Three of four Texas farm teams are in first place in their divisions. Triple-A Oklahoma sits on top of the Pacific Coast League South Division with a record of 20-12. Double-A Frisco leads the Texas League South with a 22-9 record, and Class A Clinton, perhaps most surprising for a young team, is 21-7 to lead the Midwest League Eastern Division. Class A Bakersfield is third in the California League North at 17-14.
"We knew coming out of Spring Training we would have some decent teams, but some have been better than we thought," farm director Scott Servais said. "We thought Clinton might struggle because of all the young Latin players who are in their first full season but [manager] Mike Micucci and [pitching coach] Danny Clark and [hitting coach] Brian Dayett have done a great job with those young players."
Developing a winning attitude is part of the Rangers' overall plan, that and learning to play the game the right way. But the farm system is still about the development of players for the Major League team, and there's obviously much to like with the winning, whether it's outfielder John Mayberry fitting in with the massive firepower at Oklahoma, catcher Max Ramirez, first baseman Chris Davis and shortstop Elvus Andrus continuing to impress at Frisco, the high-energy double play combination of shortstop Marcus Lemon and second baseman Jose Vallejo at Bakersfield or first baseman Ian Gac's torrid start at Clinton.
Not everything is overwhelmingly positive. Right-hander Eric Hurley has had his struggles at Oklahoma. Left-hander Matt Harrison had to be shut down for 7-10 days at Frisco to rest his shoulder, and left-hander Kasey Kiker, the No. 1 pick from 2006, has a 7.16 ERA at Bakersfield as he tries to get acclimated to the California League.
Success can mean promotion, and Mayberry was one of the first to get a bump. He was moved from Frisco to Oklahoma because the RedHawks need outfielders and he has 14 hits -- including five doubles and one home run -- in his first 28 at-bats. He has also struck out just once.
"I'm really excited about that," Servais said. "You didn't know what you'd get, but I'm most happy his strikeouts are down. At Frisco he was having some of the best at-bats. I'm not talking about hits but just staying on the ball and using all fields. This is a big year for John Mayberry. Hopefully he'll settle in, put up good numbers and maybe by August or September he'll get big league consideration."
The other good story at Oklahoma -- besides Doug Mathis going 4-0 with a 3.82 ERA in six starts and Nelson Cruz dominating the PCL -- is Joaquin Arias is on the comeback after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury. He is hitting .312 as the RedHawks' second baseman, and his shoulder continues to get stronger. He could be back at shortstop by the end of the month.
Ramirez, the catcher acquired from the Indians for Kenny Lofton last year, is the guy who has really taken off, and he was recently named the Texas League Player of the Week. Servais also said his defensive has shown improvement ever since Taylor Teagarden was promoted to Oklahoma.
Ramirez is part of an impressive lineup that includes Andrus, Davis and Steven Murphy, the left-handed-hitting outfielder who is not only hitting .331 overall but .424 with runners in scoring position. The Rangers told him he needed to be better in that regard, and he has apparently taken their advice to heart.
"He's probably one of our most improved players," Servais said.
Andrus (.264) and Davis (.305, nine homers, 25 RBIs) remain two of the biggest prizes in the farm system, but there seems to be no desire on the Rangers part to put them on the bullet train to Arlington. Servais said the organization would like to see both at Triple-A before they go to Arlington.
"The switch to first base has been very good for Chris," Servais said. "He's very athletic, and I've seen him make some very good plays. He's making adjustments at the plate, trying to cut down his strikeouts and use the whole field. We know he can hit the ball five miles, but there is still plenty of development time needed."
The Rangers just don't want their offensive players flailing away up there. They let outfielder Engel Beltre do his thing for 75 at-bats at Clinton; now they have him on a strict program of trying to be more disciplined at the plate. It's a work in progress, but this is still a 19-year-old player who is hitting .279 with 21 runs scored in 28 games at Clinton and has a future as a top-of-the-order guy who can reach on a bunt or hit the ball over the fence.
The big prospects usually draw the attention, and not much has been said of Kennil Gomez, a 20-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic. But he is 5-0 with a 2.38 ERA in six starts for Clinton, walking three and striking out 26 in 34 innings.
"His fastball is 90-92 and he has a very good curveball," Servais said. "Most of all, he gets the ball on the mound and throws it. Do we like big stuff? Absolutely. But we talk about tempo, get the ball and throw it and get your team off the field. It really works for him, and he just doesn't walk people."
He's just one of many reasons why the system is off to a great start.