|Original Published Date: January 16, 2015|
It was a disappointing year for the Texas Rangers as injuries besieged the big league club that resulted in a 95 loss season. The club had to rush young players to Dallas in order to just field a team. Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas were two of the rookies who got their chance and despite their lack of experience, held their own.
There’s still more bullets left in the minor league chamber as the Rangers have a number of impact players who are moving through the system quickly. At the top-of-the-list is Joey Gallo and his 80-grade raw power. While there is scary swing-and-miss in his game, the floor might be 30 home runs annually. While Jorge Alfaro doesn’t have the same power upside, he could hit 25 plus home runs and is on a similar time projection as Gallo.
Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson, and Nick Williams were teammates in Hickory in 2013 and all three are working their way through the system. Mazara could be the closet to the majors but I’m still partial to Lewis Brinson and his crazy raw tools. If he can maintain a 70% contact rate, he has a chance to be an impact player at the highest level.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
So which Joey Gallo should we believe in? The one that showed the world that he could shorten up his swing and still show 80 grade power and become one of the best prospects in the game; or the one after his promotion to Double-A, fell back to Joey Gallo of 2013 and posted a 39.5% strikeout rate?
It’s a tough question to answer but one thing is for certain, Joey Gallo could have the best raw power since Giancarlo Michael Stanton turned pro and slugged 39 home runs in the Sally League in 2008. As with Gallo, he struck out a lot, 28% of the time in 2008. He even struck out 27% of the time in his near-MVP season last year. That said, it’s a far cry from the 39.5% strikeout rate Gallo posted in the Texas League. However, if he can duplicate the half season he showed in High-A, he’s perennial MVP candidate.
What is more likely is that Gallo will post a slash line of .220/.330/.550 with 40 bombs. That’s a 3.0 to 4.0 offensive WAR per year player or a $20 fantasy player. In other words, that’s Adam Dunn in his prime. Given how hard he hits the ball, it’s conceivable he could have some .260/.380/.550 BABIP induced years and assemble plenty of MVP votes in the process.
At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Gallo is a better athlete than you might think. He has good footwork and a plus arm and while he’ll likely never push Adrian Beltre off third, he could be an adequate defender at the hot corner or even an above-average right fielder.
Gallo is clearly one of the more exciting and intriguing players in the minor leagues. The raw power is crazy and the legends of his moon shots in both batting practice and minor league games were brought to the big stage when he smashed a window of a pickup truck in batting practice at the Futures Game.
Fantasy Impact: Power is at a premium and that alone makes Gallo a top 25 prospect in the game. If you play in an OPB league, his value even ticks up further as he has a chance to post a 12-15% walk rate. Plus, you play fantasy to enhance your enjoyment of the game of baseball. What’s better than watching a guy crush 450 to 500 foot bombs and know he’s on your team. Throw in that he’ll play half his games in Texas and 50 home runs are possible.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
While Joey Gallo has taken over the top spot in the Rangers organization with a vengeance, Jorge Alfaro has the upside to lay partial claim to the title.
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 to 80 scouting scale. This combined with good footwork enabled him throw out 28% of would be base runners last season.
He also has elite bat-speed and loves to show it off by swinging at everything. In 536 plate appearances across High and Double-A, he walked 29 times; that’s about once a week. He did cut down on the strikeouts by improving his contact rate from 70% in 2013 to 75% in 2014. However, the hit profile is still very much a question mark.
The Rangers should continue to push Alfaro hard with a chance to see Triple-A in 2015 as a 22-year-old. With a weak catching core at the major leagues, Alfaro should push for playing time in 2016.
Fantasy Impact: Rostering catchers in a Dynasty League is only advisable in two-catcher formats. However, there are certain catchers in which you make exceptions. I think Alfaro is one of them. He has the upside to hit 20 plus home runs and has the defensive chops to demand playing time. While I’m concerned about his on-base skills, I’m going to bet that as he ages, his aggressiveness will correct.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016|
After repeating Low-A to begin the 2014 season, the Rangers were impressed enough with 19-year-old Nomar Mazara to skip him over High-A and send him to the Texas League in the second half.
Mazara holds the honor of receiving the highest international amateur signing bonus of $4.95 million dollars and given the rule changes made at the last collective bargaining agreement, it’s likely to stick for a long time. Mazara’s carrying tool is plus raw power that is starting to turn into in-game power as was evident by his 22 home runs in 2014. While he did cut down on his swing and miss, given his size and length to his swing, there’s likely to always be strikeouts. However, if he can keep his contract rate above 70%, he should be able to get to his plus power.
Mazara is a below average runner but has enough athleticism to stay in the outfield. His plus arm allows him to profile as a power hitting right fielder at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: There’s still a ton of risk with Mazara as he only has 85 at-bats in the upper-minors. However, he’s still extremely young, turning 20 years-old in April. With the growth he showed last year, 20 home runs and a .260 batting average is a reasonable future projection. By playing half of his games in Texas, there will be upside on the home run total. Given his age, I would expect him to spend the entire season in Frisco with a chance to see Texas in 2016.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Acquired along with Corey Knebel in the trade deadline deal for Joakim Soria, Jake Thompson had a nice step-up year where he struck out 8.6 per nine while showing excellent control of all of his pitches.
Drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Tigers, Thompson has a three pitch mix that starts with a fastball that sits 89-92 MPH. He throws both a four and two-seam fastball with the two-seam being the far better of the two pitches. He’s able to use his 6-foot-4, 235 pound frame to the fullest, which in-turn enhances his sinker even more. However, his four-seamer is relatively straight and can be hit hard given the lack of velocity and movement.
Thompson’s best pitch is a tight slider with excellent two-plane movement. He’s able to miss barrels against both arm and glove-side batters alike. His changeup is still developing but should eventually grade out as an average pitch.
Thompson can throw his entire arsenal for strikes. However, he will catch too much of the plate with his fastball and become hittable. His 8.2 hit-per-nine-rate is not awful but will likely move north as he faces better competition.
Fantasy Impact: Thompson has the body and arsenal of a mid-rotation workhorse. He should be able to post league-average ratios with seven to eight strikeouts per nine. That should make him a number four to five fantasy starter. While he’s not a must-own in a fantasy league, he should be rostered in all leagues that have 150 to 200 minor league players.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 170||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Lewis Brinson has crazy tools. He’s a 70 runner, has plus bat speed that should eventually translate to above-average if not more power, and is a gold-glove caliber defender in centerfield. However, after striking out 38% of the time in Low-A in 2013, questions surfaced as to whether Brinson would ever hit enough to allow his tools to play. To put an exclamation on the point, Brinson struck out at a higher rate than Joey Gallo did.
Brinson, who seemed to be constantly tinkering with his batting stance in 2013, was more relaxed at the plate in 2014. As a result, he reduced his strikeout rate to 25.1% in repeating Low-A and once promoted to Myrtle Beach, maintained the ratio. While he’ll likely never develop a plus hit-tool, if he can maintain a 70% contact rate with close to a 10% walk rate, it should allow his tools to play at the highest level. In fact, with some BABIP help, he could even have some years where he posts a .270 batting average with a .330 OBP.
The Rangers will likely start Brinson back in Myrtle Beach and continue to take things slowly. He’s still very young and will not turn 21 until May. If he continues to show consistent contactability, the Rangers will likely challenge him to the Texas League in the second half.
Fantasy Impact: Besides Gallo, nobody in the Rangers organization has the fantasy upside of Brinson. There is 20 HR/20 SB potential with more in the power department as he matures and fills out. His plus defensive profile will give him playing time, but his ability to make contact will determine whether he’s a starting centerfielder in the big leagues or a fourth outfielder. I’m betting the over.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
The Rangers selected Alex Gonzalez out of Oral Roberts in the 2013 first year player draft and hoped he would move through the system quickly. After logging 73.1 effective innings in Frisco of the Texas League in his first full professional season, it looks like the Rangers were correct in their evaluation at the draft table.
Gonzalez has a combination of a quality arsenal, polish, and solid pitching mechanics to give him a ceiling of a number three 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 2.88 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio he posted in Double-A 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. The mechanics and the ability to throw strikes allow his solid-average arsenal to play up a grade.
Fantasy Impact: Gonzalez is a Top 150 prospect but given his closeness to the majors, is a pitcher that needs to be considered for most Dynasty Leagues. Playing half his games in Arlington is not a positive, but his ability to induce ground balls should help neutralize the difficult pitching environment in Texas. Once fully acclimated to the big leagues, Gonzalez should post seven plus strikeouts per nine with better than league-average ratios.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: Solid Reg
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Ryan Cordell was an 11th round pick out of Liberty University in 2013 and made major strides in establishing himself as top prospect this past year.
At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Cordell passes the eye test. While he’s physically long, his swing is short and compact and therefore he makes very good contact (81%). He also has a very good approach at the plate, posting a 9% walk rate across Low and High-A.
With his compact swing and the ability to generate bat speed, Cordell has future above average power. His 13 home runs and .530 slugging gives a hint as to what the Rangers can dream on down the road. While he’s not a burner, he has enough foot speed that he combines with excellent instincts on the basepaths to be a threat to steal 20 bases annually.
If you’re keeping count, the ceiling is a 20 HR/20 SB player with the ability to hit .280 with a .350 OBP. He’s a big leaguer for sure and someone that should start to get some helium as the 2015 season progresses.
Fantasy Impact: There is fantasy impact lurking with Ryan Cordell and a smart owner should start to consider him as a flier on teams that roster 150 minor leaguers. While he wasn’t highly touted coming out of college, he can hit and has the physical tools to hit for power. The speed is nice added bonus.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: Solid Reg
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2015-16|
On the stacked 2013 Hickory Crawdads team, it was Nick Williams who bolted ahead of his more highly touted outfield running mates of Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson. It’s the raw hitting ability that has the industry the most excited.
While the hitting ability is there, the approach is not as Williams swings at everything. In 486 plate appearance in 2014, he walked 22 times. That’s basically once a week and no matter how good your hands are, that will not play and will limit his ability to achieve his first division ceiling.
Williams does have good bat speed but his swing is more line drive oriented. That said, I did see Williams hit a home run in the Fall League, but it was not a “majestic bomb” but more of a line drive that cleared the fence. However, with his bat speed, 12 to 15 future home runs seem like a reasonable baseline. He’s also an above-average runner and should be able to steal 15 to 20 stolen bases once he arrives in Texas.
The Rangers will likely start Williams back in Double-A to begin the 2015 season with a chance to see the PCL later in the summer. Assuming he can cut down on the strikeouts and improve his plate patience, he could make his big league debut later in the 2016 season.
Fantasy Impact: Williams has a chance to be a solid fantasy contributor but will likely fall short of providing impact fantasy value. While there is 20 HR/20 SB potential, I would tap down both totals. The batting average will be heavily influenced by his BABIP and if you’re in an OBP League, you might want to look elsewhere as a sub-300 on-base percentage could easily be in the cards.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
With their first pick in the 2014 first year player draft, the Rangers drafted 6-foot-3, 230 pound right-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz. At 18-years-old, Ortiz is already a big boy and therefore lacks the physical projection you typically see in a high school pitcher. Then again, he can already hit 96 MPH on his fastball, so perhaps physical projection is not all that important in his case.
The Rangers have to be happy with what Ortiz showed in his first taste of professional ball. In 20.1 innings, including a start in Low-A, he struck out 19 while walking four. While the mechanics are clean, they are far from smooth. This will likely improve over time and there’s a chance that Ortiz could also see a tick-up in his velocity as he cleans up the delivery.
Besides his fastball that sits 92-94 MPH, Ortiz also throws a slider that has a sharp two-plane break and can already miss barrels. Despite his less than perfect mechanics, he repeats his delivery well and throws plenty of strikes.
The Rangers will likely start Ortiz in Hickory to begin the 2015 season. While he’s at least three years away from seeing Dallas, he has a solid mid-rotation ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: While there’s a lot to like with Ortiz, he’s a long way from seeing the major leagues. Candidly, pitchers like Ortiz despite the upside, should be avoided in all but deep Dynasty Leagues; those that roster at least 300 players. There’s just not enough upside to warrant the wait that fantasy owners will have to endure before Ortiz sees the major leagues.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #5 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Luke Jackson had an extremely inconsistent year in 2014. After dominating the Texas League over 15 starts, he completely imploded in 10 starts in the Pacific Coast League. While the PCL’s many challenging pitching environments can create regression with the game’s best pitching prospects, his struggles also highlight the lack of plus control.
When Jackson is on, his fastball/curveball combination can miss bats. His career 9.55 strikeout-per-nine illustrates the point well. However, more time than not, he loses his release point and the results are not good. This is what happened in 11 games in the PCL where he averaged four innings per start, posted a 10.35 ERA with a 6.30 walk-per-nine rate.
Despite the struggles, Jackson is nearly big league ready and will likely see Texas in 2014. If he can smooth out his mechanics, he has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. More likely, he’s a swing man or a bullpen arm.
Fantasy Impact: Jackson has a good arm but currently lacks the mechanics to be rostered in most fantasy leagues. The fact that he’s nearly big league ready adds some value, but he should only be rostered in Dynasty Leagues that have 300 or more minor league players.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
If you’re looking for someone to dream on, then Travis Demeritte is your guy. As a teenager in Low-A Hickory, Demeritte slugged .450 and hit 25 home runs. The problem is he hit .211 and had a 37% strikeout rate. As with Gallo before him, he chases too many pitches out of the zone. One comp that I got on Demeritte was Dan Uggla. I know what you’re thinking, but also remember that Uggla won rookie of the year and was a productive player for several years before the sharp and unforgiving regression hit.