SURPRISE, ARIZ.–It's too early to accurately project minor league rosters. Injuries and decisions on big leagues jobs will cascade down through farm systems.
But at the Rangers/Royals complex you could see the foundations of what should be two of the most talented teams in low Class A–or really anywhere in the minors.
A Rangers intrasquad game Tuesday morning was a cavalcade of prospects. Outfielders Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson and Jairo Beras, third baseman Joey Gallo, catcher Jorge Alfaro and shortstop Luis Marte were some of the big names in the lineup. First baseman Ronald Guzman would have joined them if he had not been sidelined by an injury.
You could see most of them head to low Class A Hickory when camp breaks at the end of the month. As another Rangers minor leaguer said while watching Alfaro jog the bases after a home run during the game, "Our Hickory team is going to be sick."
At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Marte is good-sized for a shortstop. But playing with a group that includes the 6-foot-5 Beras, 6-foot-5 Gallo, 6-foot-4 Mazara and 6-foot-4 Brinson, Marte looked tiny.
The same thing happens when some of the mammoth Rangers connect. Alfaro wasn't the only prospect to homer. Gallo took a ball out as well. In Gallo's case, it's something he has been doing regularly this spring. There are questions about how much contact Gallo will make, and some scouts from other teams don't think he'll be able to stick at third base, but no one doubts the raw power.
In a session of live batting practice with the big leaguers, Gallo hit an opposite-field fly that just kept carrying and carrying and carrying, until it bounced off the scoreboard. Drivers on 14th Avenue just beyond the outfield fence in Hickory will need to be alert.
The Rangers didn't just show their depth of position prospects. Righthander Alec Asher did give up a home run, but he showcased a plus fastball and a nasty slider as well. The Rangers' 2012 fourth-round pick out of Polk County (Fla.) JC will have to answer health concerns–his contract with the Giants coming out of high school was voided because doctors didn’t like the condition of his right elbow.
Just a short walk to the Royals' side of the complex gave a glimpse of a team that should prove to be one of Hickory's top rivals in the South Atlantic League. Watching one of their intrasquad game shows how Kansas City will work through a good problem to have: too many shortstops who need to play in Class A.
After showing that he was not awed by the Northwest League as a 16-year-old who turned 17 during the season, Adalberto Mondesi is clearly ready to go to the South Atlantic League.
But Jack Lopez, a smooth-fielding 20-year-old shortstop who struggled at the plate in low Class A last year, could return to the level to start the season. Humberto Arteaga, the shortstop at Rookie-level Burlington last year, could probably handle low Class A, while in a more normal situation even Ramon Torres, who played in the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer, would also be considered.
Because four shortstops can't share one job, Arteaga is working out at second base this spring. He paired with Mondesi on Tuesday to make a rangy double-play combination. It would be surprising to see the two work together at low Class A Lexington in April, though Arteaga could still play a couple of games a week at shortstop when Mondesi gets a day off or slides over to DH.
The Royals have always been impressed with Lopez's makeup, so another possibility is moving him on to high Class A Wilmington.
Any team that has Mondesi will be worth checking out, and he’ll be just a part of a prospect-laden lineup. Catcher Cameron Gallagher is the Royals' best catching prospect and appears to be destined for Lexington. Last summer’s Burlington outfield of Terrence Gore, Bubba Starling and Fred Ford will likely move up together. And the rotation could include Bryan Brickhouse, joined by fellow righthanders Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford.
The Rangers and Royals squads will get to face off in Arizona once the minor league spring training schedule gets going. And before long many of the same prospects will get to see each other in the Sally League; the first Legends-Crawdads series is set for June 24. No matter which particular players end up there, it will be worth watching.