|Original Published Date: January 22, 2019|
When I get to the Rangers system, which is always the last system in which I write about, I’m tired of writing and just want this assignment to be over. Therefore, it’s never been one of my favorite systems. This year though, it was different. Perhaps I had a little more energy for whatever reason, but also, I think it’s a little more exciting. Don’t misunderstand…exciting and good are different. While I like the upside of many of the players in the system, most are years away from the Major Leagues so it’s hard to label the system “good” yet. Perhaps, a better word is encouraging.
Hans Crouse is the top-ranked pitcher in the system and while I love the stuff, there is reliever risk in his delivery. After showing plus raw power, Anderson Tejeda is now the top-ranked positional player in the system. He takes over that honor from Leody Taveras who has yet to have his breakout season. The contact is very encouraging, but he continues to beat too many pitches into the ground. Perhaps the Rangers will finally stop pushing him so hard so he can catch his breath and develop.
Further down there are some very interesting pitchers with significant upside. Cole Winn, Jonathan Hernandez, Taylor Hearn, Mason Englert, and DeMarcus Evans all have big league arms. Out of the bunch, Englert is the most intriguing but Evans could see the Majors in a bullpen role sooner than later.
1. Hans Crouse (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Closer
The Rangers drafted high school right-hander Hans Crouse in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft and after holding him back in the Complex to begin the 2018 season, he exploded on the scene in June. In 13 starts across the Northwest and Sally League, he pitched to a 2.47 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walking just over three per nine.
The stuff is premium with a fastball that he can run up to the mid to upper 90’s and a slider that has a chance to be a real weapon. His changeup is his third pitch and lags the other two. I’ve put his ceiling as a number three starter, perhaps more, but given the violence in his delivery, there’s a chance he moves to the bullpen. In fact, based on watching publicly available videos, I would think the chances are pretty high.
For now, the Rangers will keep starting him and with his slider, he’ll have success. At some point, he’ll have to develop his changeup and while his control has been very good to-date, I worry that given the violence in his delivery, that will continue.
2. Anderson Tejeda (SS)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
I strongly debated putting Anderson Tejeda at the top of this list. Not only is he likely to stay at shortstop long-term, but his premium bat speed also turned into in-game production last season. Plus, while he’s only an average runner, he did steal 11 of 15 bases and could steal double-digit bags early in his career.
The problem is he strikes out too much. Last season he struck out 27.2% of the time which was only slightly better than what he did in 2017. He’s up there looking to swing and in fact, I’m surprised he walked 9.4% of the time. But, if he learns to be more selective, he has star potential. The bat speed is truly impressive and there is 30 home run upside with low double-digit stolen bases.
3. Leody Taveras (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Leody Taveras performance is giving fans and fantasy players alike, a lot of pause. It’s hard to continue to believe in a player who has hit .247 in 1,157 plate appearance in Low and High-A with a .312 OBP and a SLG of a .346. Sure, he averaged 20 stolen bases annually, but really nothing else. So, is this guy any good or should we just start to write him off? While the frustration is real, I’m still bullish. Let me explain.
First, he’s always been one of the youngest players in each league in which he’s played. Last season, he was the fifth youngest player in the Carolina League. The Rangers have a history of aggressively moving their players through the system and sometimes that just doesn’t work. Take, Adalberto Mondesi. He was in a similar situation as Taveras and when he got to the Major Leagues, he wasn’t ready and struggled. I think we are seeing the same thing with Taveras.
Secondly, he is making good contact (16.% strikeout rate) with a reasonable walk rate. The biggest problem is he’s rolling over on too many pitches and beating balls into the ground. I believe that is correctable and if it happens, the BABIP will increase, the average will rise, and he’ll start driving balls better. But, it’s a bet and one I’m stilling willing to make.
4. Julio Pablo Martinez (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
I had a chance to see Julio Pablo Martinez during the Arizona Fall League and I can attest to one thing. He’s fast – a legitimate 70 runner who should be able to steal a lot of bases. This gives him instant value in fantasy leagues provided he can get on base enough. Based on his contact-oriented swing I think he will. It was hard in one game to evaluate his approach but based on his time in Cuba as well as the Northwest League last year, it appears that he has a patience approach without a ton of strikeouts.
What he doesn’t have is power. Again, the swing is contact-oriented, therefore, I think he’ll struggle with significant velocity. Will this make him a fourth outfielder? Perhaps, but I’m inclined to believe he’ll get full-time at-bats in the mold of Leonys Martin with a .330 to .340 OBP and 25 plus stolen bases. In fact, the stolen bases could be much more than that.
The Rangers took it easy with him last season, but his progression should accelerate with a chance to see the Major Leagues in 2020. While I don’t view him as a Top 50 prospect, he could sneak into the tail end of our 2019 Top 100 list.
5. Cole Winn (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Rangers drafted Cole Winn in the first round last June and penned him to a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus. As is their custom, they held him out of game action over the summer and could even hold him back in the Complex to begin the 2018 season.
He’s got premium stuff with a nice delivery and if it all comes together, could develop into a mid-rotation starter, or more. In fact, I debated putting him ahead of Hans Crouse. However, it was hard to ignore the season Crouse had, but for me, the upside is higher with Winn.
6. Eli White (2B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
I know that Roguned Odor has explosive tools and is only 25-years-old, but his lack of contact was exposed last year and consequently, he had a subpar year. If only the Rangers had a second baseman in the upper-level of the minor leagues with a great approach and a little bit of power and speed. Well, a small trade in December brought that player to the organization. His name is Eli White.
Granted, White is only a few months younger than Odor, but unlike Odor, he can really hit. As a member of the A’s, he led the Texas League in hits and was second with a .306 average. It did come with a .360 BABIP which is unsustainable, but he’s always had a high BABIP. He also is a plus runner and started to run more last year. What he doesn’t have a ton of is over-the-fence power. He makes solid hard contact and if he can add some leverage to the swing, he could hit double-digit home runs.
I like White a lot and while I don’t see a superstar, he could be a .280/.350 player with 10 to 12 home runs 15 to 20 stolen bases. That’s a nice player and one that might just move Odor off his position.
7. Jonathan Hernandez (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Jonathan Hernandez tightened up his delivery on his curveball to provide a consistent angle to his fastball and things started to come together. In 10 starts to begin last season in High-A, he pitched to a 2.20 ERA striking out 12 per nine while walking only 2.7 per nine. The performance earned him a mid-season promotion to Double-A where he was, well…terrible.
The swing and miss stuff were still there but so were the walks. In his first two games, he walked 11 and gave up three home runs. After a final blow-up in late July where he gave up nine earned runs in 5.2 innings, things finally improved. In fact, in four August starts he was unhittable.
With a fastball that can touch 98 MPH, a double-plus slider, Hernandez ceiling is at least a high-leverage bullpen arm. However, I think he stays a starter with a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter, perhaps a little more.
8. Bubba Thompson (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
The Rangers drafted toolsy Bubba Thompson in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft with the hope that he could assemble at least an average hit tool so that his plus speed and emerging power would play. He’s showed plenty of speed in Hickory last season stealing 32 bases but more encouraging, his great bat speed started to translate into power. In 84 games he slugged .446 with eight home runs. However, a 27% strikeout rate and a 6.5% walk rate demonstrate that the hit tool is still lagging.
If it all comes together, you’re looking at a 20-20 performer with upside on both the power and speed. If it doesn’t, then he might follow a Lewis Brinson type of development curve, which as a Brinson loyalist, is incredibly painful.
9. Taylor Hearn (LHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP or Closer
Taylor Hearn was acquired from the Pirates at the 2018 trade deadline for Ranger’s closer Keone Kela. Like Kela, Hearn has a big arm that can hit the upper nineties. Throw in that he’s left-handed and it’s easy to get excited. The problem, also like Kela is that he doesn’t always know where the ball is going. His career strikeout rate is nearly 10.5 per nine, but his walk rate is also 3.5 per nine.
The delivery is simple, but he doesn’t repeat his delivery well and that’s causing his control problems. In fact, I doubt he ever has great control. However, at 6-foot-5 and a big-time fastball with a slider that looked pretty good in the Fall League in October, the upside is a number three pitcher. That said, the delivery and lack of plus secondary pitches point him to a bullpen role and like Kela, that could be a closer.
10. Jonathan Ornelas (SS)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B/SS
Drafted in the third round last June, Jonathan Ornelas was impressive in his first exposure to professional ball. In 48 games in the AZL, he hit .302/.389 with 15 stolen bases and three home runs. He also showed an ability to control the strike zone with a 20% strikeout rate and a 12% walk rate. The scouting report is also impressive with plus raw power and while he’s not a burner, he has above-average speed. He’s currently playing shortstop, but his arm allows him to play any infield positions or possible right field.
As one of the younger players drafted last June, Ornelas will not turn 19 until late-May but given the Rangers history of pushing players, could still start the year in Hickory of the Sally League. There is sleeper potential here for fantasy owners as the upside is a 20-20 performer with a chance to hit.
11. Joe Palumbo (LHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Joe Palumbo has taken quite a journey to make this list. He was drafted in the 30th round in 2013 as a reliever and pitched ok but things started to click when the Rangers moved him to the starting rotation in 2016 only for him to have Tommy John reconstructive surgery in 2017. After surgery and a lengthy rehab, he’s back pitching and doesn’t look like he’s lost a beat.
In six starts for the Down East Wood Ducks (think East North Carolina, kind of in the middle of nowhere), he’s pitched to a 2.67 ERA while striking out 34 and walking six. Over the last two weeks of August, he got two starts in Double-A and pitched equally well. He’s doing it with a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball that is already plus. He’s still working on his change-up. There’s number three starter upside here and perhaps a little more.
12. Mason Englert (LHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Rangers drafted Mason Englert in the fourth round last June and penned him to a million-dollar signing bonus. With a slot bonus of $450,000, the signing spoke volume as to the upside the Rangers think they got with Englert. As is their custom, they held him out of game action over the summer and could even hold him back in the Complex to begin the 2018 season.
Given everything I’ve heard when researching the system, I’m anxious to see Englert pitch. One evaluator told me that they liked him more than Winn and that the arm is special. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, there is plenty of physical projection remaining. That’s exciting given he can already run his fastball up to the mid-90s.
13. Cole Ragans (LHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Selected in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft (pick 30), Cole Ragans showed a plus fastball with good velocity and movement with promising secondary pitches. What he couldn’t do was control his arsenal and whether it was related or not, he had Tommy John Surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament last March. Assuming he comes back healthy, there is still a mid-rotation starter upside.
14. Tyler Phillips (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Tyler Phillips had one of the best pitching performances in the Sally League last year pitching to a 2.67 ERA striking nearly a batter an inning while only walking 14 in 128 innings. His plus control, particularly when you consider he’s 6-foot-5 is not only notable but also very exciting.
Phillips has a plus fastball that currently tops out at 94 MPH. However, he’s still growing into his size, so there’s a good chance that he could be sitting 94 over the next couple of years. He has a plus changeup but his curveball is well below average and obviously, that is where the Rangers will focus his attention.
15. DeMarcus Evans (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
The Rangers moved DeMarcus Evans to the bullpen in 2018 and the 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander flourished. His fastball velocity improved from 92 to 93 MPH to 96 MPH which just made his already plus curveball that much better. While it was only Low-A, batters had no chance. In 56 innings, he struck out 103 batters. His remaining issue to resolve is his control. It’s currently well below-average. In those same 56 innings, he walked 27 batters or 4.34 per nine.
In watching him pitch, the delivery is easy and lose but he clearly does not repeat it well. Given his size, I would not call him ultra-athletic, regardless, there is a lot to work with.
He has all the signs of a back-of-the-bullpen high-leverage arm who one day could get saves. Therefore, he should be on all Dynasty League owners’ radar as he could begin to move quickly through the system.