This is part five of a seven-part series previewing the seven American Conference teams in the Pacific Coast League the Colorado Springs Sky Sox will play this season.
With the recent realignment of the PCL, the Sky Sox switched back to the American Conference after nine years in the Pacific Conference.
The fifth featured team will be the Round Rock Express — the Triple-A affiliate for the Texas Rangers.
Baseball in Round Rock, Texas, is relatively new. Following the 1999 season, RSR Sports, featuring Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, successfully moved the Double-A Jackson Generals of the Texas League from Jackson, Miss., to Round Rock, Texas. Subsequently, the team changed its name to the Round Rock Express. In 2003, the ownership group decided to purchase the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League and wanted to move the team to Round Rock. With the incoming franchise, the group then moved the Double-A franchise to Corpus Christi, Texas, and named the team the Hooks. The Edmonton Trappers were then renamed the Round Rock Express and have been a member of the Pacific Coast League ever since.
Since moving from Jackson, Round Rock also has consistently topped the league in attendance. While in the Texas League, the franchise finished first in attendance each season from 2000-04, setting the league record each season. Since the franchise moved to the PCL, the Express have finished at least second every year with the exception of one.
With the 2014 season quickly approaching, here’s a quick preview of who you might see when the Sky Sox face the Express this season.
OF Michael Choice comes to the Rangers after being traded from the Oakland Athletics in December 2013 along with 2B Chris Bostick in exchange for CF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom. The former first-round pick (10th overall) rates as Texas’ No. 3 prospect and spent much of last season with Triple-A Sacramento, although he did see time in the big leagues. At the Triple-A level, Choice played in 132 games where he hit .302 with 14 home runs and 89 RBI. Playing in Sacramento, Choice faced the Sky Sox on numerous occasions. In 16 games, he hit .406 with five doubles, a triple and a home run. Choice also scored 16 runs and drove in 13 runs.
2B Rougned Odor just turned 20 years old and saw time at both High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco last season. The native of Venezuela hit .305 in 130 games and slapped 41 doubles and 11 home runs. He also drove in 78 runs and stole 32 bases. He is rated as the second-best second base prospect in all of baseball.
After needing Tommy John surgery which caused him to sit out the entire 2011 season, RHP Wilmer Font bounced back and had a solid 2012 season where he made the switch to the bullpen after being called up to Double-A Frisco. In 2013, Font was nearly lights out in his first full season out of the bullpen. The 23-year-old pitched 52 innings between Double-A and Triple-A Round Rock where he allowed just six earned runs for an ERA of 1.04. He also struck out 71 batters. He’s also seen brief stints with the Texas Rangers the last two seasons, pitching in five games.
Steve Buechele enters his first season managing Round Rock and his sixth season as a minor league manager — all of which are with the Rangers. He has spent the past four seasons with Double-A Frisco and led the RoughRiders to a record of above .500 every season.
As a player, Buechele made it to the major league level and spent 11 seasons in the big leagues from 1985-95. Eight of the seasons were spent with the Rangers. His career season came in 1991 with the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates when he had career highs in hits (139), home runs (22), RBI (85), and runs (74).
Notable Alumni: 1B Chris Davis had a career year in 2013, but not with the Rangers. For the Orioles, Davis hit a league-high 53 home runs and 138 RBI, while hitting .286. Davis was traded to the Orioles from Texas in 2011 with RHP Tommy Hunter for RHP Koji Uehara. In 48 games for Round Rock in 2011, Davis hit .368 with 24 home runs and 66 RBI.
OF Hunter Pence is a seven-year veteran in the big leagues with Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Pence played only 25 games with Round Rock in 2007 when they were still affiliated with the Houston Astros and hit .326 with three homers and 21 RBI. He also had 11 doubles.
2014 meetings: at Round Rock from April 7-10; Home from April 11-14; at Round Rock from July 7-10; Home from July 25-July 28
Sky Sox head-to-head record vs. Round Rock: 17-15 overall, 9-7 at home, 8-8 on road
Recent match-ups: The Sky Sox are 3-5 against the Express since 2012.
Total elevation in Round Rock: About 735 feet
Distance from Security Service Field to Dell Diamond: 847 miles
Memorable games – On May 22, 2011, the Sky Sox rallied from a 10-7 deficit to score eight runs with two outs in the ninth inning. Eliezer Alfonzo tied the game with a three-run homer, while Eric Young Jr. added a three-run triple. The Sky Sox won 15-10.
Part One – Iowa Cubs
Part Two – Memphis Redbirds
Part Three – Nashville Sounds
Part Four – Omaha Storm Chasers
Below you can find the realigned divisions for the 2014 season. The teams who changed divisions are italicized.
Pacific Northern: Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Pacific Southern: Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake
American Northern: Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha
American Southern: Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock
Nashville will go to American Southern, and Colorado Springs will take Nashville’s spot in the American Northern.
Albuquerque will go to Pacific Southern and Fresno will take Colorado Springs’ spot in the Pacific Northern.
Oklahoma City and Memphis switched divisions. Previously in the American Southern, OKC will move to the American Northern and Memphis will move to the American Southern.