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Top Ten Prospects: Texas Rangers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Josh Boyd
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. John Danks, lhp
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185.
Background: Danks went 10-3, 1.61 with 173 strikeouts in 100 innings to lead Round Rock High to the nation’s top prep ranking for much of last spring before it finished No. 6 in the final poll. His father John Sr. helped the University of Texas to the 1978 NIT basketball championship, and his younger brother Jordan is an outfielder at Round Rock and potential first-rounder in 2006.
Strengths: Danks impresses scouts with his effortless and repeatable delivery, which allows him to work consistently around the strike zone with three pitches. His fastball sits in the 89-92 mph range and touches 93-94. He displays an advanced feel for his knee-buckling curveball.
Weaknesses: Danks put in extra work on his changeup in instructional league. He’s learning to maintain his arm speed on the pitch and has the aptitude to develop it into an effective third offering.
The Future: Assistant GM/scouting director Grady Fuson prefers college prospects in the first round, but Danks’ poise and polish made him irresistible. After a heavy workload last year, he’ll be limited to 120 innings in 2004, starting in low Class A Clinton.
3. Ramon Nivar, of/2b
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170.
Background: Known as Ramon Martinez a year ago, Nivar took on his mother’s maiden name. Unlike more than 30 other Rangers prospects, his age was not changed. He switched positions at midseason, moving from second to center field.
Strengths: Nivar grades as a top-of-the-scale runner, getting down the line in as fast as 3.9 seconds, and has garnered Rafael Furcal comparisons for his explosiveness. His speed prompted the move to center, and he showed more than enough range to make up for his inexperience on routes. His arm strength is above-average.
Weaknesses: Nivar understands his role at the plate, and he can surprise pitchers with a little sock in his bat. But he needs to develop his strike-zone judgment and improve his bunting to become a complete leadoff hitter. Scouts love the energy Nivar brings to the game, though he can get out of control at times.
The Future: Nivar hit .381 in the Arizona Fall League and has taken to center field so well that he could compete for the everyday job in spring training. When he’s ready, he’ll push Laynce Nix to a corner.
4. Juan Dominguez, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Background: Previously known as Jose, Dominguez bolted through three levels and into the majors. He compiled a perfect minor league record but was hammered in his two losses with the Rangers. His breakthrough season was tempered slightly when it was discovered he’s two years older than previously believed.
Strengths: Dominguez overmatched minor leaguers with command and two pitches—a lively 89-94 mph fastball and the best changeup in the system. His changeup acts like a splitter and grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Weaknesses: Though he has two plus pitches, Dominguez needs a better slider to make it as a starter. He tends to get under it, causing it to flatten out in the zone. He also needs to improve his mound presence and awareness of game situations.
The Future: If his slider doesn’t come around, Dominguez could make a good set-up man. The plan is to keep him in the rotation for now and have him start the year in Triple-A.
5. Vince Sinisi, of/1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190.
Background: Sinisi earned second-team All-America status in 2002 and a College World Series championship ring last season. Because he was a sophomore-eligible and advised by Scott Boras, Sinisi’s signability was in doubt and prompted him slipping to the second round last June. He signed for $2.07 million, getting the 10th-highest draft bonus in 2003 as the 46th overall pick.
Strengths: Sinisi reminds scouting director Grady Fuson of Jason Giambi, who was drafted by the A’s when Fuson was a crosschecker in 1992. Sinisi has a balanced approach at the plate and uses quick hands to propel the ball into the gaps with a compact stroke.
Weaknesses: Sinisi projects to develop above-average power but has yet to show it in games. He hit just 21 home runs in two seasons at Rice. He’s an underrated athlete with the instincts to help make a smooth transition from first base in college to left field as a pro.
The Future: Sinisi struggled in the CWS and didn’t tear the cover off the ball at high Class A Stockton. Still, the Rangers were encouraged by his instructional league performance and expect him to rake at Double-A Frisco this season.
6. Gerald Laird, c
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Scouting director Grady Fuson held the same position with the A’s when they signed Laird for $1 million as a draft-and-follow in 1999, then targeted him in a six-player deal after joining Texas in 2001. He got a surprising start over Joe Mauer for Team USA in the deciding game against Mexico during the Olympic qualifying tournament in November.
Strengths: While Laird has come along with the bat, he’s more advanced as a defender. He erased down a Triple-A Pacific Coast League-best 39 percent of basestealers last year, combining plus arm strength with accuracy. At the plate, he shows raw power and the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park by getting good extension through his loose swing.
Weaknesses: Laird tends to be overaggressive and needs to lay off fastballs up in the strike zone. He’s working to shorten his stroke and become more direct to the ball. He runs like a catcher.
The Future: Coming off an impressive yet brief stint in the big leagues, Laird heads into spring training as the No. 2 catcher behind Einar Diaz. He should be the starter by no later than 2005.
7. Wes Littleton, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Drafted by the Expos in the seventh round out of high school, Littleton established himself as a potential first-rounder heading into 2003. But his junior season was tarnished by a six-week suspension after accusations he stole a teammate’s parking permit. He wasn’t as sharp upon his return, but did turn in a strong effort in the College World Series.
Strengths: Littleton’s fastball is the best in the organization, for its combination of velocity (89-94 mph) and vicious run and sink. Its life comes from his quick, whip-like arm action from a low three-quarters slot. He also throws a sweeping slider with late bite and a changeup that could become a plus pitch.
Weaknesses: While his low release point generates electric movement, finding a consistent weapon against lefthanders will be a challenge for Littleton as a starter.
The Future: Rangers scout Steve Flores has known Littleton since high school, and the organization has no concerns about his suspension last year. Texas expects him to move quickly after starting 2004 in high Class A, moving to Double-A in the second half and possibly the majors in September.
8. Jason Bourgeois, 2b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 170.
Background: Bourgeois was among the top hitters in the high Class A California League when he was promoted to Double-A to replace Ramon Nivar. Bourgeois was sidelined briefly with a bruised hand, but that wasn’t enough to prevent him posting career highs in most offensive categories.
Strengths: At 5-foot-9, Bourgeois draws comparisons to athletic sparkplugs such as Ray Durham and Eric Young. Bourgeois packs surprising sock despite his stature and started finding the gaps more regularly last year. He turns in consistent quality at-bats and has improved his strike-zone judgment. He has the quickness and speed to steal bases with a high success rate.
Weaknesses: Drafted as a shortstop, Bourgeois made the full-time switch to second base last season. He anticipates well on grounders and has an average arm, but overall is just a fringe-average defender.
The Future: After finishing with a strong Arizona Fall League performance, Bourgeois will return to Double-A to begin 2004. His profile mirrors Durham’s through the same level of development, and Bourgeois has all the traits to continue on the same path.
9. Drew Meyer, ss/of
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180.
Background: A Dodgers second-round pick in 1999, Meyer led South Carolina to the College World Series and topped the Southeastern Conference in hits (120) and steals (39) in 2002. Though the Rangers needed pitching, they drafted Meyer 10th overall and drew plenty of criticism. He started slowly last year trying to adapt to Texas’ plate-discipline program but earned a promotion to Double-A in July.
Strengths: A good athlete, Meyer’s tools play up because of his natural instincts for the game. He has a strong, accurate arm and solid middle-of-the-diamond range. He has the first-step quickness to steal bases and dangerous speed once he gets under way.
Weaknesses: In addition to reworking his approach, Meyer also has toyed with adjusting his stroke. He has an unorthodox style, moving out of the box as he swings, with a flat plane to his swing path. He manages to make hard contact but strikes out too often.
The Future: Meyer’s versatility provides defensive options, including center field, where he played last spring and in instructional league, or catcher. He’ll open this year as a Double-A shortstop.
10. Josh Rupe, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Background: The Rangers were allowed to choose three prospects from a pool of eight when they traded Carl Everett to the White Sox last summer. They used three weeks to make their decision, but Rupe was atop their list all along. Chicago brought him along slowly and didn’t move him into its low Class A rotation until mid-June.
Strengths: Rupe works with four pitches and a loose, live arm. His fastball sits at 91 mph and tops out at 95 with outstanding sink. He didn’t allow a home run until August. His slider ranks among the best breaking balls in the organization. He also throws a good downward-breaking curveball.
Weaknesses: The Rangers were pleasantly surprised with Rupe’s changeup but think he needs to build confidence in the pitch by throwing it more often. Still inexperienced, he wore down at the end of the season and has to improve his endurance.
The Future: Armed with four pitches, command and projectability, Rupe has all the ingredients to develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’ll move up to high Class A this season.