Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TEAM #1 – Texas Rangers

Neftali Feliz barely edged out Justin Smoak for the Rangers top spot

While there is little remaining suspense about who the #1 team is in our rankings, it was closer than we expected between the top two teams. Still in the end, no organization has either the quality or the depth to equal the Texas Rangers. With three prospects among the overall Top twenty, they have unparalleled quality at the top. With seventy prospects earning a grade of ‘C’ or better, they possess tremendous depth. They have players that will help them in 2010, as well as tremendous strength in the lower levels that should help them in the future. They have a solid balance between high-ceiling and high-floor prospects. And though they have among the strongest group of pitching prospects in baseball, they still have significant talent in their position players. The Rangers have assembled all of this talent not only through the draft, where they have now put together four straight quality draft classes, but they also have had one of the most aggressive and most successful Latin American Scouting programs, leading to signings like Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, and Wilmer Font—just to name a few. And lastly, they have assembled this talent via the trade, where they have acquired players like Neftali Feliz, Max Ramirez and Danny Gutierrez. The Rangers looked poised to contend for the AL West Title in 2010, and with the strength of the overall organization, both the near- and long-term future look very bright.

Grade A

1) Neftali Feliz, RHP (2009 Performance Scores – Dominance 71; Stamina 44; HRrate 75; Control 48)

It was extremely close between Feliz and Justin Smoak, but in the end, the ‘certainty’ quotient got a big boost by Feliz’s performance after his Major League promotion. Feliz doesn’t get enough credit for his athleticism, but it is at the heart of his success. While Feliz possesses a potentially plus change-up, everything begins and ends with his mid- to high-90s fastball. It’s not just the velocity though, as the ‘filthiness’ of his heater is very reminiscent of K-Rod’s when he first came up with the Angels. Like K-Rod, we feel that Feliz has the makings of being one of the game’s best closers. The Rangers however are still exploring adding him to the rotation. Our concern with that is, while not yet 22yo, and still possessing time to refine them, his breaking ball is still not a Major League caliber pitch. More importantly, Feliz has shown the inability to hold his command very late into games—especially with his secondary offerings. In AAA, mostly as a starter, he walked nearly 4 batters per 9IP…however when he was used exclusively as a reliever in the Majors, his walk rate fell to a miniscule 2.3 batters per 9IP. With improvements to his breaking ball, Feliz has the upside of a top of the rotation ace. While we feel the odds are better for him in the pen, it’s nice to have that as your floor. Feliz should break with the Rangers this spring and never look back at the Minor leagues.

2) Justin Smoak, 1B (2009 – Power 54; First Base Rate 78; Discipline 42; Speed 31)

Smoak began 2009 with a blistering start, as the #11 overall pick in the 2008 draft posted the #3 Performance Score in the TXL. However, at the end of May he strained his oblique, and the rest of the season, including his promotion to AAA, didn’t quite live up to expectations. When healthy, Smoak, a switch-hitter, possesses plus-plus power potential and contact skills, with plus strike zone management skills. Those are the highest combined offensive skills of any player in the Minor Leagues. Defensively, Smoak is a potential gold glove first baseman—despite below average speed and only average range. His upside is about as high as any position player in baseball, as he projects to be a force in the middle of the Ranger lineup for years. Look for Smoak to return to the PCL to begin the 2010 season and prove that he is healthy, but by mid-season, the Rangers will have to figure out a way to get his bat into the lineup.

3) Martin Perez, LHP (2009 – Dominance 61; Stamina 58; HRrate 58; Control 57)

Perez was the Rangers’ top International signing of 2007, and the Rangers believed strongly enough in him to have him make his professional debut in the NWL the following year—as a 17yo. Perez posted the #2 Score in the NWL, edged out only by teammate Wilfredo Boscan, and has been on the fast track ever since. This past season he posted the #2 Performance Score in the SAL. No left-handed pitcher in the Minor’s has a higher upside than Perez, who features a low- to mid-90s fastball and a plus curve. While his change is still a work-in-process, it too shows plus potential. His attacking pitching style and precocious pitchability, only add to the allure. It’s tough to find weaknesses, as he also does a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone and controlling his offerings. The only thing that Perez needs is experience, as he won’t turn 19yo until the season begins. Look for him to start the year back in the TXL, and he is on course to see Arlington shortly after his 20th birthday.

Grade A-

4) Tanner Scheppers, RHP

Scheppers was on course to be the top right-handed pitcher selected in the 2008 draft, before shoulder soreness late in the season caused teams to shy away and he fell to the second round. Scheppers was determined to show that he was healthy enough to pitch and chose to re-enter the draft in 2009. He made a couple of starts in the Independent American Association right before the draft, where he reportedly registered triple digits. We have not seen the medical reports on Schepper’s shoulder, first hand, and ultimately that will be the determining factor to his value. Nonetheless, we believed he had done enough pre-draft to warrant a Top Five selection. The Rangers grabbing him in the sandwich round could be one of the steals of the 2009 draft. He made seven appearances in the AZFL this fall, with mixed results, looking unhittable in some and very hittable in two of them. The important part was that his fastball sat in the mid-90s, peaking at 98 MPH. We can’t say “if healthy”, because there is every indication that Scheppers ‘shoulder has significant wear. If he is able to pitch through it, he has a curveball that may be better than his fastball. We can’t say enough about Scheppers attacking style and professional make-up. The downside, in addition to the obvious issues surrounding his shoulder, is that his change is still not a Major League caliber offering and he has frequent bouts of control issues. With the upside of a front of the rotation ace, the Rangers will approach his shoulder and his development cautiously, likely leaving him in the rotation for now to start the year in AA. He may have to eventually move to the bullpen, where he could become a lights out closer.

Grade B+

5) Michael Main, RHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 55; HRrate 25; Control 22)

Drafted in the first round in 2007, Main is about to claim the title as Mr. Instructional League, as his performance in 2008 was the talk of that season’s instructionals, positioning him for a breakout 2009, but he came down with mononucleosis that wasn’t discovered right away—costing him both results and two months of the season. Back in instructionals this year, he didn’t generate quite the same buzz, but showed both that he was healthy, and that he still could fire a consistent mid-90s fastball. Main is a sensational athlete that was considered as a potential first round outfielder coming out of high school. He possesses not only a plus curve, but he has the feel for a change that can become an above average pitch. The downside is that he missed a good part of his junior year in high school with an injury, and likewise did the same in 2008. He has yet to prove that he can stay healthy for a full-season. The other negative, is that Main’s control can totally abandon him at times. Only 21yo, Main will likely begin 2010 in the CAL. His upside is that of a front of the rotation Major League starter, but unlike some of the pitchers above him on this list, he comes with significant uncertainties.

6) Kasey Kiker, LHP (2009 – Dominance 68; Stamina 65; HRrate 51; Control 33)

The Rangers first round pick in 2006, has pitched in relative obscurity thanks to some of the more high-profile arms in the system. That being said, he did post the #3 Performance Score in the NWL during his 2006 debut, the #7 Performance Score in the MWL in 2007, the #12 Performance Score in the 2008 CAL, and the #6 Performance Score in the TXL this past season. With a low-90s fastball, a plus change and an above average curve, Kiker has the ingredients necessary to become a solid middle of the rotation Big League starter. However at a smallish 5’10”, 170lbs, there are concerns about his durability and his ability to carry his velocity late into games. Additionally, like Main above, his command can completely abandon him at times. All of this leads many to believe that his likely role will come in the bullpen. For now the Rangers will let the 22yo Kiker open the 2010 in the AAA rotation, and he isn’t likely far away from a Big League trial.

7) Wilmer Font, RHP (2009 – Dominance 54; Stamina 52; HRrate 65; Control 24)

Font was the Rangers’ key International signing of 2006. He made his professional debut in the AZL the following year, posting the League’s #4 Performance Score. A sore shoulder in 2008 cost him most of that season, but he came back this past season and posted the #15 Performance Score in the SAL. A hulking 6’4”, 240lbs, from Venezuela, Font casts an imposing mound presence, similar to fellow countryman Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs. Font keys his arsenal off of a mid-90s fastball, but compliments it with a potentially plus change. His breaking stuff lags behind his other offerings. While he does a good job of pitching down in the zone, difficult mechanics have lead to poor control. While he has the extreme upside as a front of the rotation starter, unless he develops his breaking stuff significantly, and improves his command, he will likely end up in a back of the bullpen role. Font will be only 19yo when he opens the 2010 season in the CAL.

8) Jurickson Profar, SS -

We had Profar as the #12 Latin American talent this summer, but the reports that we were getting was that he was a better pitching prospect, than he was a shortstop prospect. That may very well still be the case, but that just means he might be one heckuva pitching prospect because the Rangers signed him for $1.5 MM and agreed to let him play shortstop, and Profar was the talk of instructionals this off-season, as he showed amazing precociousness in both his demeanor and defensive play. Profar shows surprising plate patience and solid contact skills. While he isn’t likely to develop anything more than average middle infield power, and has only average middle infield speed, his defense showed solid range, exceptional instincts, good hands, and a plus arm. He has the upside of an average offensive Major League shortstop with plus defensive abilities. I can’t overstate how impressed the Rangers were with him, so much so that there is talk of him making his debut as a 17yo in full-season A-ball. We still think short-season is a more likely choice, but we will be watching him carefully regardless of where he plays.

9) Max Ramirez, C (2009 – Power 38; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 22; Speed 35)

Ramirez had pretty much hit wherever he went until 2009, when soreness in both wrists led to his least productive season as a pro. He did appear to be somewhat healthy again this winter in Venezuela, as he belted 13 home runs in a little over 200 ABs. However his strikeout rate remains high. When healthy, Ramirez shows above average power potential and on-base skills, with enough patience to take a walk. The downside is that he isn’t very fast, he needs additional work on pitch recognition, and defensively he is a liability behind the plate. If he could cut down on his strike outs, he could have a solid career as a DH/sometimes catcher. Without that, he looks more like a reserve/platoon type of player. At 25yo, 2010 is a pivotal year for Ramirez. With the Rangers loaded with 1B/DH types, and his defense not adequate for an everyday backstop job, Ramirez is likely stuck in AA—unless the Rangers can work out a trade.

Grade B

10) Robbie Ross, LHP (2009 – Dominance 64; Stamina 75; HRrate 50; Control 69)

Ross was the Rangers second round pick in 2008, who the signed for first round money. In his professional debut, this past season, Ross posted the #3 Performance score in the NWL. Ross possesses a low-90s fastball, an above average slider, and a developing change. He successfully commands all of his offerings and does a solid job of keeping the ball down. The downside is that he is very Kasey Kikerish in stature, and while he has the potential to develop into a mid-rotation starter, the bullpen may be his eventual role. Look for Ross to start the 2010 season in the MWL.

11) Mitch Moreland, RF (2009 – Power 72; First Base Rate 60; Discipline 71; Speed 34)

Known more for his mound work than for his hitting in college, Moreland broke out in 2008, by posting a Top 25 Performance Score in the MWL. He followed that up with another Top 25 Performance in the CAL this spring, and a top 20 performance this summer in the TXL. With above average power, contact skills, and strikezone management skills, Moreland’s bat looks solid. Defensively, he profiles as a first baseman, but can play either corner in the outfield, although, with little in the way of speed, his range in RF is lacking. Already 24yo, 2010 becomes a pivotal year for Moreland. He will begin it in AAA.

12) Danny Gutierrez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 45; HRrate 78; Control 63)

Speaking of fifty-cent control towers, Gutierrez started the season as one of a very promising group of young Royal arms, but disputes between team officials and he/his management group as to how he was being developed led to him being sent home. This came on the heels of past legal troubles, and when he was arrested for assault this summer, the Royals dealt him for Manny Pina—their second similar pitcher ‘dump’ of the season. Pitching-wise, Gutieerez has a low 90s fastball, a plus curve, and a solid change. He excels at inducing ground balls, and offers above average control. His weakness remains his make-up. Gutierrez will open 2010 in AA, but if he can get his head screwed-on straight he shows the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter.

13) Miguel Velazquez, RF (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 42; Discipline 58; Speed 71)

Velazquez has the tendency to be the proverbial $1 billion airport with the fifty-cent control tower, as he was drafted in 2006, after he got into legal troubles in Puerto Rico shortly before the Rangers drafted him in 2006, was suspended for 2008 for a parole violation and didn’t get on the field in 2009 until the summer. On the field, Velazquez shows plus power and average contact, plate discipline and speed skills. Defensively, Velazquez possesses solid range and a plus arm. With the potential to become a Major League average everyday right fielder—maybe better; Velazquez is worth keeping an eye on. We’d just like to see him mature more. Already 21yo, look for him to begin 2010 in full-season A-ball.

14) Engle Beltre, CF (2009 – Power 29; First Base Rate 29; Discipline 56; Speed 73)

Beltre was a high-profile Latin American signing by the Red Sox in 2006, who was sent to the Rangers as part of the Eric Gagne trade. While Beltre has showed tremendous promise at times, like with his 2007 #2 Performance Score in the AZL, and 2008 #3 Performance Score in the MWL, he has also flashed performances like last year’s CAL, where he posted a sub-.600 OPS over 357 ABs. Tremendously athletic, Beltre can’t seem to turn the potential offered by his tools into meaningful skills. His frame portends of significant raw power, yet he has managed but 20 home runs over nearly 1200 ABs. His ability to make contact, or for that matter take a pitch, remains challenged. The only area where his tools have actually meant something has been with his speed, and plus center field defense. Only 20yo, there is still tremendous upside with Beltre. The Rangers are likely to give him a chance to put it all together with a return trip to the CAL in 2010.

15) Blake Beavan, RHP (2009 – Dominance 27; Stamina 74; HRrate 60; Control 75)

In a 2007 draft that was absolutely loaded with prep pitching talent like Jarrod Parker, Rick Porcello, and Madison Bumgarner, just to name a few. There were many who thought that Beavan’s raw stuff was as good as anyone’s. While others from that class have gone on to post significant success, Beavan has managed only Performance Scores ranks of #21, #10 and #12 in his three professional stops. With a low90s fastball and an average change, Beavan shows potential, but his breaking stuff remain fringe-average offerings. Additional positives include the fact that he has shown the ability to command all of his offerings and keep the ball down in the zone. At 6’7”, 250lbs, Beavan should be durable enough to be able to reach his ceiling of a solid mid-rotation starter. First, he will need to improve his slider. Expect the 21yo Beavan to open 2010 in AA.

Grade B-

16) Omar Poveda, RHP (2009 – Dominance 33; Stamina 72; HRrate 44; Control 55)

Poveda has been one of the Rangers most underrated pitching prospects coming into the 2009 season, after posting the #4, #5 and #9 Performance Scores in his previous three full-season stops. But, whereas Poveda had fanned nearly a batter per inning pitched up to that point in his career, his strike outs fell off dramatically against AA hitters. Nevertheless, he still managed the #18 Performance Score in the TXL. With a low 90s fastball, a plus change and a solid curve, Poveda has a three-pitch repertoire that he commands well. The downside is that none of the offerings are a swing-and-miss pitch—as was evidenced by his decrease in strikeouts in 2009. Poveda has the upside of a back of the rotation starter. Only 22yo, he’ll open the season in AAA, and is nearly Major League ready.

17) Luis Sardinas, SS -

We had Sardinas as a Top 25 prospect on the Latin American market this summer, as there were very few questions about his glove and very many concerns about his bat. Sardinas is never going to hit for power, and shows average contact and strike zone management skills. He has the potential for above average speed, but where he really excels is with his glove, as he shows plus range, soft hands and a solid arm. At 6”0”, 150lbs, he is likely to be able to remain at shortstop for the long-haul, making him a legitimate average Major League shortstop prospect. Sardinas will make his professional debut in the AZL this summer.

18) Tommy Mendonca, 3B (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 30; Discipline 23; Speed 28)

We saw Mendonca as a likely third round pick heading into draft day, and the Rangers tabbed him in round two. Although he got off to a slow start, after signing, Mendonca put together a solid NWL debut. Plus power is his calling card, but that is likely his only above average skill, as he makes poor contact, strikes out way too much, and lacks significant speed. The good news is that he is an above average defensive third baseman. Mendonca’s power potential can’t be ignored, which gives him some legitimate ceiling. It will likely all prove moot however, if he can’t cut down on his 32% strikeout rate. Look for Mendonca to open 2010 in Hi-A.

19) Michael Kirkman, LHP (2009 – Dominance 56; Stamina 72; HRrate 59; Control 46)

The Rangers’ 5th round pick in the 2005 draft, Kirkman struggled mightily as a pro, before finally putting together a solid MWL campaign in 2008. Last season was a true breakout though, as he posted the #8 Performance Score in the CAL to open the season and then completed the season with a Top 30 Score in the TXL. With a low-90s fastball, and three other average offerings, Kirkman has the potential to be a quality back of the rotation Major League starter. He will have to tighten his command though and demonstrate the ability to string together back-to-back seasons before we will truly believe. Look for Kirkman to open 2010 in AA.

20) Guillermo Moscoso, RHP (2009 – Dominance 65; Stamina 69; HRrate 74; Control 69)

Acquired from the Tigers for Gerald Laird after the 2008 season, Moscoso made it all the way to Arlington this past season. With a low-90s fastball and an average change, he profiles best in a middle relief role, as his breaking pitches lack development. While there is Major League potential here, at 26yo, time is running short. The Rangers are likely to give him every opportunity to earn a bull pen job this spring.

21) Edwin Escobar, LHP (2009 – Dominance 58; Stamina 46; HRrate 69; Control 50)

After signing in the summer of 2008 for $350,000, Escobar made his professional debut in the AZL, where he posted the #2 Performance Score, despite being only 17yo. Escobar possesses a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus curve. While his change is a work in process, it too shows potential. Additionally, Escobar shows above average command and a solid ability to pitch down in the zone. While it is still extremely early and Escobar is very raw, he has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter. Depending on how he performs this spring, Escobar could open 2010 in full-season A-ball.

22) Robbie Erlin, LHP -

We were surprised to see the Rangers select Erlin in the third round of last June’s draft, as we had him as a 5th round type. A smallish 5’11”, Erlin doesn’t project to have a huge upside, as he has a 90MPH fastball, a potentially plus curve, and an under-developed change. Still he commands all of his offerings fairly well, and could become a back of the rotation starter. Expect Erlin to stay in extended spring training, before making his debut in the NWL.

23) Wilfredo Boscan, RHP (2009 – Dominance 25; Stamina 63; HRrate 46; Control 71)

Despite only receiving a $15,000 signing bonus in 2007, Boscan caught our attention that season when he posted the #6 Performance Score in the DSL. He followed that Performance with an even better one in his stateside debut, posting the Top Performance Score in the NWL. However, Boscan went from a strikeout per inning pitcher in his first two seasons to only a 5 strikeouts per 9IP pitcher in 2009. With a 90 MPH fastball, and a potentially plus curve and change, all of which he commands exceptionally well, Boscan has the ceiling of a back of the rotation starter. He even shows remaining projection in his 6’2”, 187lb frame that may make his fastball a low-90s offering before it is all said and done. The downside, is that Boscan lacks any swing-and-miss pitch. Only 20yo, look for him to open up 2010 in the CAL.

24) Joe Wieland, RHP (2009 – Dominance 44; Stamina 60; HRrate 35; Control 57)

The Rangers 4th round pick in 2008, posted a Top 30 Performance Score in the SAL this past season, primarily on the strength of a low-90s fastball and an above average curve. His change is currently an underdeveloped offering. At 6’3”, 175lbs, the 20yo Wieland still shows significant projection. On the downside, Wieland lacks a true swing-and-miss offering, he has a tendency to make mistakes up in the zone, and he still needs to tighten up his control. Profiling as a potential #3/#4 starter, Weiland is likely to open the 2010 season back in the SAL.

25) Tomas Telis, C (2009 – Power 53; First Base Rate 36; Discipline 79; Speed 67)

We had Telis graded as a ‘B’ prospect until it was announced that he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery and will likely miss all of the 2010 season. It is a rather unfortunate development, because, after posting the #6 Performance score in the DSL in 2008, Telis followed that up with the #4 Performance Score in the AZL this past season, and looked well on his way to developing into an offense-first catching prospect. With his defense already questionable, it remains to be seen what effect the surgery will have on him. When healthy in 2009, Telis showed above average power potential, and plus strike zone management skills. Even his speed and contact skills looked to be at least average for the backstop position. If he is forced to move out of behind the plate, this makes his offense very questionable. We won’t likely get to see any further progression until 2011.

26) Eric Hurley, RP -

Even this ranking may still be too optimistic for Hurley, who at one time was one of the Minor’s better pitching prospects. But a series of shoulder problems, eventually leading to labrum surgery, cost him the entire 2009 season and leaves his career hanging tenuously. The good news is that just this past week, Hurley got back on a mound for the first time since 2008, and will be going to spring training, about a month behind the other pitchers. While medical technology has made Tommy John surgery a relatively insignificant long-term procedure, shoulder surgeries still more often than not change the dynamics of a pitcher’s career. With his one-time upside being what it was, we want to give Hurley a chance to make a comeback before writing him off.

Grade C+ Prospects –

27) Leury Garcia, SS; 28) Michael Bianucci, LF; 29) Alexi Ogando, RHP; 30) Kennil Gomez, RHP; 31) Joe Ortiz, LHP; 32) Shawn Blackwell, RHP; 33) Zach Phillips, LHP; 34) Matt Thompson, RHP; 35) Carlos Pimentel, RHP; 36) Pedro Strop, RHP; 37) Vince DiFazio, C; 38) Brandon Tullis, RHP; 39) Chad Bell, LHP; 40) Craig Gentry, CF; 41) Marcus Lemon, 2B; 42) Jorge Alfaro, C.

Grade C Prospects –

Richard Alvarez; Joaquin Arias; Omar Beltre; Richard Bleir; Jacob Brigham; Fabio Castillo; Leonel De Los Santos; Miguel De Los Santos; Andrew Doyle; Jose Felix; Geuris Grullon; Juan Grullon; Beau Jones; Warner Madrigal; Teodoro Martinez; Tim Murphy; David Paisano; Victor Payano; Guillermo Pimentel; Neil Ramirez; Evan Reed; Tanner Roark; Randol Rojas; Christian Santana; Ben Snyder; Paul Strong; Chad Tracy; John Whittleman.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions

No comments:

Post a Comment