Image credit: Heriberto Hernandez (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
SAN DIEGO — The 2019 season was a challenging one for the Rangers’ farm system.
Top pitching prospects Owen White, Mason Englert and Cole Ragans all had Tommy John surgery. Two other top pitching prospects, lefthander Taylor Hearn and righthander Yerry Rodriguez, sustained season-ending elbow injuries. Another, righthander A.J. Alexy, didn’t pitch in the regular season after May 1 due to a lat strain.
Top middle infield prospects Anderson Tejeda and Chris Seise had season-ending shoulder surgeries. Top outfield prospect Bubba Thompson missed most of the first half with a broken hamate bone and hit .178 in the 57 games he did play.
It was a painful year in the Rangers’ minor leagues, one marked by talent depletion both significant and extraordinary.
And yet, the club’s affiliates persevered. The Rangers posted the highest combined winning percentage (.567) in the minor leagues of any organization in baseball this year. Their five lowest affiliates all made the playoffs in their respective leagues, with the Rookie-level Arizona League Rangers winning a championship and low Class A Hickory reaching the South Atlantic League finals.
Buoyed by a rising wave of talent at the lower levels, the Rangers managed to turn difficult circumstances into a successful season in the minor leagues.
On Tuesday night, that trend culminated with a final flourish.
Heriberto Hernandez hit a tie-breaking, inside-the-park grand slam in the eighth inning, and the Rangers stormed back to beat the Padres, 10-2, in the Don Welke On Deck Classic at Petco Park.
With a group of primarily short-season players facing off against a Padres team of almost exclusively full-season players, the Rangers overcame a 2-0 deficit in the eighth inning to win the annual prospect showcase for the second year in a row. They scored six runs in the eighth and four more in the ninth.
“Our team is so strong and I can see as we go all go up together, we’re dangerous,” second baseman Cody Freeman said. “Our team is really good. Our bond is really strong.”
Hernandez, a breakout prospect in the AZL this year, broke it open. With the score tied 2-2 and the bases loaded with one out, Hernandez drove a Henry Henry offering for a line drive into right field that got under the glove of diving right fielder Hudson Head and rolled to the wall, clearing the bases and allowing Hernandez to motor around for an inside-the-park grand slam.
He added an RBI single in the ninth to finish 2-for-5 with five RBIs.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and have fun,” said Hernandez, a 19-year-old outfielder. “Every time I try to be play aggressive and play hard.”
Freeman, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick this year, went 3-for-3 with a two doubles, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. Shortstop Osleivis Basabe, the Rangers’ No. 9 prospect, went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI out of the leadoff spot. Third baseman Derwin Barreto scored twice and made a pair of impressive defensive plays.
“Any time you lose an arm or lose somebody to injury, it’s not a good thing,” Rangers director of minor league operations Paul Kruger said. “The way we take it is it’s a setback, it happens and we’re going to push forward. A lot of guys took advantage and got their name on the map.”
Alexy, who returned in instructional league, got the start and pitched three scoreless innings with one hit allowed, one walk and three strikeouts for the Rangers. He sat 94-96 mph on his fastball and slowed hitters down with a 71-74 mph curveball he landed for strikes.
After the Padres tagged Rangers lefthander Destin Dotson for two runs in the fourth, Teodoro Ortega, Orceli Gomez, Kelvin Bautista, Corey Stone, Martin Buitimea and Alex Carrillo combined to hold the Padres scoreless over the final 5.1 innings.
Second baseman Xavier Edwards went 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base and a run scored to lead the Padres. Outfielder Taylor Trammell went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base and added an assist from center field when he threw out Basabe trying to stretch a single into a double to lead off the game.
Infielder Tucupita Marcano went 1-for-3 with a single, a walk, a stolen base and an RBI. He drove in CJ Abrams in the fourth inning with a bunt single, beating out the throw to first with a headfirst slide.
Padres righthander Reggie Lawson opened with four scoreless innings, working 92-95 mph on his fastball and mixing in his curveball, changeup and slider. He allowed three hits, walked none and struck out three.
Ryan Weathers, the Padres’ first-round pick in 2018, followed with two scoreless innings. The 19-year-old lefthander sat 91-93 mph on his fastball and mixed in a low-80s breaking ball and 85-88 mph changeup and threw them all for strikes. Overall, Weathers threw 19 of his 24 pitches for strikes and retired all six batters he faced, including two via strikeout.
Padres reliever Dauris Valdez recorded the highest velocity of the game. The 6-foot-8, 221-pound righthander reached 101 mph to notch a strikeout on his final pitch of a 1-2-3 seventh inning.