|Original Published Date: January 21, 2020|
With a new ballpark ready to go for the 2020 season, I’m not sure if the Rangers are rebuilding or trying to win now. There were reports of them “being in” on most of the big free agents at the Winter Meetings, but they left San Diego only trading Nomar Mazara for Steele Walker. In case you’re wondering, he’s not a “big” free agent.
As usual, the system is full of athletic players with high upside but also carries significant risk. Leody Taveras has been a mainstay on their list for years and finally put together a solid offensive season in 2019. He’s already an elite defender and with this speed and bat-to-ball skills, he could develop into an impact performer at the highest level. Josh Jung is also intriguing as perhaps the best positional player in the 2019 draft after the big six were taken. There are questions about his power, but he has the potential to be a plus hitter.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Leody Taveras
- Biggest Mover: Ronny Henriquez
- Emerging Prospect: LuisAngel Acuna
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1. Leody Taveras (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
- Tools Summary: Mini breakout has put Leody Taveras squarely back on the elite prospect list.
Prospect fatigue is starting to set in for Leody Taveras. He’s been on our Top 100 list for multiple years and yet his career batting average is .260 with a .323 OBP. Making matters worse, the Rangers decided to slow things down and had Taveras repeated High-A to begin the 2019 campaign. I was fortunate to catch an early May series with him in Myrtle Beach and have gotten completely back on the bandwagon in a big way.
The skills are evident. He has good bat speed and jumped on numerous pitches showing excellent pull power. He’s more explosive from the left-side but I believe he’ll have power on both sides of the plate. He also showed a very good understanding of the strike zone. He’s potentially an elite defender in centerfield (although he played right when I saw him) and uses his plus speed well on both the basepaths and in the field. He did steal a base during the second contest easily, getting a great jump off the pitcher.
I see the upside with Taveras as a full-time regular and because of his speed, a potential impact fantasy performer. I think he’ll hit with a .270 average to go along with .340 OBP. Plus, he should easily steal 20 to 30 bases annually to go along with 10 to 12 home runs. If you think that’s too lofty of a projection, that’s pretty much what he did in 2019 with the power not quite there yet.
2. Josh Jung (3B)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Excellent bat-to-ball skills and an understanding of the strike zone. His power potential is the question as is a possible move to first.
The Rangers selected Josh Jung in the first round last June (8th pick) and he got off to a fast start to his professional career. In 44 games across the AZL and Low-A, he slashed .319/.389/.443 with two home runs and four stolen bases. He also did an excellent job of controlling the strike zone posting a 16% strikeout rate and a 9% walk rate. The performance echoed what he showed at Texas Tech where he walked more than he struck out.
While he has an advanced hit-tool, his power is the open question. Currently, the swing is more geared to contact. As we’ve seen, that can change in today’s game as players learn the benefits of Launch Angle and learn to lift the ball. The other unknown is whether he will stay at third. There are whispers that a move to first might be in the cards and if that happens, then his projected 20 home run pop might be a little light. For now, we like Jung a lot and believe he has a chance to be a Top 15 fantasy third baseman.
3. Hans Crouse (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Premium stuff with surprising control. Concerns about his violent delivery give pause as to whether he can stay a starter.
Hans Crouse spent the entire season in the Midwest League putting up solid numbers. In 19 starts, he pitched to a 4.41 ERA striking out 7.8 per nine, walking two per nine but also giving up a hit per inning. While it was a solid year, it wasn’t the step-up year that many were expecting. He was both hittable and just didn’t miss as many bats as his stuff would indicate. What was encouraging as well as surprising, was his ability to throw strikes. His violent delivery makes it difficult for him to repeat his delivery and therefore, control might be elusive.
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.
4. Cole Winn (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Solid arsenal with 30-grade current control. Mechanics look sound so there is hope that he will achieve at least average future control.
Cole Winn finally saw his first professional action in mid-May as the Rangers elected to hold him in the complex to start the season. The number 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft pitched to a 4.46 ERA over 18 starts striking out nearly a batter an inning. He also walked over five per nine. He did pitch better as the year progressed but the walks were pretty constant throughout the year.
Winn has solid stuff with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH and three off-speed pitches with his slider being the best of the group. His overall arsenal does play down because he can’t throw consistent strikes. The good news is the delivery is simple, athletic, and he’s able to land balanced. His arm slot just doesn’t stay locked and that appears to the source of his poor control. If he fixes that, there is a mid-rotation arm in there.
5. Sam Huff (C)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Catcher
- Tools Summary: 70-grade power who hasn’t demonstrated the ability to control the strike zone.
Sam Huff split his time between Low and High-A and did what he does best – show tons of power to go with a lot of strikeouts. He even hit a home run, and a long one in the Futures game in July.
At 6-foot-4, Huff is a big kid with long levers so strikeouts will likely always be part of the equation. But, he’s not patient at the plate and that is what gives me pause. Three outcome players can be successful, but two-outcome players usually are not. Now, as a catcher that does give him an advantage because, well, catchers are in general not viewed as offensive players. Since his defense is adequate to keep him behind the plate, although he is tall for the position, the Rangers might put up with a sub .300 OBP if he can provide at least average defense.
From a fantasy standpoint, we see a 30 home run bat but with significant pressure on his batting average and OBP. Assuming you can work around that, he could be a source of cheap power for a position that in general doesn’t provide much fantasy contribution.
6. Nick Solak (2B/3B)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B, Top 20 3B
- Tools Summary: Plus hit-tool with sneaky power and speed. Will work better at second, but unless the Rangers move off Odor, he’ll have to play third.
Nick Solak might not have the highest upside in the Rangers system but he can really hit with sneaky power and speed. Candidly, isn’t that what fantasy owners are looking for when they are trolling the waiver wire for help?
Solak began 2019 with the Rays but was traded in mid-July to the Rangers and hit his way all the way to the big leagues. He ended the season in Texas where he slashed .293/.393/.491 with five home runs and two stolen bases. The Rangers played him a lot at third but his footwork and arm work much better at second. Unfortunately for Solak, Rougned Odor and his .283 OBP is locked into second until 2023, so if he wants to play, it’s going to be third.
7. Steele Walker (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: A little bit of power and a little bit of speed. He might be a fourth outfielder for a contender, but in the right situation, he could be a fantasy contributor.
Steele Walker was drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft based on the impressive .352/.441/.606 stat line he produced in his junior year at Oklahoma. I had a chance to see him twice in Kannapolis this season and he was clearly too advanced for the league. He made solid contact to all fields and showed well above-average speed on the bases and in center field. He also showed some pop in batting practice but did not hit anything out of the park in his 20 games in the Sally League.
After being promoted, he initially struggled but started to put together things in June. He even started showing some in-game over-the-fence power. The Rangers clearly liked what they saw as they traded him straight-up for Nomar Mazara during the Winter Meetings. While salary likely had something to do with the decision, I still like the upside of Mazara and interesting, he’s only 15 months older than Walker.
Walker has tools, plays the game with enthusiasm and has started to control the strike zone better. However, in the end, I see him as a second-division starter at the highest level or a fourth outfielder on a contender. He could develop 15 home run power with high single-digit stolen bases. Whether he should be owned in a fantasy league will depend on how well he’ll hits.
8. Bubba Thompson (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Fantasy impact tools that could provide 20-20 contribution. However, he’s struggling with off-speed pitches and the risk of him hitting enough to get to his tools is high.
Bubba Thompson had a tough year. He started off the 2019 season in High-A and over the first two weeks, didn’t hit at all. In 40 at-bats, he batted .150. Then he fractured his hamate bone and missed nearly two months of action, played four games and then missed another three weeks. Once he returned, he never got it going winding up with a .178/.261/.312 in 57 games. He did hit five home runs and steal 12 bags but he also struck out 32% of the time.
I had a chance to catch up with him at the Arizona Fall League and while I loved the athleticism, he struggled mightily against off-speed pitches. He was chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone. His strikeout rate reflected that as he struck out 25 times in 80 plate appearances. The bat speed though was terrific and he still remains a plus runner (not a burner).
From a fantasy standpoint, if Thompson can hit enough, he could be an impact performer. However, he’s far from a finished product and will likely return to High-A next season. He has 20-20 potential, but until he hits more, there is Lewis Brinson type of downside.
9. Joe Palumbo (LHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Closer
- Tools Summary: A long and winding journey resulted in 16.2 Major League innings. Solid stuff with average control.
The primary reason people come to our site is to try and find the next great player for their fantasy team or perhaps for the team they cheer for. We try our best to present that information to you. While it can get boring to talk about a player’s journey (everyone has struggles, right??), sometimes the journey is so compelling it warrants a narrative. Let me tell you about Joe Palumbo.
Palumbo wasn’t drafted out of high school or college, instead, he was drafted after playing a season for the Long Island Black Sox League, a local men’s league in New York. You see, the state of NY declared Palumbo ineligible because he had already exhausted his class eligibility after transferring schools in his sophomore year. Even though he graduated high school at 18, the state said that it would have been his 5th year. Determined, he played in a local hardball league where the scouts were few and far between. However, a Rangers scout saw him and recommended that Texas draft him. He was drafted in 2013 Draft in the 30th round. He was paid a modest $32,000 signing bonus.
In his first few years, he pitched well, even served as the closer for the Hickory team in 2016. But as a late-round pick, he had to wait his turn. Sure, baseball is a meritocracy, but let’s face it, the expensive guys will get the longest look. Just as he started to turn some heads, he blew out his elbow and need TJ Surgery in 2017. He returned and looked even better. His fastball had taken a step up and was now sitting 94 to 95 MPH with better secondaries. He made our Top 15 list last year at number 11.
He started the 2019 season in Double-A where he pitched well, striking out 13 per nine in 11 starts. Finally, the long journey ended on June 8th when he started a game against Oakland in Texas. He only made it four innings, but against a lot of odds, Joe Palumbo is a big leaguer.
Palumbo has good stuff with a fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH with a quality curveball. His change-up is still a work-in-progress, but there is enough there to project him as a number four starter. Since he’s a lefty, he’ll get plenty of chances. Plus, if the change-up doesn’t develop, he could also find success as a bullpen arm, perhaps as a closer.
10. Julio Pablo Martinez (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with 4th OF risk
- Tools Summary: Plus speed with a chance to be an elite defender. However, a 32% strikeout rate was not good and if it continues, he’ll likely be a fourth outfielder.
I saw Julio Pablo Martinez in an early May series in Myrtle Beach and came away less than impressed. He was small in stature, smaller than I thought and while I saw a plus runner and plus defender, I didn’t see much else. His timing was off, and he was late on average fastball velocity. I spoke with an evaluator at the game who confirmed that what we were seeing was not a fluke.
Well as spring turned into summer, JPM finally started to heat up. The power started to emerge and he wound up hitting 14 for the season to go along with 28 stolen bases. While it’s easy to get excited about that, he also struck out 32% of the time. History has not been kind to players who struck out that much in A-Ball. Ok…Joey Gallo. But, JPM is 5-foot-9 and is not going to hit 40 home runs. Nor is he going to walk 15% of the time.
From what I saw, he looks like a classic fourth outfielder. He’s got plus speed that should translate into plenty of stolen bases and he can really run it down in the outfield. However, his ability to control the strike zone has a long way to go. Fantasy owners need to hope that he is still knocking the rust off and once his timing improves, his overall production will as well.
11. Ronny Henriquez (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP; more likely a Closer
- Tools Summary: Small in stature but with excellent stuff. While he’s likely a bullpen arm, the Rangers will continue to develop him as a starter.
Ronny Henriquez stands 5-foot-10, weighing in at 155 pounds. Pretty good for a welterweight, but for a pitcher, it’s not the profile you desire. That doesn’t mean that Henriquez doesn’t have a good arm. He does with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with several encouraging secondary pitches. Plus, he throws strikes. In 21 games, 19 starts in Low-A as a teenager, he walked less than three while striking out just shy of 11 per nine.
Given his size, he likely will need to move to the bullpen. However, given his simple mechanics, the Rangers are reticent to move him to the bullpen and therefore, will continue to develop him as a starter. He should start the 2020 season in the Carolina League and should be one of the youngest pitchers in the league as he doesn’t turn 20 until June.
12. Osleivis Basabe (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Athletic with double-plus speed and enough bat speed to eventually hit for power. He also shows an ability to control the strike zone.
The Rangers signed Osleivis Basabe as an international free agent in 2017 and gave him a signing bonus of $550,000. He’s done nothing but hit since being signed, batting .334 in 89 games as a professional. In 2019, he played 35 games in the AZL hitting .320. He made excellent contact only striking out 12% of the time. He was aggressive at the plate, but when you are hitting everything in sight, you swing the pole.
Basabe is a premium athlete with excellent bat speed and is a plus runner. His bat speed has yet to translate into much over-the-fence power, but he’s driving the ball and showing solid doubles power. Defensively, he should be able to stay at short or second, but with his speed, he could also prove effective in centerfield.
13. LuisAngel Acuna (SS)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: Ronald’s little brother. He’s already showing impressive bat control and bat-to-ball skills. He doesn’t nearly have the upside of his older brother, but he’s a prospect in his own right and let’s face it, he’s an Acuna.
When your last name is Acuna, you get a lot of attention.
Yes, LuisAngel Acuna is Ronald’s little brother. The Rangers gave the shortstop a $425,000 bonus in July of 2018 which was four times what it cost the Braves to sign Ronald in 2014. While LuisAngel is an interesting prospect, the value difference between the two is more a reflection of “WOW, what a deal the Braves got!”.
Acuna had an impressive 2019 season in the DSL. In 51 games, he hit .342 with a .438 OBP with two home runs and 17 stolen bases. He also walked more than he struck out. He’s much smaller than his brother and doesn’t have nearly the upside, but he has solid bat-to-ball skills, is a plus runner with a nice approach. He should see time state-side in 2020 and could move quickly. He’ll go quickly in Dynasty Leagues, so if you want in, you better act fast. But, repeat after me…he’s not Ronald!
14. Bayron Lora (OF)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Massive raw power but with a very raw approach and significant swing and miss in the profile.
The Rangers spent $3.9 million dollars to sign 6-foot-5 Bayron Lora during the 2019-20 International signing period. His carrying tool is massive raw power that he gets from his natural strength as well as impressive bat speed. While there is 30 to 40 home run potential, there is also significant swing and miss in his game. In listening to the evaluations, images of Miguel Sano and Jhaylin Ortiz emerge. One, of course, has contributed to the big leagues and one is not likely to make it out of Double-A.
Now, Ortiz was not able to stay and shape and that led to a lot of his issues. Hopefully, Lora will be more disciplined. He’s a gamble in a Dynasty League but if you believe he’ll hit, he should be rostered.
15. Sherten Apostel (3B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Plus power potential but his size could dictate a move to first base.
Apostel’s carrying tool is his plus power but he does have swing and miss in his game. He’s currently a below-average runner and as he fills-out, his speed will likely continue to diminish. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, a move to first base could be in the cards. I do believe the bat will work at first as there could be 30 plus home run power in the bat. However, owners should temper their expectations as it could come with a .240 batting average. Since he can work a walk, his on-base percentage could add 80 to 100 points on his average.
16. Anderson Tejeda (SS)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: A should injury cut his season short. Plus power with a little speed, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
Anderson Tejeda was not able to build on his 2018 breakout as he struggled in his return to High-A and then hurt his shoulder and missed the last three months of the season.
He still is an interesting prospect as he has plus pull side power from the right side with a defensive profile that should allow him to stay in the dirt. However, missing over half the season with a shoulder injury was unfortunate and will likely require a third visit back to Down East (Kinston NC).
In addition to staying healthy, Tejeda will need to cut down on his strikeouts in order to achieve success. Even in his breakout season, he struck out 27% of the time. While a .330 BABIP makes the stat line look better, once that normalizes, the batting average could look ugly. But the plus power and above-average speed still make Tejeda an intriguing prospect and one that should not be completely ignored in fantasy circles.