|Original Published Date: January 17, 2017|
The Texas Rangers system is always challenging for me to write. It’s comprised of high-risk, high reward prospects, many of them are young Latin players without much of a track record. For every Rougned Odor, there are dozens of players who have never made it out of Double-A, or if they have, are not yet consistent major leaguers. Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, and Jorge Alfaro come to mind. They all might become stars one day as the talent is clearly there, but they all, for one reason or another have not. Plus, name the last pitcher the Rangers have developed?
What they have been successful at doing is trading their young talent for proven veterans. Perhaps that is their real philosophy…entice other teams with the same crazy tools they see to bring in veteran help. It got them Cole Hamels and Jonathan Lucroy.
Once again, the system has a number of high risk/high reward talent. Leody Taveras and Yohander Mendez head the list with Mendez already seeing time in the big leagues. Ronald Guzman is anxious to join his running mate, Nomar Mazara in Texas but needs to improve his hit tool to make it happen. The list goes on and on from there with players with high-end tools but lacking in something, usually a hit-tool or control to give them any level of certainty of making it in the show.
All in all, I’m not a fan of the system. While there is talent, history will tell us that they will either be traded or never make it out of Double-A. That said, the Rangers continue to win, so I guess it’s a strategy that works.
Yohander Mendez (LHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Yohander Mendez was signed in 2011 out of Venezuela as a projectable 16-year-old that the Rangers believed would grow into a potential front-of-the-rotation lefty. What’s funny is that each year, every team signs a scrawny 16-year-old Latin player, in fact multiple ones with the same hopes and dreams, just to have them flame out before making it to Double-A. So you can argue that Mendez is the exception. In September, he made his major league debut as a 21-year-old.
I’ll admit, I missed the breakout. Mendez pitched only 66 innings in Low-A in 2015, but he showed tremendous promise posting a 2.44 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I saw it but ignored it, wanting to see more. Then 2016 hit. He tore through three levels, including 31.1 innings in the Pacific Coast League where he posted a 0.57 ERA. By the time I woke up, my readers and Twitter followers were asking me about who he was and I honestly had nothing. I hate it when that happens but it does. So, who is Yohader Mendez and is he as good as he showed last year.
Scouting Report: In a word, Mendez is pretty good. The key to his breakout was just growth…he transformed from a skinny 6-foot-5 teenager to add about 40 pounds of weight and his stuff took a major step forward. Plus, just through pitching more, his control improved, even starting to show some fastball command. Is he a polished product? No, far from it, but he has a chance to be a number two starting pitcher in the big leagues.
Mendez is primarily a fastball/change-up guy. His fastball sits 92 to 94 MPH (93.49 in the majors) with a plus change-up that is his primary swing and miss pitch. His slider has improved greatly but is still inconsistent. His control has also taken a taken a step up and with his size and lefty delivery, there’s just a lot to like.
Fantasy Impact: Mendez will make our Top 100 list and should be owned on all Dynasty Leagues. He’ll likely start the year in Triple-A, but should see time, potentially significant time in Texas as well.
Leody Taveras (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
I owned Willy Taveras in 2008, the year he stole 68 bases in Colorado and my ownership enabled me to run away with a fantasy title. It was his career year as two years later, he was out of baseball. Taveras was fast but didn’t have the hit tool to have a long career.
When I heard the Rangers had signed his cousin, Leody Taveras in July of 2015, I got excited. Would he have Willy’s speed…is there an opportunity to jump on a guy that I’m sure nobody has heard of to win yet another fantasy championship?
In reviewing Leody, he’s not Willy. In fact, he’s a different type of player altogether, and here’s the best part…he’s much, much better.
At 17-years-old, he held his own in the AZL posting a .278 batting average with a reasonable 15.5% strikeout rate. The Rangers were so pleased that they promoted him in late July to the college-heavy Northwest League where he hit a low-BABIP laden .228 with similar contact and walk rates. While the Rangers could hold Taveras back in extended spring training to begin 2017, he showed enough to make the argument that he should start the year in Hickory of the Sally League
Scouting Report: Taveras’ scouting report contains a lot of plus grades. It starts with a great looking swing that is short to the ball with enough bat speed when combined with his physicality to have plus future power. Again, it’s future power as the swing lacks loft and he still has yet to develop man-strength. However in a few years, that will change with a chance to hit for 20 plus home run power.
He’s also a plus runner but still needs work on his base running skills. However with instruction, 20 stolen bases are definitely in the cards. He also has the speed and arm to play any outfield position.
Fantasy Impact: While Taveras is still a baby and therefore at least three years away, he’s a must add in most Dynasty League formats. Owners will have to be patient but the upside is 20/20 with even more power in the swing.
Ariel Jurado (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Ariel Juardo is yet another Latin player that the Rangers have acquired over the past five years. Signed in 2012, he’s made quick work of the minor leagues with excellent command and control. In his four years, he’s walked 57 in 309.2 innings. That equates to 1.66 walk rate which is about as good as it gets. He pairs his excellent control with the ability miss bats. He’s posted an 8.22 strikeout per nine in his career.
He turns 21-years-old at the end of January and is already pitching in Double-A. However, with only 43 innings in the Texas League, the Rangers will likely start him back in Double-A with a promotion to the PCL likely early in the season. Given his pitchability, he could even see a late season promotion to the majors.
Scouting Report: Jurado is more control and command over stuff. His fastball tops out in the low-90’s but he pitches down in the zone, making him an excellent ground ball pitcher. In fact, he posted a 2.7:1 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio last year. His primary secondary pitches are his change-up and slider. Both are good pitches but his slider doesn’t have great bite and his change-up lacks deception and fade. However, based on his strikeout rate, something is working.
Fantasy Impact: Jurado is an interesting prospect. While it’s easy to discount him as a command and control pitcher, his ability to get ground balls could give him the ceiling of a number three starter. That said, I would like to see his secondary pitches get sharper before moving his ceiling. He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or more minor leaguers.
Cole Ragans (LHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2021-22, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Rangers are not afraid to acquire young talent, whether through signing them out of Latin America or drafting them in the MLB Draft. To that end, the Rangers selected high schooler Cole Ragans in the first round (pick 30) of the 2016 MLB Draft.
He only pitched 7.2 unforgettable innings in his professional debut in Rookie Ball. The stat line wasn’t great but he did strike out nine.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Ragans looks like he walked out of central casting. Throw in that he’s a southpaw and there’s just a lot to like. His fastball sits in the low 90’s but as he puts on weight and adds strength, his fastball could easily jump up a grade and scrape the mid 90’s. He shows an ability to spin a curve as well as a feel for throwing a change-up.
The Rangers will work on his fastball command and getting him to throw all of his pitches for strikes. It’s likely that he will begin 2017 in extended spring training.
Fantasy Impact: While there’s a lot to like with Ragans, interested Dynasty League owners need to be patient if they decide to roster him. He has the upside of a number three starter, maybe more, but he’s four years, maybe more away from seeing the majors.
Ronald Guzman (1B)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara were signed together in 2011 with Mazara signing for $4.95 million dollars and Guzman for $3.45 million dollars. Early in their career, Guzman looked like the better player but he struggled mightily in Low-A, taking three years to move out of the level. While Guzman was struggling, Mazara was exploding; all the way to the major leagues where he finished sixth in rookie of the year voting last season. Were they that far apart in talent? In hind sight it appears the answer is yes. However, I’m not ready to count out Guzman just yet as the power upside is significant.
He finally started to put it together in the Texas League last season. In 102 games, he posted an .825 OPS will slugging 15 home runs. The effort earned him a promotion to Triple-A where he struggled once again in 25 games.
Scouting Report: Guzman’s carrying tool is his plus raw power. However, he’s struggled to get to it because his swing gets long and he just lacks a quality approach at the plate. The combination is leaving too many holes that quality pitching is able to take advantage. This will only get worse when he gets his opportunity at the next level. If he can improve his approach, he should be able to get to his plus power. If not, he’s probably a part time player; likely a platoon first baseman, but on the wrong side.
Fantasy Impact: Guzman’s halo continues to glow in many Dynasty League circles and I don’t get it. He’s still a prospect but with so many holes in his swing, there are a lot of problems to solve before we can use the word impact when talking about Mr. Guzman.
Andy Ibanez (2B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Andy Ibanez was signed as a Cuban émigré in 2015 for a $1.6 million dollar signing bonus. The Rangers started him off in Hickory where he clearly wasn’t challenged, slashing .324/.413/.546 in 49 games. The Rangers were so impressed with what he accomplished in Hickory that they skipped him over High-A and moved him to Frisco of the Texas League. He held his own, posting a .709 OPS while showing excellent contactability and a good understanding of the strike zone.
Scouting Report: Ibanez has a nice overall set of skills with the ability to make solid contact being his best. He controls the strike zone well with a very good understanding of balls-and-strikes. As he continues to knock the rust off, the hit tool is likely to only get better. He does have good bat speed but his swing is more geared for line drives as it lacks the loft. That said, he should be able to hit for above-average future home runs in the 12 to 18 range. He’s also an average runner and should be good for 10 to 15 stolen bases annually.
The profile is good enough to be a regular contributor at the highest level but he lacks that true plus skill to be an impact performer.
Fantasy Impact: Ibanez’s ability to hit will get him to the major leagues but his lack of plus secondary skills will limit his fantasy upside. I think he’s a 15/15 player with a .280 batting average. That’s a good player but will likely have him fall out of being a top 15 starter at second base.
Josh Morgan (2B/C)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Second Catcher
Drafted in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Josh Morgan has been working through the minor leagues quickly due to his ability to get on base. In 282 minor league games, he’s posted a .388 on base percentage to go along with a .300 batting average. He doesn’t have a ton of secondary skills, only homering 10 times and stealing 16 bases. All of his home runs came last season with seven of them coming in High Desert, one of the best hitting ballparks in all of baseball.
Scouting Report: Morgan is first and foremost a hitter. He controls the strike zone extremely well, walking nearly as much as he strikes out while posting an impressive 87% strikeout rate. His swing lacks loft so even though he has good bat speed, projecting any more than single-digit home run power would be overly aggressive. He’s also an average runner.
What makes Morgan an interesting prospect is that the Rangers want to move him to catcher and that should occur in 2017. It will slow his march to the big leagues but will add significant value to his profile. I’ve never seen him behind the plate but if it’s passable, the bat could play very well.
Fantasy Impact: As a second baseman, Morgan is a yawn in Dynasty Leagues but if he is converted to a catcher, he becomes an interesting asset in two-catcher Leagues. Because of that, he’s someone to monitor.
Eric Jenkins (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk (50 SB potential)
Erick Jenkins is the type of project that the Rangers like to take-on when acquiring players. He oozes athleticism with double-plus speed, great bat speed and excellent physical coordination. His hit-tool is super raw as he struggles to control the strike zone. In 125 games in Hickory of the Sally League, he struck out 27% of the time while only walking 7.2% of the time.
The Rangers really like this kid and believe he will hit. He should start the year in the High Desert, so if he’s going to hit, it will be there.
Scouting Report: Jenkins carrying tool is blazing 80-grade speed that shows up on the bases and in the field. He stole 51 of 66 bases last season in showing off his speed. Where he needs work is getting on first base. The swing works but he struggles recognizing spin. He expands the strike zone too much but I have reports that he improved his pitch recognition as the summer progressed. However, that is not supported by his stat line.
He also is not a slappy hitter and with an improved hit tool, could hit 8 to 12 home runs annually.
Fantasy Impact: Anybody that can steal 50 bases should be on all fantasy owner’s radar. The problem is his ability to get on first and until he demonstrates that skill, he’s should not be owned on a Dynasty League. Next year is a pivotal year and if we start to see his strike rate drop to around 20%, then it will be time to jump on him. Is it possible? Remember, he’s in the same organization that worked with Lewis Brinson.
Jario Beras (OF)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
Rangers fans as well as Dynasty League owners have been anxiously waiting for the arrival of the Rangers $4.5 million dollar investment in the uber-talented Jario Beras. He had a good season last year in High-A, slugging .511 with 22 bombs. However, it occurred in the hitter-friendly California League with half his games being played in gale-force winds blowing out in the High Desert.
The problem, as with many of the Rangers prospects is that his hit-tool is a big question. With his .511 SLG came a 27.5% strikeout rate and 24 walks – total. The minor league system has roughly 20 weeks, you do the math…it’s not good.
Scouting Report: Beras’ carrying tool is plus raw power that has started to translate. However, he needs to control the strike zone better or I don’t think he will be a full-time major leaguer. A high strikeout rate with an anemic walk rate just will not translate. The underlying problem is two-fold. One: at 6-foot-6, the swing is just long and will likely always be long. This causes enormous holes in his swing that quality pitchers can expose. Second is his pitch recognition hasn’t developed as the Rangers would have hoped. This expansion of the strike zone is the real problem in my opinion.
Does Beras make it? I think he’ll be a big leaguer. I just don’t think he will be an impact performer.
Fantasy Impact: Beras is owned in all serious Dynasty Leagues. While I get it, it might be time to check your expectations as unless Beras improves his hit-tool, I don’t see him as an impact fantasy contributor.
Alex Speas (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP with extreme risk
Guess what? The Rangers drafted another young athletic talent and paid him a ton of money. Alex Speas is that guy and was drafted in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft and was paid over a million dollars to pitch professionally.
Scouting Report: He only threw 8.1 innings in the AZL last season, but I have reports that he consistently hit the upper 90’s with his fastball. I also was told that the slider had “definite potential”. At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, he’s got the body of a starter and the Rangers will develop him that way. However, with that kind of arm speed, if it doesn’t work in the rotation, he could move the bullpen and quickly work his way to Texas.
Fantasy Impact: Speas is a true high risk/high reward prospect; then again, many of the Rangers have that profile. If he progresses like the Rangers think, he has front-of-the-rotation potential. However, with such few innings pitched in professional ball, we need see more before we can recommend him in a Dynasty League. The arm is special for sure, it’s all about his ability to learn how to pitch. Remember, the Rangers do not have a good track record of developing pitchers, so if you decide to pull the trigger on him because of his heater and slider, just know there is extreme risk.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Anderson Tejeda (SS)
Anderson Tejeda is yet another toolsy player in the Texas Rangers system. In 2016, he split time between the AZL and the Northwest League where he hit nine home runs but also had a 30% strikeout rate while walking 13 times in 56 games. He has serious bat speed and raw power but as with many players, the concern is whether he’ll hit enough to get to his plus raw power.
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