Julio Borbon

Three roller-coaster seasons removed from his major league debut with the Texas Rangers, Julio Borbon is ready to be an everyday center fielder at the highest level, whether it’s with the Rangers or another club.

“My ultimate goal is to play for them by the end of the year, but I can’t control anything else that they would plan on,” said Borbon. “I’m just trying to be ready for when the opportunity rises.”

Borbon realizes that it’s tough for any position player to break the current Rangers roster, but he’s convinced he can contribute for the first-place Rangers. His next chance is when rosters expand in September after minor league teams wrap up their season and big league clubs prepare for postseason runs.

“I feel like I’ve been ready. It’s just a matter of waiting. Now I’m just looking to play hard every day, and I’m sure good things will happen,” said Borbon. “I’m very confident in my overall game, especially the mental side of it.”

Struggles with mental aspects of the game were a major factor in Borbon’s fall from potentially becoming the Rangers’ center fielder to a forgotten trade chip. Mental lapses in the field and even in the on-deck circle have kept him from lasting a full season in the big leagues.

Borbon’s time with the Rangers organization hit rock bottom when he severely sprained his ankle while breaking up a double play last July and was forced to miss the rest of the season. Now he finds himself playing for minor league team Round Rock Express, trying to prove he deserves a spot on the team that’s reached the World Series the past two years. Borbon approached this season hungrier than ever and has focused on polishing his mental abilities. The 26-year-old leadoff hitter is batting .289 for the Express and has 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts.

“The things I can control are to come out and play hard every day and leave everything out on the field, and other things will take care of themselves,” said Borbon.

He is unaware of the Rangers’ plans during this time leading up to the trade deadline, but he’s grateful to be part of their organization and hopes his next game in the bigs is in a Rangers jersey.

“By next summer, I definitely want to be with the Rangers big league team, but since it’s something that I can’t control, I’d be happy to be in the major leagues even if it was with someone else,” said Borbon.

The two-time defending American League Champions Texas Rangers continue to prove that they are a premier franchise. They hold the best record in this early baseball season and their farm system ranks amongst the top in the majors.

It’s no surprise that their AAA affiliate Round Rock Express features a roster with players that could probably suit up for numerous other Major League teams.

“It’s a good situation that the Rangers are in and I’m sure many organizations would like to be in it ... it says a lot about the job the scouting has done ... staying on top of talent here and overseas,” said Express outfielder Julio Borbon.

Express players like Borbon have had their time in the Majors before and are waiting on their next opportunity. “It’s something to look forward to ... but you come out here and play with a lot of major leaguers and its fun going out there knowing that you belong [in the Majors.] It’s just a matter of time,” Borbon said. He says he realizes how stacked the Rangers are at the outfield position, but will continue to play hard and work on his swing until his next call-up comes.

Having made his Major League debut last September for the Rangers, Mark Hamburger is also waiting on his next chance in the Majors.

“The fact that the Rangers are so stacked in the Majors and in the minor leagues makes the competition harder but also makes it fun to be around,” Hamburger said. “It’s great playing with guys who make you push yourself even harder.”

In any given night the Express could send out a pitching rotation filled with arms with prior Major League experience. That was the case on Tuesday when Michael Kirkman, Mark Hamburger and Yoshinori Tateyama combined for a 6-3 victory over the New Orleans Zephyrs.

“It’s incredible to be around guys who’ve been playing for a while. By playing alongside Tateyama and Kirkman, we can bounce ideas off of each other and learn a lot,” Hamburger said.

“There are a lot of guys here that know what they’re doing when they take that mound and we take pride in that,” said Tuesday’s starter Michael Kirkman. He’s had stints with the Rangers for the past few seasons but has learned to embrace suiting up for the Express. “Anytime you get sent down its tough, but if you go out there and work hard it gives you something to build off, and it’s a step in the right direction,” Kirkman.

Kirkman received the ultimate call from the bullpen during the 2010 World Series, as he was given the opportunity to pitch in one of the games in San Francisco.

“I was beside myself. It was almost like I didn’t even know where I was, but I had to get on that mound and pitch against those quality hitters ... it was unbelievable,” Kirkman said.

With the way the Rangers are playing and roster space expanding in the playoffs, a few Express players may be able to live a Kirkman-type experience this fall.

The Round Rock Express lost 3-2 to the Iowa Cubs Monday night, capping a four-game series that saw the teams take two wins apiece.

The Express drew first blood in the bottom of the second with a sacrifice fly from third basemen Tommy Mendonca, giving the Express a brief lead before heading into the third. Express starter and top Rangers pitching prospect Martin Perez threw a strong 5 2/3 innings, but the defense behind him did him no favors. Perez only allowed two hits in his outing, but the four errors behind him, two by Mendonca on consecutive plays, allowed two unearned runs to be scored in the top of the third, and the Cubs would not forfeit the lead. Facing a 3-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, Express outfielder Joey Butler singled to start the inning. Second baseman Greg Miclat walked with two outs, moving the tying run into scoring position for former Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon. However, Cubs relief pitcher Blake Parker slammed the door on the Express rally by striking out Borbon, concluding the seventh straight one-run game for the Express.

The series kicked off Friday with Omaha taking the opener in what would become a series of nail-biters. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo belted his fourth and fifth home runs of the season, and Iowa took a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, the Express tried desperately to mount a late comeback, thanks in large part to total loss of the strike zone from the Cub’s pitching staff. Three walks and two hit-by-pitches scored the first run of the inning, and the Express would tack on two more runs before falling short on a Leonys Martin fly out with the tying run 90 feet away.

Saturday was the night of the Express outfielders as Borbon, Martin and Butler combined to go 7-for-12 with a home run and three RBIs in the Express’ first home victory of the young season. Express starter Zach Jackson went five innings, allowing 10 hits and four earned runs in the seesaw battle that saw the Express score three runs in the bottom of the seventh, giving them a lead they would not relinquish and snapping their six game losing streak.

Sunday afternoon presented the Round Rock faithful with free baseball as the Express went to extra innings for the second time of the season. Opening day starter Mark Hamburger had a rough outing as he gave up 12 hits and seven earned runs in only 2/3 innings. The Express clawed back in the bottom of the second, scoring four runs of their own.

Martin continued his hot start at the plate, doubling to right field and plating two runs. Brad Nelson tacked on a two out single and the Express had dug themselves out of the early hole. After trading runs down the stretch, the ninth inning ended with the teams tied at 10 runs apiece, and on to extras they went. The Express won the game in the bottom of the 13th with a sacrifice fly from Matt Kata that scored Luis Hernandez who had singled to lead off
the inning.

After the loss on Monday, the Express saw their record fall to 4-8, good for a tie in last place with the Albuquerque Isotopes and five games back of the American Southern Division leading New Orleans Zephyrs.

Round Rock begins a new series Tuesday, matching up with the Omaha Storm Chasers who swept a four game series with the Express just a week ago. Neil Ramirez, who has a 5.00 ERA in nine innings this season, gets the start on the mound for the Express.

Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Express fall to Iowa tied fro last after 7th straight 1-run game

While the bright lights of Dell Diamond will sit dormant for the first week of the season, the Round Rock Express will open 2012 in Iowa looking to start off on the right foot.

The Express are coming off a stellar 2011 that saw them win the American South division in the Pacific Coast League with 87 wins. The downside for the Express was losing the opening series of the playoffs to Omaha in four games.

While minor league team rosters are always fluid with players moving up or down between the majors, the Express return with most of the core that led them to the playoffs a season ago. Returning are top pitching prospects Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez. Express pitcher of the year Mark Hamburger will be the opening night starter in Iowa after posting a 3.88 ERA in 62 PCL innings last summer. Out of the bullpen, the Express will feature former first-round supplemental draft pick Tanner Scheppers, who with a bit of good health and success, could find his way to the bigs before the season’s end.

In the outfield, the Express have major league talent sprinkled throughout. Former Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon got optioned to AAA after a lackluster spring training. Borbon will be trying to get back into the good graces of the major league club with a productive stay in Round Rock. Also in the outfield is highly-rated prospect Leonys Martín. Martin and Borbon will be duking it out to see who gets the first call from the majors if an injury arrives in the Rangers outfield.

In the infield, former AA third basemen Tommy Mendonca will get the nod at the hot corner — third base — for the Express. Mendonca hit .278 with the Rough Riders in 2011 and belted 25 home runs. The other corner infield spot will be held down by fellow former Rough Rider Mike Bianucci. Bianucci hit 30 home runs with Frisco while hitting a career low .243 in 535 at-bats. Both Mendonca and Bianucci arrive in Round Rock looking to raise their stock amongst scouts and general managers across baseball.

Other names to write down and remember for future reference are Jurickson Profar, Engel Beltre and Mike Olt. All three of these top prospects are starting 2012 in AA Frisco, but could quickly get the call up to Round Rock during the season if they perform up to expectations.

The first year under Rangers management provided a fresh breath of air to the Express franchise, which experienced its first winning season since 2006. If the Rangers can stay healthy and perform on the main stage, and prevent plucking at the talented core of the Express, there is reason to think another winning season is on its way at the Dell Diamond.