Texas Rangers Top 20 prospects for 2016
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 2016 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.
All grades are mine and the responsibility for good or ill is mine.
1) Joey Gallo, 3B-OF, Grade A-: Age 22, destroyed Double-A (.314/.425/.636) but scuffled in Triple-A (.195/.289/.450) and the majors (.204/.301/.417), well-known dilemma for analysts due to combination of enormous power and enormous strikeout rate. I think the common Chris Davis comp will work: Gallo will have some outstanding seasons and some weak ones. You can’t count on much batting average in any given year but the power and OBP will be there.
2) Nomar Mazara, OF, Grade A-: Age 20, hit .296/.366/.443 with 14 homers, 52 walks, 102 strikeout in 490 at-bats in Double-A/Triple-A. Thrived against older competition, has cleaned up swing over the last two years and developed pure hitting skills to go with raw power that he still hasn’t fully tapped; has quietly developed into a very good corner outfielder as well. Draws raves for makeup. You can make a case to put him ahead of Gallo.
3) Lewis Brinson, OF, Grade B+/A-: Age 21, hit .332/.403/.601 between three levels with 20 homers, 18 steals, 44 walks, 98 strikeouts in 398 at-bats. Destroyed Cal League, continued to hit well in Double-A though with some weakening of plate discipline, then finished with a strong week in Triple-A. Outstanding athlete and a fine defensive outfielder, retooled swing with hard work and more attention to selectivity. This may actually be a notch too low and the grade may be revised upward before press time depending on where I feel he should slot on the MLB Top 50 prospects list.
4) Dillon Tate, RHP, Grade B+: Age 21, first round pick from UC Santa Barbara last June, mid-90s fastball with nasty slider and good command for a power pitcher, former closer still working on change-up and it should be at least decent. Number two upside depending on how workload management goes, with closer as the backup option.
5) Luis Ortiz, RHP, Grade B: Age 20, 1.80 ERA with 46/9 K/BB in 50 innings in Low-A, workload limited by sore elbow and conditioning problems, listed at 230 but looks bigger. Despite bad body he can hit mid-90s and commands his slider and change-up very well. Like Tate, could be a number two starter if he can keep his body from getting out of control.
6) Ariel Jurado, RHP, Grade B: Age 20, posted 2.45 ERA with 95/12 K/BB in 99 innings in Low-A with 3.13 GO/AO ratio, Panamanian right-hander with 90-95 sinker, good curveball, change-up coming along nicely, excellent command and control for his age (or any age really), excellent statistics. Not ranked this highly on other lists but I really like this guy and I think he can be a real stalwart if he avoids injury. Thus, the higher-than-consensus grade and ranking.
7) Andy Ibanez, 2B, Grade B-: Age 22, Cuban defector hasn’t played yet, got $1,600,000 bonus which was considered less than expected by most experts. Doesn’t impress with pure tools but has a strong track record of hitting in Cuba with line drive power and excellent strike zone judgment. I’d like to see him actually play before going any higher but it is possible the Rangers got a real bargain here.
8) Eric Jenkins, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, 2015 second rounder, hit .249/.342/.339 with 27 steals, 23 walks, 57 strikeouts in 177 at-bats in rookie ball, then went 7-for-18 (.389) in brief Low-A action. Blazing speed, at least 70-grade, with good strike zone judgment, lots of defensive potential in center field, main question is how much power he can develop.
9) Jairo Beras, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 22, bonus baby improved in second try in Low-A, hit .291/.332/.440 with nine homers, 19 walks, 88 strikeouts in 327 at-bats. Still struggled with strike zone but got to his power a lot more often and swing looked better than in ’14. Wide range of opinions on this one: some sources think he will fully break out in ’16, others are skeptical and think he’ll never live up to his potential. My guess is that power will continue to grow but that batting average/OBP will always be issues.
10) Josh Morgan, INF, Grade B-/C+: Age 20, hit .288/.385/.362 with 45 walks, 53 strikeouts in 351 at-bats in Low-A. Excellent feel for hitting, strong plate discipline, makes contact, solid defender at second and third base. Main question is power development or lack thereof. Too bad you can’t graft his approach onto Beras’ body.
11) Yohander Mendez, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 21, posted 2.44 ERA with 74/15 K/BB in 66 innings in Low-A, opened in bullpen but moved to starting in second half, lively 88-92 MPH fastball with plus change-up, breaking ball OK, throws strikes, good instincts and feel, but has a history of elbow problems cutting into durability projection. I like him a lot, just not sure what his role will be or what his body can handle.
12) Michael Matuella, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 21, 2015 third rounder out of Duke was expected to be an early first round pick until he needed Tommy John surgery. When healthy, fires 92-98 MPH heat with impressive hard breaking ball, has a chance for a good change-up too. Has not been durable, suffering back issues as well as the elbow, some feel he will wind up in relief as a result. On hold until we see how he recovers.
13) Andrew Faulkner, LHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 23, posted 4.19 ERA with 90/47 K/BB in 92 innings in Double-A, brought to majors and performed well in Rangers bullpen, 2.79 ERA with 10/3 K/BB in 9.2 innings of relief work. Fastball up to 93-95 in bullpen, a little lower as a starter, throws splittery change, curve, command was issue in the minors but seemed less troublesome in pen.
14) Luke Jackson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, posted 4.34 ERA with 79/35 K/BB in 66 innings in Triple-A, 4.26 ERA with 6/2 K/BB in six major league innings. Like Faulkner he has stuff to succeed but is erratic, fastball well into the 90s but with inconsistent secondaries (curve, slider, change), seems better suited for relief work than starting to me.
15) Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, Grade C+: Age 26, acquired from Mariners in Leonys Martin trade, older prospect due to college football background and had more to learn than typical when drafted out of Rutgers in 2012 so spot on the age curve is unusual, hit .256/.315/.453 with 22 homers, 14 steals, 36 walks, 113 strikeouts in 472 at-bats in Triple-A, power is real, good makeup rep, seems like a candidate for a late-20s breakout to me.
16) Ryan Cordell, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .311/.376/.528 in the Cal League but just .217/.263/.335 with 12 walks, 73 strikeouts in 221 at-bats in the Texas League, stole 20 bases with 18 homers overall. Power/speed combo is enticing and everyone loves his tools, but Double-A pitching exposed holes in his swing that were masked in High Desert. Another guy with mixed opinions from observers: some think he will blossom in another year or two, others don’t think he’ll develop sufficient skills to make the tools work. Could rank as high as 8 if you believe in his ability to improve, or 28 if you don’t.
17) Leodys Taveras, OF, Grade C+: Age 17, signed for $2,100,000 last summer out of Dominican Republic, hasn’t played yet so hard to rank. Switch hitter with good speed, above-average power potential, strong arm, opinions on bat are mixed: some say he needs to make adjustments with pitch recognition while others say he is fine for his age and has hit well in actual contests, not just looking good in showcases.
18) Pedro Payano, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, opened season in Dominican Summer League but promoted quickly to rookie ball then Sally League, posted 77/19 K/BB in 73 innings in the US with 1.40 ERA, fastball reported at 91-93 MPH with "table falling" curve and solid change-up, sleeper prospect hasn’t received much attention but could advance quickly if he maintains his command.
19) David Perez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, signed back in 2009 out of Dominican but career was slowed by command problems and slow Tommy John recovery, posted 0.93 ERA with 37/14 K/BB in 29 innings in Low-A, then 4.42 ERA with 60/14 K/BB in 55 innings in High-A (very credible numbers at High Desert), moving back to starting role late in season. Fastball/curveball combo got good reports from Hickory, control greatly improved, another sleeper to watch along with Payano.
20) Jose Leclerc, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, posted ugly 5.77 ERA with 98/73 K/BB in 103 innings in Double-A. Numbers are bad but 95 MPH fastball earned him spot on 40-man roster, both curveball and change-up have excellent moments but his pitches move so much he can’t control them. Wouldn’t take much improvement for him to take a sudden step forward given quality of his arm.
OTHER GRADE C+: Travis Demeritte, 2B; Ronald Guzman, 1B; Jose Trevino, C; Yeyson Yrizarri, SS
OTHERS OF NOTE: LeDarious 80-grade name Clark, OF; Michael De Leon, SS; John Fasola, RHP; Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B; Jonathan Hernandez, RHP; Jacob Lemoine, RHP; Brett Martin, LHP; Tyler Phillips, RHP; Scott Williams, RHP; Sam Wolff, RHP
Although not as deep with elite prospects as it sometimes is, the Rangers still offer a rich crop down on the farm. Lots of the C+ types have the potential for higher grades with more experience and refinement, and it is hard to find a "almost ready for the majors" trio as exciting as Gallo, Brinson, and Mazara.
The Grade C+ guys could be ordered in a zillion different ways with valid logic, so we are bound to see some significant variations in various Rangers lists once you get past the top few. I highlighted the ones I found most interesting for various reasons.
I will be around tomorrow in the comments to discuss the system.