despite major roster turnover.
“I think when we look back on this in two or three years—and hopefully winning at the major league level—we’re saying, ‘Remember that club in Frisco?'” Rangers farm director Scott Servais said. “We did feel we had a special group there and we feel we have some guys right behind that group.”
And then, in a nod to the scouting and player development wings of the organization, Servais added, “You’re only as good as the talent that comes through your door.”
Andrus, acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade in July 2007, was was on the roster wire to wire. He hit .311 (91-for-292) from June 8 on after missing two weeks because of an injured finger. He committed 32 errors, but only seven after July 25, and was second in the TL with 53 steals.
Andrus and outfielder Steven Murphy were the only position players both in the starting lineup on Opening Day and the final game of the playoffs.
“He knows how to play baseball,” Frisco manager Scott Little said of Andrus. “He does a lot of special things out there. At times he makes mental mistakes. But he’s an aggressive kid. He wants to beat you. That definitely had an influence on the other guys.”
Changes In Attitude
Just after the all-star break, Frisco received centerfielder Julio Borbon and second baseman Jose Vallejo from high Class A Bakersfield. The pair sandwiched Andrus atop the order as Frisco transitioned to a team reliant on speed.
Borbon hit a combined.321/.362/.425 with seven home runs, 58 RBIs and 53 steals in his first full season after being a supplemental first-round pick out of Tennessee.
The Riders also won despite a number changes to the rotation, with 20 pitchers making starts. The second-half boosts came from righthander Neftali Feliz (4-3, 2.98) and lefthander Derek Holland (3-0, 0.69). Both opened at low Class A Clinton.
Their handywork, along with Michael Ballard and Michael Schlact combining for 15 wins, came in a season in which righthanders Scott Feldman and Hunter and lefthander Harrison reached the majors after combining to go 9-4, 3.64 in Frisco.
The Riders also benefitted from Murphy and outfielder Dustin Majewski. They combined for 30 home runs, 67 doubles and 159 RBIs.