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2017 Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects



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TOP 10 PROSPECTS

1. Leody Taveras, of
2. Yohander Mendez, lhp
3. Ariel Jurado, rhp
4. Cole Ragans, lhp
5. Andy Ibanez, 2b/3b
6. Josh Morgan, 3b/ss
7. Ronald Guzman, 1b
8. Alex Speas, rhp
9. Joe Palumbo, lhp
10. Brett Martin, lhp
For the fourth time in seven years, the Rangers won the American League West. They went 95-67 despite scoring just eight more runs than they allowed, pulling ahead in the division by pummeling the Astros (15-4) and going 12-7 against the Mariners.

Yet the team that led the AL in wins exited the postseason quickly. The Blue Jays swept the Rangers 3-0 in the AL Division Series, the second year in a row that Toronto ended Texas’ season in the ALDS.

In building the team, the Rangers have dipped heavily into the farm system. In three 2016 trade-deadline moves to bring back Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress, Carlos Beltran and Dario Alvarez, the Rangers shipped out righthanders Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate, outfielders Lewis Brinson and Ryan Cordell and second baseman Travis Demeritte. That group includes four first-round picks: Brinson (2012), Demeritte (2013), Ortiz (2014) and Tate (2015).

Those deals came the year after the Rangers made a pair of trades—for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels and the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo—that surrendered outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, shortstop Luis Sardinas and righthanders Alec Asher, Marcos Diplan, Jared Eickhoff and Jake Thompson.

With the huge exodus of young talent from the organization, the farm system isn’t as robust as it once was, but the Rangers are still positioned to contend in 2017. Hamels and Yu Darvish give them two frontline starters, while a full season of Lucroy will help the pitching staff as well as the offense. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is a future Hall of Famer. Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara are young building blocks in the lineup. Third baseman Joey Gallo exhausted his prospect eligibility in 2016, and while strikeouts remain a red flag, he has 40-homer power.

On the farm, international scouting remains an organizational strength. The Rangers signed center fielder Leody Taveras for $2.1 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He has emerged as the organization’s top prospect with a well-rounded set of tools and advanced baseball skills for his age. Venezuelan lefthander Yohander Mendez and Panamanian righthander Ariel Jurado give the Rangers two upper-level pitchers who could help in 2017.

Beyond them, the Rangers’ system features more depth than impact talent, with many of their top prospects having yet to reach Double-A and unlikely to see major league time in 2017. From that lower-level wave, however, breakout talents could emerge.

The 2016 draft yielded a pair of promising prep pitchers in lefty Cole Ragans and righthander Alex Speas, while third-round infielder Kole Enright got off to a strong start in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Internationally, the Rangers added Venezuela’s David Garcia, the top-ranked catcher on the international market, while Miguel Aparicio had a promising debut in the Dominican Summer League.


1. Leody Taveras, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Sept. 8, 1998. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015. Signed by: Willy Espinal/Gil Kim/Thad Levine.

SCOUTING GRADES
Batting: 60.
Power: 50.
Speed: 60.
Defense: 60.
Arm: 60.
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.
Background: The Rangers have had one of the most productive international pipelines in baseball over the last decade, with one of the most aggressive contingents of scouts in Latin America. They had their sights set on Taveras from an early age, then officially signed him as a 16-year-old for $2.1 million when he became eligible on July 2, 2015. Taveras is a younger cousin of Willy Taveras, the former outfielder who stood out for his speed and defense during his seven-year major league career, including 2008 when he led the majors with 68 stolen bases. Before Taveras made his official pro debut, the Rangers brought him over from the minor league back fields in 2016 and put him in three spring-training games with the major league club, and he went 1-for-4 with a double. He opened the 2016 season back home in the Dominican Summer League but didn’t spend much time there before the Rangers brought him to the U.S. for the Rookie-level Arizona League. He ranked as the league’s No. 1 prospect, got promoted to the short-season Northwest League in August and also ranked as that league’s No. 1 prospect.

Scouting Report: Taveras is a smooth, well-rounded player with an exciting blend of tools and skills for his age, and he draws comparisons with a young Carlos Beltran. Lean and athletic, Taveras has a short, simple swing from both sides of the plate. He’s a balanced hitter who uses his hands well in connection with his lower half. He’s a high-contact hitter with good feel for the barrel who unleashes a fluid swing with whippy bat speed and a clean path to the ball. He is adept at hitting fastballs, and while he’s still learning to recognize offspeed pitches, he has solid strike-zone awareness and improved his ability to manage the zone since signing, showing the ability to make adjustments within an at-bat. He uses the whole field with a line-drive approach, showing mostly gap power in games with the ability to drive the ball over the fence occasionally during batting practice. With his bat speed, strong hands and room to fill out his projectable frame, Taveras could eventually grow into average power. He makes the game look easy at the plate and in center field. He’s a plus runner with long, gliding strides. He looks natural and instinctive in center field, where he gets sharp reads and jumps off the bat to give him good range. Even when Taveras does take a false step, he has the speed to compensate and cover plenty of ground. He also has a plus arm with good accuracy.

The Future: Taveras has yet to reach full-season ball, but he has the highest ceiling and most exciting skill set in the Rangers system, with five tools that could all grade out average to plus. Mature beyond his years, he should open 2017 at low Class A Hickory. Between his ability and the Rangers’ track record of hitting the accelerator with their most talented young international prospects, he could move quickly through the system.

2016 Club AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
DSL Rangers (R) .385 .467 .538 39 6 15 2 2 0 9 6 5 4
AZL Rangers (R) .278 .329 .382 144 22 40 6 3 1 15 11 24 11
Spokane (SS) .228 .271 .298 124 14 28 6 1 0 9 8 26 3

2. Yohander Mendez, lhp

Born: Jan. 17, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Signed: Venezuela, 2011. Signed by: Rafic Saab/Pedro Avila/Mike Daly.

Background: The Rangers signed Mendez for $1.5 million as a tall, frail 16-year-old throwing in the mid- to upper 80s. He earned three in-season promotions in 2016 and made his major league debut as a September callup. Staying healthy helped Mendez pitch more than 100 innings for the first time in his career.

Scouting Report: Mendez’s fastball crept up in 2016 to sit in the low 90s and touch 95 mph. His calling card is his changeup, which he sells well with good separation off his fastball. It’s a plus pitch that consistently fools hitters with empty swings or off balance ones for weak contact. His slider has improved but it’s still fringe-average, while he mixes in an occasional get-me-over curveball early in the count. Mendez has smooth arm action, an easy delivery and throws strikes, but he needs to tighten his fastball command, particularly glove side so hitters can’t key in on one side of the plate.

The Future: The Rangers want to keep Mendez in the rotation, so while he could help out of the bullpen right away, it’s more likely that he goes back to Triple-A Round Rock. He should be back in Texas at some point in 2017, possibly before the all-star break.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO AVG
High Desert (Hi A) 4 1 2.45 7 7 33 21 2 11 45 .176
Frisco (AA) 4 1 3.09 10 10 47 39 2 14 46 .228
Round Rock (AA) 4 1 0.57 7 4 31 12 0 16 22 .119
Texas (MLB) 0 0 18.00 2 0 3 5 0 2 0 .333

3. Ariel Jurado, rhp

Born: Jan. 30, 1996. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 237. Signed: Panama, 2012. Signed by: Eduardo Thomas.

Background: Jurado was a skinny 16-year-old who threw a lot of strikes with mid- to upper-80s fastballs when the Rangers signed him out of Panama. While he throws harder now that he’s nearly 60 pounds heavier, it’s his feel for pitching that stands out more than his pure stuff.

Scouting Report: Jurado throws all three of his pitches for strikes. Everything works off his two-seam fastball, which sits 88-92 mph and touches 94. It’s more notable for its hard, heavy sink—he led the high Class A California League in groundout-to-airout ratio—with excellent movement and a high spin rate. He generates a lot of weak contact and more swing-and-miss than other pitchers with his two-seamer. He has good fastball command to both sides down in the zone. Jurado doesn’t have a true out pitch, which will test him at higher levels. His changeup is better than his slider, with both pitches having a chance to be average and play up because he locates them.

The Future: A long season saw Jurado pitch for Panama in a World Baseball Classic qualifier in March and add five starts in Venezuela in October. He could go back to Frisco but should be in Triple-A quickly and make his major league debut by the end of 2017. He projects as a No. 4 starter with a chance for more because of his command, movement and pitchability.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO AVG
High Desert (Hi A) 7 2 3.86 16 16 79 83 4 24 71 .272
Frisco (AA) 1 4 3.30 8 6 44 44 3 10 35 .263

4. Cole Ragans, lhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Dec. 12, 1997. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 197. Drafted: HS—Tallahassee, Fla., 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Brett Campbell.

Background: Aside from sharing a first name and the same employer, Ragans is physically similar to a young Cole Hamels, the player Ragans models his game after. The Rangers drafted Ragans with the No. 30 overall pick in 2016 and signed him for $2,003,400 after a decorated career at North Florida Christian High, which he helped lead to a Florida state 3A title in 2014.

Scouting Report: Tall and athletic, Ragans has a simple delivery and advanced feel for a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits at 89-93 mph and has touched 95. His changeup has made rapid progress over the past year, to the point where it’s his best present offspeed pitch. It’s an above-average offering that he sells with the same arm speed as his fastball, so it’s just a matter of him learning how and when to use it more in games. His curveball flashes average and could grade higher down the road once he stays on top if it more consistently and does a better job repeating his arm slot. Ragans needs to improve his fastball command, but he has the delivery and athleticism that bode well for his ability to improve. He earns praise for his maturity and being a student of the game.

The Future: Ragans has the talent to develop into a mid-rotation starter. He should pitch in the low Class A Hickory rotation in 2017.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Rangers (R) 0 0 4.70 4 3 8 11 0 6 9 .344
 

5. Andy Ibanez, 2b/3b

Born: April 3, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170. Signed: Cuba, 2015. Signed by: Jose Fernandez/Roberto Aquino/Gil Kim/Thad Levine.

Background: Ibanez was a standout in Cuba’s junior leagues and even played in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where he was Cuba’s youngest player. After leaving Cuba, he signed with the Rangers for $1.6 million. The Rangers put him at low Class A Hickory, then skipped him a level to Double-A Frisco in June.

Scouting Report: Ibanez is a similar player to Josh Morgan, with Ibanez having more power but less defensive versatility. He has a short, quick stroke with good bat-to-ball skills. He stays within the strike zone, puts the ball in play at a high clip and uses the middle of the field. Ibanez is mostly a doubles hitter who focuses on line drives, but he has the power to hit 10-15 home runs. With a thick lower half and below-average speed, he doesn’t stand out for his athleticism. He’s a slightly below-average defender at second base with a fringy arm and doesn’t have the versatility to fill in at shortstop. Getting quicker first-step reactions off the bat will be key for him.

The Future: Ibanez is a second baseman blocked at that position in Texas by Rougned Odor. His profile doesn’t typically fetch much in trades, but his hitting potential could carry him as an everyday second baseman.

2016 Club AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hickory (Lo A) .324 .413 .546 185 28 60 18 1 7 35 29 28 10
Frisco (AA) .261 .318 .391 307 39 80 18 2 6 31 25 47 5

6. Josh Morgan, 3b/ss

Born: Nov. 16, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Orange, Calif., 2014 (3rd round). Signed by: Steve Flores.

Background: Morgan’s polished feel for hitting and gamer mentality stood out since he signed for $800,000 as a third-round pick in 2014. He finished the 2016 season strong at high Class A High Desert, batting .324/.386/.437 in the second half. After experimenting at catcher at 2015 instructional league, Morgan went behind the plate again at 2016 instructs, with the plan to have him catch and play the infield in 2017.

Scouting Report: Morgan’s game is built around his ability to get on base. He’s a disciplined hitter who recognizes breaking balls and doesn’t chase much outside the strike zone. With quick hands and a short, simple stroke, Morgan is a high-contact hitter who uses the whole field with a line-drive approach but well below-average power. Morgan’s swing has minimal movement but he could grow into more sock if he learns to load and generate more separation when he starts his swing. Primarily a shortstop in 2015, he spent most of his 2016 at third base and played the position well, though he got reps at shortstop and second base, too. He has the instincts, hands and feet to play second or third, with a tick above-average arm.

The Future: If Morgan is able to catch, that would significantly enhance his value. Just 21, he may yet add catching and still move up to Double-A Frisco thanks to his polished approach.

2016 Club AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
High Desert (Hi A) .301 .369 .396 465 74 140 19 2 7 63 44 61 4

7. Ronald Guzman, 1b

Born: Oct. 20, 1994. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 220. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Willy Espinal/Mike Daly.

Background: The Rangers’ two big 16-year-old Dominican signings in 2011 were Nomar Mazara ($4.95 million) and Guzman, who got $3.45 million. Guzman got off to a strong start to his pro career, but he stalled when he spent parts of three seasons at low Class A Hickory. He rebounded in 2016, playing in the Futures Game and reaching Triple-A Round Rock as a 21-year-old.

Scouting Report: Guzman signed with a hit-over-power profile, but the last two years he got caught up trying to focus on home runs. He did a better job of calming his hitting actions to keep his body under control at Double-A Frisco in 2016. That enabled him to have a more repeatable swing and recognize pitches better because his head wasn’t moving as much. The results showed with a higher walk rate and a lower strikeout rate than he had in 2015. Guzman’s long levers add length and some stiffness to his swing, but he doesn’t strike out excessively. He doesn’t have traditional first-base power but could hit 15-20 home runs per year. A limited athlete and runner without great range, he showed much-improved defensive actions to go with being an already big target.

The Future: Guzman, whom the Rangers added to the 40-man roster in November, should return to Triple-A to open 2017 with a chance to make his major league debut by September.

2016 Club AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frisco (AA) .288 .348 .477 375 51 108 16 5 15 56 33 82 2
Round Rock (AAA) .216 .266 .330 88 9 19 5 1 1 11 6 23 0

8. Alex Speas, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: March 4, 1998. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Powder Springs, Ga., 2016 (2nd round). Signed by: Derrick Tucker.

Background: Speas showed his high-risk, high-reward potential in high school, flashing explosive arm speed and athleticism but looking raw at times. The Rangers, who have drafted aggressively from the Georgia prep ranks under scouting director Kip Fagg since 2010, selected him in the second round in 2016 and signed him for $1,024,900 as the No. 63 overall pick.

Scouting Report: A quick-twitch athlete with an extremely fast arm, Speas sits at 93-96 mph and can reach back for 99. His arm action is clean and the ball explodes out of his hand, finishing at the plate with good movement. He throws a power slider in the mid-80s that has the highest probability of developing into an out pitch. He’s still learning to throw his changeup because he didn’t need it much in high school. Getting Speas to make the mechanical adjustments to throw more strikes will be key. He tends to rush out on his front side and is still learning how to use his legs more in his delivery. His athleticism should help him make those adjustments, and he’s already shown the ability to stay more online to the plate instead of spinning off since he signed.

The Future: Speas likely won’t move as quickly as fellow 2016 draft pick Cole Ragans, but the two should anchor the low Class A Hickory rotation in 2017.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Rangers (R) 0 0 0.00 4 3 8 4 0 7 11 .138

9. Joe Palumbo, lhp

Born: Oct. 26, 1994. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS—West Islip, NY, 2013 (30th round). Signed by: Takeshi Sakurayama.

Background: Palumbo has transformed himself from organizational filler to become one of the system’s best pitching prospects. Signed for $32,000 as a 30th-rounder out of a Long Island high school, he never generated much attention during his first three pro seasons. He opened 2016 as the low Class A Hickory closer, often working two to three inning stints. He was so effective that he moved to the rotation at the end of July.

Scouting Report: Getting stronger and improving his command helped Palumbo significantly in 2016, when he showed the three-pitch mix to start. He pitches off a low-90s fastball that touches 96 mph with the ability to hold his velocity even after he moved into the rotation. He has a short arm stroke that makes his fastball sneak up on hitters faster than they expect, while his cross-body mechanics further enhance his deception. Palumbo has improved his ability to command his plus curveball, a tight-spinning pitch with late break that is a big reason for his high strikeout rate. Palumbo’s changeup flashes average, and he isn’t afraid to mix it in against lefthanded hitters. His delivery is fairly simple and he’s a solid strike-thrower.

The Future: Palumbo will move on to the high Class A rotation in 2017, where he needs to prove he has the stuff to remain a starter over a full workload and isn’t just a one-year fluke.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hickory (LoA) 7 5 2.24 33 7 8 96 71 5 36 122 .202

10. Brett Martin, lhp

Born: April 28, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Walters State (Tenn.) CC, 2014 (4th round). Signed by: Chris Kemp.

Background: Martin opened 2016 by repeating low Class A Hickory, then spent June and July on the disabled list with a sprained elbow ligament. When healthy in August he jumped to high Class A High Desert. He saved his best start for last, pitching seven scoreless, no-hit innings with 15 strikeouts and one walk on 95 pitches in the California League playoffs.

Scouting Report: Over the last two years, Martin has bulked up into a strong, physical pitcher. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and touches 94. His curveball is his putaway pitch when it’s on, and it was at its best in the Cal League playoffs. He’s still learning how to land it, especially early in the count, but it can be an above-average pitch with good spin, shape and power. Martin throws a firm changeup in the mid-80s, a below-average pitch that could use more separation off his fastball. He’s added a short, hard cutter to give him a four-pitch mix. With long arm action and long limbs, Martin has cleaned up his mechanics by lowering his leg kick to help sync his upper and lower halves in his delivery. He’s a solid strike-thrower who did a better job last season of maintaining his body control instead of overthrowing.

The Future: A healthy 2017 will be key for Martin, who also was limited in 2015 by hip issues. He probably is destined for the high Class A rotation in 2017.

2016 Club W L ERA G GS SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hickory (LoA) 2 3 4.53 9 9 0 44 58 3 14 48 .317
High Desert (HiA) 2 1 4.24 6 6 0 23 24 3 7 16 .270
 
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