Up-The-Middle Prospects Drive Hickory's Success
HICKORY, N.C.—The Rangers cruised to their second straight American
League pennant last year thanks in part to a strong up-the-middle
alignment of shortstop Elvis Andrus
, second baseman Ian Kinsler
and catcher Mike Napoli
low Class A Hickory affiliate follows a similar formula this season as
they pursue a playoff berth in the South Atlantic League. The Crawdads
sit one game out of first place in the Northern Division's second-half
standings, their success a reflection of the contributions of catcher Jorge Alfaro
, second baseman Rougned Odor
and shortstop Luis Sardinas
, three of the youngest position players in the league.
am a firm believer that if you have two true up-the-middle players at a
level it is very impressive," Rangers special assistant Tony Fernandez
said. "But on this team every (position) has a true up-the-middle guy
who has a chance to develop."
Alfaro, Odor and Sardinas have impressed scouts as they've made their full-season debuts.
you come to (the SAL), you can NP (non-prospect) a lot of the guys, but
these are three guys you can get excited about," one American League
scout said. "This is one of the more exciting collections of talent I
have seen in a while. These three are very good and very young. I think
all three have futures in the big leagues."
fact that the Rangers' teen trio landed in Hickory together is no
coincidence. Alfaro and Odor ranked among the short-season Northwest
top prospects last season, while Sardinas accomplished the same
feat in the Rookie-level Arizona League
the grand scheme of things, Texas has been a heavy spender on the
international amateur market, acquiring premium position talent like no
other organization. In fact, all eight of the Rangers' starting middle
infielders on their four full-season clubs—including No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar
at Double-A—were acquired internationally.
though Alfaro, Odor and Sardinas have missed time with injuries this
season, the talented trio is ahead of the development curve.
are trying to get the gaps between the good and bad performances to
narrow so that they can have consistent approaches and create
confidence," Rangers farm director Tim Purpura said. "But they have all
grown tremendously since spring training and are very fun to watch."
The Complete Package
Rangers signed Alfaro out of Colombia for $1.3 million, paying up
because he has a rare combination of tools for a catcher. Athletic and
muscular at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he already has a well-developed upper
body at age 19.
is the complete package as a catcher," Fernandez said. "You don't see
catchers who can run like him. He has a plus-plus arm and can hit with
scout put a future 70 grade on Alfaro's power, and that power is
showing up in games. Through 217 plate appearances he's batting
.278/.341/.459 and nearly half his 54 hits have gone for extra bases.
Like many young power hitters, though, Alfaro still is learning how to
hit and has struck out in nearly 27 percent of his PAs. He is constantly
working to not lunge when he sees a pitch he likes.
is an everyday deal with him," Perez said. "It is trying to get that
break instead of continuing onto his front foot. He is starting to
realize he doesn't have to go out there and get the ball. He has some of
the quickest hands in the organization and he is just learning to trust
help keep his weight back during his stride, Alfaro has widened his
hitting base after standing upright in recent years. He previously held
his hands close to his head, preventing an optimal swing path.
is a matter of minimizing movement, that's why his base is wider and
he's getting farther back with his hands," Perez said. "We want it to be
one move back and fire because he has got pop."
injured his hamstring in April and missed nearly two months after
re-injuring the hamstring during rehab. Behind the plate, he has quick
feet and one of the strongest arms in the minors.
"Now that is an 80-grade arm," the scout said. "He will have to work on his receiving, but the raw material is there."
'Prototypical Two-Hole Hitter'
youngest player in the SAL, Odor won't turn 19 until next spring
training. Despite an advanced feel for the game, he signed out of
Venezuela for $425,000, the less than either Alfaro or Sardinas.
is very mature for his age—I thought he was much older when I first met
him," Fernandez said. "He takes good swings and has an idea of what he
wants to do when he is pitched with authority. The numbers do not lie.
Anytime you see someone that young putting up numbers like that you know
you have someone special"
batting just .224 in 40 games since the all-star break, Odor has been a
league-average performer this season with an overall batting line of
.261/.312/.410 through 386 plate appearances. His .722 OPS compares
favorably with the SAL average of .723. The list of players to
accomplish that at the low Class A level since 2006 is short, totaling
14 players and including big leaguers Freddie Freeman
, Jason Heyward
, Jesus Montero
, Giancarlo Stanton
and Justin Upton
. (The list also includes top prospects such as Profar, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor
, Astros first baseman Jonathan Singleton
and Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose
sound defensively, Odor faces a tough profile as a second-base
prospect. The majority of today's regular and semi-regular big league
second basemen spent their minor league careers at shortstop, and the
lone international amateur to rise from low Class A to the big leagues
while playing exclusively the keystone is the Astros' Jose Altuve
stands 5-foot-8 and is a strong 185 pounds. A scout graded him out as a
"45 runner right now," and the organization knows maintaining that
speed will be the key to him staying up the middle.
biggest thing he can do is to maintain his speed," Tingler said. "As he
gets older and matures he needs to stay with his agility and speed
workouts because maintaining his speed is going to be a big part of his
physicality and natural strength have produced 33 extra-base hits,
including eight home runs, but his power can get him into trouble at
as young as Odor is he is pretty strong—at times to a fault—because he
knows he has enough juice and sometimes it gets him in trouble," Hickory
batting coach Josue Perez said. "He has a pretty fluid swing, one of
the best in the organization, but he just needs to continue to modify
that swing and not try to do too much with it."
Odor hit the Hickory disabled list with a separated shoulder in June, but the hard-nosed second baseman returned quickly.
is a total gamer," the scout said. "He is a prototypical two-hole
hitter at the big league level, because he uses the whole field well and
can probably hit .275-.285 with 12-15 home runs."
Expectations Of Weight
19-year-old Sardinas signed for $1.2 million out of Venezuela, a
country with a long tradition of slick-fielding shortstops such as Luis
Aparicio, Omar Vizquel
and the Rangers' own star Andrus.
are a few things I am looking for when watching players and he has what
I am looking for to be a special player," Fernandez said. "To me,
Sardinas is a natural shortstop—he has the build, the arm, the speed."
Fernandez ought to know. He was one of the premier shortstops of his day, winning four straight Gold Gloves from 1986-89.
6-foot-1, Sardinas is a long, lean and angular shortstop with quick
feet, agility and fluid actions. He has a slim waist and broad
shoulders, and a scout compared him physically with a less-developed
version of White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez
weighed 150 pounds when he signed in 2009, but he currently weighs
about 167 after adding 10 pounds within the last year. The Rangers have a
regimented weightlifting program for Sardinas and monitor his weight
daily because added bulk will be imperative as he matures.
there is one thing that scares me about Sardinas, it's how skinny he
is," the scout said. "He will have to work hard to keep weight on. He
needs to become stronger to improve his hitting."
lack of physicality has resulted in a lone home run and singles-heavy
batting line of .296/.349/.354 through 323 plate appearances. But the
switch-hitting Sardinas has shown good contact skills by striking out in
just 12 percent of PAs, the seventh-lowest rate in the league among
qualifiers. He also has 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
strength also could keep Sardinas healthier. He missed time in each of
the past two seasons with shoulder injuries, the most serious of which
occurred last year when he dislocated the joint during a swing, had
surgery and played in just 14 games in the AZL. He missed two weeks this
June with another shoulder injury.
biggest thing we are focusing on with Sardinas is finishing with two
hands to take stress off both shoulders," Rangers field coordinator
Jayce Tingler said. "Every once in a while he will get out of it and
Despite the missed development time, Sardinas remains an talented player with enticing upside.
could have three 70-grade tools in his glove, arm and run," the scout
said. "His hitting is improving, but even if it doesn't fully develop he
will have a place in the big leagues solely because of his defense."