Texas Rangers Top 20 Prospects for 2014
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 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated 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. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion 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) Rougned Odor, 2B, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Let’s see…41 doubles, 11 homers, 32 steals, .306 average between High-A and Double-A, at the tender age of 19. Needs some work on defense and looks blocked in Texas, but clearly an elite prospect.
2) Michael Choice, OF: Grade B. Borderline B+. Not much left to prove after solid .302/.390/.445 Triple-A season, just needs the opportunity to play. Home run totals not completely in line with the plus raw power that scouts see, but I think it will come.
3) Jorge Alfaro, C, Grade B: Good progress on defense, has the tools to be an All-Star. Bat remains a serious concern for me: he showed only slight improvement while repeating Low-A and his plate discipline remains disturbingly poor. Turns 21 in June so there is lots of time on the clock, but very much a high-risk/high-reward property. Alfaro does not resemble him physically, but statistically he could end up something like Miguel Olivo.
4) Nick Williams, OF, Grade B-: Borderline B. Marvelous tools, part of the Hickory Bunch, hit .293/.337/.543 with 15 walks, 110 whiffs. Like most of his teammates his approach is overaggressive and it remains to be seen how this will work at higher levels. All-Star tools, skills still in rudimentary stage though I think he’s a more balanced hitter than Joey Gallo.
5) Luke Jackson, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. I’ve liked him since he was drafted out of high school in 2010, so with a strong season under his belt I have to stick with it. Some good luck backed up his 0.67 ERA in 27 Double-A innings, but he maintained a good strikeout pace. Command and changeup need additional refinement but I think he can be a solid starter, or perhaps more dominant in relief.
6) Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. One of my favorite college pitchers from the 2013 draft, the Oral Roberts product has a fine sinker, slider, and changeup combination and should/could develop into a mid-rotation presence assuming the standard caveats about young pitchers.
7) Ronald Guzman, 1B, Grade B-: Season started late and ended early due to injuries, but one of the few Hickory players with a non-obnoxious strikeout rate. Hasn’t fully tapped his power but that’s not unexpected at age 19. Might develop into a David Ortiz-type, big upside.
8) Joey Gallo, 3B, Grade B-: What an extreme player. Enormous power, 39% of his hits last year were home runs. Extremely high strikeout rate makes his future unclear, however, could be a star or a moderately-productive slugger or a journeyman or a Triple-A washout who converts to pitching when he’s 28. Going to be an illuminating test case.
9) Luis Sardinas, SS, Grade B-: A different sort of prospect than the other guys here, defense-first shortstop who (gasp) makes contact but lacks power. Players like this sometimes show unusual offensive growth in their late 20s. He’s only 20 right now so that might take a while, but his glove will get him to the majors.
10) Nomar Mazara, OF, Grade B-: More raw Hickory talent, not as extreme as Gallo in either risk or upside but doesn’t make contact as well as Guzman. Good power potential, another possible 20-homer bat.
11) Travis Demeritte, INF, Grade B-: 2013 first-rounder is an excellent athlete although future position unclear. Hit reasonably well in rookie ball (.285/.411/.444), will take a walk, strikeout rate rather high but not at Gallo/Brinson levels yet.
12) Nick Martinez, RHP, Grade B-: All the attention paid to the Hickory toolshed overshadowed Martinez’s fine season: 2.50 ERA, 128/45 K/BB in 151 innings, 117 hits between High-A and Double-A. Athletic right-hander out of Fordham shows strong command of three pitches and clean, easy mechanics. Could be strike-throwing inning-eating starter or a really good middle reliever.
13) Akeem Bostick, RHP, Grade B-: Super-athletic 2013 second round pick looked great in rookie ball by all accounts, fastball well into the 90s and curveball/changeup secondaries show potential. Will need time but has plenty of upside, could be top pitching prospect in the system in a year or two.
14) Lewis Brinson, OF, Grade C+: Amazing athlete with power and speed, hit .237/.322/.427 with 21 homers, 24 steals….and 191 strikeouts in 447 at-bats. Gallo-level strikeout rates and reports on his feel for hitting are even more negative than Gallo’s. That said, he’s a better athlete and will have more defensive value, giving him more options for value at higher levels if hitting presents poorly. Despite ranking here, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up with a better career.
15) Chris Bostick, INF, Grade C+: Acquired from Oakland in Gentry/Lindblom trade, had a really nice, broad-skill year in the Midwest League (.282/.354/.452, 14 homers, 25 steals). Caveat: very sharp home/road split, .325/.391/.560 in Beloit, .243/.319/.353 on the road stands out. Good athlete with some tools but the split is worrisome enough to sound a note of caution.
16) Jairo Beras, OF, Grade C+: Broken hamate cut rookie ball debut short; didn’t play enough to resolve questions one way or another. Similar to the Hickory guys, a potentially explosive power hitter but with non-Ranger sources concerned about his ability to handle advanced pitching and control the strike zone. Could rank much higher in a year. Or not.
17) Alec Asher, RHP, Grade C+: Like Martinez, Asher quietly had a very good season in High-A, 2.90 ERA with 139/40 K/BB in 133 innings. Fourth round pick in ’12 from Polk Community College in Florida, low-90s heat with good changeup, curveball coming along.
18) Kelvin Vasquez, RHP, Grade C+: Has some control issues but reports from the Northwest League were very good about his stuff, up to 94 MPH, good potential with breaking ball and changeup. Spring reports similar, another potential mid-rotation arm or fallback relief option.
19) Ryan Rua, 2B, Grade C+: Old man of the Hickory lineup at age 23, slugged 32 homers between there and Double-A Frisco, moving from roster-filler to prospect status. Contact issues marred three weeks in Double-A and unlikely to hit for average, but pop doesn’t look like a total illusion.
20) Wilmer Font, RHP, Grade C+: The Dellin Betances of Texas, big, throws hard, career slowed by injuries and command problems but could be a dominant reliever if he puts things together.
OTHER GRADE C+: Lisalverto Bonilla, RHP; Jose Leclerc, RHP; David Ledbetter, RHP; Sam Wolff, RHP
OTHERS: Jose Almonte, OF; Cody Buckel, RHP; Alex Claudio, LHP; Kellin Deglan, C; Marcos Diplan, RHP; Keone Kela, RHP; Roman Mendez, RHP; Drew Robinson, 3B; Ben Rowen, RHP; Connor Sadzeck, RHP; Cole Wiper, RHP; Yeyson Yrizarri, SS.
The Texas Rangers have one of the most intriguing collections of high-ceiling talent in baseball, particularly at the lower levels. As noted above, the Hickory group stands out for upside, tools, youth, and serious questions about what they will do at higher levels. Guys like Alfaro, Mazara, Gallo, Williams, Guzman and Brinson are all capable of being major league regulars, if not All-Stars, but all of them have flaws in their game.
Are these issues correctable? In theory, sure, given how young these guys are. But the past history of players with such high strikeout and low walk rates are not particularly encouraging. Gallo, Brinson, and Alfaro stand out in particular for contact problems and/or serious issues with plate discipline. Gallo and Brinson have the most extreme strikeout rates and likely the highest bust potential. If someone came back thru the Guardian of Forever from the year 2030 and told me the entire group busted, I would believe them.
Now, all that said, having players with upside is better than not having players with upside, and it is not like all the talent in the system was only on the Hickory roster. Rougned Odor is one hell of a prospect if you ask me, combining tools, youth, and performance into a promising package. Although there’s no obvious pitching ace, there are some lively arms available beginning with Alex Gonzalez and Luke Jackson, extending down to the short-season levels. Asher and Martinez deserve a lot more attention than they’ve received, and there are many potential relief options. If Cody Buckel lives up to the promising spring reports and gets his game back together, so much the better.
The Rangers continue mining Latin America aggressively and that’s not going to stop. Outfielder Jose Almonte, right-hander Marcos Diplan, and shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri are the latest big-bonus signees. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers move them (and Jairo Beras) as aggressively as they promoted the previous group.
Overall, an extremely interesting system that could look even better (or much worse) two years from now depending on how successful they are adding baseball skills to the tool sets.