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Texas Rangers Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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Power-mashing Joey Gallo and blossoming Nomar Mazara lead a robust Texas Rangers farm system, but there's more here than just thumping bats.

Joey Gallo
Joey Gallo
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers Top 20 Prospects for 2015

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Joey Gallo, 3B, Grade A-: Age 21, enormous power is the key here with 42 homers in 2014, made progress with swing mechanics and pitch recognition although strikeout rate remains very high. Defense at third isn’t bad either. Still risky, but less so than seemed last year. Possible outcome: hybrid of Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, and Chris Davis? If you want to dream, how about Jim Thome?

2) Nomar Mazara, OF, Grade B+: Age 19, hit .264/.358/.470 in Low-A then .306/.381/.518 after moving up to Double-A for 24 games. Made real progress turning raw power into game power, defense also sharper. Downside would be Karim Garcia-like stagnation at higher levels, upside is .280, 30-homer hitter. This ranking is more aggressive than typical but Mazara was really impressive.

Nomar Mazara

Nomar Mazara, photo by Tim Heitman, USA Today



3) Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Grade B+/Borderline B:
Age 23, former Oral Roberts ace and 2013 first-round pick thrived in first full season, 2.66 ERA with 113/41 K/BB in 139 innings between High-A and Double-A. Needs more innings to polish change-up to go with solid fastball/slider. Looks like a number three starter to me if that happens.

4) Jake Thompson, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B+:
Age 20, stolen from Tigers in Joakim Soria trade, ran up 3.12 ERA with 130/47 K/BB in 130 innings at three levels. Like Gonzalez he can be a number three starter with low-90s fastball, slider, change. Right now I have Gonzalez a little ahead but that could change by the time the book is done, it is possible that Thompson could wind up as a B+.

4) Jorge Alfaro, C, Grade B/Borderline B+:
Age 21, ranks ahead of Mazara on most lists but he is two years older and a less effective hitter. Despite all of his superb defensive tools, he remains a rough defender prone to excessive mistakes and receiving miscues with little sign of improvement. If he can’t sharpen his catching skills, his attractiveness goes way down. Can’t rate him higher until his defensive results improve, but B/B+ is still a high grade all things considered.



6) Luis Ortiz, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B-:
Age 19, 2014 first-round pick, 1.77 ERA with 19/6 K/BB in 20 innings in pro debut between rookie ball and Low-A. Can hit mid-90s, good slider, some measure of command for a young pitcher, another potential number three starter who can advance very quickly.

7) Luke Jackson, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 23, strong in Double-A (3.02 ERA, 83/24 K/BB in 83 innings, just 58 hits) but undone in Triple-A (10.35 ERA, 43/28 K/BB in 40 innings, 56 hits). Seen by many as a future reliever due to erratic secondary pitches but a mid-90s fastball.

8) Lewis Brinson, OF, Grade B-:
Age 20, superb athlete hit .335/.405/.579 in 164 at-bats in Low-A but just .246/.307/.350 in 183 at-bats in High-A, better pitching exposing the holes in his aggressive approach and swing mechanics. Impressive defensively so they will be patient with the bat. Could develop into an All-Star if the hitting comes along, or a fifth outfielder if it doesn’t.

9) Nick Williams, OF, Grade B-:
Age 21, hit .292/.343/.491 with 13 homers, 19 walks, 117 strikeouts in 377 at-bats in High-A. Overmatched late in Double-A, .226/.250/.290 with 21 strikeouts, two walks in 62 at-bats. Solid or better tools, not as good with the glove as Brinson and older, suffers from similar and rather extreme approach issues. All-Star upside, Triple-A failure downside.

10) Corey Knebel, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 23, former University of Texas power arm acquired from the Tigers, major league closer potential if his elbow is OK: he was shut down early with a strained ligament. Ready to contribute if healthy.

11) Ryan Rua, OF-INF, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 24, doesn’t look like a fluke at this point, should be a solid contributor who can hit .260-.270 with some power, defensive versatility, should have a better career than some guys with better tools but less refinement.

Ryan Rua

Ryan Rua, photo by Jerome Miron, USA Today



12) Delino DeShields, OF, Grade C+/Borderline B-:
Age 22, selected by Rangers in 2014 Rule 5 draft from Astros, former first round pick hit .236/.346/.360 with 11 homers, 61 walks, 54 steals in Double-A. Erratic but talented and still young, I think this was a great gamble for Texas to take.

ANALYST NOTE: From this point on, the rankings are very nebulous: you could order the C+ guys in a hundred different ways with valid logic behind each decision. This should be seen as a tier approach and not an exact hard-and-fast ranking.

13) Luis Sardinas, INF, Grade C+: Age 21, defense-first contact hitter batted .261/.303/.313 in 115 at-bats in major league debut. That’s exactly what should be expected for a while, but he could improve on that as he matures.

14) Travis Demeritte, 2B, Grade C+:
Age 20, hit .211/.310/.450 with 25 homers, 50 walks, 171 strikeouts in 398 at-bats in Low-A. Tremendous bat speed and power, but another very aggressive young Texas hitter with contact issues.

15) Josh Morgan, INF, Grade C+:
Age 19, 2014 third round pick, outstanding contact hitting skills with .322/.436/.347 line in pro debut, superior plate discipline. However, he lacks power and hit just three doubles and one triple. If you could combine his approach with Demeritte’s thump you’d have a hell of a player.

|16) Alec Asher, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 23, posted 3.80 ERA with 122/32 K/BB in 154 innings in Double-A, 139 hits. Should move up to Triple-A with big league trial in the offing if he pitches well. Throws strikes, quality of stuff varies from start to start, could max out as a number three starter if he maintains his peak velocities or wind up as a 12th man if he doesn’t.

17) Michael De Leon, SS, Grade C+:
Sleeper Alert, age 17, hit .244/.302/.295 with 28 walks, 40 strikeouts in 336 at-bats in Low-A plus a one-game emergency promotion to Double-A in which he went 1-for-3 with a double. That’s not a great overall season line, but he was only seventeen years old and made the jump to full-season baseball without any intervening rookie ball experience at all. Signed in 2013, and unusually reliable defensively for his age. Physical tools aren’t spectacular, but this guy wouldn’t even be draft-eligible until this coming June and he’s already played one game in Double-A. Very intriguing long-term property.

18) Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 18, second round pick this past June from high school in Mississippi, solid-to-excellent tools with speed and throwing arm standing out. Hit .241/.338/.282 in rookie ball with 10 steals in 11 attempts. Some observers project that he’ll hit for average with at least decent power as he matures, but a long way off.

19) Ryan Cordell, OF, Grade C+:
Age 22, 11th round pick in 2013 out of Liberty University, hit .318/.385/.530 with 13 homers, 21 steals, 34 walks, 66 strikeouts in 336 at-bats between Low-A and High-A, no slippage between levels. Above-average speed and has power, very good glove, didn’t hit well in college but turned things around last year. If he does this again in Double-A, bump that grade up a notch and jump him up the list.

20) Jairo Beras, OF, Grade C+:
Age 19, bonus baby did not have impressive season in Low-A (.242/.305/.342) but was jumping to full season ball with little pro experience and may have been suffering after-effects of 2013 hand injury. With $4,500,000 investment, the Rangers will be patient as he tries to refine his tools.

OTHER GRADE C+ : Lisalverto Bonilla, RHP; Akeem Bostick, RHP; Marcos Diplan, RHP; Andrew Faulkner, LHP; Ronald Guzman, 1B; Jose LeClerc, RHP; Keone Kela, RHP; Tomas Telis, C; Jose Trevino, C-INF; Sam Wolff, RHP; Yeyson Yrizarri, SS. You can make a case for each of these C+ guys as high as 14.

GRADE C: Hanser Alberto, SS; Alex Claudio, LHP; Jon Edwards, RHP; Jerad Eickhoff, RHP; John Fasola, RHP; Jared Hoying, OF; Phil Klein, RHP; Brett Martin, LHP; Spencer Patton, RHP; Richelson Pena, RHP; Luke Tendler, OF; Derek Thompson, LHP; Matt West, RHP; Cole Wiper, RHP


Although not as robust as the Cubs system, the Rangers still have one of the deeper farm systems in the game.

Generally renowned for their liking of toolsy players, the Rangers have quietly built the foundations of a strong pitching staff as well. The trade of Joakim Soria to the Tigers brought in Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, outright theft if they stay healthy. Alex Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, and Alec Asher should be ready to contribute fairly soon, 2014 first-rounder Luis Ortiz may be the best of them all, and there are plenty of lively arms (Bonilla, Kela, LeClerc, Claudio, Edwards, Eickhoff, Faulkner, Klein, Patton, West) ready or nearly ready for trials in the bullpen or back of the rotation. Lower level arms like Bostick, Wolff, sleeper southpaw Derek Thompson, and Wiper provide hope for a strong second wave.

Lisalverto Bonilla

Lisalverto Bonilla, photo by Jim Cowsert, USA Today



All that said, the core of the Rangers system remains the hitting. Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara broke away from the rest of the 2013 Hickory Bunch last year. Gallo got most of the attention with his enormous power but Mazara also made substantial progress. Alfaro, Brinson, and Williams all have a shot at becoming major league regulars as well. There’s some strength up the middle (Sardinas, Morgan, De Leon, Yrizarri), The development of Ryan Cordell took some of the sting out of stagnant seasons from Ronald Guzman and Jairo Beras.

Note that it isn’t all about players with huge bonuses and premier tools: the Rangers have also identified and developed good sleeper, skill-oriented prospects like Ryan Rua and several of the pitching arms.

Overall, the Rangers are well-positioned for a quick rebound after a disappointing 2014.