|Original Published Date: January 16, 2018|
The Rangers minor league system has taken a significant step forward over the past 12 months. They’ve not only added depth through trades but have also had a solid development year.
Leody Taveras and Willie Calhoun lead the list with both having impact offensive potential. While Taveras is still a few years away, Calhoun could help the Rangers as soon as next year. He’s a hitter first and a fielder third, so that will ultimately be the challenge. Ronald Guzman, a fixture on the Rangers Top 10 list could finally find his way to the big leagues next season. He’s nearly ready and while the big power has yet to show, I think it will and it could be enough to cause the Rangers to rethink the Joey Gallo experiment.
Cole Ragans and Yohander Mendez are the top two pitchers in the organization with Mendez likely getting some significant time in Texas next season. Hans Crouse, the Rangers second-round pick last season looks and smells like a reliever and if the Rangers decide to go in that direction, he could move through the system very quickly.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 OF
It’s easy to get disappointing when you see a slash line of .249/.312/.360 from a kid who ranked number 60 on our Top 100 list last season. That kid, of course, is Leody Taveras and guess what…he’ll likely rank higher next season.
I’ve seen Taveras play and I’m a believer. He’s fast, has great bat speed and a feel for hitting. He also played the entire season at 18, the fourth youngest full-time player in the league. Plus, if you dig into his year, it wasn’t as bad as his .249 batting average might indicate. He controlled the strike zone quite well, striking out 16% of the time while posting an 8% walk rate. The biggest contributor to his low batting average was his .289 BABIP. Given his speed and how hard he hits the ball, a BABIP 20 to 30 points higher will likely be the norm and that should drive a .275 to .280 batting average.
Scouting Report: Taveras’ scouting report contains a lot of plus grades. It starts with a great looking swing that is short to the ball. He has enough bat speed that when combined with his physicality, should allow him to hit for future plus power. Again, it’s future power as the swing currently lacks loft.
He’s also a plus runner but still needs work on his base running skills. However, with instruction, 25 to 30 stolen bases are definitely in the cards. He also has the speed and arm to play any outfield position.
Fantasy Impact: Taveras is the perfect buy-low candidate. Stress to other owners his .249 batting average and try to get him on the cheap. There’s just a ton to like about the kid with the upside of an impact fantasy contributor.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
Willie Calhoun was acquired at the deadline last season for a two month rental of Yu Darvish. In the long run, it’s a deal that will likely provide pain to the Dodgers as Calhoun can really hit and of course, the Dodgers failed to win the whole thing with the aforementioned Darvish losing Game seven of the World Series in magnificent fashion.
After another encouraging minor league season where he hit .300 with 30 home runs in Triple-A, the Rangers gave him a taste of the major leagues where he held his own in 13 games. He hit .265 with a home run. He’ll likely start 2018 back in Triple-A to save some service time, but he should see Texas sometime by June.
Scouting Report: There’s just a lot to like with Calhoun. He has a short compact swing with extremely strong hands that helps him generate plus power. He controls the strike zone well which is proven by his excellent strikeout and walk rates. He doesn’t have much speed so stolen bases will not be part of the equation.
He’s just an average defender with second base his likely permanent spot. He does have the offensive chops for left field and could spend some time there as well.
Fantasy Impact: Calhoun has promising fantasy potential and therefore he should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues. In fact, I would target him for redraft leagues next season. While everyone is drafting Ronald Acuna in the 10th round next season, grab Calhoun late and let me know how that goes. I’m guessing pretty well.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Rangers drafted Cole Ragans with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft as a raw athletic lefty with a ton of upside. They held him back in extended spring training to start last season but when they sent him out to the Northwest League in June, he did not disappoint.
In 13 starts (57.1 innings) he pitched to a 3.61 ERA striking out nearly 14 per nine but also walking 5.5 per nine. While his 30-grade control is clearly a problem, the Rangers had to be happy with his ability to get a ton of swing and misses while keeping the amount of hard contact to a minimum.
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 changeup.
Given his athleticism, his 30-grade control should improve. For now, he doesn’t finish his delivery off well and is therefore not repeating his mechanics. Once he figures that out, he has a chance to be a solid number three starter, if not more.
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 three years, maybe more away from seeing the majors.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara were signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 and were moving together through the minor leagues until 2016 when Mazara got the call to the majors. After back-to-back 20 homer season, Mazara is establishing himself as one of the better young players in the major leagues and Guzman is still trying to get out of the minors.
That said, Guzman is getting close. In 2017, he had a terrific season in Triple-A posting a .806 OPS with a .372 OBP. He didn’t show a ton of over-the-fence-power but did hit 22 doubles. He did improve his strikeout rate to 16% while also improving his walk rate to 9%.
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. However, we saw that change last season as he showed the ability the control the strike zone much better. Unfortunately, that better control did not translate into a spike in home runs. Given his size and strength, I think it’s a safe bet that he hits 25 plus home runs once he puts it all together.
I’ve waffled on Guzman over the years but if he can build upon his improved strike zone coverage, he still could develop into a first division performer at first.
Fantasy Impact: Assuming Guzman can continue to maintain his improved strikeout rate, I think he has a chance to hit his ceiling. That ceiling is a middle of the order bat capable of hitting .260/.340 hitter with a 25 to 30 home runs.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2021-22, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
The Rangers have never shied away from drafting or signing raw athletes. They continued that approach when they selected Bubba Thompson with the 26th overall pick in last June’s draft. Thompson was a two-sport athlete at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, staring on the gridiron as a quarterback who was recruited by several SEC colleges as well as on the diamond as an outfielder.
Because he had not focused exclusively on baseball, the Rangers started him in rookie ball where he showed off his tools but also his raw approach at the plate. In 30 games, he hit .257 with three home runs and five stolen bases but also struck out 23% of the time while only walking six times. While there’s a lot of talent in which to work with, just because a player has exceptional tools doesn’t mean he’ll make it to the big leagues. To that end, the Rangers will likely take it very slowly with Thompson.
Scouting Report: In writing this capsule I went back to the archives to see what I wrote about another Bubba, a high-school two-way star himself. Of course that Bubba, was Bubba Starling. The tools are similar. Great bat speed, above-average speed, and a plus arm. What Starling lacked was the ability to hit. It’s now been seven years since the Royals drafted him with the fourth overall pick and Starling has hit just .234 in the minors. He has yet to make his major league debut. If he makes it, it’ll likely be as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
Of course, no two players are the same, but Thompson’s tools are similar. He has great bat speed, is a plus runner (faster than Starling) but his hit tool is lacking. I talked with someone who had seen both in high school and was told that Thompson is the better prospect. While Starling seemed to be guessing most of the time at the plate and was late on breaking pitches, Thompson seems to have a better idea at the plate. It’s still raw, but according to this source, there appears to be promising.
Fantasy Impact: If you like to draft young athletes that you think can learn to hit, then Thompson is your guy. He’s definitely a player that should only be drafted in leagues where you can wait 4 to 5 years to see what happens. It’ll take that long. But the upside is a 20/20 performer and they don’t grow on trees.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
If you really like Yohander Mendez, you see a 6-foot-5 lefty with a double-plus changeup that can miss bats at any level. If you have concerns, you see an average fastball with the lack of a solid breaking pitch. It’s the dilemma with most pitchers. Few, if any do everything well. So it’s easy to pick apart their arsenal, find their flaws and then put a ceiling on the pitcher that highlights their shortcomings. It’s what we prospect hunters do.
Mendez had another solid season in Double-A. In 24 starts, he pitched to a 3.79 ERA striking out eight per nine while walking less than three per nine. He gave up 114 hits in 137.2 innings but also gave up a concerning 23 home runs.
Scouting Report: Mendez is primarily a fastball/changeup guy. His fastball sits 91 to 92 MPH as a starter (92.83 in the majors as a reliever) with a plus changeup that is his primary swing and miss pitch. His slider continues to be 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.
While he has been used as a reliever so far in the majors, the Rangers view him as a starter. He’ll likely start the year in Triple-A with a chance to see major league starts sometime in the second half.
Fantasy Impact: Mendez has lost some luster after his 2016 breakout. While I don’t see him as a top of the rotation starter, I do think he will have a long career as a starter in the major leagues. The ceiling is what he has done over the last two years. A solid ERA with a very good strikeout to walk ratio. He needs to keep the ball down better to avoid being homer prone. If he does that, he could be a solid number three starter on your fantasy team.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
In the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Rangers grabbed California high schooler, Hans Crouse. He fits the mold of the players they like to draft. Athletic with big upside but also a ton of risk. In drafting pitchers, that usually means the ceiling is a bullpen arm.
The Rangers assigned Crouse to the AZL where he had little trouble in 20.2 innings. He faced 74 batters, struck out 30 and walked only seven. That led to an impressive 0.45 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP.
Scouting Report: Crouse throws hard. His fastball will sit in the upper nineties and as he fills out, he could start to hit triple-digits. He already is showing a nasty slider and the combination could miss a ton of bats. The problem is his delivery. He doesn’t get a ton of drive out of his lower half and instead uses his upper body to generate all of his power. The result is a delivery with a lot of violence and a lot of recoil on his shoulder.
If the delivery is not smoothed out, I believe he becomes a reliever. However, the stuff is premium so it could be as a back of the bullpen arm.
Fantasy Impact: While the Rangers will start Crouse, I ultimately think he gets moved to the bullpen. With a wicked fastball/slider combination, he could become a lights-out closer in the mold of the Astros Ken Giles. Of course that delivery screams arm injury, so set your expectations appropriately.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Kyle Cody finally made it to professional ball.
He was first drafted out of high school in the 33rd round in 2012 but did not sign, electing instead to honor his commitment to the University of Kentucky. After his junior year, the Twins drafted him in the second round (pick 73), which put him in line for a $1.5 to $2.0 million dollar payday. Instead, he went back to school for his senior year and wound up signing with the Rangers in the 6th round in 2016 for a $150,000 signing bonus.
While trying to improve his draft position didn’t pan out, Cody showed the kind of stuff last season that got him drafted three times. Pitching across Low and High-A, he pitched to a 2.64 ERA striking out 9.7 per nine while walking 3.1 per nine. It should be noted that he did turn 23 last August, so he was definitely old for the league.
Scouting Report: Standing 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, there isn’t any physical projection remaining with Cody. He’s already a big dude. The good news is he has quality stuff with a fastball that sits 93 to 94 and will bump 95. He has two offspeed pitches (curve and changeup) that grade out as average to above-average pitches. He obviously gets great plane on his pitches and in combination with the ability to fill up the strike zone, his arsenal plays up a grade.
All said, he likely has a ceiling of a number four starter in the major leagues. His size and ability to throw strikes do give him a higher floor than most pitchers; meaning I think he’s a major league starter at a minimum.
Fantasy Impact: Cody should spend next season splitting time between High and Double-A which should put him on a path to hit the major leagues in late 2019 or at worse, 2020. He has the ceiling of a number four to five starter on a fantasy team with the ability to strikeout eight per nine with slightly better than league-average ratios.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
The Rangers had two first-round picks last June and went high-schooler/high-schooler. They selected Bubba Thompson with the 26th pick and followed that up with Chris Seise with the second. While Thompson is tooled up, Seise is the better current ballplayer with some pretty good tools to boot.
He showed those tools in 27 games in the Arizona League where he posted a .904 OPS with three home runs and five stolen bases. The performance earned him a promotion to the Northwest League where things did not go as well. He was overmatched at the plate, striking out a ton and showing a lot of aggressiveness.
Scouting Report: While the performance was mixed last season for Seise, the scouting report is intriguing. He has plus speed with a swing that should allow him to hit at the highest level. He lacks current strength but has the body to add good weight that should, in turn, allow him to develop future power.
I know, that’s a lot of if’s and but’s. However, that is what prospect following is all about. Teams draft talent and then let the development process take over.
Fantasy Impact: Since I like to add players who can hit to my minor league rosters, I continue to be intrigued by Seise. While he’s three or more years away, he’s definitely I will be monitoring.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
When Jonathan Lucroy was traded from the Rangers to the Rockies at the trade deadline last season, the deal simply said. Lucroy for a PTBNL. People speculated on a lot of players, mostly well-known prospects. When the name Pedro Gonzalez was revealed as the “Player to be Named Later” on August 23rd, most people just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. But I didn’t.
I first heard about Gonzalez when the Rockies paid him a handsome $1.3 million dollars in 2015. When doing the Rockies list last year, he was in the discussion for my 2017 Emerging Prospect as I had reports that the raw power was impressive with the standard caveat – provided his hit tool develops enough for him to get to it.
Scouting Report: Gonzalez carrying tool is his plus raw power that is primarily showing up in batting practice. He did manage to hit three before the trade as well as posting a .519 SLG. He struck out way too much but did show a decent understanding of the strike zone. At 6-foot-5 though, there’s naturally going to be a lot of swing-and-miss just given his wingspan.
He currently is an above-average runner but as he continues to fill out, the speed will likely erode as will his ability to play center field. However, he has a strong enough arm to eventually profile in right field.
Fantasy Impact: While he’s raw and a long way off, Gonzalez is an intriguing prospect for owners in deeper leagues to consider. As I say all the time, owners in leagues that roster 20 minor leagues should always roster 2 or 3 prospects who have big upside but are a long way off. Gonzalez fits that profile perfectly.
2018 Emerging Prospect
The Rangers spent $800,000 to sign David Garcia during the 2016 J2 signing period. He’s athletic with a good feel for hitting and enough bat speed to eventually profile with above-average power. He’s also a switch hitter that should help as he works his way through the system. He’s improving behind the plate and should eventually profile as at least an average defender.