|Original Published Date: Jan. 10, 2014|
Since Jon Daniels became the General Manager for the Texas Rangers, their organizational philosophy has been to spend early and often on athletic, high risk/high reward talent and rely on their development system to turn them into ball players. In essence, it’s a strategy to develop stars and candidly, that’s the name of the game. While the jury is still out on the success the organization is having to-date, Martin Perez and Jurickson Profar are examples of what the strategy can yield.
The Rangers 2014 Top 10 List is flooded with young, high ceiling talent. At the top of the list is a pair of 20-year olds: Jorge Alfaro and Rougned Odor. Both were expensive International signees who have become Top 50 prospects in the minor leagues. Odor is already in Double-A and Alfaro should be there sometime in 2014. Another 20-year-old, Luis Sardinas, also spent time in Double-A and while blocked by Elvis Andrus at shortstop, has a similar ceiling as the all-star shortstop.
The lone college players on our list are Alex Gonzalez and newly acquired Michael Choice. Gonzalez had an outstanding college career at Oral Roberts and has the polish and maturity to move quickly through the system. Choice has plus raw power and is ready to contribute in the Big Leagues.
Finally, the list is stacked with members of the uber talented 2013 Hickory Crawdads team. The team might have had the highest concentration of raw power ever assembled on a Low-A team. However, with the power came the strikeouts with Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara all ranking in the Top 10 in the league for strikeouts. Between Gallo, Brinson, Mazara, Ronald Guzman, and Nick Williams, one or more will emerge as a legitimate major league talent. While I ranked Nick Williams as the top talent in the group, the list could easily flip next year.
Finally, one of my favorite prospects is now on the Rangers – Chris Bostick. While the Rangers clearly don’t need another middle infield talent to clog up the system, they have one in Bostick and he could be a good one.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
While Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia combined for 30 home runs in 2013, they also hit .207 with a .252 OBP and walked 38 times 637 at-bats. They also threw out a combined 26% of would be base runners. Clearly the Rangers need to do better behind the dish.
While he’s only had 13 plate appearances above Low-A, Jorge Alfaro could very well be the long-term answer at catcher in Texas.
Alfaro is a premium athlete with tremendous raw power, speed, and agility. His agility and speed can be best seen by his graceful movements behind the plate. He’s constantly moving and always in a good position to receive the ball. His arm is a 70+ on the 20-80 scouting scale throwing out 36% of would be base runners. In the SALLY League that’s outstanding as pitchers don’t concentrate on keeping runners in check.
He also has elite bat-speed, so much so, it looks like he’s swinging out of his shoes. That bat speed should help translate into plus future power; if he can only make enough contact. In 2013, it wasn’t good as he had a 70% contact rate and an 8% walk rate. While still below average, it was a slight improvement from 2012. During the Arizona Fall League he made even better contact, posting a 76% rate. Also, through the magic of a .509 BABIP, he managed to hit .386, which was second in the league.
The Rangers will likely start Alfaro in Myrtle Beach to begin 2014. Assuming he continues to impress, he could see Frisco as a 21-year-old later in the summer. While he’s raw and needs to work on making contact, all the tools are there for Alfaro to excel at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: While he’s likely still two to three years away from making his debut in Texas, Alfaro has become a must-own asset in Dynasty Leagues. He has easy 20 home run potential with a ceiling of 25-30 annually. He could also add double digit stolen bases. While he could hit .230-.240, the power and speed at a scarce position should make you forget about the drain on your batting average category.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:5-11 Weight: 170||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Up until 2013, Rougned Odor was known more for his name than as an elite prospect. However, the .305/.365/.474 slash that he produced across Myrtle Beach and Frisco gave hope that the 20-year-old Dominican could be soon knocking on the big league door.
The carrying tool of Rougned Odor is his bat. He shows premium bat speed with the ability to make hard contact to all fields. While he only had 11 home runs in 2013, his bat speed and slugging percentage point to average or even above-average future power.
While he has a nice approach at the plate, he is also very aggressive – walking only 35 times. However, as with many young players who have great bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball, why change things? Everything is working and until they stop, there is no reason for the Rangers to have him alter his approach. Is that short sighted? Perhaps, but that’s the way things are done.
Odor should start the 2014 season back in Double-A. At 20-years-old, he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league; and perhaps even the youngest. While his future is bright, the big question is when will he get his chance in Texas? Elvis Andrus is locked in at shortstop and last year’s number one overall prospect, Jurickson Profar appears to be locked in at second.
As the old saying goes, “things have a tendency to work themselves out”. Injuries could provide the opportunity, or more likely, a trade will free up an opportunity as Kinsler’s trade to the Tigers did for Profar. Whatever happens, Odor’s a major leaguer with a ceiling of a Role 6 contributor with the capacity of making multiple all-star appearances.
Fantasy Impact: Many fantasy players will pass on Odor given his lack of name recognition and current lack of a path to playing time in Texas. There is power and speed here with the chance for 20/20+ with a .280 average. Invest!
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 150||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Luis Sardinas is one of the more underrated prospects in the game today. He’s had two things going against him since being signed out of the Venezuela in 2009. The first has been injuries. He missed part of 2010 with a broken finger and most of 2011 with a dislocated shoulder. The second has been Jurickson Profar. Signed in the same year, many believed Sardinas had the better tools. However, Profar stayed healthier and blew through the minor leagues, making his professional debut as a 19-year-old. The public clearly knows the name Jurickson Profar, but Luis Sardinas remains in the shadows.
While Profar comparisons will likely always be there, they are in fact very different players. Sardinas is more of a quick twitch athlete with plus defensive skills across the board. He also has a plus run-tool but given his slight build, has yet to develop any power. The bat speed is there but the body type just doesn’t support it. In fact, Sardinas is more of an Elvis Andrus type player and in the long run, Andrus might be his competition for playing time.
Sardinas should start the 2014 season back in Double-A and will likely remain there for the full season. There is a chance, and many believe a good chance, that he will not be a member of the Texas Rangers system beyond 2014. With Andrus signed to a long-term contract and Profar just starting his major league career, there just isn’t room at the inn. However, Sardinas is a good player with a ceiling of a first division starter and remember, he’ll only be 20-years-old to start the season.
Fantasy Impact: As the capsule discusses, Sardinas has been a forgotten player in the prospect landscape. However, he’s an elite prospect that could have an upside as an everyday shortstop with the ability to steal 30+ bases. He’ll provide little power but for cheap speed and a decent batter average, he’ll do just fine.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
The Rangers used their 2013 first round draft pick on Oral Robert’s right-handed hurler Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. It was a departure in strategy for the Rangers as they usually pick high risk/high reward raw high school talent in the first round of the draft. In fact, Gonzalez was the first college player taken in the first round by the Rangers since Justin Smoak in 2008.
Gonzalez has a combination of a quality arsenal, polish, and solid pitching mechanics to give him a ceiling of a number 2/3 starter. The arsenal consists of both a two-seam and four-seam fastball that both can touch the mid-90’s. He throws the two-seam more frequently and despite being only 6-foot-2, he gets a lot of sink on the pitch. In fact, his 5.82 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio shows the kind of ground ball machine he could become.
He also throws two types of sliders; a tight hard slider, probably more of a cutter, and a more traditional slider that sits 84-86 MPH. Both are at least above average pitches. He also throws a change-up and while it lacks the polish and quality of his other pitches, it does show promise of being at least an average pitch in the future.
The pitching mechanics are very simple and clean. He has very good balance and posture with decent momentum to the plate. Nothing plus, but solid average across the board.
The Rangers will likely put Gonzalez on an aggressive path to the majors. In fact, they promoted him to High-A during his first exposure to professional baseball in 2013 where he held his own in 19 innings of work. I expect Gonzalez to return to Myrtle Beach to start the 2014 season with a chance to see Frisco by the end of the summer.
Fantasy Impact: Gonzalez is in the running to make the back-end of our Top 100 Prospect List. He has talent and should move quickly through the Rangers organization. While there have been whispers of him eventually moving to the pen, I think he stays a starter. His upside is 7-8 strikeouts per inning, a 3.50 ERA or less, but a slightly elevated WHIP given his ground ball tendencies.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016-17|
The Hickory Crawdads were stacked with a who’s who in young high-end prospects, but it was 19 year-old Nick Williams who showed the most overall promise.
Drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, Williams is a toolshed of talent. He has excellent bat speed, is a plus runner with plus defensive skills and has very good bat to ball skills. Yes, he’s an aggressive free swinger who only made 71% contact and walked just a little over twice a month, but the total package is impressive.
It’s the ability to make hard contact that has me the most excited. Despite the 110 strikeouts, his ability to change his swing plane on the fly is indeed impressive. He also can handle breaking pitches and even shortens up his swing when he has two strikes. I’m actually more worried about his overly aggressive approach. He just doesn’t take pitches. He’s up there hacking and given his advanced ability to make contact, is encouraged that he can hit anything. As he faces more advanced pitching in the upper minors, this could become a problem.
Williams should find his way to Myrtle Beach to start the 2014 season. I expect him to stay there for the entire season as the Rangers will likely keep the core of their Crawdads team together. He has the ceiling of a first division starter with the floor of an extra bat.
Fantasy Impact: The Rangers are stacked with Nick Williams type of high risk/high reward talent in their system. Somebody will rise to the top in the next year or two. Given his ability to barrel the ball, I like Williams the best at the moment. However, it’s by no means a sure thing. It could just as easily be Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, or Nomar Mazara who break out. My advice is to pick one of the young studs for your team, cross your fingers and hope you picked the right one.
|2014 Age: 24||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 215||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013|
Buoyed by the premium hitting environment of many of the Pacific Coast League parks, Michael Choice took a statistical step up in 2013. He improved his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging while also improving his contact and walk rate. It was indeed a very good year. As a reward, the Oakland Athletics traded him…
Why? While we’ll likely never know the real reason, I ultimately believe his ceiling is a second division starter. While he does have some pop in his bat, the swing is long and despite having excellent bat speed, he can be beat on premium inside velocity. In fact, I’m not a fan of the swing at all and believe that his 30 home runs he hit in the California League will likely not be repeated again.
Secondly, he’s not a center fielder and will likely have to play a corner outfield position once promoted to the big leagues. With 20 home runs and a .270 batting average ceiling, he just doesn’t have the profile of a first division starter. Texas could help his power production but I’m not sure he gets much of chance in 2014 to play.
Fantasy Impact: As the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Michael Choice is owned in nearly every Dynasty League. If you are one of those owners, I’d be moving him. His fantasy ceiling is a number five outfielder.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Luke Jackson had an impressive step-up year in 2013 as he posted a 2.04 ERA in 128 innings across High-A and Double-A. In fact, he really excelled upon his arrival in Frisco, giving up 13 lonely hits in 21 innings and striking out 30.
Jackson has a big arm that can produce plus velocity. His fastball sits 93-95 MPH and can touch higher. Because of an extended stride in his delivery, his fastball really jumps up on hitters. The sustained velocity combined with movement gives it a plus-plus grade.
His secondary pitches consist of an above average but inconsistent curve ball and a solid above-average change-up. The change-up in particular is impressive as it shows a lot of deception and fade. It really gave right-handed batters problems as they batted a collectively .206 against him.
With three quality pitches, there must be a catch or Jackson would be ranked higher. The catch is in his delivery. The arm is indeed quick and that coupled with his extended stride is causing him to lose balance fairly consistently. The loss of balance is causing his arm slot to wiggle and the result is he’s walking over four per nine. Additionally, he doesn’t keep the ball down in the zone and while his home run rate was ok, he could be homer prone in the future.
Jackson should start 2014 back in Double-A and could see a spot start in Texas during 2014. However, a more likely path would be for him to make his big league debut in 2015.
Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Luke Jackson and I would be adding him in all deeper Dynasty Leagues. His ceiling is a number three with the ability to strikeout a batter an inning. His ratios could be higher than league average given his inability to control his arsenal, but that could improve over time.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:5-11 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Chris Bostick had an outstanding 2013 season posting an impressive .282/.354/.452 slash line in the Midwest League. As a reward, the A’s traded the 5-foot-11 second baseman to the Rangers as part of the package that brought Craig Gentry and Josh Linblom to the Bay area. He now finds himself low-man on the depth chart of second baseman for the Rangers.
I’m not too worried as things have a tendency to work themselves out, particular when the player in question is just entering High-A. Plus, Bostick has tremendous offensive upside. He has premium bat speed with the chance for future above average power, has above-average running speed, and plays second base very well. Both the power and speed showed up in Beloit as he hit 14 home runs and stole 25 bases. His contact rate could improve but I like the swing and approach and believe that his upside is a .260-.280 batting average.
Bostick should start 2014 in Myrtle Beach as a 21-year-old and could put pressure on the organization for a mid-season promotion to Double-A.
Fantasy Impact: I’m higher than most on Bostick and believe he has 20/20 potential at a middle infield position. While my outlook on him could be seen as aggressive, he’s exactly the type of player you want to roster on your Dynasty League – high upside and low risk because nobody is thinking about him as a fantasy asset. That’s the definition of a sleeper.
9. Lewis Brinson (OF)
Nobody in the industry was higher on Lewis Brinson than me in 2013. In fact I stuffed him to the tune of number 86 on my 2013 list of Top Prospects. I was infatuated by the uber-tools but also thought he would hit based on some adjustments I had seen with his swing. However, 191 strikeouts in Low-A later and it looks like the teenager from Florida needs to make even more adjustments.
The tools are evident as he slugged 21 home runs, stole 24 bases, and played a plus center field. However, the strikeouts are scary, particularly for Low-A. While the swing is long, his bigger problem is swinging over breaking pitches. In short, they are eating him up. It will only get worse as he moves up the ladder and faces better pitching. Brinson desperately needs to repeat Low-A and hopefully through repetition and tweaks to his approach will get him on a better path. Otherwise, the impact tools that he possesses will be left in the dugout. He’ll have the role of a late inning defensive replacement and occasional base stealer; otherwise known as a fifth outfielder.
10. Nomar Mazara (OF)
With the changes made in the 2012 CBA to International draft rules, Nomar Mazara’s $4.95 million dollar signing bonus will likely stay at the top of the record books for years. While there’s still a lot of dreaming needed with the 6-foot-4 Dominican, the raw power is real and his approach at the plate should allow him to tap into that power. That said, the slash line of .236/.310/.382 was not impressive but then again, he played the entire season as an 18-year-old.
While he’s a long way from Texas, Mazara has the ceiling of a first division starter.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Ronald Guzman (1B)
The Rangers system is very deep with many risk/high reward players scattered throughout the organization. In fact, the Hickory Crawdads was oozing with said talent and while we’ve mentioned many already, we can’t forget about Ronald Guzman. Guzman was the bookend to Nomar Mazara in the 2011 J2 International signing period by the Rangers. While Mazara cost $4.25 million dollars to sign, Guzman was a bargain at a mere $3.45 million dollars.
Tall and muscular at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Guzman has plus raw power, although it has yet to translate into game power. His length will always cause him to struggle to make consistent contact but there is future plus in-game power. That said, he does have better bat-to-ball skills than both Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson and could ultimately be a more productive big leaguer.
Joey Gallo (3B)
The most impressive batting practice I had ever seen was in 2006, when a young chiseled Justin Morneau launched bomb after bomb in old Yankees stadium. I counted six upper deckers to right field – in a row.
Then I saw Joey Gallo in 2013. It was in a word – AWESOME…no, REDICULOUS…no, AWE INSPIRING. Wait, is that two words? Regardless, it was mammoth shot after mammoth shot that were done through a combination of premium bat speed and tremendous raw power. As with Morneau, they were primarily pulled to right field but were FARTHER and LOUDER.
Game time came and Gallo went 0-4 with three strikeouts on 13 pitches and hit a deep drive to center field for the fourth out. It’s the paradox known as Joey Gallo. There is no denying that he has massive raw power but he also struck out 172 times in 411 at-bats, or a 58.2% contact rate. As with Lewis Brinson, players who strike out at this rate in Low-A rarely make it the majors. Could Gallo buck the trend? Possibly, but candidly, he’s more likely an up and down player for his career.
From a fantasy standpoint, the best case scenario is a Russell Branyan type of player. For those too young to remember, Branyan played 14 years in Major League baseball and hit 194 home runs with a 62% contact rate over his career. After a couple of productive years, he was primarily a part time player until he arrived in Seattle as a 33-year-old. He exploded and hit 31 bombs. I remember distinctly talking about him and questioning…can this really be? It was. That could be Gallo.
Would that be a bad career? Not in the least…Branyan played 14 years and earned over $7 million dollars. That could easily translate into $30 million dollars for Gallo in today’s inflated baseball financial environment. I’d take that, just not on my fantasy team.