Rangers Prospects 2-10
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Bakersfield (Calif.) JC, 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Kip Fagg.
Background: Lewis surprised the Rangers by making the big league club out of spring training, thanks in part to injuries to Jay Powell and Jeff Zimmerman. Lewis held opponents to a .200 average to earn a bullpen spot when Texas went with 13 pitchers. His mid-90s fastball ultimately wasnt enough for him to succeed in the majors his first time through, however.
Strengths: Lewis is a prototypical big power righthander. Hes strong and durable, has a fluid delivery and gets excellent leverage and downhill movement on his fastball, which can touch 97 mph. His curveball, slider and changeup all have been effective when he commands them.
Weaknesses: Lewis needs to find an offspeed pitch he can consistently throw for strikes. He toyed with a splitter this offseason. If he develops more touch and feel with his curve (thrown in the high 80s) or change (mid-80s), he may not need the splitter.
The Future: Lewis could start 2003 in Texas again, but this time it would be in the rotation. Hell enter spring training with a 50-50 shot at a big league job.
3. Ben Kozlowski, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Santa Fe (Fla.) CC, 1999 (12th round). Signed by: Marco Paddy (Braves).
Background: Major League Baseball stopped the Rangers from putting Ryan Dittfurth on the 60-day disabled list in April, so they had to act quickly to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. They were able to send lefty Andy Pratt to the Braves for Kozlowski, who didnt need to be placed on the 40-man. Kozlowski went from high Class A to the majors by September.
Strengths: Start with a strong left arm attached to a big frame, then add the poise to handle a rapid rise through the system. Kozlowski deals low-90s fastballs and has good arm speed on his changeup, one of the systems best. He uses his size to get depth on his curve, which can be a real hammer at times.
Weaknesses: Innings and experience will help Kozlowski repeat his mechanics and improve his fastball and changeup command. Hell have to become more consistent with his curve as well.
The Future: Texas rotation has openings, but Kozlowski has refinements to make and would be better off opening 2003 in the minors.
4. Laynce Nix, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSMidland, Texas, 2000 (4th round). Signed by: Jay Eddings.
Background: A second-team baseball All-American and a star quarterback in high school, Nix has continued to achieve success since spurning a baseball scholarship from Louisiana State. His Arizona Fall League campaign was cut short by a ligament injury in his right thumb. His brother Jayson plays second base in the Rockies organization.
Strengths: Many compare Nix to Brian Giles because of his compact, muscular build and power potential. Nix power has developed to the point that he has outstripped comparisons to Rusty Greer, though like Greer he has an excellent work ethic, a nice swing and a disciplined-yet-aggressive approach. He ranked third in the minor leagues in RBIs in 2002.
Weaknesses: While Nix played center field in 2002 and the Rangers have a need at the position, scouts see him as a corner outfielder. Hes an average runner and probably will slow down. The thick Nix must be careful that he doesnt cost himself flexibility with his workouts.
The Future: Nix should move up to Double-A Frisco and continue to play center field in 2003. A successful tour of his native Texas League should have Nix ready for a trip to Arlington in 2004.
5. Gerald Laird, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Cypress (Calif.) JC, D/F 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Ron Vaughn (Athletics).
Background: Following an injury-plagued 2001, Laird was considered the least promising of the four players the Rangers netted from the Athletics in the Carlos Pena trade. He got healthy and had a breakout season, just in time for the Rangers to cut ties with Ivan Rodriguez.
Strengths: Laird got a then-record $1 million bonus as a draft-and-follow primarily because of his catch-and-throw skills, and they remain his strong suit. Hes an above-average receiver with good balance and a solid, very accurate arm. With a quick release, he led the Texas League by throwing out 44 percent of basestealers in 2002. Lairds athletic ability allowed him to start 13 games in the outfield, including one in center.
Weaknesses: Laird is more of a grinder offensively, though he has started to develop power. He lacks the patience customary for a premium prospect who played in the As system. He also has durability questions, as his 101 games at Tulsa marked a career high.
The Future: Laird needs at least one season in Triple-A before challenging for the big league job, and the trade for Einar Diaz buys him that time. Laird eventually should relegate him to a backup role.
6. Drew Meyer, ss/2b
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 185. Drafted: South Carolina, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Jim Fairey.
Background: Meyer was a second-round pick of the Dodgers out of high school, but not even a visit from Tommy Lasorda could dissuade him from playing for South Carolina. He followed first-rounders Adam Everett and Brian Roberts as the Gamecocks shortstop and led them to the College World Series in 2002.
Strengths: Meyer oozes tools, has a strong body and never leaves a game with a clean uniform. Hes an above-average runner who should steal bases. His plus arm and instincts allow him to make up for footwork deficiencies at second base, where he had limited experience before turning pro, and shortstop. His tools may profile better in center field.
Weaknesses: Meyer has never been a dominant hitter and struggled in two summers with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. He lacks a real plan at the plate and is too pull-conscious. The Rangers believe his instincts, strength and aggressiveness will help him succeed, though.
The Future: Meyer was indoctrinated in the Rangers philosophy during instructional league, where he showed more patience at the plate. Hell try to build on his progress at high Class A Stockton in 2003.
7. Ryan Ludwick, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Nevada-Las Vegas, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Rick Magnante (Athletics).
Background: Another part of the Carlos Pena trade, Ludwick made his big league debut in 2002, starting 21 games in center field for Texas. He became the second member of his family to reach the majors, joining his brother Eric, a righthanded pitcher. His season ended in August, however, when he had a screw inserted in his left hip to repair a stress fracture.
Strengths: Ludwick has quick hands that generate power at the plate. Hes a good defensive outfielder, especially on the corners, with a strong arm and average speed. Hes suited for the grind of pro ball and doesnt get too high or low.
Weaknesses: Ludwick doesnt do anything exceptionally well. He still doesnt get his lower half into his swing, leaving him with several holes, and his swing mechanics can get out of whack easily. He also needs to be more patient and to develop a better two-strike approach.
The Future: The Rangers outfield situation is crowded by bad contracts (Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez), but Ludwick could figure into it, if healthy, in 2003 as a low-cost reserve. A start back at Triple-A seems more likely.
8. C.J. Wilson, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Loyola Marymount, 2001 (5th round). Signed by: Tim Fortugno.
Background: A two-way player in college, Wilson was the California community college co-player of the year at Santa Ana in 2000. A student of the game, he keeps a notebook on opposing hitters now that hes become a full-time pitcher. He made the high Class A Florida State Leagues all-star game in his first full season.
Strengths: Wilson has above-average athleticism to go with his thirst for pitching knowledge. The Rangers laud his heart and focus. He knows the value of pitching inside with his 89-91 mph fastball and his changeup, which developed into an efficient out pitch last year. His natural sinker helps keep balls in the park.
Weaknesses: His breaking pitch, while effective when thrown down in the zone, is still slurvy and could use some tightening. Wilson should do that as he becomes more accustomed to pro ball and pitching.
The Future: Wilson resembles Mario Ramos in his ability to carve up hitters with a fastball and changeup. Wilson has more juice on his fastball, which could give him a better chance to succeed at higher levels. The Rangers will find out in 2003, which hell open in Double-A.
9. Travis Hughes, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 235. Drafted: Cowley County (Kan.) CC, D/F 1997 (19th round). Signed by: Mike Grouse.
Background: Hughes signed as a draft-and-follow out of junior-college power Cowley County (Kan.), which also produced Diamondbacks infielder Junior Spivey and former Rangers farmhand Travis Hafner. He overcame offseason knee problems and a midsummer slump to emerge from the Rangers pack of Double-A righthanders.
Strengths: Hughes has a big body and uses it to throw one of the organizations best fastballs, a mid-90s sinker. He has started commanding it better and added bite to his slider. When he stays on top of it, its the best slider in the organization. Three starts in the Texas League playoffs helped Hughes gain much-needed feel for his changeup, which was a plus pitch in the postseason.
Weaknesses: The organization leader in walks in 2002, Hughes still has major command issues. His mechanics can go awry and hes not a tremendous athlete, so he has trouble repeating his delivery.
The Future: Hughes experience as a starter helped him develop his raw power arm. He figures to stay in that role until the big league team needs him in the bullpen, where he still profiles best. Hell get a look in spring training but figures to open 2003 in the Triple-A rotation.
10. Jason Bourgeois, 2b/ss
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSHouston, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Randy Taylor.
Background: A second-team prep All-American, Bourgeois was part of an Arizona State recruiting class that included No. 7 overall pick Matt Harrington and 2002 minor league ERA champion Bubba Nelson. Like the others, he didnt end up in Tempe, signing for a $621,000 bonus.
Strengths: Bourgeois has a unique package of tools considering his size. He has average power and is a plus runner. His range and arm, a tick above-average, prompted a move to shortstop from second base, and Bourgeois showed he can handle the position. His overall package, including leadership and a gamers makeup, draw comparisons to Jimmy Rollins and Harold Reynolds.
Weaknesses: Bourgeois size remains an issue, as he wore down late in the season and hit just .210 in the final month. A more patient approach would allow him to make better use of his power and his speed. He still needs repetitions to acclimate himself to shortstop.
The Future: At worst, Bourgeois could be a utilityman. With his tools, though, the ceiling is higher than that. Hell take it one step at a time and could move back to second base down the road.
Best of the Rest
With Grady Fuson in charge of player development, the Rangers keyword for their mound prospects is "pitchability." In his first draft with the club, Fuson brought in several pitchers whose strengths are throwing strikes, not throwing in the mid-90s.
Texas got one of NCAA Division IIs top starters in Florida Southern righthander John Barnett, who posted a 1.44 ERA in 44 innings at high Class A Charlotte after signing as a sixth-rounder. His fastball/changeup combination should help him move quickly, and he has plus velocity at 93-94 mph. Texas also added righty Kiki Bengochea, giving him $550,000 as an 11th-round pick. Fuson considered Bengochea, a sinker/slider pitcher with an 89-92 mph fastball, a third-round talent and gave him a third-round bonus. Bengochea, who had a disappointing spring at Miami, had a good debut, posting a 3.00 ERA at low Class A Savannah.
The Rangers also were encouraged by the development of Dominican righties Jose Dominguez and Kelvin Jimenez, who both showed plus stuff and command at Savannah. They also took to the organizations tandem-starter regimen, in which pitchers alternate working as starters and relievers. Fuson says the concept, used by Texas below the Double-A level, promotes efficiency and gives pitchers experience in a wider variety of situations.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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