Make no mistake about it, the Rangers’ Major League team is bad. If you are a Rangers fan, what was even more discouraging is that their minor league system wasn’t very good either. You see, the Rangers’ development strategy has always been to draft and acquire athletic, high upside players and see if you can create stars. With few exceptions (Joey Gallo being one), the plan did not work. In reviewing the system, they have a better mix of high floor players that should help the Major League team quickly to complement their existing cadre of “go for broke and hope it works” players.
Jack Leiter is the perfect example. The Rangers could have selected one of several high-end high school middle infielders with the second overall pick last June, but instead, they selected Leiter. He’s going to be a fine Major Leaguer, a potential solid number two pitcher, but it’s doubtful he’ll compete for Cy Young awards. More importantly, the floor is a number three or four starter. Josh Jung, Justin Foscue, and Dustin Harris have a similar ceiling. Jung is ready for Texas and Leiter won’t take long. Of course, there is Ezekiel Duran, Evan Carter, LuisAngel Acuna, etc… who could turn out to be stars, and maybe one or two will, but history says that most will not.
If you’re a Rangers fan, you need to be patient as they are just getting things together. But, I do like the system much better than in previous years. From my POV, they are finally pointed in the right direction.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Jack Leiter
- Biggest Mover: Dustin Harris
- Emerging Prospect: Maximo Acosta
1. Jack Leiter (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
- Tools Summary: Polished college pitcher with a Major League lineage that should move quickly
Jack Leiter is going to be good. Is he a number one starter like many think? I’m not sure. What I am confident in – his minor league tenure should be short.
He has control of his arsenal and can locate his fastball to keep batters off-balance. What he doesn’t have is that elite pitch. The fastball sits in the low to mid-90s and his secondary pitches all grade out as 55 to 60 pitches – which again is good. But there’s no wipeout slider, no John Means change-up, etc. He also lacks the size at 6-feet-1 that you want to see in an ace.
What will make him a solid number two starter is instead, the total package that he brings. For me, that’s totally fine. If I’m drafting number one overall in a Supplemental/Rookie Draft in the spring, he’s my guy. Sure, I love the upside of Lawlar and Mayer, but the lower risk profile of Leiter in combination with the pitcher I think he becomes, makes him the number one guy for me.
2. Josh Jung (3B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: A swing change appears to have unlocked his over-the-fence power without sacrificing too much contact
I thought I would not be writing about Josh Jung this year as he would have had too many at-bats to qualify. Unfortunately, a stress fracture in his foot in spring training delayed his arrival to the Major Leagues. The good news is that once he got going in the middle of June, he played well. In 342 plate appearances across Double and Triple-A, he slashed .326/.398/.592 with 19 home runs. The most important piece of that slash line was the slug and related home runs. I had concerns coming into the season that his swing path lacked loft and was more contacted oriented. He always had the plus raw power, but the swing change he made unlocked the power and didn’t hurt his contact too much. He should see considerable time in Texas next season with a chance to hit for both average and power. He’s a below-average runner, so don’t expect too many stolen bases.
3. Cole Winn (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
- Tools Summary: Arsenal and control took a significant step up in 2021
Cole Winn was the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2018 and I labeled him a projectable right-hander that needed a ton of development. While the missed 2020 season generally hurt most players, Winn seemed to get better. The arsenal got sharper and more importantly, he finally began throwing strikes. In 19 starts in Double-A, he pitched to a 2.31 ERA, striking out 11 per nine and walking three per nine. He pitched the last two games of his season in Triple-A where he got blown up in his first start but looked great in his second. There’s a chance we see him next season in Texas with a ceiling of a number three starter with upside.
4. Evan Carter (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
- Tools Summary: Toolsy outfielder with an intriguing combination of power and speed. If the approach he showed in 2021 is real, the upside will far exceed his stated ceiling
Evan Carter was having a nice season before a stress fracture in his back ended his season in mid-June. He’s a plus runner with great bat speed and he showed both before the injury. He only slugged .387 with two home runs but posted impressive exit velocities that point to future power once he adds loft to his swing. Most importantly, he showed an impressive approach at the plate, walking more than he struck out and he only struck out 19% of the time. It’s a shame his season ended early but the initial returns on the 2020 second-round pick were indeed impressive.
5. Ezequiel Duran (2B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: Toolsy, free-swinging middle infielder who has the upside of a 20-20 performer but with pressure on his batting average given his swing and miss in his game
Duran was the principal return in the Yankees acquisition of Joey Gallo at the trade deadline. There’s plenty of tools including excellent bat speed and well above-average foot speed. He’s a bit of a free swinger and will strike out more than you would like. His slash line of .290/.374/.533 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases before the trade shows the kind of upside he has. However, his 34% strikeout rate after the trade shows the risk of him reaching his ceiling of a 20-20 player.
6. Luisangel Acuna (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B with upside
- Tools Summary: Continues to show plus speed with a solid approach
Low-A was weird this year. You see, baseball decided to try out a new rule – they limited the number of times a pitcher could throw over to first. That small change appeared to open the flood gates on players stealing bases. For instance, Luisangel Acuna stole 44 bases and while he has good speed, he’s far from a burner. What was more impressive with Acuna is he hit 12 home runs with a 10% walk rate and a 23% strikeout rate. Considering that he played the whole season as a young 19-year-old, it was an encouraging season. The upside is a Top 15 second baseman (I think he moves to second), maybe more with 20+ stolen bases, a handful of home runs, and solid batting average and OBP.
7. Justin Foscue (2B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: Plus raw power that should translate to 20 home run in-game power. There’s no speed and questions about how much he’ll hit
Justin Foscue was the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2020 (pick #14). His season was tough to get your arms around as he showed good pop in High-A slugging .764 with 14 home runs but seemed overwhelmed upon his promotion to Double-A where he only slugged .297. He posted a 27% strikeout rate but also showed plate patience to walk well above league-average. He does have plus raw power, so I believe he’ll hit with power, but I’m still not convinced how much he’ll hit. Will he be a three true outcome type player? Perhaps.
8. Dustin Harris (1B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Had an impressive season showing excellent contact skills with growing power and surprising speed
Harris is not your typical Rangers prospect. They typically go for high upside kids with questionable hit tools. Harris can hit and has always made excellent contact. In 309 plate appearance in Low-A, he posted a 15.7 K/9 rate and 11% walk rate. After his promotion to High-A, the strikeout rate stayed constant. There is growing power with a chance to hit 20+ home runs. Finally, and while he’s far from a burner, he stole 20 bases in low-A and five after his promotion. He’s an interesting prospect that should be monitored in all formats.
9. Maximo Acosta (SS)
- Highest Level: Complex League ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Tools with impressive bat control and bat-to-ball skills. Unfortunately, he missed most of 2021 with surgery to resolve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
You can make the argument that when Maximo Acosta was signed in 2019, he instantly became the player in the system with the highest upside. Even as a 16-year-old, he had the tools and feel to hit to develop into a star. But, the risks were high and we were reminded of that last season. After 17 games in the Complex League, Acosta hit the IL and needed surgery to alleviate his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. TOS is a serious situation as it is the compression of blood vessels or nerves between your collarbone and first rib. The surgery requires taking out the first rib to alleviate the compression. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work as is evident by the number of players who have not returned healthy from the situation.
So, we are on hold with Acosta. He needs to get healthy and get back on the field so the development process and begin.
10. Aaron Zavala (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
- Tools Summary: High-floor player with a plus hit tool, more power than you think with solid speed
While the Rangers paid their third pick last June, Cameron Cauley more money, Aaron Zavala, the Rangers’ second-round pick gets the nod for our list. Cauley has huge upside but is a project and could take years to work through the system. On the other hand, Zavala can flat out hit with more power than you think with a little bit of speed. He’s the definition of a high-floor player. While it was only 15 games in Low-A, he walked more than he struck out slashing .302/.433/.434 with a home run and 7 stolen bases. In the end, he might be a super-utility type player, but he could also be a better version of Nick Solak.
11. Josh Smith (SS)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
- Tools Summary: Controls the strike zone with solid contact. He’s a solid runner that will steal some bases but with below-average power
Smith was part of the return for the Rangers when they traded Joey Gallo to the Yankees at the deadline last July. He was a second-round pick in 2019 from LSU and his best quality is his ability to hit. He’s always made good contact and rarely expands the strike zone. He has below-average power with a little bit of speed. He reminds me of an Adam Frazier-type player, who has been able to carve out a nice career so far, but he’s far from a star.
12. Glenn Otto (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 70 SP, but likely a bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Early returns were great in his six games in the Major Leagues. His arsenal and delivery points to a bullpen arm
Glenn Otto was the least known player traded in the Joey Gallo trade. The Rangers didn’t waste any time in promoting him to the Major Leagues after the trade where he started six games and looked great. He won three of those games, struck out over 10 per nine, and kept his walk rate down at 3 per nine. The stuff isn’t great with his fastball sitting 92 to 93 MPH and a low spin rate. He didn’t fool anyone with it as batters posted a .378 average against it. His best pitch is his slider, really a slurve (slider-curveball combo) with good spin. He throws from a lower three-quarters delivery which in the long run, will likely move him to the bullpen.
13. Bubba Thompson (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF with upside
Tools Summary: He’s likely a fourth outfielder for the Rangers, but there is speed and developing power, and last season, he cut down his strikeout rate
Based on his inability to control the strike zone, Bubba Thompson had fallen off my radar. The hit tool reminded me a lot of Lewis Brinson and we all know how that ended. However, Thompson cut down his strikeout rate (26% K/9) last season, and the power we had been waiting on surfaced as he slugged .483 with 16 home runs in Double-A. He still is aggressive at the plate and that could be his undoing, but the power-speed mixture we have discussed for the past several years has developed.
14. Trevor Hauver (2B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: Walks a ton, strikeouts too much with average power
Few players were hotter than Trevor Hauver to begin the season. In the first five games of the season, he hit .556 with six home runs. In the final 94 games, he hit .258 with 9 home runs. Look, guys get hot and Hauver was hot. However, in the end, he has average power, no speed with a passive approach. He’ll walk a ton, but he also strikes out too much because he’s putting himself into bad hitting counts. He’s a borderline big leaguer for me, particularly because defensively, he’s going to play second or left field. Both positions usually get filled by failed shortstops (2B) or a big hitter with questionable defense (LF).
15. Sam Huff (C)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher
- Tools Summary: Huge raw power but he strikes out a third of the time. Offensively, he might be Mike Zunino, but he also doesn’t have his defensive chops
After making his Major League debut in 2020, Sam Huff spent the entire season in the minor leagues where he hit 16 home runs in 249 plate appearances, or a home run every 16 PA. He has that kind of raw power. He also struck out 97 times or once every 2.6 PA. He can also do that. Is that a full-time regular? I don’t think so, but with his huge power, he’ll run into home runs, and given the negligible cost of him early in his career, he’ll get at-bats.
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