When the MLB trade deadline passed at the end of July, by all accounts, the Texas Rangers were sellers. The MLB club sent their ace, Yu Darvish, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a trio of talented prospects.
But more than a month later, the Rangers are right in the playoff hunt and, as of Monday night, were less than three games out of the second Wild Card spot.
Jason Wood believes that’s partially due to what happened in Round Rock this season.
“I look up at the screen every night and I see our big league club and I see a lot of faces that have been in the lineup here this year,” the Express manager said. “There’s a reason why they are up there and that’s because they were having success down here. That’s a tribute to the work they put in, but also the environment created by this coaching staff.”
The Express wrapped up their season last week winning three of the final four games of the regular season at home against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. They finished the year at 66-72 overall, the fifth fewest victories in the team’s 18-year history. Round Rock went 43-27 at home while finishing just 23-45 on the road.
Of the 25 players on Round Rock’s 25-man Opening Day roster, just six were left on the final day of the season. Some players were called up to the big leagues, while other were on the disabled list, and still others were released.
Round Rock made more than 250 transactions during the season, most recently sending outfielder Jared Hoying, infielder Will Middlebrooks and a few others to the major league club.
“We like to say next man up,” Wood said. “At any point in time, their number can be called. We were able to give to the big league club, but we were willing to receive in the players we got and it will be to our advantage in the future.”
Willie Calhoun technically had the best numbers in the major categories but split time between Round Rock and Oklahoma City. He hit 31 home runs — 28 in Oklahoma City, eight in Round Rock — with 93 RBIs and had a .300 average this year.
But Ronald Guzman will be the proudest to say he was the most consistent player on the team. The left-handed first baseman spent the entire year in Triple-A and was named team MVP after leading the active Express roster in games played (125), at-bats (470), hits (140), and runs scored (78) while boasting a .298 average.
“You’ve got to keep your focus all the time here,” Guzman said. “If you lose your focus, the pitchers will eat you up. For you to be able to succeed here, you’ve got to stay focused for the whole season."
Since joining the Rangers as an 18-year-old in 2012, Guzman has steadily climbed the ladder in the organization, going from rookie ball to Single-A from 2013-2015. In 102 games in Double-A last season, he hit .288 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
According to mlbpipeline.com, he is currently the No. 3 prospect in the Texas organization.
The current depth chart in the majors is full at first base for this season with Mike Napoli and Joey Gallo the current options. But Napoli signed a one-year deal that is set to expire after the season if the team doesn’t pick up the option and Gallo is the everyday guy at third base.
“(Guzman) has got a bright future in this organization,” Wood said. “There were times in Double-A and Single-A where he had too many peaks and valleys and they were enormous. I give him credit for staying the course and grinding each day.”
The key to his consistency this season was his offseason conditioning. Guzman said last year he got tired, but he had a little more time to prepare before this year started which led to a better year at the plate and at first base, where he committed just seven errors.
His main goal is to start for the Rangers at first base next season. And he’s willing to do anything it takes to get there, whether that means taking extra at-bats in the fall league or whatever else the club asks.
“I’m taking time to prepare myself for next year,” Guzman said. “I’m going to do whatever is best for me to get ready. I’m probably going to have a long offseason, so it’s going to be good for me get stronger than ever.”
Round Rock has had largely the same coaching staff for the last three seasons. Pitching coach Greg Hibbard and hitting coach Jim Presley each wrapped up their second seasons with the club while bench coach Geno Petralli and Wood finished their third at the Triple-A level.
The Express went 24-29 over the first two months of the season and never recovered. But it was never about the wins and losses for Wood, it was all about player development.
“A lot of these guys have contributed and done good things,” Wood said. “We’ve made this environment enjoyable for everybody to come to. This is one ball club that I’ve never been worried about not coming ready to play. All in all, I’m very happy with this group.”