The now two-time defending AL Champion Texas Rangers have somewhat quietly built themselves into a real powerhouse. With a major-league roster that is already good enough to, well, get to two consecutive World Series, the Rangers also have the payroll and the farm system to keep this going, and the farm system has been very impressive of late. Though the farm system has given the big league team plenty of help, there were no major prospects that made significant contributions this season as most of the talent resides deep in the lower levels.
That talent begins with Jurickson Profar, who became one of the top prospects in the entire game with an excellent season in Low-A at age 18. That Hickory team must have been fun to watch as it also included others such as Roman Mendez, Cody Buckel, Rougned Odor, Jake Skole, and Justin Grimm. Finishing out the A-ball players was Mike Olt, who was on his way to a big season before a broken collarbone put a brief halt to things.
In the upper minors, the Rangers have a bevy of pitching prospects, which they could certainly use as they may lose yet another starting pitcher in CJ Wilson (though there is talk Neftali Feliz could be moved to the rotation next year). Martin Perez hit another speed bump in AAA, but that’s okay when you’re only 20. Add Neil Ramirez and Robbie Ross to the mix, and the Rangers look to be able to restock the rotation in future years, though they don’t seem to have any front-of-the-rotation candidates.
Though they’ve certainly had plenty of recent success, the Rangers aren’t sitting on their laurels. They continue to add talent in the draft and through Latin America, and it continues to result in one of the better farm systems in baseball, despite frequent promotions and recent trades. As currently constituted, the Rangers have few “top” prospects, but they have plenty of depth (I considered at least 4 other guys for the list) and several guys with high ceiling if they develop outside of A-ball.
Jurickson Profar SS
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 19/High-A or AA
Projection: 5+ WAR
Profar essentially has everything you would want from a player, and he’s considered a 5-tool player. With an above-average hit tool and an advanced approach at the plate, he has a solid foundation that should allow him to tap into the power he should develop down the road, which he’s already started doing. Defensively, he will stay at short, and he should be an above-average defender due to his above-average speed, range, and arm. While young Latin Americans are often associated with being toolsy but raw, Profar is quite polished, and he’s really begun to turn those tools into skills. Elvis Andrus might not be in Texas much longer.
Martin Perez SP
After pushing Perez to AA in 2010 and watching flounder, Texas sent Perez back to AA, where he pitched much better the second time around. Seeing him succeed, the Rangers promoted him to AAA mid-season, where it again appeared that he was rushed. Perez has plenty of talent, so that isn’t the problem. His fastball is a tick above average, but his plus change-up is his best pitch, to which he adds a curve that’s average but could get better. Perez’s problem stems from his control and command, which tend to waver due to slightly stepping toward first and from an arm slot that gets inconsistent at times. That should come with repetitions, but I wonder if pushing him hasn’t messed with his head, which has messed with his mechanics. Regardless, Perez will only be 21 for all of next season, and he still has quite a bright future.
Mike Olt 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Before breaking his collarbone, Olt was tearing it up in Myrtle Beach, which isn’t easy to do for a hitter. With above-average power and a streamlined stance that makes his swing a bit simpler, Olt’s offense took off, and it helps that he has a solid approach at the plate. His weakness at the plate is that he strikes out a bit too much, but I think that will work itself out as he gets more experience. At the hot corner, he should be an above-average or even plus defender as he switched off shortstop due to his fringe-average speed. Olt’s future looks bright, and he’ll take a step forward by being on the field for a full season and playing well in the upper minors.`
Leonys Martin CF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
The Cuban defector grabbed a few headlines when he was acquired earlier last summer, and he acclimated himself well to AA before having some issues in AAA. A true centerfielder who might be above-average there, Martin doesn’t have plus speed, and he needs work on the basepaths. At the plate, he has an average hit tool, but his power is fringe-average with the chance to develop into average power, though it would help if he added more lower body to his swing. Adding that to his solid approach at the plate, Martin looks the part of the classic lead-off hitter, though he may never steal 20 bases in a season. The soon-to-be 24-year old is a nice player to have, but he’s not really good enough on either side of the ball to be a star.
Neil Ramirez SP
Age/Level: 22/AAA or MLB
Ramirez has always missed bats, and that was no problem again in 2011, aside from a shoulder problem putting him on the DL for a bit. He has a low-90s fastball, an above-average to plus curve, and an average change. What holds him back from being a bit better is his control, symbolized by a 5+ BB/9 in AAA. Toward the end of his delivery, he doesn’t really finish, landing stiffly and throwing the ball like a dart instead of following through, and because he cuts himself off, it hinders his ability to throw strikes consistently. If he learned to finish a bit better and use his lower body more, he could get more consistency in his delivery and maybe an extra mph or two from that fastball.
Robbie Ross SP
Age/Level: 23/AA or AAA
It seems like every Rangers’ prospect that had excellent command stepped up this season (Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland being the others, though no longer in the organization). For the entire season, Ross’ BB/9 was 1.8. His delivery has a high leg kick to give him some deception, but he’s able to repeat it well, which helps his control. Ross’ stuff, however, isn’t quite so good as he has three average pitches in his fastball, slider, and change. The command helps his stuff play up, but he doesn’t really have a go-to pitch yet, which may hurt him as he moves to AAA or the MLB.
Roman Mendez SP
Projection: 3/4, Relief Ace
Part of the Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston trade, Mendez has front-line starter potential, but he also has the common control problems that will probably keep him from reaching that potential. His delivery isn’t complicated, but he doesn’t repeat it well, constantly having a different arm slot and tending to “push” the ball (making the ball sail high and to his arm side). If he can get that under control, Mendez could really take off due to a mid-90s fastball and plus breaking ball, thought the change (surprise) needs work. He has the frame to be a workhorse starter, but as I’ve said, the control issue may send him to the bullpen.
Rougned Odor 2B
Age/Level: 18/High-A or Low-A
Projection: 2-4 WAR
While his stats in Low-A weren’t terribly impressive, he was only 17 years old, so holding his own was impressive in its own right. His swing is a bit long, but he makes frequent contact and has a solid approach for a kid his age. Odor’s ultimate power is ceiling is in question as he has little now and a small frame to build on, but he could develop fringe-average to average power as he fills out. Defensively, he was originally a shortstop, but with a weak arm, he moved to second, where he shows good range and hands. Though he still has plenty to prove, a key theme in looking at prospects is age, age, age.
Cody Buckel SP
Buckel’s stuff is quite similar to Ross’ as he has four pitches that rate around average in his fastball, cutter, curve, and change. His above-average control due to excellent mechanics will help Buckel along the way, and having good control and several good secondary pitches are a recipe for A-ball success, which Buckel had plenty of last season. But as you might expect, there are concerns as to how they will play as he moves up the ladder, but Buckel does have room to fill out, leaving some projection left. If he gets a bit more oomph in that fastball or develops a secondary pitch or two to the plus level, Buckel make a serious move up lists, but for the moment, he looks like a middle or back-of-the-rotation starter.
Christian Villanueva 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
That Hickory team must have been a fun one to watch, and Villanueva was certainly a reason why. At the plate, Villanueva has line-drive swing that produces quite a bit of contact, and he started tapping into his average to above-average power. His approach could still use a little work, but he’s improving there. At the hot corner, he has a plus arm and good hands, with some thinking he might move to second if not for the arm. Villanueva still has more to prove, as do all of these A-ball prospects, but he has quite a bit of promise as well.
Biggest Question -Tanner Scheppers
If there was one player development decision the Rangers wish they could have back, it would probably be Scheppers. Yanking him in between the rotation and the bullpen, Scheppers finally appears to be settled into the bullpen, where his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and plus slider can do some serious damage. Jerking him around, however, has caused that impressive stuff to waver in and out, sometimes being merely average. If he’s back to what he can be and can harness control that also wavers, it will make moving Neftali Feliz, which appears in play yet again, a lot easier on everyone.