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Rangers Top 5 Prospects: Midseason checkup

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Let's use the minor league's midway point to revisit and track progress of the Rangers' Top 5.

Frisco OF Lewis Brinson
Frisco OF Lewis Brinson
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Disclaimer

This top 5 list is personal preference. I could indeed feel differently in two weeks or two months from now.

I'm less fixated on a rock-solid one through five ranking of the loaded Ranger system and instead want to explore how fresh data may color the outlook of their top prospects.

It's ultimately a fool's errand to juggle rankings smack-dab in the middle of the season. In related news, here's how a midseason shuffle of Texas' high-end talent may shake out.


1. Joey Gallo, 3B/LF/1B

Gallo keeps his spot at the top on the strength of steady improvement across the board in his second spin through the PCL.

Not only has the blue-and-red clad superhero addressed his Kryptonite by shaving the K% to manageable rates, his power production has kicked up according to any flavor of offensive metric one wishes to use.

A comparison of Gallo's swing from this year to last reveals no discernible changes. But the batted ball profile, per MLBFarm, begins to clue us in on the uptick in damage. It seems 'the Farm' uses total plate appearances across all levels in their season totals, making yearly comparisons somewhat cloudy but still useful.

Gallo has goosed his walks by 5% and whittled the K's down 13% in what represents the biggest improvement to his game. When he does make contact, there's a small surge in flyball and pop-up% this year but a decrease in grounders and liners.

The safe assumption here is that Gallo is slowly learning to spit on pitches he can't drive. Having seen his batting average dip below the Mendoza line in AAA last season, he's combatting shifts by hitting mistakes over them, going the other way more, and taking free passes when they're presented. It's a sensible plan for a player with the most raw power in the game, and it will be exciting to see if he can carry it over to the Show once the Rangers give him a (legit) shot.

When and where Gallo will play are the million dollar questions. He's passable at all three corner spots listed above but may not have the arm accuracy or range to hold up at 3B long-term.

10 games up in the AL West, Texas doesn't appear in a hurry to call up their top hitting prospect. The financial commitments to Fielder, Choo, and Moreland necessitate a patient approach to try and save face on the combined $200M+ left on those deals.

Make no mistake, the Rangers have World Series aspirations and should soon prioritize Gallo's presence in the 'vs. RHP' lineup. The team has the bench pieces to shield him against tough southpaws and they won't need to ask much of him defensively. We know Gallo will mash when he gets there, leaving a trail of barely-SFW YouTube clips in his wake. But it's the progress he's shown in his approach and discipline that - if it holds up at the highest level - could really make the total package sing.


2. Luis Ortiz, RHP

At just 20, 'Lulu' has both the stuff and command to continue his quick rise through the system. The only questions that remain are those concerning durability and conditioning. The burly 6'3" righthander, generously listed at 230, has missed time with arm injuries each of the last two seasons.

Ortiz has been healthy and effective this far in 2016, "looking bored" in his handful of CAL League starts and earning a promotion to the loaded AA Frisco rotation. He gets it done with a fastball that sits 93-95 and a low 80's slider, showing an innate ability to spot both where he wants them. It's the quality of those two offerings that have carried him through four levels, and his chances of continued progress with the changeup seem high given his acumen. Ortiz also has a curve in his back pocket, though I wasn't able to differentiate it from the slide-piece on tape.

Personally, I'm just scratching the surface of how I'll weigh injury risks when trying to project young players. Ortiz arguably deserves a bump for his work in the first half, but an examination of his delivery might tell us there's plenty of risk here. His low-maintenance motion reminds of Carlos Zambrano especially with the similar build, but prospect maven Dan Farnsworth points out that a lack of rotational core strength could lead to an over-reliance on his arm. The forearm and elbow issues he's endured in successive seasons seem to support that notion.

As a result, the Rangers have treated Ortiz with perhaps more caution than other prized pitchers such as Mendez, Jurado, and even Dillon Tate. Only in his most recent outing was Ortiz allowed to surpass 80 pitches, a mark the others have all hit multiple times this season.

There's still plenty of season left, but Ortiz' performance hints that his quality stuff and advanced feel for pitching will play at any level. The key for him going forward is not only proving he can build up to a starter's workload, but also gaining stamina to remain effective late in games.


3. Lewis Brinson, CF

Brinson created as much buzz as any prospect after a breakout 2015, but a drop in production coupled with his current shoulder injury have temporarily pumped the brakes on his rapid ascent.

The extent of the shoulder woes remain cloudy; it's unclear how long he's dealt with it or when he'll return. The prospect of surgery either during or after the season remains in play as the worst-case scenario. But instead of pondering the unknowns, it should prove more worthwhile to look at why Brinson has struggled in the early-going and how his enviable tools could help him bust his slump.

Brinson did well to cut his problematic K-rate in the first half, but a rise in fly and groundouts begin to tell the story of why his power production has dipped.

I strongly suspect that Brinson's 2015 Demolition Tour has led to serious caution in what pitchers are serving up to him. He's so far made his bones on a pull-happy approach, using quick wrists and a rapid bat to do unspeakable damage to anything hard and middle-in.

It would be helpful if Frisco followers and game-watchers could corroborate the difference in the way Brinson has been stymied at the plate. But the initial signs point to an uptick in breaking balls coming at him, and opponents taking special care in avoiding his pull power.

As an impartial observer, I still have as much hope for Brinson as any player in the minors. His floor is already baked in thanks to double-plus speed and a cannon arm that will play anywhere in the outfield. He'll also provide value on the basepaths, and could be a threat for 25+ steals annually if he can work on the finer points at the highest levels.

It seems as though Brinson just needs a touch more discipline to counter the guarded method of attack against him. He's begun to take those steps by using the opposite field more, but that's been negated by a propensity to roll over stuff and generally hit the ball with less venom than we saw last year. For a player of this caliber, it feels wrong to make an overcorrection and push him down the ranks after a couple of mediocre months. He can and will be given time to adjust because his potential is so great, but first he'll need to prove that his shoulder is structurally sound.


4. Dillon Tate, RHP

Tate is still in the embryonic stage as a starting pitcher. The converted closer started only 14 games for UCSB as a junior and has just 15 A-ball starts under his belt with the Rangers. With that in mind I'm willing to look past his 2016 struggles and focus on how his electric arm gives him TOR upside.

Tate's listed pro measurables of 6'2", 165 are an absolute farce, especially considering UCSB had him at 200 back in his junior year. He pumps a mid-90's heater from an uber-athletic frame to go with an outlandish slider that functions as his knockout pitch.

His changeup is third in the pecking order, but his top-shelf arm speed could play a part in turning it into a real weapon. Notes from the Sally produced a glowing report on Tate in April and though the write-up followed his best game as a pro, it jibes with what can be seen on the video that's available. There seems to be a real effort by Tate to establish his (circle?) change in the lower levels, perhaps throwing it at a higher clip than he will as he matures. This focus on refinement over results could - along with an early hamstring injury - help explain his slow start to the season.

Not even 50 innings into his career, Tate has a ways to go before proving he can hack it as a starter. His delivery is high-effort and augmented by a leg kick but appears otherwise clean. I could see him simplifying his wind-up in the future, but only if injuries or a decline in command come into play.

With so much tied to his development, Tate is one of the more high-variance pitching prospects around. The explosive stuff and athleticism should keep him on a starter's path for now, but the onus will be on keeping not only the arm but his whole body healthy so as not to affect the delivery.

It's a bit concerning that Tate hasn't toed the rubber since 6/15 and isn't slated to go this weekend, so the hope is that he's been skipped out of caution in light of his elevated pitch counts.


5. Ariel Jurado, RHP

The FaBIO-tested, Sickels-approved Jurado gets the nod at the 5 spot thanks to a superb sinker that should continue to play well in the unfriendly pitching environs he'll need to conquer on his way up.

Rangers' coaches are known to have lowered Jurado's arm slot before 2015 in an attempt to impart more movement on his sinking, low-90's fastball. The results at low-A Hickory last year were better than Texas could have dreamed, as the groundball-machine rang up a 12-1, 2.45 mark in taking home the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Jurado has remained on a roll to start 2016 despite pitching for High Desert, home to one of the most pronounced hitter's parks in the game. It seems that the organization has a tendency to fast-track their pitchers through their CAL League affiliate when they can, conceivably so the environment doesn't affect their mojo. In Jurado's case, he may have been considered for a promotion already but is on hold because Frisco's rotation is packed to the brim.

I see Jurado as more than just a high floor type, though with excellent command of his fastball(s) and change he certainly has that. The 20-year-old Panamanian is younger than all of the Tate-Mendez-'Lulu' group, and despite an undersized frame (6'1" 200?) there are still areas of improvement that give him a little bit of ceiling.

Further refinement of Jurado's slider and curve could go a long way in rounding out his arsenal, especially if he can massage one into a consistent bat-misser. He'll never be confused with a flamethrower on the bump, but the possibility he could add a couple ticks as he builds up strength and innings should also be in play. As things stand, Jurado's combo of youth and pitchability make him a valuable commodity on their own.

**Video by Wilson Karaman


On the Cusp: Yohander Mendez, Ryan Cordell, Leody Tavares

Top 20 Contenders: Ronald Guzman, Connor Sadzeck, Scott Heineman, Pedro Payano