Rock on! Rangers return to Round Rock

February 9th, 2021

The Round Rock Express is back. 

The Rangers and Round Rock announced their 10-year agreement on Tuesday, officially naming the Express the new Triple-A affiliate for Texas starting this season and running through 2030.

Round Rock was formerly the Rangers' Triple-A club from 2011-18, but switched affiliation to the Astros for the last two years, with the Nashville Sounds serving as Texas' Triple-A squad. As a Rangers affiliate, Round Rock made the Pacific Coast League playoffs twice, in 2011 and '15. The Rangers' big league club made it to the World Series in Round Rock's first year as an affiliate back in '11.

Current Rangers big leaguers like designated hitter Willie Calhoun and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa developed as Express players before getting called up.

“We're honored that [the Rangers] would extend this invitation,” said Reid Ryan, CEO of Ryan-Sanders Sports & Entertainment. “It's going to be fun to see how the next 10 years go as we watch the Rangers rebuild into a championship team in Arlington and obviously we will play a big part of that here in Round Rock.”

With Major League Baseball taking over all Minor League operations, affiliate clubs are now signing 10-year deals with the big league teams instead of two- or four-year deals like in the past. The Frisco RoughRiders (Double-A), Hickory Crawdads (Class A Advanced) and Down East Wood Ducks (Class A) also officially announced 10-year agreements to remain affiliated with the Rangers.

Ryan said this way of player development agreements helps out the entire organization at both the Major and Minor League level.

“Having this two-to-four-year dance, we really had outgrown that,” Ryan said. “It ended up in a lot of ways, and what all of us, no matter what our position is, want is to win. They want to win in Arlington, we want to win in Round Rock and all the other Major League teams want to win. And so people in their own best interest would switch affiliation because they thought it gave them an advantage on the field to win or gave them the advantage at the gate.”

Round Rock has state-of-the-art facilities at Dell Diamond and are still expected to make upgrades in the coming years.

Express president Chris Almendarez said the stadium has had a few major upgrades recently, including redoing the entire seating bowl and adding stadium lights similar to that of Major League ballparks.

“The Rangers now have the best clubhouse in all of the big leagues,” Ryan said. “So can we make this the best clubhouse in all the Minor Leagues? I hope we can, but we're going to start looking at that and seeing what that means.”

The full Minor League schedule has yet to be released.

Round Rock is hoping to have a limited number of fans in the stands for the 2021 season, in accordance with Texas state and Williamson County laws.

“Williamson County and the city of Round Rock have been very supportive of what we've done,” Ryan said. “Whenever the protocols come out, we're going to be ready to go. 60% would be about 5,000. We've always erred on the side of being uber conservative, because we want to make sure it's a safe environment for people. I think over the course of the summer, as more people get vaccinated, I'd like to see it go back to 100% eventually this year. Whether that happens or not, we'll have to see how all of this rolls out, but we're prepared to be nimble and to adjust on the fly.”

Rangers assistant general manager Mike Daly is confident in Round Rock and the rest of the farm system’s ability to develop players that will help the big league club in the future.

Because the 2020 Minor League season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, highly touted prospects like Josh Jung and Justin Foscue will start 2021 in the Minors in order to get more development. Daly said it’s likely Jung will be in Round Rock to start the season, but no official call has been made.

For Daly and the front office, it’s that much more important for players to get quality at-bats and innings in the 2021 Minor League season.

“You can do the alternate [training] site, you can do the practice and sim games,” Daly said. “But there really isn't any replacement for true games for true competition. So we're hopeful that we're able to get this going down there in Round Rock and with the Minor Leagues.”