Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Gerry Fraley
1. Hank Blalock, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 192. Drafted: HSSan Diego, 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Jim Lentine.
Background: Blalock is another in the long line of players to come out of the San Diego talent hotbed and powerful Rancho Bernardo High, which also produced Scott Heard, the Rangers 2000 first-round pick. Blalocks father Dana and uncle Sam are prominent influences in the baseball communitySam coaches Rancho Bernardoand his younger brother Jake is a prospect for the 2002 draft. Scouts said Blalock was limited offensively in high school, but he turned down Cal State Fullerton after being drafted as a shortstop. His stock has soared since. He won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title in 1999 and ranked second in the minors with a .352 average in 2001. Blalock was the No. 2 prospect in the Florida State League, and was second to none in the Texas League and the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Blalocks strong background shows. He knows how to play the game and has an advanced grasp of using the entire field. He makes solid contact and sprays the ball from foul line to foul line. He has power to the alleys and some scouts project him to hit 30 homers a season because of his tremendous bat speed and the natural lift in his swing. He has a short, compact swing and the discipline to sit back on offspeed stuff. Despite below-average speed, Blalock lets his instincts take over on the bases and is an occasional basestealing threat. He has improved his defense, committing 15 errors last season.
Weaknesses: While his understanding of the strike zone is commendable, Blalock can become too selective. The Rangers would like to see him expand his hitting zone and trade a few strikeouts for a few more extra-base hits. Like most young infielders, he needs to devote more time to his footwork on defense.
The Future: Blalock is six months younger than Mark Teixeira, and two years ahead of him in professional experience. The Rangers plan to start the season with both playing third base at different levels. Blalock is more athletic and capable of handling a move to second base or left field. The platoon of Herb Perry and Mike Lamb buys Blalock a year of development in Triple-A Oklahoma.
2. Mark Teixeira, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Zachary Hoyrst.
Background: Teixeira turned down the Red Sox seven-figure bonus offer out of high school as a ninth-rounder in 1998. He was the top prospect in the Cape Cod League in 1999 and Baseball Americas College Player of the Year in 2000. Despite missing most of his junior season with a fractured right ankle, he went fifth overall in the 2001 draft and signed for a major league contract worth $9.5 million.
Strengths: Teixeira was both the best pure hitter and the best power hitter in the 2001 draft, and the most advanced college bat since Pat Burrell in 1998. Teixeira is proficient from both sides of the plate. Before he got hurt, he made strides with his running and defense.
Weaknesses: He didnt play the field after returning from the injury, so there will be questions about Teixeira until he does. He has to show he can play third base in the majors, though Hank Blalocks presence and Carlos Penas trade will make it easier to move him to first base.
The Future: The injury and protracted contract negotiations left Teixeira rusty in instructional league, where he hit .246 with one homer in 57 at-bats. Hell stay at the hot corner for now and could debut as high as Double-A Tulsa.
3. Mario Ramos, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 172. Drafted: Rice, 1999 (6th round). Signed by: Steve Bowden (Athletics).
Background: Ramos was the key to the Carlos Pena trade for the Rangers, who lacked a major league-ready pitching prospect with his upside. The Athletics compared his ability to learn and make adjustments to Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, two other college lefties who zoomed through their system. Ramos has gone 30-9, 2.88 in two seasons as a pro.
Strengths: After his first year, the As told Ramos he needed to develop a breaking ball. So he came up with a plus curveball that some consider his best pitch. More than anything, he knows how to pitch. He lives by changing speeds off his 88 mph fastball, and his changeup and command are outstanding.
Weaknesses: Doubters wonder whether a pitcher who doesnt break 90 mph can quickly become a force in the major leagues, though Ramos has a knack for putting the ball by hitters. His only real flaw is a tendency to pound righthanders inside.
The Future: Ramos will compete with Rob Bell, Hideki Irabu and Aaron Myette for the fifth spot in the Texas rotation this spring. If he doesnt win, he still figures to surface in Texas sometime in 2002.
4. Colby Lewis, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Bakersfield (Calif. ) JC, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Kip Fagg.
Background: Texas belated attempt to add more power arms began when it took Lewis with their first choice (38th overall) in the 1999 draft. He had Tommy John surgery after high school but has held up well since. He led the system in strikeouts last season and held hitters in the offense-crazed Texas League to a .252 average.
Strengths: Everything Lewis throws is hard. He has the velocity to be effective with a high, riding four-seamer that clocks in the mid-90s and has late movement. He also uses a hard curveball.
Weaknesses: When his power doesnt work, Lewis has trouble surviving. He didnt make it past the fifth inning in eight of his 24 Double-A starts, and he allowed five homers in a game in which he had a 97-mph fastball. He could avoid the inconsistency by getting a better offspeed pitch.
The Future: Lewis lost valuable development time when a sore shoulder forced him out of the Arizona Fall League. The Rangers believe the soreness is related to pitching more than 160 innings in consecutive seasons rather than his prior elbow injury. Theyll monitor him closely this year in Triple-A.
5. Ryan Ludwick, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Nevada-Las Vegas, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Rick Magnante (Athletics).
Background: Once projected as a first-round pick in the 1999 draft, Ludwick slid after a shaky junior season at Nevada-Las Vegas. He regained his stroke with the Athletics, hitting a total 55 homers in his two full seasons in the minors before being included in the Carlos Pena trade. Hes the brother of ex-big league pitcher Ryan Ludwick.
Strengths: Ludwick has the tools to become a legitimate major league slugger. Hes also an above-average outfielder with a plus arm in right field. He lacks the burning speed of most center fielders, but hes faster than most corner outfielders.
Weaknesses: As he has advanced, Ludwick has been slow to make adjustments. He doesnt incorporate his lower half well into his swing. He needs to mature as a hitter rather than letting one bad at-bat affect his next trip to the plate. The question remains whether he can develop into a major league center fielder or if hes better suited to right.
The Future: Ludwick is similar to Gabe Kapler, whom he may have to battle for a big league starting job in the near future. For now, Ludwick will go to Triple-A.
6. Ryan Dittfurth, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSTulsa, 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Mike Grouse.
Background: To sway Dittfurth from attending Texas A&M, the Rangers arranged for him to meet Nolan Ryan. Three years later, Dittfurth won the organizations Nolan Ryan award as its minor league pitcher of the year. He has spent one season at each of the lowest levels of the system, flourishing at that pace.
Strengths: Dittfurth uses four pitches, the best of which is a 93 mph running fastball with heavy sink. He also throws a sweeping curveball thats effective against lefthanders, plus a slider and changeup. The key for him in 2001 was much improved command. He gained better control of his body and focused on attacking the strike zone. He uses his gangly body to hide the ball well in his delivery.
Weaknesses: Dittfurths mound composure has improved but still needs work. He had shown a tendency to come undone in the face of adversity. He can be difficult to catch, as evidenced by his 15 wild pitches last season.
The Future: The combination of four good pitches and growing maturity could allow Dittfurth to come on in a hurry. Hell start this season in Double-A but could finish in Triple-A.
7. Joaquin Benoit, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Omar Minaya/Cornelio Pena.
Background: The Rangers keep waiting for Benoits breakthrough year. After turning in a strong Arizona Fall League performance in 2000, he failed to build on it. He did set a career high for innings, which wasnt hard considering he was sidelined by nagging injuries through his first three full seasons in the United States.
Strengths: When Benoit throws strikes with his plus fastball and slider, he can be overpowering. He devours righthanded hitters with the slider, holding them to a .216 average in 2001. He also has an above-average changeup.
Weaknesses: Benoit likes to work high in the strike zone, sometimes too high. He walks too many batters, and he has a bad habit of showing up umpires. He tends to shut himself down at the first sign of soreness, which makes it hard to maintain his consistency. His delivery could lead to more serious arm problems.
The Future: Benoit will be just 22 on Opening Day, but its time for him to step forward after six years in the organization. Slated to open 2002 in Triple-A, he could crack the Texas rotation later in the year.
8. Jovanny Cedeno, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Danilo Troncoso.
Background: Injuries struck several of Texas pitching prospects in 2001, and no news was more devastating Cedenos. The Rangers had nagging concerns about his slender frame for a while and shut him down after three starts at high Class A Charlotte. He had a torn labrum that required season-ending surgery.
Strengths: When healthy, Cedeno dazzles with his fastball/changeup combination. Like his idol and fellow Dominican, Pedro Martinez, he gets exceptional movement on his changeup because of his large hands and fingers. Cedenos fastball is explosive and travels into the mid-90s. He has the same love for the game that Martinez has.
Weaknesses: Cedeno has pitched just 276 innings in five years as a pro. With only two options remaining, he may have to be kept in the majors before he accumulates the minor league experience he needs. He hasnt been healthy enough to develop a consistent breaking ball.
The Future: Cedeno threw off a mound during instructional league and could have pitched in winter ball, but the Rangers decided to err on the side of caution. They hope hell be ready for big league camp, though he might start this season in extended spring training.
9. Kevin Mench, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Delaware, 1999 (4th round). Signed by: Doug Harris.
Background: Mench won the NCAA Division I home run title in 1998 with 33 as a Delaware sophomore. He slipped as a junior, hurting his draft status, but has been a power hitter in the pros. He led the Appalachian League in home runs in 1999 and has 71 in 323 pro games.
Strengths: Mench has been compared to Pete Incaviglia with better outfield skills. He has become more and more of a dead-pull hitter with exceptional power. He crushed lefthanders in the Texas League last season, hitting .352 with 10 homers in 128 at-bats against them. He has shown slightly above-average speed, but lingering hamstring problems kept him from running last season.
Weaknesses: Mench bulked up last season, which may have caused his leg problems. If he sticks with the pull-everything approach, hell never hit for average. He hit .233 against righthanders in 2001 and his patience slipped. His arm limits him to left field.
The Future: Mench must keep his body under control. Hes in danger of getting too stiff across the shoulders, a development that could tie up his swing. The Rangers hope hell make improvements in Triple-A this year.
10. Jason Hart, 1b
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Southwest Missouri State, 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Jim Pransky (Athletics).
Background: Another component of the Carlos Pena trade, Hart sped through the Oakland system with .303-70-317 totals in his first 350 pro games. Then everything sort of fell apart for him last year in Triple-A. The Athletics think he may have put too much pressure on himself because of Jason Giambis pending free agency.
Strengths: Before he got to Triple-A, Hart showed he could hit for both power and average. He used the whole field and was an offensive force. After spending many hours honing his skills, he made himself into a good defensive first baseman.
Weaknesses: Hart has to readjust his approach and return to the form that allowed him to terrorize pitchers at lower levels. Getting a bit more selective would help. He doesnt fit at another position, and he could have problems winning a starting job with the Rangers because they have a number of candidates for first base and DH, both in the present and in the future.
The Future: Had he produced in 2001, Hart might have been Giambis successor in Oakland. Instead hell return to Triple-A, where hell try to rebound and await a big league opening.
Rest of the Best:
11. Jason Bourgeois, 2b
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