Welcome to our final Double-A entry into "A Trip Around The Minors". Today, we are going to take a look at The Texas League, which is...well, it spans four states. Which is weird for a league called the Texas League, but I digress
It was established in 1888 and didn't become an affiliated-level league (at least Single-A) until 1921. It became a Double-A league in 1946, halting play with the end of World War II. From the time that it started up until the time it became an affiliate, the league was in eight cities, with two of them (Dallas and Houston) eventually becoming the host of Major League franchises. When Dallas and Houston left the league in the late 50's, the league actually went down to six teams. Dallas would return as a Dallas-Fort Worth team in 1966, and after their return, the Texas League became an eight team league and has been that way ever since. This is how the league shakes up today:
North Division: Arkansas Travelers (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim affiliate), Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals), Springfield Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals), Tulsa Drillers (Colorado Rockies)
South Division: Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston Astros), Frisco RoughRiders (Texas Rangers), Midland Rockhounds (Oakland A's), San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres)
So yes, the Texas League really only has half a league actually in Texas. The other teams are in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri and make up the entire North Division. It's definitely the most ground that is covered in any Double-A League, and if you read "The Bullpen Gospels" by Dirk Hayhurst, there's a good chance you'll enjoy yourself some stories about the Texas League regarding bus trips, kangaroo courts and Chase Headley to pass the time.
Possibly the most intrinsic thing the league has ever done is give way to the term "Texas Leaguer", coined for a weakly hit fly ball that is hit between the infield and the outfield. It has picked up a lot of names over the course of baseball history (my favorite that nobody really uses anymore: ducksnort) but "Texas Leaguer" is used the most, it seems, despite no evidence whatsoever that the name came from the league itself or originated there.
The league is thought of a launching pad for high homer totals and is responsible for many a bloated offensive stat line. The 4.92 runs per game is the most in Double-A and the third most of the full season leagues. A look at the triple-slash sees that while they are the best line in Double-A (.265/.337/.410) and the .747 OPS is fourth most amongst the full season leagues. While they hit almost 250 home runs less than the Eastern League, they also have four less teams, and averaged over 20 more home runs per team than both of their Double-A companions.
One of the more recent historical performance actually involves an old classmate of mine. Tommy Everidge, Sonoma Valley class of '01 and former A's prospect, was playing for Midland in 2008 and put up a single game performance that ranks amongst the best ever: 4-for-5 with three home runs including a grand slam, and a ridiculous 10 RBI. He became the seventh Texas Leaguer to ever achieve the feat, and although he basically became a "Quad-A" player, his name will live in Texas League lore forever.
A quick look at the Texas League MVP list sees a list that includes some Hall of Famers and players who were pop culture references at one point. Winners include Dizzy Dean (1931), Hank Greenberg (1932), Steve Sax (1981 - insert "Simpsons" reference here), Darryl Strawberry (1982 - ditto), Ray Lankford (1989), Henry Rodriguez (1990 - "Oh, Henry!"), Johnny Damon (1995), Jason Lane (2001 - another Sonoma County product!), Andre Ethier (2005), Alex Gordon (2006) and He Who Talks In The Third Person (According to Hayhurst) Chase Headley (2007).
In 2011, Double-A was absolutely owned by Mike Trout, who ripped up Arkansas on his way to his debut with the Angels and has been named either #1, #2 or #3 on prospect lists all across baseball. A center fielder by trade, Trout is a true five-tool talent that should move Vernon Wells out of an every day role and roam what could be a pretty dang good defensive outfield with himself, Peter Bourjous and Torii Hunter. Shelby Miller also pitched well in Springfield last year and should see time with the Cardinals at some point, either this year or in 2013.
This year, there is a chance that Jurickson Profar gets some time at Frisco for the Rangers organization. The best shortstop prospect in baseball, Profar is seen as someone who will take over for Elvis Andrus at the end of Andrus' team controlled years. He'll possibly play with Mike Olt, a good third base prospect that is currently blocked by Adrian Beltre at the Major League level, but could be valuable if either he or Beltre decide to move to first.
Other prospects to watch this season include Nolan Arenado (Colorado), Jarrod Cosart (Houston, although he might be on the fast track), Jean Segura (Los Angeles Angels), Jonathan Singleton (Houston), John Lamb (Kansas City) and possibly Grant Green of Oakland. Considering the amount of talent that went through the Texas League in 2011 (Trout, Martin Perez, etc.), the league might be starved for star-level talent across the board.
That does it for Double-A. Next week, we'll take a look at the High-A level, starting with the league of my former employer: the Florida State League.
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