Express value developing players more than winning record

Infielder Hanser Alberto named Round Rock season MVP


As a manager with more than 500 wins under his belt, Express manager Jason Wood would love to be at the top of standings looking down at the rest of the league. But he also wants to see development that would help the Texas Rangers. 

He only got one of his wishes this season. 

Round Rock finished the regular season under .500 for the third straight year and had the final two games of the regular season in Iowa canceled due to weather. But what the team did do is have a plethora of players reach the major league levels, while other that started the year in Double-A Frisco excelled with the Express. 

“I don’t look at the record as the end all, it’s about development and how we’re producing the young kids to produce at a big league level,” Wood said. “We went through a regular season where our starting rotation changed just about every week. We’ve had to mix and match.”

Infielder Hanser Alberto was named the team MVP, with a .330 average, good for third in the Pacific Coast League and a new single-season Round Rock franchise record for hitters with at least 300 at-bats.

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The likes of Ronald Guzman and Isiah Kiner-Falefa were early call-ups to the big league team and have been with them ever since. Other players like pitchers Connor Sadzeck and Yohander Mendez or outfielders Drew Robinson and Willie Calhoun have split time between the Rangers and Express. 

Others made the leap from Frisco to Round Rock and haven’t looked out of place in the slightest. 

Outfielder Scott Heineman joined the Express in April and finished third on the team with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs as well as finishing third amongst players that playing at least 60 games with a .294 average.

Infielder Christian Lopes had the best year of his young career, blasting 12 home runs, driving in 55 runs and playing in 123 games, second-most on the team. He was named PCL Player of the Week in late April. 

“It was their first year in this ballpark and they had such good seasons,” Wood said. To be as consistent as they have been for the entire year, it says a lot for our staff and for them to see them put up these numbers.”

Adrian Sampson was the best starter for Round Rock, finishing 8-4 overall with a 3.77 ERA over 126.2 innings pitched and 19 starts. R.J. Alvarez was named to the All-PCL team, boating a league-best 24 saves and 3.68 ERA in 45 games. 

Wood pointed out other bullpen arms Reed Garret (1-1, 2.84 ERA), Jeffery Springs (1-2, 2.79 ERA) and Brady Feigl (5-1, 2.13 ERA) as players that took a step forward and should break into the big leagues at some point. 

“We know they’re a work in progress and they have good stuff,” Wood said. “There’s a group of talented individuals that are thirsty to get to the next level and know where the Rangers are in their process right now. The work that these kids put in every day is pretty special to watch.”

Every good Triple-A team has a host of veterans either looking to get back to the majors or starting to learn the coaching reigns. Round Rock had that in Cliff Pennington this season, the Corpus Christi-raised form Texas A&M player that hopes to be a manager one day.

“You couldn’t do this without a group of veteran-laden players that have gotten to the big leagues,” Wood said. “He helps me out too. I pick his brain all the time when it comes to little things that go on on the base paths. You need a guy like him at this level.”

The Express will play in Round Rock for sure next season, but whether or not Wood and the Rangers organization are affiliated with the team is still up in the air. 

More tickets were sold to see the Express this season than any other PCL team, so when the negotiation window opens up between Sept. 16-30 allowing other teams to negotiate Round Rock being their Triple-A club, there will be many suitors. 

The Houston Astros’ affiliation with the Fresno Grizzlies also expires after the playoffs. Round Rock was the Double-A and later Triple-A affiliate for Houston when Dell Diamond was built in 2000 until 2010.

Wood said the environment and facilities at Dell Diamond are great for minor league baseball. The fans bring energy, which can make a stale game a little bit more exciting, while the players get their first taste of a professional atmosphere. 

According to Wood, the on-field future is bright for the Rangers, wherever that may be. 

“We’ve got good young talent throughout our system,” Wood said. “Next year, wherever our Triple-A affiliate is, we will be stocked with talent. If it’s not here in Round Rock, that’s too bad because it’s been a fantastic run and a fantastic time. There are great people all around this city.”

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