|EVALUATING THE PROSPECTS 2016
The Rangers have assembled a pretty amazing collection of talent, one that enabled them to participate actively in the trade market last season without mortgaging their long-term success. They have an impressive mix of offense and defense among their higher-end prospects, though the hitters in this system, particularly, give them one of the best offensive pipelines in the league. Not only have they continued to be aggressive on the international market, but they are making solid picks in the draft and seem to have figured something out as an organization when it comes to bringing athletic hitters along.
You’ll see mostly familiar names at the top of the list, though Joey Gallo’s ongoing contact issues keep him from appearing ahead of some of the Rangers’ more well-rounded prospects like Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. I’m really expecting big things out of Brinson’s bat, as his combination of present ability and future development is unparalleled by most minor-league hitters in the game. Luis Ortiz is a bit of an enigma for me, because projecting his stuff makes him look like a rotation front-man, but projecting his body may have him resembling a front man from a different discipline.
Perhaps the two biggest surprises are at number seven and eight, with Ronald Guzman and Ariel Jurado appearing higher than elsewhere. Jurado’s presence is mostly a function of my grouping prospects by likely outcome rather than ceiling, since his floor seems to be as a big-league starter. Guzman, however, is a hit-first first baseman who hasn’t shown enough power to be a legitimate future big leaguer, but I like enough about his swing and expected physical development to see more than just good upside.
It’s an exciting time to be a Rangers fan, since their somewhat surprising run at the postseason makes them more fun to watch in the immediate future, while their vast array of quality prospects gives them plenty of ammunition to supplement the team. Should they need more reinforcements beyond promoting their higher-level guys, they have enough quality depth to swing another big trade this season.
Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:
|Grade||Tool Is Called||Batting Average||HR||ISO||Baserunning Runs||Fielding Runs|
As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:
|Grade||Hitter||Starting Pitcher||Relief Pitcher||WAR|
|80||Top 1-2||#1 Starter||—-||7|
|55||Above Avg||#3/4||Mid Closer||2.5|
|50||Avg Regular||#4||Low CL/High SU||2|
|40||Bench||Swing/Spot SP||Middle RP||1|
|35||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||0|
One other difference in the way I communicate scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. If you prefer the traditional methodologies of other publications, I would suggest averaging the latter two grades together to get a semi-optimistic view of where a player projects.
In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list.
After a down year in 2014, the Rangers came back to win the AL West last year, and as they return almost everyone from that roster, expectations are high in Texas. But the big-league roster is sneakily old, and with the Astros looking like a potential force to be reckoned with, taking advantage of the veterans they have could be a challenge. The Rangers certainly have enough young prospects to reload down the road, but they’re likely going to need some short-term contributions from the minors to fill some of the big-league holes since the team is capped out financially. If they can get a few of their prospects to turn into useful big leaguers this year, it will go a long way to helping them contend again in 2016 and brightening their short-term outlook.
Video courtesy of Scott Lucas
1. Lewis Brinson, OF
Current Level/Age: Triple-A/21.9, 6’3/195, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 29th overall (1st round) in 2012 out of Florida HS by TEX for $1.625 million bonus
Previous Rank: 6
Brinson’s improvements with his plate discipline in 2015 vaulted him through three levels, ending in Triple-A, with excellent results at each level. Brinson has the highest potential in the organization with four plus tools. His hit tool is the only one left out of the group, which I think comes in a hair under average, though his recent improvements and youth leave room for it to be an above-average tool if he continues to develop. He’s never going to be a high-contact hitter, but if he can keep his strikeout rate in the 25% range, he has massive upside in every part of the game.
You can still see evidence that he’s a young hitter at the plate, with super-aggressive takes and a swing that gets too big when he sees a pitch he likes. His improved eye has helped him lay off pitcher’s pitches at the edges, which has allowed him to maximize the damage he does despite below-average contact rates. His swing is very impressive, showing the ability to lift the ball to all fields and the physical capacity to adjust late in his swing because of excellent sequencing.
His game power may still need another year or three to shine through against top-level pitching, due to a tendency to pull his swing across his body by pulling his front shoulder and over-rotating his hips. I have confidence in the positive qualities exorcising that tendency out as he learns to trust his power instead of trying to create it, especially as he adds more muscle to his skinny frame.
Brinson’s defense is even more major league-ready than his bat, with his plus speed and arm translating perfectly into at least an above-average center field. Reports range from above-average to plus-plus on his defense there, so until I can get a better look myself, I pegged his likely future grade in the middle as a +10-run defender.
With a better all-around skill set than Mazara and Gallo, Brinson earns the top spot in the organization and one of the highest potentials in all of baseball. He will have to continue proving his plate-discipline gains are legitimate in order to realize his ceiling, but the floor here is crazy high too for a soon-to-be 22-year-old center fielder.
Hit: 40/45-50/55 Power: 50/65/70+ Run: 60/60/60 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 60/60/60
2. Dillon Tate, RHP
Current Level/Age: Single-A/21.9, 6’2/165, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 4th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of UC-Santa Barbara by TEX for $4.2 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA
Tate didn’t pitch much after going near the top of the draft last June, the first pitcher taken in his class. His junior season at UCSB was his first as a starter, so his innings totals were already much higher than he had thrown the previous two years. There are some who see him as a reliever long-term, but I like his chances of remaining in the rotation. He not only throws hard with projectable secondary stuff, but oozes with athleticism on the mound.
Tate’s fastball and slider could be the foundation of either an excellent closer arsenal or top-of-the-rotation starter. It all depends on how the feel for his fastball progresses; I see more potential for the offering in the lower range of his velocity where he has better command and movement. His slider has the highest ceiling, with excellent arm speed and similar plane to his fastball, adding slight but sharp break that makes it an above-average to plus pitch right now.
A changeup with average potential rounds out his current offerings, though some contacts have put higher future grades on it with admittedly more looks than I have had. He has fooled around with more of a cutter version of his slider as well as a curveball, though both will be complementary pitches with a later focus as his repertoire needs to become more concrete in pro ball.
The biggest determining factor regarding his future role will be how his arm holds up to an increased workload over the next few years. While there is noticeable effort to his delivery, marked by stiffer shoulders than I’d like for a future starter, all the actions are there to protect his arm while giving him even more upside as he continues filling out. If he can find a balance between aggressiveness and folding in some smoothness to his arm path – a big “if” that many pitchers never master – he could be a true number-two starter.
That unknown is why his likely future and ceiling grades are fairly wide spread for a college draftee. I’ll be very interested to see what the Rangers are able to get out of his abilities, and we should see early in 2016 what path is more likely for Tate to follow.
Fastball: 55/60/70 Slider: 55/65/70 Changeup: 40/45-50/50+ Command: 45/50/55
Video courtesy of Baseball America
3. Nomar Mazara, OF
Current Level/Age: Triple-A/20.9, 6’4/215, L/L
Acquired: Signed in 2011 out of Dominican Republic by TEX for $4.95 million bonus
Previous Rank: 5
Mazara is a high-upside bat with enough defensive value in right field to be an excellent all-around player. He has big raw power that he draws from a large frame and athletic hands, though his swing path can be inefficient at times. He has a tendency to swing slightly down and across the ball, but it’s not enough to nullify his raw strength and ability to barrel the ball.
Even more impressive is his progress making contact and trimming his strikeouts while keeping his walk rate respectable. Because of that, I have more faith in his ability to get on base long-term, though of course playing half his games in Arlington will artificially raise his power numbers.
He’s not a burner by any means, but he won’t kill you on the bases or with his range in the field. His combination of a good first step and an accurate arm with plus strength give him decent upside as a corner outfielder. With solid defense and excellent potential to hit for average and power, he’s at least an above-average big leaguer in the making.
Hit: 50/55-60/65 Power: 50/55/60+ Run: 40/40/40 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 60/60/65
Video courtesy of Eric Longenhagen
4. Luis Ortiz, RHP
Current Level/Age: Single-A/20.5, 6’3/230, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 30th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of Nevada HS by TEX for $2.25 million bonus
Previous Rank: 8
Ortiz has command beyond his years, particularly of his mid-90s fastball. He is a conglomeration of good and bad signs for success as a starting pitcher. The control he exhibits of his potential plus fastball and slider and above-average changeup makes him immediately intriguing as a mid-rotation to higher-end starter.
On the flip side, he’s working toward a thick-bodied build that will be tough to manage, making his already imperfect arm support unlikely to improve. Though he has an easygoing look to his delivery, his throwing shoulder rotation and sequential forearm pronation aren’t the cleanest around. If his core continues to thicken, he’s going to lose the rotational efficiency that is his best chance for maintaining a healthy arm. Forearm issues before the draft and two-and-a-half months of missed time from elbow tendinitis last year put the onus on his ability to protect his arm, making the overall picture a little cloudy.
I’m less optimistic on Ortiz’ ceiling than Tate’s, even though Ortiz has the three-pitch mix with better present command while being a year and a half younger. His stuff is good enough that you can’t justify moving him to the bullpen, but it’s not out of the question that he ends up there as he continues to mature physically. I think everything balances out so he ends up around a number-three starter or mid-tier closer, though obviously he has upside if he stays in peak shape physically.
Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 50/55/60 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/55+
Video courtesy of Scott Lucas
5. Joey Gallo, 3B/OF
Current Level/Age: MLB/22.4, 6’5/230, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 39th overall (Supp 1st round) in 2012 out of Nevada HS by TEX for $2.25 million bonus
Previous Rank: 1
Gallo is a perfect example of why swing mechanics and contact rate are largely independent of each other. He has all the explosiveness and efficiency of the top hitters in the game, but strikeouts limit how much damage he’s going to be able to do in the big leagues. The good news is even with a high strikeout rate, his BABIP should be strong enough to keep his hit tool from being a total negative.
The enhanced versatility added by his ability to play the outfield strengthens his chances of having time to work his contact problems out. It’s still tough to see him getting to an average on-base rate, but he should be able to get close to it as he continues adjusting his approach.
Though third base hasn’t been a great fit for him, he still could be a viable option there with his elite arm strength. I have his arm a little lower than what his raw arm speed would suggest, simply because he has had trouble making consistent throws in games. As long as he can stay mobile enough in the field, the outfield would seem like the perfect place for him to use his strong arm to the fullest.
Regardless, there’s no getting around Gallo being a bat-first prospect with possibly the best raw power in the game. Even with mostly negative contributions from the rest of his profile, he is going to be worthy of a regular spot in the lineup with marginal improvements.
Hit: 40/40-45/45+ Power: 70/75/80 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 40/40-45/45 Throw: 55/60/70
6. Michael Matuella, RHP
Current Level/Age: NA/21.8, 6’6/220, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 78th overall (3rd round) in 2012 out of Duke by TEX for $2 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA
Billed as a potential number-one overall pick heading into the 2015 draft, the combination of a lower back-bone issue vaguely called spondylosis – by all accounts a manageable variety – and undergoing Tommy John surgery in his junior year at Duke pushed Matuella to the third round. When he’s healthy, the stuff is fantastic. A potential plus-plus fastball from a slot that’s difficult to pick up matches well with his plus curveball and above-average slider. He has some feel for a straight changeup as well. Matuella is the definition of high-risk, high-reward going forward.
With his long limbs, he has difficulty keeping his arm path efficient to release. It swings widely around his head, resulting in a three-quarters release that offers good deception due to raw arm speed and the long path the ball takes to get there. I believe it also contributed to the strain on his elbow. His release often looks the stiff arm of a catapult coming through, staying locked out into his follow through.
He is on target for a late first-half return, likely adhering to a hard innings cap. Even without considering the lower-back spondylosis that will be a constant management requirement, his arm has a lot of risk attached to it. The stuff he had in college was too good not to put in the 50+ group, but I think we need to be very conservative with how much upside we can expect from him. The command and overall grades below take into account the health and effectiveness gamble he is on the mound.
I have heard Tanner Scheppers used as a situational comp, which seems as reasonable as any. I’m taking the over on Matuella’s value in the long run, but it’s going to be careful treading to get him there. Depending on how he is recovering, he could be at the top of this list or down ten spots by next season.
Fastball: 60/65/70 Curveball: 50/55/60 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50
7. Ronald Guzman, 1B
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.4, 6’5/205, L/L
Acquired: Signed in 2011 out of Dominican Republic by TEX for $3.45 million bonus
Previous Rank: 15
Guzman stood out to me as an excellent future hitter in the Arizona Fall League, but he looked overmatched by the competition in the present. It was too easy to get him out of his swing with soft stuff, especially from lefties. The more I saw of him, the more I liked, particularly if you consider that as big as he already is, he isn’t anywhere near filled out yet. A lot of his balance issues with tough pitches and the occasional anxious-looking swings will be helped by getting stronger and growing up a bit. In that frame of mind, his minor-league production looks fantastic. He has hit for a solid average at every level he’s played, and his power numbers have started to tick up as well. It’s way too early to give up on his bat, and I won’t stop being a fan until I see him struggle to hit for power with a more mature body.
Lacking any semblance of speed and also throwing from the left side suggests Guzman is almost surely limited to first-base duty in the majors. I was surprised to see a solid set of hands in the field with decent range from a responsive first step, along with above-average arm strength. It still isn’t likely enough to make up for his speed in an outfield role or anything, but he does look like he could be one of the better defensive first basemen in the league with another couple years of work.
I don’t think it will take much maturation to turn his large frame and solid swing into a plus power bat. He already looks like he’ll have an above-average hit tool as he improves his approach. It may take him another couple years to really tap into it, but the rapid development of other young Rangers hitters doesn’t have to be the same path for Guzman. I’ll be looking to see how he comes along with letting the ball get to him and trusting his developing strength this year, but if I had to pick a guy to break out offensively in this system, he’s the one.
Hit: 30/55/60 Power: 30/55/60-65 Run: 35/35/35 Field: 40/45/45+ Throw: 55/55/55
8. Ariel Jurado, RHP
Current Level/Age: Single-A/20.2, 6’1/180, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2012 out of Panama by TEX
Previous Rank: Unranked
Jurado lives in the strike zone, and minor-league hitters still can’t square him up because of excellent sink on his fastball and advanced command of his curveball and changeup. While his strikeouts are more the product of low-level minors competition getting themselves out, he has mild swing-and-miss potential from his changeup, though a bit less from his breaking ball.
This isn’t as much an upside play as it is a high-floor profile. He isn’t going to hurt himself with walks or poorly placed offerings, but his pitches are more geared toward mishits and ground balls than whiffs. He could be a solid mid-rotation to back-end starter, with the exact role depending on how well he tightens up his curve. An excellent sign from the Rangers’ international scouting crew, he will start in High-A this season with a chance to move quickly despite his youth.
Fastball: 50/50+/50-55 Curveball: 45/50/50+ Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/60
Jenkins projects to be an excellent base-runner and center fielder, with decent upside at the plate as a line-drive and gaps hitter. He needs some work refining his reads in the outfield, but he shows enough potential to turn his plus to plus-plus raw speed into great range. He stole 28 bases in his pro debut (224 plate appearances) while only getting caught three times.
He can produce great bat speed, though he will be susceptible to lots of pull-side grounders in the early going due to forcing his barrel around and cutting off his path through the ball. I was close to giving him a 50 hit tool because of the athleticism his hands show early in the swing, but I want to see him calm down his overactive front side to believe in his ability to spray balls around the field consistently. It’s too big of a leap for me to see more than 40 power in his future, requiring both physical growth and creating lift that he doesn’t have at present.
Though I’m projecting him to be just below average overall, the Rangers have shown they can get the most out of athletic hitters with swing-path deficiencies. I’ll be looking to see how his batted-ball profile improves this season, hoping for more of a middle-of-the-field approach to reach his potential at the plate.
Hit: 25/45+/55 Power: 20/35/40 Run: 65/70/75 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 40/40/40
The Rangers have received moderate praise for their signing of Ibanez for only $1.3 million, considering his reputation as an advanced hitter with solid defense at second base. He will start in Single-A Hickory after not playing since 2014 with his native Cuban team. He was an excellent contact hitter with more walks than strikeouts before defecting, and won the Gold Glove award in his home professional league.
I haven’t seen a ton of him yet, but I can already tell I like his hands at the plate. He has a smooth line-drive swing without needing much effort to drive the ball in the gaps. His power will be more doubles power without getting more drive out of his legs, but with his expected contact rates and ability to take a walk, he won’t need a ton of extra-base power to be a valuable bat. Defensively, he moves very well around the ball, showing a feel for playing the infield that makes his below-average speed and arm play up to at least average defense.
Hit: 45+/55/60 Power: 40/40/45 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 40/40/45
Cordell played every position last season but pitcher, catcher and second base, as the Rangers try to expand his flexibility in the field. He’s more than capable of playing all three outfield positions, and he shows enough skill to turn into a decent infielder with some more work. The question is how much is he going to hit. Despite his tremendous success in the California League, he isn’t the most refined hitter, and I don’t see him hitting for as much power against big-league pitching.
His contact cratered after being promoted to Double-A, but he’s better than his strikeout rates at that level suggest. He has a quick bat that he uses to create excellent raw power, though his swing is inefficient when it comes to matching the plane of the pitch coming in, often hooking around the ball on high pitches or chopping down on low pitches. The shortened time in the zone could contribute to continued trouble making contact, but I think it ends up being more of an issue with consistently elevating the ball against pitchers with better command.
He still should be close to an average power hitter, with a slightly lower grade for his hit tool. That he also has plus speed and great defensive versatility gives him a bump in overall value. Just don’t expect him to duplicate his High-A hitting performances against major-league competition. Both his hit and power grades have the potential to be average or slightly above as well, giving him an intriguing floor and ceiling. He already projects to be a valuable asset as a super-utility player, or a plus starter if he can make some adjustments to keep putting the ball in the air with authority.
Hit: 35/45/50 Power: 40/45+/55 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Morgan is in the process of adding catcher to his list of positions. There hasn’t been official word yet how the Rangers feel about the early results, but he definitely has the soft hands and quick feet to handle the switch if given enough time. In the infield, Morgan is at least an average defender wherever he plays, showing decent range with quick turnarounds even on tough grabs. His solid-average arm strength plays up a tick or so because of a fast release and good transfers.
At the plate, Morgan has done a superb job of controlling the strike zone and making hard contact. He’s almost completely a contact hitter, though he can sneak a few balls over the outfielders with his quick bat. It’s going to be a tall order expecting him to continue walking at such a high rate without being much of a power threat. Hope for a Nick Markakis-type of offensive ceiling if he can really take his plate discipline to the next level.
Hit: 40/55/60+ Power: 25/35/35+ Run: 50/50/55 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/60
Martin’s best quality is his low-90s fastball thrown from a high three-quarters to overhand slot. It’s a gift and a curse, because the unnatural-looking release makes him more difficult to hit but also gives him less command of his pitches. Both his curveball and changeup have average potential, but it will be his fastball command and arm health that keep him on track for the big leagues. I like his chances of finding his way into a starting job, but his heater would be a weapon out of the bullpen as well if he doesn’t continue tightening up his arsenal.
Fastball: 55/60/65 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45-50/50+ Command: 40/45/50
Leclerc has a loose, explosive arm with great stuff, but he suffers from command inconsistencies that limit him to a likely bullpen role in the future. He throws a fastball that gets into the mid-90s, complemented by a sharp-breaking curve and poor location but excellent arm action on his changeup. He fights against a closed-off stride to get to release, showing great but restricted athleticism as a result. There’s more recoil in his arm than I like to see, and he doesn’t let his arm finish fully finish pronating.
There is a lot to like about his work on the mound with three potential swing-and-miss pitches, and the presence of natural deception from his quick arm makes it hard to give up on him as a starter. In the end, the combination of command problems and some signs of stress on his arm will make the bullpen a better fit. His arsenal is strong enough that he won’t need a big improvement in strike throwing to be an excellent late-innings option. Health and control willing, I expect to see Leclerc throwing important innings in the big leagues with great success.
Fastball: 55/60/65 Curveball: 55/60/65 Changeup: 45/45/50 Command: 40/40-45/45
Jackson has a big arm and is capable of sitting comfortably in the high-90s with his fastball, though consistency and command have not found their way into his game. His curve, slider and changeup all have moments of looking like excellent complementary pitches, though they all suffer from a lack of feel and noticeably different body language when he throws them. Switching to the bullpen full-time last year, he has the ability to rack up strikeouts and walks, while also looking like he can maintain an above-average ground-ball rate as he works at a consistently higher effort level.
The walks and telegraphing of pitches aren’t likely to go away, so Jackson’s likely to be a fringe setup man out of the bullpen. If he can somehow keep the ball in the zone, or perhaps more of his curveballs with the same aggressiveness as his fastball, he has real closing potential. A few years of him having the same issues tempers my optimism, but I accept that it’s still a possible outcome for him.
Fastball: 65/70/70 Curveball: 50/50/60 Changeup: 45/45/50 Command: 40/40/45
Hernandez’ chances of sticking in the rotation are not dependent on command or mechanical fixes as much as raw stuff. He has three pitches that could all play around average, and his control gives him a chance to move quickly through the lower levels of the minor leagues, despite being only 19 years old at present. I love his arm and the easy look he has on the mound, but he is going to need an uptick in velocity or some tightening of his slider and/or changeup to solidify his status as a future big-league starter. Team sources are confident he will see notable strength gains over the next couple years.
Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/55
Kivlehan is a big, strong athlete who just keeps raking in the minor leagues. He has continued to get better every year since playing mostly football before being drafted, and now projects to be a solid hitter, albeit at a lower-skill defensive position. The Rangers picked him up in the Leonys Martin trade with the Mariners, and although he’s much older than a traditional prospect, he isn’t without value to the parent club. He’s the perfect type of hitter for the Rangers’ home park, having a ton of raw strength and enough contact to put balls in the air regularly.
Though he’ll give away some runs on the defensive side, Kivlehan will be more than useful at the plate. Look for him to see a big league opportunity this year, with at least a very valuable part-time role in his future.
Hit: 45/45+/50 Power: 55/60/60+ Run: 50/50/50 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 45/45/45
Mendez didn’t give up a run in the bullpen through June 9th last year, prompting the Rangers to bump him into the rotation for the rest of the year. He’s on the line for future bullpen or starter role for me. His plus changeup will help him neutralize righties. His breaking ball, while a far inferior pitch, should be decent enough to give lefties a hard time as he harnesses his command for it. His fastball has good movement to his arm side, but the lack of velocity and deception to it keeps it around average overall.
What makes me apprehensive is the lack of clean finish to his arm and the history of elbow issues. Though he has room to add some weight to help support his arm, I don’t see a delivery that lends itself to holding up for a season’s worth of starts each year. If he is somehow able to, he’s a solid number-four or -five starter, but I’d love to see his stuff and command carving out a role in the mid- to late-innings.
Fastball: 45/50/50+ Curveball: 40/45/45 Changeup: 55/60/65 Command: 50/55/55
Faulkner throws his fastball in the low- to mid-90s with decent run, from a closed-off stride that makes it difficult to pick up for lefties. Despite a changeup that gets better reviews with its split-like movement, I was impressed with his slider last year, and think that ends up being a slightly better pitch. I also only saw him in relief, which is where I believe he ends up long-term, not just this season.
He hasn’t shown crazy platoon splits as a starter in the minors, but right-handed hitters in the big leagues will have an easier time with his first-base-side release than lefties have. He has the velocity, one or two secondary pitches that could be average and he throws strikes — a combination that could put him in a late-innings role out of the pen.
Fastball: 55/60/60 Slider: 45/45/50 Changeup: 45/45/50 Command: 40/45/45
20. Leodys Taveras, OF, VIDEO, NA
Taveras’ contributions in the field and on the bases are pretty straight forward. He has plus speed and a strong arm, giving him the necessary tools to be a great base-stealer and solid center-field defender. He needs work on his reads and jumps in the outfield, but sources I contacted believe he has the athleticism to get it done in the future.
The debate surrounds his bat. Some think he ends up with above-average power but worry about his pitch recognition, while others see that as an issue that will be easily worked out with experience while his power may fall short of average. I’m splitting the difference until I can get a better look myself.
Though I like the athleticism in his swing from both sides of the plate, it’s apparent he has timing and pitch-tracking issues that may not be something he grows out of. His bat speed could turn into above-average power, though his one-piece swing will make him very reliant on bulking up to get there. I wouldn’t be surprised if his flatter swing plane didn’t produce more than doubles power, but we’ll see where he’s at once he starts facing professional pitching before going too far in any direction with his grades.
Hit: 20/45/50 Power: 20/45/50 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 55/55/60
Demeritte lost 80 games to a banned-substance suspension last year, which is especially unfortunate for a hitter who needs to figure out how to make his low-contact approach work as he ascends the minor-league ladder. He won’t have a problem driving the ball when he does hit it, with solid lift and excellent bat speed. He can be too forceful getting his barrel to contact, pointing at a lot of rollovers to the left side in his future. His walks may save him, but his pitch recognition needs to improve to be an average bat overall.
Second base is a fine fit for him on defense, though I still think he could work at shortstop or third base if given the opportunity. He’s not flashy, but has great footwork around the ball and very functional above-average to plus arm. The hit tool is where his value will be made or broken, and I think the most likely scenario is he ends up a power-oriented bench option or fringe starter. He still has the potential to be an above-average regular if he can get his on-base rate up over .300.
Hit: 25/40+/45 Power: 35/55/60 Run: 50/50+/55 Field: 50/50/50+ Throw: 55/55/60
Beras had a better time in the South Atlantic League last year after struggling in 2014, though the developmental needs still remain. He needs to find an approach that works with his below-average contact and pitch recognition, as it affects both his on-base and power potential. Though he has the swing path and future strength to hit for plus power, he can lose his legs quickly when he’s fooled on tough pitches.
He has work to do on defense to turn his athleticism into good reads and footwork, but there’s a good chance he ends up better than the average corner outfielder with the glove. He has plenty of time to improve, while the Rangers wait for him to grow into his body a bit. He will start the 2016 season in the High-A California League, so don’t be surprised if we see a power outburst regardless of how well he’s improved his approach and physicality.
Hit: 30/40-45/45+ Power: 35/55/60 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 40/45/50 Throw: 55/60/65
Forbes has a loose, athletic start to his swing that turns into a stiff, one-piece twist with his entire body. He has the bat speed to generate average raw power, perhaps more if he could shore up the second half of his swing. I’m hesitant to count on it, but the Rangers have been building a solid track record lately with getting the most out of athletic bats. Contact issues and the loss of adjustability via mechanical issues keep his hit tool from being crazy projectable, but I can see where he may still have an average hit-tool ceiling, most likely ending up in the 45 range.
Forbes’ overall athleticism in the field and on the bases affords him some breathing room with his bat, being an above-average to plus runner with enough arm strength to be an asset at third base. Right now it’s not likely he becomes more than a solid bench bat, but if things click, he has the multi-skilled profile to be a solid starting third baseman.
Hit: 20/45/50 Power: 25/45/50+ Run: 60/55/55 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 60/60/60
Fasola looks like he could be a big-league reliever right now, with easy mid-90s heat that seems to get on hitters even quicker than that and also a potentially plus slider. He shows some feel for a changeup as well, but if the slider comes around like it should, he won’t need it much. Not only does he have the stuff to be a solid bullpen piece, but he pounds the zone with better frequency than most relievers as well. Developmental needs mostly center around commanding his slider, as he tends to spin out toward first base and leave it on the arm side of the plate. Being able to bury it down to the glove side consistently will push the pitch up another notch, giving him setup potential.
Fastball: 60/60/65 Slider: 55/60/65 Changeup: 45/45+/50 Command: 45/45/50
25. Pedro Payano, RHP, Single-A
It’s taken a few years to really get his footing, but Payano forced the Rangers’ hands to bring him stateside by throwing lights-out ball in the DSL. Signed in 2011, he commands his low-90s fastball and average offspeed pitches well enough to have propelled himself into Single-A ball last year. Pitchers who command the ball well have been known to breeze through the low minors without needing great, but it does sound like he may have really taken a step forward heading into his age-21 season. I’m cautiously throwing support behind him here, and I’ll be interested to see what he looks like spending all year in full-season ball.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 45/45+/50 Command: 45/50/55
Sadzeck had a good first season back from Tommy John surgery the previous year, finishing up in Double-A Frisco, where he will return in 2016. He runs his fastball into triple-digits, sitting easily in the upper-90s. He doesn’t have much of an offspeed repertoire, which will be the linchpin to him carving out a successful bullpen role in the big leagues. Though he continued to start last year, he threw in relief in the Arizona Fall League, and looks much better suited for the role. His arm will get him to the majors, but he needs to show more consistency with his slider to be much of an asset there.
Fastball: 65/70/75 Slider: 45/50/50+ Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/40/40+
Robinson is primarily a middle infielder, though he also spent time at every position but pitcher and catcher last year. The combination of a bad 2014 season and so many other talented Rangers hitting prospects at the upper levels has left him out of the conversation in prospect circles, but this guy has an interesting set of skills. He makes poor contact, but he works counts and shows an ability to take plenty of walks. He also has at least average power, which should keep pitchers careful enough to keep walking him.
He needs his walk rate to be high enough to make up for the strikeouts, but he’s shown enough ability across his game to warrant at least a bench role. If the walks translate, he has starting potential at one of the seven positions he’s proven sufficient at manning. More likely, he could be a super-utility type of player, with enough thump in his bat to potentially find semi-regular playing time.
Hit: 40/40/45 Power: 50/50/55 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
28. Jacob Lemoine, RHP, VIDEO, NA
After getting some love as a potential first-round pick, Lemoine missed all but five starts in his junior season last spring with a shoulder injury. When healthy, he has a low- to mid-90s fastball with good run and a hard slider, complemented by a crude but potentially average changeup. In fact, all of his pitches are somewhat crude, with Lemoine lacking consistent feel for his release on each offering. He has some upside because of the stuff, but inconsistencies on the mound combined with a shoulder injury make him a tough sell. He’ll start in extended spring training this season.
Fastball: 55/55+/60 Slider: 45/50/55+ Changeup: 45/45+/50 Command: 40/45/45+
Yrizarri’s best asset is his plus-plus arm, which is good enough to keep his fringy speed and range in play at shortstop. If he loses a step as he ages, third base is a perfectly good consolation prize. When the Rangers were short on infield depth last June, they brought Yrizarri up to fill in until their depth could be re-established, and he handled himself very well before being sent down to the Low-A Northwest League. He makes a lot of contact and has some physical growth left to do, where you might be able to see him grow into 45-grade power. His swing is pretty low-impact at present, but maybe he gets there as he gains some man strength.
His biggest needs are in the plate-discipline department. Even if his hitting ability develops as I think it could, his aggressive approach is going to really cut into the value he produces at the plate. Sources confirm the plan is to get him working counts better over the next year or two, so it will be interesting to see if he can develop some selectivity as he continues to improve his defense at short. I like his chances of becoming a big leaguer, though the lack of an above-average tool besides his arm makes it tough to see where he can really be an asset.
Hit: 30/45+/50 Power: 30/40/40+ Run: 50/50/50 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 70/70/70
Wolff is a hard-throwing hurler who can reach the upper-90s with his fastball in short outings, part of why I believe he can be a solid addition to a big-league bullpen. He will likely remain a starter for the forseeable future, but he lacks upside in the role with no sure above-average offerings with which to put hitters away. His strikeout potential is much higher with one of his curveball or slider, and he won’t have to improve his command as much to get there. His stiff upper body makes it unlikely he will improve greatly in that area anyway.
He stays in the zone enough to eventually find a niche in a major-league role, with the potential for a plus or better fastball and a solid breaking ball. His curveball is regarded as the better pitch currently, but I can see him throwing it harder in a relief role to be more of a power curve as a better weapon for retiring hitters.
Fastball: 55/55/60+ Curveball: 45/50/55+ Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 40/45/45+ Command: 35/40/45
Alberto Triunfel, SS, High-A
Triunfel produced excellent power numbers last year for High-A High Desert following a mid-June promotion to the California League. Nor were those numbers just cosmetically impressive owing to the Cal League’s inflated run environment. Regard: while the league recorded a collective .143 isolated-power figure, Triunfel surpassed that mark by roughly 50 points, posting a .192 ISO for the Mavericks in 241 plate appearances. By way of reference, here are all the major-league shortstops who both (a) recorded sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in 2015 and also (b) produced an ISO better than the league-average mark of .150: Brandon Crawford (.205), Asdrubal Cabrera (.164), Troy Tulowitzki (.160), Ian Desmond (.151). So, four of them — and three of them no more than 15 points beyond the league average. All of which is to say, it’s unusual for a shortstop to exhibit that sort of power relative to his league.
Nor is this to suggest that the 22-year-old Triunfel is defined merely by his power. While he’s never recorded elite plate-discipline numbers, they’ve also always been adequate. With regard to his age, as well, that’s always been more or less appropriate for the corresponding levels. In summary: Triunfel appears to be an age-appropriate shortstop with average plate discipline and average or better power. “Future MVP,” is what the people have to say about that. The people might be hasty in that regard, but their enthusiasm is justified.
Upper-level hitters: 2B/OF Evan Van Hoosier (VIDEO) has decent tools with plus raw speed and a quick bat. His defense at second won’t be spectacular, but could end up being serviceable despite poor arm strength. He’s an inside-out hitter without much carry on even his best hits, and I’m not sure his contact will be good enough to make up for it. Still has a possible future in a bench role with the versatility to play the outfield as well. UTIL/C Isiah Kiner-Falefa (VIDEO) is interesting because, like Josh Morgan above, he has also been thrown behind the plate to see what he can do this year. He has no power yet solid contact skills, and the ability to play solid defense as a catcher could push him into a major-league role in some form.
Lower-level hitters: C Jose Trevino (VIDEO) has a strong arm behind the plate and decent hands, though his receiving still showcases way too much movement to be counted on yet. He has made contact at the plate, but there isn’t much upside with a stiff swing and a poor batted-ball profile. He could still carve out a backup role if his catching continues to improve. OF LeDarious Clark’s (VIDEO) .825 OPS and 29 steals in 293 Low-A plate appearances is certainly worth spotlighting, but contact issues and holes in his swing keep me from buying into his bat against better pitching. SS Michael De Leon (VIDEO) can really pick it in the infield and makes ok contact, but a lack of power, poor pitch recognition and mechanical issues make it unlikely he will hit enough to be much of a factor. He’s young yet, but a long way from earning a spot in the majors.
Upper-level pitchers: RHP David Perez had a banner year split between Single-A and High-A owing to a better command showing. He earned his way back into a starting role, and now we can see what he’s able to do with the opportunity. If he comes out throwing strikes again this year, I’ll feel comfortable moving him up the list pretty quickly. LHP Frank Lopez (VIDEO) has decent stuff and projectable command, but he’ll have to show he can take another step forward with his location to keep hitters off balance. I like his chances, but the margins are thin enough that he stays off the main list for now. RHP Adam Parks has a potential excellent slider with the ability to throw strikes. He could factor into the big-league bullpen picture with another solid season in the minors after scuffling a bit in his first taste of Double-A last year.
Lower-level pitchers: RHP Scott Williams only started pitching days before he was drafted in 2014, and now may have a real future in a bullpen role. He’ll start in High-A, where he will look to be more consistent with his hard fastball and sharp breaker. RHP Tyler Phillips (VIDEO) is an interesting upside arm that needs to grow into his body before really projecting for much. He had an excellent debut in the Rookie Arizona League after being drafted in only the 16th round last June.