International Reviews: Texas Rangers
Total 2017 signings: 49.
Top 2017-18 signing: OF Julio Pablo Martinez, Cuba, $2.8 million.
After their first wave of signings on July 2, when the 2017-18 international signing period opened, the Rangers traded for extra bonus pool space in their pursuit of Japanese two-way threat Shohei Ohtani.
The Rangers were a finalist to sign Ohtani, but when he ultimately picked the Angels instead, the Rangers pivoted elsewhere. They signed three Latin American shortstops to six-figure deals, including $675,000 for Yenci Pena, one of the ex-Braves players whose contract the commissioner voided due to Atlanta’s international signing violations. Once 22-year-old Cuban center fielder Julio Pablo Martinez became a free agent in March, the Rangers signed him for $2.8 million and he immediately jumped into the list of Top 100 prospects in baseball.
On July 2, the Rangers’ top signing was Keyber Rodriguez, a 17-year-old shortstop from Venezuela who got $1 million. At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Rodriguez doesn’t stand out for his size, but his instincts, all-around game savvy, and track record against live pitching do. Rodriguez has a quick, efficient swing from both sides of the plate and doesn’t strike out much. He manages the strike zone well, and with his above-average speed and baserunning savvy, he has the components for strong on-base skills and stolen base potential. Rodriguez has little extra-base thump, and while he does have some physical projection remaining, he’s unlikely to ever have much power. Rodriguez’s athleticism and instincts fit in the middle of the field. He might bounce around different infield positions in the Dominican Summer League this year, though the Rangers view him as a shortstop. Several scouts from other clubs felt second base would be a better fit due to Rodriguez’s below-average arm and throwing motion. Rodriguez trained with Johan Ocanto.
After the Rangers missed out on Ohtani, one of the players they signed instead was Keithron Moss, a shortstop from the Bahamas who got $800,000. The Rangers scouted Moss both in the Bahamas and in Florida, where he played travel ball along with other Bahamian players for the Midland Redskins. Moss is one of the youngest 2017 signings, as he turned 16 on Aug. 20, which means he will play nearly the entire DSL season at 16 and would have been a 2018 prospect had he been born two weeks later. His youth shows in his body type (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), with minimal strength right now but good speed, athleticism, and defensive actions to potentially stick at shortstop. A switch-hitter with a line-drive approach, Moss will take patience to develop given his age and lack of baseball background coming from the Bahamas relative to other top signings from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
Diosbel Arias, a 21-year-old Cuban shortstop, signed with the Rangers for $700,000 on July 2. Arias played shortstop on Cuba’s 18U national team in 2014, where he was teammates with Martinez and several other prospects now with MLB clubs, including outfielders Luis Robert (White Sox) and Yusniel Diaz (Dodgers), righthander Michel Baez (Padres) and lefthander Cionel Perez (Astros). Arias made the team despite batting .288/.343/.235 in 109 plate appearances that year in Cuba’s 18U national league, and he played briefly in Serie Nacional before leaving the country. After leaving Cuba, Arias began to fill out his strong, broad-shouldered frame (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and grew into more power. While Arias is at shortstop for now, he’s a below-average runner whose quickness will probably lead him to third base, which would put more demands on his righthanded bat developing.
In addition to Moss and Pena, the third prominent player the Rangers signed in December after Ohtani went to the Angels was Osleivis Basabe, a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop who got a $550,000 bonus and is a cousin of Padres shortstop Olivier Basabe, an eighth-round pick in 2017 from Faulkner (Ala.). At 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, Basabe was one of the better athletes in the 2017 class, a plus-plus runner with a quick first-step burst. Basabe bounced between shortstop and center field as an amateur, with several clubs preferring Basabe in center field. Basabe has a plus arm plays that better at shortstop than it did in the outfield, so he has the tools to stick at shortstop if he can get more comfortable at the position and slow the game down there.
Leading into July 2, Basabe’s bat was his biggest risk, as he loaded his righthanded swing with a big leg kick and struggled with his balance on timing, with a choppy swing path though the hitting zone. After that, Basabe played in a four-team developmental league during the winter in Venezuela, where he led the league in batting average at .385 in 52 at-bats. He even appeared in two winter ball games for Zulia in the Venezuelan League. The Rangers believed in Basabe’s hitting ability, swing, and the way he used his hands at the plate. He’s a line-drive hitter with occasional gap shots, and while he does have a projectable, wiry frame to add strength, he doesn’t project as a power threat. Basabe is represented by Cesar Suarez.
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The Rangers paid $500,000 to sign 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Oreceli Gomez on July 2. Gomez has added 20 pounds since then to his tall, long-armed, frame (6-foot-5, 195 pounds), which still has a lot of physical projection remaining. As an amateur, Gomez stood out more for his future projection and present stuff, but with strength gains his velocity has ticked up and he now reaches the low-90s consistently. His arm works well and he still has room to fill out, so he has a chance to develop into a power arm. Some teams had concerns about Gomez’s body control and coordination, but he has shown solid strike-thrower skills. He throws an inconsistent curveball with three-quarters action and a changeup.
Derwin Barreto, who signed for $335,000 in July, is another Venezuelan shortstop similar to Rodriguez. He’s a 5-foot-9, 155-pound switch-hitter who stands out more in games than in a workout. Barreto has a simple swing and good hand-eye coordination, leading to a high contact rate. He has minimal power but sprays line drives around the field and uses his plus speed to help him leg out hits. Barreto is a smart, fundamentally sound player with high-level game awareness for a 17-year-old and has a solid-average arm. He trained with former big league outfielder Roger Cedeno.
Venezuelan center fielder Ronier Lascarro signed with the Rangers for $320,000 in July. Lascarro also isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) but he’s a lefty with a sound swing who has performed well in games, with a hit-over-power profile. His slightly above-average speed gives him a chance to stick in center field. He trained with Eudy Polanco.