Hoying, Middlebrooks, Guzman highlight early Express roster

Might as well call him Captain Express.

Center fielder Jared Hoying will be back in Round Rock for a fifth consecutive season, the Express learned Tuesday when the Texas Rangers set the majority of the rosters for their minor league clubs.

Hoying, 27, who earned his first major league playing time in 2016, has swatted 73 home runs in an Express uniform and driven in 224 runs while making a couple of Pacific Coast League All-Star teams.

At this point, first baseman Ronald Guzman is the only significant prospect assigned to Round Rock. The 22-year-old Dominican is Texas’ fourth-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, and No. 7 according to Baseball America. He played in 25 games for the Express late last summer.

Yohander Mendez, the franchise’s top pitching prospect, will somewhat surprisingly open the season at Double-A Frisco. Multiple Rangers officials had told the American-Statesman during the winter and spring that Mendez was targeted for Round Rock.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, 27, will be the best-known newcomer. Middlebrooks hit 17 home runs for the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 World Series championship season. Now he’s trying to re-establish his credentials after two difficult seasons.

Express fans will be able to check out a knuckleballer. Eddie Gamboa, a 32-year-old journeyman who had a cup of coffee with Tampa Bay last year, is trying to reinvent himself with the quirky pitch. He’ll get that opportunity in the Round Rock rotation.

Players returning to the Express include shortstop Doug Bernier, catcher Pat Cantwell and pitchers Jimmy Reyes, Joe Valdespina and Austin Bibens-Dirkx. Reliever Wesley Wright, an Express alum from the old days of the Astros (2009-10), also will be on hand, now as Rangers property.

There are still at least four openings on the Express roster; more shuffling will come later this week.

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