The Round Rock Express have rolled into Albuquerque plenty of times before boasting some of the top prospects of the Texas Rangers, and before that the Houston Astros. Due to the Pacific Coast League realignment, the Express are heading here for their only series of the year starting Monday at 7:05 p.m.
Unfortunately, there are almost no prospects to speak of on the Round Rock roster this season, save for perhaps three fringy relief pitchers. Lisalverto Bonilla (No. 20), Ben Rowen (No. 23) and Roman Mendez (No. 29) are the only Express ranked in Baseball America's top 30 Rangers prospects.
The rest of the Round Rock players are a mishmash of veterans and organizational players. There are seven players over the age of 30 on the roster.
Of course, it has not helped the Express (27-36) that the Rangers have been decimated by injuries at the Major League level. That is apparent especially on a pitching staff that currently has just two starters, Ryan Feierabend and Justin Germano, who have made at least 10 starts.
Germano will not pitch this series, meaning that three of the four starters who will pitch have combined for just nine starts in a Round Rock uniform. Scroll below for a more detailed breakdown on the Express.
Rotation: With all the injuries in Texas, the Express have had to piece together a rotation out of whatever they can find. It has not always been pretty.
Right-hander Phil Irwin, who was claimed off waivers from the Pirates, gets his second start in a Round Rock uniform in Monday's series opener. Irwin has a 10.38 ERA in two games with the Express.
Another former Pirate, right-hander Miles Mikolas (3-0, 2.78), will come out of the bullpen to start Tuesday. It will be his third start after he made 10 relief appearances this year.
Veteran lefty Ryan Feierabend (6-5, 3.91), pictured, gets the start Wednesday. He has been the one constant in the Round Rock rotation. The longball has been his nemesis this year as he has given up three multi-homer games and 11 blasts overall.
Another ex-Pirate takes the mound in Thursday's series finale. Right-hander Daniel McCutchen (1-5, 7.80) has made six starts and six relief appearances this season, giving up 22 runs over 20.2 innings in his last four starts.
Bullpen: The relief corps has been up and down, just like the rest of the team, for Round Rock this season. There is no defined closer here as no pitcher has more than two saves, and one pitcher with two saves, Miles Mikolas, is now in the rotation.
Veteran Neftali Feliz, pictured, is still working his way back from the Tommy John surgery that basically wiped out almost his entire 2013 season. He has gone 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA in low-leverage situations.
Two pitchers who excelled in 2013 have fallen on hard times in right-hander Cory Burns (2-2, 7.67) and lefty Michael Kirkman (0-4, 9.47). The Express recently picked up two relievers of note as Nate Adcock joined the team after some time in extended spring training, while lefty Aaron Poreda (3.68 ERA in eight games) is back for a second go-around after a brief return to Texas.
Lineup: The Express' biggest hitter so far is right fielder Brad Snyder (.289/.355/.583, 18 HR, 51 RBI). A well-traveled PCL veteran, Snyder has also played for Reno, Iowa, and Oklahoma City.
Joining Snyder in the outfielder are former New Orleans fixture Bryan Petersen (.233/.315/.408, 7 HR, 31 RBI) in left and Jared Hoying (.215/.273/.431, 10 HR, 30 RBI) in center. The Rangers' Jim Adduci was rehabbing recently with Round Rock, but he re-injured his hand over the weekend and was sent back to Arlington for tests.
Veteran catcher J.P. Arencibia (.275/.320/.464, 4 HR, 12 RBI) has taken over behind the plate after struggling badly in Texas earlier this season. He teams with Brett Nicholas (.257/.332/.364, 4 HR, 20 RBI), who also sees a lot of time at first base.
The infield features former Japanese star Kensuke Tanaka (.282/.368/.380, 2 HR, 13 RBI) at second base, former Isotope Josh Wilson (.227/.277/.364, 3 HR, 8 RBI) at shortstop and usually veteran Adam Rosales (.264/.343/.394, 5 HR, 28 RBI) at third base. Journeyman Brent Lillibridge (.225/.268/.351, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 13 stolen bases) serves in the utility role.
Prospect to watch: As noted before, the Express lack much in the way of prospects. In terms of performance plus potential, right-hander Ben Rowen, pictured, is the best of the small bunch they have.
After being held back in extended spring training to start the year, Rowen has gone 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA and two saves in 16 appearances. He has 14 strikeouts and just two walks allowed in 19.2 innings.
Rowen pitches submarine-style, using his deceptive delivery to overcome his lack of an overpowering pitch. His fastball actually sits in the low 80s, but he gets hitters to beat it into the ground over and over.
Because of his delivery, Rowen draws a lot of comparisons to big-league relievers Darren O'Day and Brad Ziegler. He is on the Rangers' 40-man roster and could be the next pitcher called up in the event of another injury.
Series Outlook: Round Rock enters this series in pretty bad shape. In addition to starting three relievers and lacking a closer, the Express have little in the way of consistent hitting beyond Snyder and Tanaka.
Round Rock and Albuquerque have always been good rivals, but the switch to different conferences will take a lot of that edge away. The Isotopes also enter this matchup having won their last two series.
It will be up to slick-fielding players like former Isotope Josh Wilson, pictured, to help out a threadbare pitching staff. Albuquerque has struggled against lefty pitchers this year, but with just Feierabend and relievers Kirkman and Poreda, Round Rock has few weapons with which to counter.
The Isotopes should roll to their third straight series victory. Then again, stranger things have happened in the PCL this year.