Murphy says, "Baseball's been synonymous with the city of Kinston for about nine decades. It's going to have a major impact on our hotels, our restaurants, the coffee houses."
The Texas Rangers and Down East Wood Ducks announced the first roster to break minor league camp in Surprise, AZ and join the inaugural season in Kinston.
Among the roster are four prospects featured on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list for the Rangers farm system. Those four are left-handed pitchers Brett Martin (No. 5) and Joe Palumbo (No. 6), infielder Josh Morgan (No. 13), and outfielder Jairo Beras (No. 16).
Martin and Palumbo are just a bit of the strong pitching staff entering the Carolina League with the Woodies. Martin earned a late call-up to Advanced-A High Desert in the California League and was MVP of the league finals after throwing seven shutout and hitless innings while collecting 15 strikeouts in game two of the series against Visalia. Palumbo was a model of consistency last season, leading the South Atlantic League with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings with the Hickory Crawdads.
Offensively, the Wood Ducks bring proven hitters Josh Morgan and Jairo Beras the “pitchers’ league.” Morgan is a career .300 hitter in his three minor league seasons and finished with the fourth-best average on High Desert’s championship roster. The Dominican-born Beras enjoyed a breakout power year with career-highs in home runs (22), runs batted in (78), and doubles (28) with High Desert.
Two Cuban League signees will make their American debuts with the Wood Ducks as well. Yonder O La and Arturo Lara joined the Rangers in the offseason and are both listed as infielders.
Arturo Lara: SS, Age: 26 (February 22, 1991); Bats/Throws: R/R Ht: 5' 10" Wt: 185
Luis Yander La O: 3B, Age: 25 (December 9, 1991); Bats/Throws: R/R Ht: 6' 0" Wt: 178
Frandy De La Rosa, 2B: Age: 21 (January 24, 1996)
The Rangers traded relief pitcher Spencer Patton to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Frandy De La Rosa in 2015
Signed by the Cubs from the Dominican Republic in 2012, De La Rosa earned a bonus of $700,000. At the time he drew notice as an athletic switch-hitter with a good measure of baseball polish but a lack of physical strength. He showed middle infield range but not the arm strength for shortstop, leading scouts to project a move to second base. The positional issue probably hurt his bonus stock a bit but the bat projected well and his makeup was considered excellent.
Which of the new team names for 2017 is your favorite?
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Southern) took the early vote and held off the Down East Wood Ducks (Carolina) down the stretch.
A rotation of Bass, Benjamin, Martin, Palumbo and Payano – if that’s what transpires – should keep the Wood Ducks in nearly every game. Martin probably would have earned a Frisco assignment if not for an injury-filled 2016, and I expect him to finish the season there. Palumbo was the most impressive pitcher I saw in person last week, showing an effective change in addition to his already noteworthy curve and mid-90s fastball. Strike-throwers Payano (returning from a broken arm) and Benjamin should thrive in the pitcher-friendly climate.
Carlos Garay, 22
Chuck Moorman, 23
Josh Morgan is also expected to play backstop on occasion. Morgan caught last spring, also, but the experiment was shelved during the regular season. Although he hit well enough for an assignment to AA Frisco, keeping him in high-A should ease his positional transition. Moorman caught the majority of Hickory’s games last year. Garay played sparingly in Spokane during 2014-2015.
Josh Altmann, 22 (everywhere, mostly at 1B based on his teammates)
Frandy de la Rosa, 21 (2B, 3B)
Luis Yander La O, 25 (3B, 2B)
Arturo Lara, 26 (SS and elsewhere?)
Luis Mendez, 24 (everywhere but 1B)
#13 Josh Morgan, 21 (everywhere but 1B, plus C)
La O is from Cuba, where he primarily played third base with some action at second and short. Like Andy Ibanez last year, he’s being eased into US ball after a fallow period and should reach AA during the season. Lara is also Cuban, and that’s that extent of my knowledge of him. Altmann played everywhere but catcher and even tossed two innings in low-A last year. De la Rosa, acquired last year for reliever Spencer Patton, has advanced from Hickory while some more highly regarded infielders will stay behind.
#16 Jairo Beras, 22
Ledarious Clark, 23
Michael O’Neill, 24
Eduard Pinto, 22
Frisco has six outfielders, of whom at least four deserve regular action, so Beras will return to high-A despite 22 homers and a .511 slugging percentage (albeit in the hitter-friendliest park on the planet). Up from Hickory is Clark, who I think has a better season in him than last year’s .242/.279/.439. Eduard Pinto slides down from Frisco, where he served admirably after a host of trades, promotions and injuries gutted the squad last July.
The newly-affiliated Down East Wood Ducks look to be quite exciting as well, also with a rotation that will be packed with prospecty goodness. Brett Martin, Joe Palumbo, Pedro Payano, and Wes Benjamin all spent at least the majority of their 2016 with Hickory in A-ball, and all were somewhere between “damn good” and “pretty damn good.” They’ll all move up (or Down) to the Wood Ducks in ’17. There will be a nice stock of maybe-someday major league relief arms on hand too, and also a guy named Ricardo Rodriguez that I’m fairly certain is not mid-aughts so-so Rangers’ starter Ricardo Rodriguez. Jairo Beras will be a Wood Duck as well, and he’s one that I have to repeatedly check how old he is because he’s been around for a while and seems like he should be older than he actually is (21). He signed as a sixteen seventeen-year-old and has been steadily moving up through the system with widely-reported raw tools and widely-reported makeup questions. He’s working on two strong offensive seasons in a row, though, and a promotion to Frisco is likely if he starts the year with the same kind of bat.