Rangers stockpiling speed in Frisco
Three prospects could change the character of Texas
FRISCO, Texas -- Texas won't be known as the "Speed Rangers" any time soon, but hope is on the horizon.
While Ian Kinsler is Texas' primary speed threat at the Major League-level, the Rangers are finally beginning to stockpile speedsters in their Minor League system with Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon and Jose Vallejo at Double-A Frisco.
"I'm not sure you can ever have enough in any area of the game, including speed," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We're certainly better in that area now than we were a few years back, but there's always room for more. We try to be well rounded in our scouting approach -- we'll take hitters, defenders, runners -- and obviously prefer guys who can impact the game in multiple ways."
Speed is a characteristic that the Texas organization has been devoid of for the better part of a decade.
Since 2000, only the Red Sox and Athletics have fewer stolen bases than the Rangers, and Texas is four stolen bases behind San Francisco on the list. However, the Red Sox are gaining ground while the Giants are pulling away as each club has begun to build around faster players.
The Rangers also have the sixth fewest infield hits and fourth fewest bunts for hits in the Major Leagues during that span.
Texas may not have to play small ball at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but playing in the American League West with pitcher-friendly ballparks such as Seattle's Safeco Field and Oakland's McAfee Coliseum has made it imperative for the Rangers to have a multidimensional offense.
"Speed has been an area of focus -- mostly because we want to have a well-rounded offense, and feel we can put more pressure on the defense than we have in the past," Daniels said. "It should also help us on the road, when we don't have the Ballpark's power benefits to take advantage of."
The Rangers have taken a step in the right direction at the Major League level with Kinsler's development, but his 23 stolen bases this season account for nearly half of Texas' 49 team steals.
Those 49 steals rank Texas 18th in the Majors and 10th in the American League -- down from the Rangers' ranks of 17th and eighth, respectively, in 2007.
However, the speedsters Texas has at Frisco have the Rangers' future looking fast.
With the recent promotions of outfielder Borbon and second baseman Vallejo to Frisco to join forces with shortstop Andrus, the RoughRiders -- who are second in the Texas League and third in all of Double-A with 111 stolen bases -- could boast the fastest offense in their class by season's end.
Andrus, Borbon and Vallejo have combined for 95 stolen bases this season and combined for four in one game on June 29.
"It just so happens that those guys are all here together and if they get on base, hopefully they can steal second, steal third and score without having to waste outs to get them in," Frisco manager Scott Little said. "They do cause a lot of tension when they're on base."
And whenever they put the ball in play, they have the ability to leg out infield hits and get on base.
Andrus, Borbon and Vallejo are fast, for sure, but there's more to stealing bases than speed. Basestealers have a kind of sixth sense that allows them to time their jumps off pitchers and Frisco's trio have that ability in addition to their quickness.
"When you go up to higher levels and see a lot of quicker pitchers and a lot better catchers, it doesn't get any easier," Borbon said. "So timing is definitely the key. There's no better feeling than taking those first two or three steps and knowing you got that jump and it's just a matter of you getting down there."
If timing is a basestealer's sixth sense, then the seventh sense that separates good basestealers from great ones is attitude.
"You have to have an aggressive mentality," Vallejo said. "Everybody knows that, as soon as you get on base, you're going."
Opponents may know what's coming when these thieves are on base, but they haven't been able to stop them -- even at home plate. Frisco stole home six times in June with three of those swipes belonging to Andrus. That number could increase with Borbon and Vallejo joining the fold.
And if Andrus, Borbon and Vallejo stay together, it may be only a matter of time before they change the culture of Rangers baseball for the next decade.
"We're going to be fun to watch, because we're going to run," Andrus said. "We've got some wheels."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.