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Farm Tracker: Yu Darvish and the Frisco Kids

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The imminent return of RHP Yu Darvish was only one of several interesting developments this weekend at Double-A Frisco.

Minor League Baseball: Corpus Christi Hooks at Frisco RoughRiders Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

One of minor league baseball’s best teams became a lot stronger this past weekend when RHP Yu Darvish, rehabbing from 2015 Tommy John surgery, took the mound for the Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) of the Double-A Texas League. While Darvish’s stay in Frisco will be temporary, the weekend promotions of LHP Yohander Mendez and RHP Luis Ortiz, two of Texas’s top pitching prospects, will make the first-place RoughRiders an even more formidable team in the coming months.

On Saturday Mendez, 21, our #7 fantasy prospect in the Rangers system, made his Double-A debut against the San Antonio Missions (Padres). In seven starts with the High Desert Mavericks (Rangers) of the hitter-friendly California League, Mendez posted a 2.45 ERA with 45 K and 11 BB in 33 IP, so this was a well-earned promotion. San Antonio took a 2-0 first-inning lead and had five hits through two innings, though three of those five hits were rather soft. By the third inning it was obvious that Missions hitters were sitting on Mendez’s bread-and-butter changeup, so the young lefthander adjusted. He struck out 1B Mike Olt on a nasty slider and then retired the final seven batters he faced, including a pair of swinging strikeouts. He also got help from CF Lewis Brinson, 22, our #3 Texas fantasy prospect and #28 overall, who made a fine running catch on a deep fly ball. All things considered, Mendez’s final line (5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) does not look as impressive as he did. San Antonio hitters had a good game plan and plated a few runs but overall made very little hard contact.

Darvish, the weekend’s headliner, started on Sunday and, as expected, had little trouble with the overmatched Missions. In the first inning his fastball touched 96, and he froze San Antonio 2B Nelson Ward with a nasty curveball. All afternoon Darvish confounded hitters with both a slow (69-71 MPH) and a hard (80-82 MPH) curve. He also mixed in a sinker. Only once did he allow a baserunner into scoring position. His final line (6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) suggests that he’s ready to return to the Majors, which he will do this Saturday at home against the Pirates.

Ortiz, 20, Texas’s #5 fantasy prospect and #67 overall, took the mound for his Double-A debut in Monday’s series finale and, like his fellow Frisco hurlers, did not disappoint. In six starts at High Desert, Ortiz posted numbers only slightly less impressive than Mendez’s (2.60 ERA, 28 K and only 6 BB in 27.2 IP). The big-bodied righthander looks like a future workhorse with a fastball-slider-changeup combo. In fact, during the game broadcast, Texas GM Jon Daniels said the organization views both Mendez and Ortiz as “clear starters,” for “they’ve always had the pitch mix” necessary to succeed in a starting role. San Antonio 3B Gabriel Quintana laced a solid single to left in the third inning, but that was about all the hard contact Ortiz would permit. He also did not allow a runner to reach scoring position until the sixth inning, and he got swinging strikeouts on both his fastball and his slider. On the whole, he pitched even better than his final line (6 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) indicates.

In short, this was a big weekend in Frisco, and not simply because more than ten thousand fans showed up for each game. Yu Darvish is healthy, pitching with increased velocity and characteristic effectiveness. His imminent return will affect the AL West race and will boost the fortunes of someone in your fantasy league. If, for some reason, he is not owned in your league, then for Heaven’s sake pick him up immediately...and then send me an invitation to your league.

Meanwhile, the additions of Mendez and Ortiz to the rotation give the young RoughRiders the most interesting set of prospects in a loaded Texas system and will make first-place Frisco (30-14) must-see TV on most nights. In addition to Brinson, who backed Darvish with a leadoff HR on Sunday, the RoughRiders’ lineup includes OF Ryan Cordell, 24 (Texas’s #6 fantasy prospect), 1B Ronald Guzman, 21, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 21, who plays both SS and C. There’s also OF/DH Joe Jackson, 24, namesake and great-great-great nephew of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.