Breaking down the Round Rock Express

The Round Rock Express are entering their first season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the club's opening day roster, highlighting some of the surprises and intriguing story lines.

Round Rock will open its season on Thursday, March 7, with a four-game series against the Iowa Cubs. The homestand continues on April 11-14, when the top prospect-laden Omaha Storm Chasers come into town.

The team will be lead by veteran manager Bobby Jones and assistant coaches Scott Coolbaugh (hitting), Terry Clark (pitching), and Spike Owen (third base).

Name Pos B/T HT WT DOB 2010 Club
Yhency Brazoban RHP R/R 6'1 250 11/06/80 BUF (NY Mets)
Cody Eppley RHP R/R 6'5 205 10/08/85 BAK/FRI/OKC
Derek Hankins RHP R/R 6'4 192 07/01/83 ALT/IND (PIT)
Eric Hurley RHP R/R 6'4 195 09/17/85 DNP
Zach Jackson LHP L/L 6'5 220 05/13/83 Las Vegas
Michael Kirkman LHP L/L 6'4 195 09/18/86 OKC/TEX
Seth McClung RHP L/R 6'6 280 02/07/81 DNP
Zach Phillips LHP L/L 6'1 200 09/21/86 FRI/OKC
Tanner Scheppers RHP R/R 6'4 200 01/17/87 FRI/OKC
Yoshinori Tateyama RHP R/R 5'10 170 12/26/75 Nippon (Japan)
Brett Tomko RHP R/R 6'4 220 04/07/73 STK/SAC (Oakland)
Ryan Tucker RHP R/R 6'1 200 12/06/86 JUP/NO (Florida)

Name Pos B/T HT WT DOB 2010 Club
Kevin Cash C R/R 6'0 200 12/06/77 HOU/BOS
Taylor Teagarden C R/R 6'1 200 12/21/83 FRI/OKC/TEX

Name Pos B/T HT WT DOB 2010 Club
Brian Barden IF R/R 5'11 200 04/02/81 NO/FLA
Luis Cruz IF R/R 6'1 210 02/10/84 NAS/MIL
Chris Davis IF L/R 6'3 230 03/17/86 OKC/TEX
Esteban German IF R/R 5'9 195 01/26/78 OKC/TEX
Matt Kata IF B/R 6'1 185 03/14/78 Round Rock (HOU)
Brad Nelson 1B L/R 6'2 260 12/23/82 TAC (Seattle)
Chad Tracy 1B R/R 6'3 210 07/04/85 Oklahoma City

Name Pos B/T HT WT DOB 2010 Club
Endy Chavez OF L/L 6'0 170 02/07/78 FRI/OKC
Doug Deeds OF L/L 6'2 195 06/02/81 Reno (Arizona)
Craig Gentry OF R/R 6'2 190 11/29/83 OKC/TEX

Three Surprises

1) Chris Davis back in Triple-A.

Davis had an excellent camp––there just wasn't a roster spot available for him. On the positive side, the slugger posted a .362/.387/.741 slash line this spring. He also fanned in 17 of his 62 (27.4 percent) plate appearances. Regardless of what he did at the plate, Davis proved he can hold his own at the hot corner. He should be Round Rock's every day third baseman. After dropping a few pounds, Davis showed improved lateral movement to go along with quick reflexes and his usual strong arm. He looked to be at least an average defender at the hot corner. Davis has a chance to force the issue––with either a trade or a call-up––if he continues mashing during the regular season. The added versatility in being a passable defender at both corner infield positions certainly can't hurt his case.

2) Luis Cruz a late addition at shortstop.

During the last week of spring training, the Express had three versatile infielders in Brian Barden, Esteban German, and Matt Kata. Unfortunately, none of the three profile best at shortstop. The Rangers took care of the issue by signing shortstop Luis Cruz to a minor league deal just days after he'd failed to make the Brewers' big league roster and refused an outright assignment to the minors. The 27-year-old Mexico native played at Triple-A Nashville last season, batting .281/.309/.414 with 29 doubles, 10 homers, and 68 RBI. He was 4-for-17 with a triple in seven games with the big league club in Milwaukee.

3) Michael Kirkman starts in the minors.

Maybe it's not exactly a huge shocker, but it became clear that the Rangers preferred Kirkman to open the season as a starting pitcher rather than working out of the big league bullpen. It's a move with more of an eye on the long term, as the club wants Kirkman to improve his fastball command and changeup. The southpaw has plus velocity––working in the low-90s and hitting up to 94 mph on occasion––and a wipeout slider to match. If he doesn't bring along the command and changeup, he could find a home as a late-inning lefty reliever. Kirkman still has a legitimate chance to stick as a starting pitcher, though, and he'll work on getting ahead in counts consistently and keeping his walk totals down (68 in 131 Triple-A innings last season) with the Express.

Three Questions

1) How long will Tanner Scheppers start?

While there is some debate over whether Tanner Scheppers will be a starting pitcher or a reliever down the line, there seems to be a consensus that the fireballing righty will join the Rangers' bullpen at some point this summer. But Scheppers is at least beginning his season in the Round Rock rotation, and he was stretched out (to around 60 pitches) by the end of camp. Which leads to the next question...

2) When will Scheppers make his debut in Arlington?

Scheppers was slowed early in camp by a sore lower back but appeared to be back at full strength while pitching in minor league games. His velocity returned––he was touching up to 97-98 mph––and he flashed a sharp curveball-slider combination. The 24-year-old will still have to improve his fastball command this season. Despite the plus (bordering on plus-plus) velocity, he yielded 82 hits in 69 innings at Triple-A last year because of his tendency to work up in the zone with his fastball. Scheppers didn't appear to be throwing many changeups this spring, focusing mostly on his heater and two breaking pitches. If he gets out to a fast start in Round Rock, he could be pitching out of the Rangers' bullpen by the All-Star break. Scheppers is close to being a finished product, but he needs to prove the command is a bit more refined before he's ready for the next level.

3) Can Eric Hurley still become a major league starting pitcher?

The early returns for Eric Hurley have been positive after he missed two full years due to shoulder and wrist surgeries. He finished his Arizona Fall League stint with 20 consecutive scoreless innings and was running his fastball into the 90-93 mph range (touching 94) in the last few starts. The 25-year-old logged nine innings in big league camp this spring, allowing only one run on four hits. Hurley's velocity wasn't there––he was more in the 86-90 mph range––but he did a much better job of commanding and ‘pitching' with his three-pitch repertoire than he did prior to surgery. The righty has clearly developed as a pitcher since he last appeared in an official game in '08, and it'll be interesting to see if the velocity returns to the low-90s once he fires it up in Round Rock. Hurley will almost certainly pitch in the majors this year. And if he's healthy and shows good velocity, there's no reason that he can't at least become a back-of-the-rotation starter.

One to Watch

Endy Chavez – There's little doubt that a number of Round Rock's opening day roster members will play a factor with the Rangers this season. But one dark horse candidate to contribute in the majors could be veteran outfielder Endy Chavez. The 33-year-old never quite got back to full strength last season, as he was still recovering from knee surgery after he suffered a torn ACL during an outfield collision in 2009. Texas re-signed the Venezuela native in the offseason, and he appeared in 22 games with the club this spring. If the Rangers suffer an injury in the outfield––something Hamilton, Cruz, and Gentry have dealt with over the last year––Chavez could fit in as a key reserve if he himself proves to be healthy. While not known for his bat, Chavez has been a starter at times during his career and is regarded as an excellent defensive outfielder with above-average speed.

Other Notes

• According to a report from the Dallas Morning-News' Evan Grant, the Express rotation will consist of Michael Kirkman, Eric Hurley, Tanner Scheppers, Brett Tomko, and Zach Jackson in no particular order.

• The bullpen will include Brazoban, Eppley, Hankins, McClung, Phillips, Tateyama, and Tucker. It's unclear who will get the bulk of the save opportunities in that group, although veterans Brazoban and Tateyama may be the front runners.

• With only three ‘true' outfielders on the roster, the club will likely play Brad Nelson, Chad Tracy, and Matt Kata in the corner outfield spots from time to time. Nelson, who has been mostly a first baseman during his career, is listed on the official roster as an outfielder.

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