The Austin Chronicle

Better Now Than Then

By Will Eidam, June 24, 2011, 2:50pm, The Score

Heading into the weekend series with the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Round Rock Express are atop the Pacific Coast League standings (41-32) while the Redbirds are perched at the bottom (32-43). This is just another reminder about how good things are for Round Rock since Nolan Ryan took over the Texas Rangers.

There are plenty of players on the Express who were on the RedHawks last year, and vice versa. As that's the case, let's take a look at a few positions on both teams so we can highlight just how much better it is to watch the new and improved Express compared to "last year's team," the RedHawks.

Catcher: Taylor Teagarden (RR) vs. Robinson Cancel (OKC): Despite playing in 18 fewer games than fellow Express catcher Kevin Cash, Teagarden is more dominant than Cash in every main statistic (except for RBIs, but it's close). And while he's up with the Rangers at the moment, filling in for the injured Mike Napoli, Teagarden will eventually get sent back down and he'll be back in the everyday lineup for the Express where he belongs.

Cancel boasts quality stats with the RedHawks including an extremely healthy .340 average, but when you're looking at the ages of Cancel, 35, and Teagarden, 27, you're also looking at what the two AAA affiliates represent.

While Texas has numerous prospects in their farm system, the Houston Astros' system is depleted, and most of their minor-league teams' plug in players – like Cancel, whose chances in the majors have been long gone – just to fill the roster. Oklahoma City can have the better catcher for now (thanks to Kevin Cash's .210 average), but over the course of a season, it's no contest.

Infield: Chris Davis (RR) vs. all comers (OKC): For first baseman Chris Davis, here's the good: In AAA, with 780 at-bats spread over the past four years, he's a career .333 hitter with a great walk rate and hits a homer once every four games. Here's the bad: In the majors, with 852 at-bats spread over the past four years, he's a career .248 hitter with a 4/1 strikeout/walk ratio (not even a 3/1 ratio is too good), and has disappointed me year after year in fantasy baseball leagues. So while he's been a dynamic all-star by minor-league standards, he's still struggling once he gets up to the big leagues. There are two silver linings: 1) He's still only 25, with plenty of time to improve. 2) He's a better option than anything Oklahoma City has to offer.

The RedHawks' best infielder, Anderson Hernandez, hits only .265 and their clean-up hitter is Cancel, who only has two home runs for the season. When a catcher is a team's clean-up hitter it means that either he's a great source for power (Brian McCann, Buster Posey, etc.) or that the team has no other options. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the RedHawks' reasoning is the latter.

Outfield: Julio Bourbon (RR) vs. Brian Bogusevic (OKC): There's nothing too different about these two interchangeable players. Both have speed and both have the ability to hit for a solid average. Most importantly, both have major-league affiliates whose outfields are already solid, which is exactly why both players are in the minors. Having said that, I'd still prefer the speedy Bourbon, who has had a track record of success in the majors, over Bogusevic, who has only been called up the past two years to serve as a pinch-hitter, and an unsuccessful one at that.

Pitching: Should We Even Bother?: After the Houston Astros called up star prospect Jordan Lyles, the next best pitcher in the Astros' farm system is arguably Sergio Perez. "Who?," you ask. Exactly. And while the Rangers have a lot of great pitching prospects, like Martin Perez, those guys are hanging out in the AA and low-A systems.

The Pacific Coast League is known as a hitter's league. With a 4.54 ERA, Oklahoma City has the third best pitching staff in the PCL. In the other AAA league, the International League, only two of the 14 teams have a worse ERA than that.

So while I'd love to finally throw Oklahoma City a bone, saying that they have a more dominant pitching staff than Round Rock, there's really no point. Both teams have a respectable rotation, but the real excitement in the PCL comes from the bats. The Express, league leaders in home runs with 98, easily out perform the RedHawks, 52, in what matters the most.

Chicks dig the long ball, and so do fans.

Vs. Oklahoma City: Sat.-Tue., June 25-28, 7:05pm. Dell Diamond, 3400 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, 512/255-2255. $6-30.

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