For most MLB fanbases, this part of the season sucks. You think Kansas City Royals fans, Miami Marlins fans, and Pittsburgh Pirates fans are as excited to see these games as they were at the start of the season? The only thing those fan bases are looking forward to are the players in their farm system. They get to see a few of their top prospects take the big league field every year when rosters expand, but in 2021, that opportunity is much more limited.
Prior to 2020, Major League Baseball rosters could expand to include as many members of their 40-man roster as they wanted. However, due to scheduling conflicts with Minor League Baseball in 2021, rosters were only allowed to expand to 28 players this September. So, this season, we don’t get to see as many of those young up-and-comers as we had in the past. However, despite the absence of some of those top prospects, the Texas Rangers’ have a number of reasons to be excited for their future.
Rangers’ manager Chris Woodard, whose team is buried in last place, said earlier this week that if he was a fan he’d be excited for the future of this team, and I’d have to say, I totally agree with him.
The young man in the photo above with Woodard is Glenn Otto. He was part of the deal that sent Joey Gallo to the Yankees. He has started two games for the Rangers since being traded, and he has been an absolute stud on the bump. He’s thrown 9.2 innings against the Astros and Angels, and in that span, he’s allowed just six hits, one walk, and two earned runs, while striking out 11. But it’s not just Otto that has Rangers fans hopeful for the future.
The Rangers’ farm system has suddenly become a long list of top pitching talent. When was the last time Rangers fans could say something like that? Over the past 35 or so years, the team has only really developed three legitimate top starting pitchers: Kevin Brown, CJ Wilson and Kenny Rogers. It’s been a half-century long issue for this franchise. In a 2019 interview, longtime Minor League pitching coordinator Danny Clark, said he takes the lack of top-end talent coming out of the Rangers’ farm system personally: “We talk constantly about producing a front-line starter. It’s not a negative on the organization, because developing pitching is difficult, but I take it personally.”
Clark has spent almost 13 years with the Rangers as their pitching coordinator, and he may have finally cracked the code. The Rangers’ Minor League system consists of two starters in Major League Baseball’s top 100 prospects list. While Jack Leiter is still a few years away from making the Major League roster, his presence in a farm system that already includes Cole Winn and Ricky Vanasco has the potential to be dangerous, especially if Glenn Otto remains with the team. There’s also Cole Ragans, who, along with Winn was selected to the MLB All-Futures Game this season. Then, there are guys who have just recently broken into the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse. The top name on that list is Dane Dunning, and while he’s struggled with his control in 2021, the potential is obviously there.
Now, you’re probably thinking “What about the offense?” Personally, in my experience, I’ve never believed having strong position players in your farm system is a necessity to succeed at the Major League level. Don’t get me wrong, it helps a ton. Just look at what the Houston Astros have been able to accomplish with their home-grown talent. However, in today’s MLB, hitters can be so flukey, so inconsistent, so hot and cold, that simply trading for undervalued role players on other teams or maintaining a rotation of players for certain positions while playing matchups has become a legitimate strategy.
Look at the Rays, Brewers, A’s, and Giants. Each of them has employed some sort of tactic like this. None of them had any massive names at the plate to start the season (aside from Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich, but he has not done well this season), but each of them has managed to break into the top half of the league in runs per game. Tampa Bay even leads in that category. Milwaukee has done so on the backs of Luis Urias, Willy Adames, Omar Narvaez, and Rowdy Tellez, and none of them came into the league as a member of the Brewers.
Can you seriously tell me that you believed any of them had elite run-producing talent prior to this year? Sure, the A’s traded for Starling Marte and the Giants for Kris Bryant, but both teams were doing fine at the plate before those acquisitions. The Giants are third in Major League Baseball in home runs, and not a single guy on their team has more than 22 dingers. You don’t need elite level talent everywhere on the diamond, or in your farm system, to support a good offense. Even if that was vital to a team’s offensive success, eight of the Rangers top-10 prospects play the field, so they’re pretty set there as well.
The Rangers are building their team right for the future. It’s been an incredible process to watch, and while the team is still a few years away from seeing many of these players suit up at Globe Life Field in Arlington, the patience will be worth it. The Rangers have not reached the postseason since 2016, and have never won a World Series. However, they’ve always been a team that’s relied on their offense to carry them. That will all change soon. As they said in The Dark Knight, “the night is darkest just before dawn, and trust me… the dawn is coming.”