Oklahoma RedHawks (AAA) Roster
* Denotes that player will begin season on disabled list
Three surprises: It may not be a big surprise considering the logjam in the big league bullpen, but the RedHawks have a bullpen with lots of big league experience. In fact, the OKC pen – excluding Willie Eyre, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery – combined to rack up a fairly respectable 4.91 ERA in 280.2 innings with the Rangers last season. The group, which includes Frank Francisco, Kameron Loe, Wes Littleton, A.J. Murray, and Bill White, figures to be tough on Triple-A hitters.
Another former Ranger – outfielder Nelson Cruz – will join the Triple-A roster after sliding through waivers. The slugger was one of the key components of the Carlos Lee trade two seasons ago, but Cruz has struggled to consistently hit big league pitching. Despite hitting .235 with the Rangers in 2007, Cruz proved he was still too good for Triple-A last year, as he batted .352 with nine doubles and 15 home runs in 44 games. The 27-year-old will get another crack at Triple-A pitching to open the 2008 season. More than likely, the Rangers are hoping Cruz will put up equally dominant numbers with the RedHawks this season and they will be able to find a trade partner for him.
For the first time since 2004, Jason Botts won’t open the season with the RedHawks. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound switch-hitter got a spot with the Rangers, leaving his former positions [first base and left field] to be occupied by a mixture of Nate Gold, Chris Shelton, and Kevin Mench. Botts gets his first Major League opening day roster spot after batting .302 with 86 doubles and 51 home runs in 298 Triple-A games over the last three seasons.
Three stories to follow: Doug Mathis hopes his second Triple-A stint is a little more successful than the first. Despite having just 10 innings of experience above the High-A level, the Rangers opted to send Mathis to Triple-A Oklahoma to open the 2007 season. The move turned out to be a disaster, as he allowed 16 runs on 21 hits in 12.2 innings. Mathis quickly returned to Double-A Frisco, where he posted a strong season. The right-hander will begin the season in the rotation with the RedHawks following an impressive spring training. With a good showing, Mathis has the opportunity to pitch in the Majors Leagues at some point this season.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could also be helping the big league club sooner rather than later. Rangers fans are now familiar with Salty, the key cog in last summer’s Mark Teixeira trade. Despite flashes of brilliance with the Rangers last year, Saltalamacchia was inconsistent, putting up a .251 batting average and a .291 on-base percentage. The 22-year-old has never played a game at the Triple-A level and although he doesn’t figure to be there for the entire season, he could use a bit more seasoning.
While the RedHawks’ roster is filled with solid prospects and big league veterans, shortstop Joaquin Arias is one player who could see his career go one of two directions this season. The Rangers famously [possibly infamously] chose the toolsy Arias over second baseman Robinson Cano as the second player in the Alex Rodriguez trade just prior to the 2004 season. Arias developed nicely in his first two seasons, but he struggled at the plate with Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006 before sitting out nearly the entire 2007 season with a shoulder injury. That shoulder still gives Arias problems, and he will begin the year working as a designated hitter. Although Arias has not developed the power the Rangers had hoped he would, and he probably never will, he is still a speedy player with outstanding defensive skills. With a strong season, the 23-year-old can put himself right back on the map. But if Arias still struggles to reach base in 2008, he could become an afterthought in a hurry.
One to watch: Elizardo Ramirez. This section is generally reserved for ‘breakout’ players, but those who have reached the Triple-A level have generally already had breakout seasons. Ramirez may not be a prospect, but he is worth keeping an eye on. The former Cincinnati Red had a strong spring training, tossing 8.2 scoreless innings in eight relief appearances. The 25-year-old went 4-9 with a 5.37 ERA in 19 starts for the Reds in 2006.
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