Texas Rangers: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Texas Rangers: Scouting Reports




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, 2009.

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Texas Rangers

Though the Rangers missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, 2008 was a success in the broader context of the franchise's long-term vision. Texas remained steadfast in its dedication to rebuilding through scouting and player development, a commitment the organization embraced just before the 2007 trading deadline, when general manager Jon Daniels traded superstar Mark Teixeira and lefthander Ron Mahay to the Braves for a five-player ransom.

That blockbuster looked good for the Rangers at the time, and it looks even better now. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and lefty Matt Harrison are poised to become big league regulars after spending large chunks of 2008 in Arlington. Precocious Elvis Andrus performed well beyond his years in Double-A and looks like a franchise shortstop in the making. And best of all, flamethrowing righty Neftali Feliz established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the minors, rocketing from short-season ball in 2007 to Double-A by the second half of 2008.

Joining Feliz in that ascent to Double-A and to the ranks of elite prospects was lefthander Derek Holland, who saw his velocity spike into the upper 90s by season's end. That duo, combined with the emergence of young Latin American hurlers like Martin Perez, Wilfredo Boscan and Kennil Gomez and the continued steady development of recent first-round picks Michael Main, Blake Beavan and Kasey Kiker gives Texas its deepest stable of high-end pitching prospects ever.

The Rangers also are rich with quality catching, a rare luxury. Saltalamacchia, Gerald Laird, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez present a catching logjam at the top of the system, while Manuel Pina, Jose Felix, Leonel de los Santos and Tomas Telis offer depth at lower levels. The organization also is stocked with premium athletes (such as outfielders Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre and middle infielders Andrus, Jose Vallejo and Joaquin Arias) and power bats (including first basemen Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland). Smoak was the first-round pick in Texas' 2008 draft crop, which Baseball America rated No. 1 in the game.

With all that impact talent and depth, it's easy to see why many talent evaluators regard the system as the best in baseball.

Even newly installed team president Nolan Ryan is focused on the farm, instituting new organization-wide policies aimed at developing power pitchers. Specifically, Rangers pitching prospects will throw more live batting practice, do more sprinting, and work with expanded pitch counts in certain situations. Ryan also wants to instill an attitude of fearlessness among the pitchers to prepare them for the challenge of working in hitter-friendly Arlington.

All the hullaballoo over player development overshadowed the 79-83 major league club, but there were encouraging developments at that level as well. Acquired for Edinson Volquez from the Reds in a trade that was a boon for both teams, Josh Hamilton hit .304 with 32 home runs and an American League-leading 130 RBIs while emerging as the face of the Rangers franchise. Rookies Chris Davis and David Murphy combined to slug 32 home runs, and Ian Kinsler turned in an all-star campaign at second base. The Rangers led the majors in scoring (901 runs) but also posted the worst ERA (5.97) in baseball.

1.  Neftali Feliz, rhp  Born: May 2, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 180
 SIGNED: Dominican Republic, 2005. SIGNED BY: Julian Perez/Roberto Aquino (Braves)
Neftali FelizBackground: Signed by the Braves for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Feliz burst onto the prospect landscape in his U.S. debut in 2006, running his fastball up to 97 mph and striking out 42 in 29 innings as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The following summer, he was dealt to the Rangers along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones in exchange for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. He opened his first full season with Texas at low Class A Clinton, where he overpowered Midwest League hitters. The Rangers say they skipped him to Double-A Frisco in July in order to challenge him to command his secondary stuff better against more advanced hitters. He continued to thrive as a 20-year-old against much older players, finishing the year with a minor league-leading 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings between the two levels.

Strengths: Feliz's fastball might rate as a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. At Clinton, it sat at 94-96 mph and touched 99, and at Frisco it topped out at 101 mph. More impressive, Feliz does it effortlessly, and the ball explodes out of his hand with natural boring life. When he maintains a high three-quarters arm slot, he also gets a good downhill angle on his heater. His secondary pitches both have potential. He throws a power curveball that sometimes reaches 83-84 mph, and it's a plus pitch with 11-to-5 break when he stays on top of it. He shows feel for an 85-87 mph changeup with good fading action. Feliz is a natural athlete who fields his position well. He has a physical, durable frame and an easy arm action, suggesting he should be able to shoulder a significant workload without breaking down. He also has a confident mound presence, and his between-starts routine improved in 2008, demonstrating his continuing maturation.

Weaknesses: Sometimes Feliz drops his arm slot, causing his stuff to flatten out. He's still fine-tuning his breaking ball, which at times becomes a slurve. The pitch was suspect early in the season at Clinton, but he made strides with it later in the year. He slows down his arm action at times with his changeup, and the Rangers still have to force him to throw it. He doesn't have pinpoint fastball command—team president Nolan Ryan worked with him during instructional league on locating his fastball down and away—but throwing strikes and pitching to the bottom of the zone come naturally to him. Feliz also worked hard in instructional league on quickening his delivery and varying his times to the plate so he could control the running game better. Opponents stole 32 bases in 38 tries against him last season.

The Future: With perhaps the most overpowering fastball in the minors and the makings of two quality offspeed pitches, Feliz has a chance to be a legitimate No. 1 starter. Rather than pitch in winter ball, he worked out at the Rangers' academy in the Dominican Republic, and he'll get a look in big league camp in spring training. He'll probably open 2009 back in the minors, with a callup to Texas possible in the second half.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Clinton (LoA)
6
3
2.52
17
17
0
0
82
55
2
28
106
.193
Frisco (AA)
4
3
2.98
10
10
0
0
45.1
34
1
23
47
.217
 
2.  Derek Holland, lhp   Born: Oct. 9, 1986. B-T: B-L. HT.: 6-2. WT.: 185.
 DRAFTED: Wallace State (Ala.) CC, D/F 2006 (25th round). SIGNED BY: Rick Schroeder/Jeff Wood.
Derek HollandBackground: Texas took a flier on Holland in the 2006 draft at the recommendation of former area scout Rick Schroeder, who spotted him at the Junior College World Series. Signed for $200,000 as a draft-and-follow, he took off in his first full season, earning Rangers minor league pitcher of the year honors.

Strengths: Holland started the year with an 89-93 mph fastball in Clinton, but his velocity spiked at midseason and he was sitting at 94-95 and touching 97-98 in the  Texas League playoffs. His slightly across-the-body delivery and excellent extension give his fastball deception and life, making it a plus-plus offering. He can blow it by hitters up in the zone or command it down. Holland's second pitch is a slightly above-average 81-83 changeup with good arm speed and fade. He's confident enough to use it in any count.

Weaknesses: Holland occasionally flashes an average 78-81 mph slider, but it needs to become more consistent and he must learn how and when to use it. He's still not overly physical and must prove he can maintain his exceptional fastball over a full season.

The Future: Holland has a chance to be a frontline starter along the lines of Scott Kazmir. He figures to start 2009 back in Double-A but could reach Texas by season's end.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Clinton (LoA)
7
0
2.40
17
17
0
0
93.2
77
2
29
91
.228
Bakersfield (HiA)
3
1
3.19
5
5
0
0
31
20
1
5
37
.185
Frisco (AA)
3
0
0.69
4
4
0
0
26
14
0
6
29
.163
 
3.  Justin Smoak, 1b  Born: Dec. 5, 1986. B-T: B-L. HT.: 6-3. WT.: 200.
 DRAFTED: South Carolina, 2008 (1st round). SIGNED BY: Jim Cuthbert.
Justin SmoakBackground: A high school teammate of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters in Goose Creek, S.C., Smoak started every game during his three-year college career at South Carolina, where he set Gamecocks career records with 62 homers and 207 RBIs. The Rangers were elated to get him with the 11th overall pick in 2008, signing him an hour before the Aug. 15 deadline for $3.5 million.

Strengths: As a switch-hitter with well-above-average power from both sides of the plate and Gold Glove potential at first base, Smoak draws comparisons to former Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira. Like Teixeira, Smoak is a patient hitter who punishes offspeed stuff as well as fastballs and uses the entire field. He's a hard worker and a good teammate.

Weaknesses: Smoak has below-average speed and will always be somewhat of a baseclogger, though he's an intelligent runner. Like most switch-hitters, he's better from the left side. Defensively, he still needs to improve his footwork and get used to the speed of the pro game.

The Future: One of the most advanced hitters in the 2008 draft, Smoak could fly through the Rangers system. He will start his first full season at high Class A Bakersfield and could be entrenched in the big leagues by 2010. He projects as a middle-of-the-order power hitter and has a chance to be a superstar.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Clinton (LoA)
.304
.355
.518
56
9
17
3
0
3
6
5
10
0
 
4.  Elvis Andrus, ss   Born: Aug. 26, 1988. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-0. WT.: 185.
 SIGNED: Venezuela, 2005. SIGNED BY: Rolando Petit/Julian Perez (Braves).
Elvis AndrusBackground: A key piece in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves, Andrus more than held his own as a teenager in Double-A during his first full season with the Rangers. He tried to play through a broken finger on his right hand early in the year—a major reason for his 11 errors in May—before Texas shut him down for two weeks. He came back strong, hitting .311 over the last three months, then spent the winter playing alongside older brother Erold in the Venezuelan League.

Strengths: With plus range, sure hands, a strong, accurate arm and uncanny instincts, Andrus has all the tools to be a premium defensive shortstop. His above-average speed plays up even more on the bases, where he has learned how to get good jumps, run in breaking ball counts and even steal third base. He has a knack for putting the bat on the ball and getting big hits. His makeup is off the charts.

Weaknesses: Andrus never will have better than below-average power, but he should be able to drive balls to the gaps if he can get stronger and understand his swing better. He has a tendency to lunge on his front foot at the plate. Andrus sometimes relaxes too much on routine plays, helping account for his 32 errors in 2008.

The Future: Andrus will be one of the youngest players in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2009, and he seems on schedule for a 2010 arrival in Texas. He profiles as an all-star-caliber shortstop in the Edgar Renteria mold.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frisco (AA)
.295
.350
.367
482
82
142
19
2
4
65
38
91
54
 
5.  Martin Perez, lhp   Born: April 4, 1991. B-T: L-L. HT.: 6-0. WT.: 165.
 SIGNED: Venezuela, 2007. SIGNED BY: Rafic Saab/Manny Batista/Don Welke.
Martin PerezBackground: Texas signed Perez for $580,000 in 2007, with one club official likening him to Ron Guidry and dubbing him "The Venezuelan Gator." During his pro debut in 2008, he more than held his own against much older competition, ranking as the top pitching prospect in the short-season Northwest League.

Strengths: Perez has a compact delivery and a short, clean arm action that produces 90-94 mph fastballs with life down in the zone. His tight, late-breaking 75-78 mph curveball has good depth, giving him a second plus pitch. He has advanced command of both offerings, and he does a good job pitching out of jams and holding runners. He's fearless on the mound and is mature beyond his years.

Weaknesses: Perez's changeup is a below-average pitch, but he has good feel for it and just needs to learn to trust it and repeat it. He's not big or physical, so his long-term durability could be a question.

The Future: One scout who saw Perez in the NWL said his arm action, ability to pitch on a downward plane and power repertoire reminded him of Johan Santana. The Rangers, however, would like to temper the enthusiasm a bit about a pitcher so young and so far from the majors. He'll probably begin 2009 on a strict pitch count at their new low Class A Hickory affiliate.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Spokane (SS)
1
2
3.65
15
15
0
0
61.2
66
3
28
53
.274
 
6.  Taylor Teagarden, c  Born: Dec. 21, 1983. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-1. WT.: 200.
 DRAFTED: Texas, 2005 (3rd round). SIGNED BY: Randy Taylor.
Taylor TeagardenBackground: Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Teagarden showed up to major league camp healthy and homered in his first at-bat last spring, only to miss three weeks with a wrist injury. The layoff hurt his offense in the first half of the season, but didn't stop him from earning spots in the Futures Game and on the U.S. Olympic team. He returned from Beijing energized and hit well in a September callup.

Strengths: Teagarden's receiving, blocking and throwing all rate as above-average.  He has excellent recall skills and pitchers are comfortable with his game-calling. Offensively, he has solid-average power and a patient approach.

Weaknesses: Texas was disappointed with Teagarden's bat for most of 2008, and many in the organization doubt he'll ever hit for average. There's length in his stroke and he tends to swing through fastballs. He also strikes out quite a bit, a by-product of the deep counts he often finds himself in.

The Future: With his defense, leadership and power potential, Teagarden profiles as a solid everyday big league catcher and perhaps an all-star. The Rangers have several candidates, but he could get a shot at their starting job in 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frisco (AA)
.169
.279
.305
59
6
10
2
0
2
6
8
23
1
Oklahoma (AAA)
.225
.332
.396
187
26
42
5
3
7
16
28
59
0
Texas
.319
.396
.809
47
10
15
5
0
6
17
5
19
0
 
7.  Engel Beltre, of   Born: Nov. 1, 1989. B-T: L-L. HT.: 6-1. WT.: 169.
 SIGNED: Dominican Republic, 2006. SIGNED BY: Pablo Lantigua (Red Sox).
Engel BeltreBackground: The Red Sox signed Beltre for $600,000 in 2006 and sent him to Texas along with Kason Gabbard and David Murphy for Eric Gagne at the 2007 trading deadline. In his first full season with the Rangers, Beltre led the Midwest League in runs (87) and hits (160) despite being the circuit's youngest player. He ranked as the league's No. 6 prospect.

Strengths: Beltre's five-tool package has garnered comparisons to big leaguers from Barry Bonds to Kenny Lofton to Andruw Jones. His wiry-strong frame and quick bat easily generate above-average raw power, and his plus speed is an asset on the basepaths and in the outfield. His arm, which rates as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his good instincts could make him a premium defender in center. He's a high-energy player and a natural leader.

Weaknesses: Beltre is aggressive in all phases and sometimes has trouble slowing the game down. He's a free swinger who must improve his patience and pitch selection. While he can punish balls out of the zone at times, he'll have to force more advanced pitchers to throw him strikes.

The Future: Beltre remains raw but his development is well ahead of schedule and his upside is enormous. Down the road, he could be a five-tool superstar center fielder. He'll advance to high Class A in 2009 and could reach the majors before he turns 22.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Clinton (LoA)
.283
.308
.403
566
87
160
26
9
8
47
15
105
31
 
8.  Michael Main, rhp   Born: Dec. 14, 1988. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-2. WT.: 170.
 DRAFTED: HS—Deland, Fla., 2007 (1st round). SIGNED BY: Guy DeMutis.
Michael MainBackground: The 24th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Main signed for $1,237,500. He felt discomfort in his side at the start of spring training in 2008, causing his arm slot to drop and his stuff to suffer, and an X-ray revealed a cracked rib that sidelined him until late June. He returned to pitch well in low Class A in the second half, then stood out in instructional league in the fall.

Strengths: When the Rangers introduced Main to an over-the-head windup to help generate more momentum, his velocity spiked to 92-96 mph in instructional league. He commands his fastball to both halves of the plate, and his tight downer curveball could give him a second plus offering in the future. He's a premium athlete who garnered pro interest as a center fielder, helping him repeat his delivery and throw strikes. He's intelligent and unflappable on the mound.

Weaknesses: Main still needs to add strength to his slight frame in order to improve his durability. He has good feel for his changeup, which should become an average pitch in time, but right now it lags behind his other two offerings.

The Future: Main's electric arm could make him a frontline starter after a few years of development. He'll open 2009 with one of Texas' Class A affiliates.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rangers (R)
1
1
3.38
3
3
0
0
13.1
9
1
5
15
.188
Clinton (LoA)
2
2
2.58
10
10
0
0
45.1
38
4
13
50
.228
 
9.  Julio Borbon, of   Born: Feb. 20, 1986. B-T: L-L. HT.:
6-1. WT.: 190.
 DRAFTED: Tennessee, 2007 (1st round supplemental). SIGNED BY: Jeff Wood.
Julio BorbonBackground: A 2007 supplemental first-rounder who got a $1.3 million major league contract, Borbon was hampered by a minor leg injury in April. The Rangers liked how he learned to be effective while less than 100 percent, and he hit .321 with 53 steals while reaching Double-A in his first full pro season.

Strengths: Borbon learned to take more advantage of his plus-plus speed in 2008. More pull-oriented in the past, he did a better job using the whole field and keeping the ball on the ground, and he developed a much better feel for bunting. He has strength in his line-drive swing and will hit a few homers. He also worked hard with Rangers outfield instructor Wayne Kirby on improving his jumps and reads in center field, where he can become a plus defender.

Weaknesses: Though he made progress with his offensive approach, Borbon still needs to work counts better and take more walks. He's learning to pick his spots on the basepaths and how to get good jumps after getting caught 11 times in 28 steal attempts in Double-A. He has a below-average arm, though his accuracy and transfer have improved.

The Future: Borbon profiles as a slashing leadoff man and solid center fielder in the Johnny Damon mold. He could compete for a big league job by 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Bakersfield (HiA)
.308
.349
.399
286
46
88
20
0
2
36
15
30
36
Frisco (AA)
.337
.380
.459
255
40
86
12
2
5
22
14
32
17
 
10.  Max Ramirez, c/1b  Born: Oct. 11, 1984. B-T: R-R. HT.: 5-11. WT.: 175.
 SIGNED: Venezuela, 2002. SIGNED BY: Rolando Petit (Braves).
Max RamirezBackground: Ramirez was traded from Atlanta to Cleveland for Bob Wickman in mid-2006, then shipped to Texas for Kenny Lofton a year later. He spent the first half of 2008 in a catcher/DH platoon with Taylor Teagarden before getting his first big league callup when injuries hit the Rangers in late June.

Strengths: Ramirez is a gifted natural hitter who works the count and drives the ball to all fields. His setup has a lot of movement before he gets into hitting position, yet he commands the zone well and is a good two-strike hitter. For the first time in his career, he began unlocking his plus raw power in 2008.

Weaknesses: Scouts question whether Ramirez can stay behind the plate, where his arm is fringy, his release is slow, his hands are stiff and his agility is below-average. His well-below-average speed could sabotage his chances of being a .300 hitter in the majors.

The Future: Ramirez played some first base in 2008 to improve his versatility, and his future might be as a first baseman/DH/fill-in catcher. Wherever he plays, Ramirez should hit enough to be a solid big league regular, perhaps as soon as 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frisco (AA)
.354
.450
.646
243
49
86
16
2
17
50
37
56
2
Texas
.217
.345
.370
46
8
10
1
0
2
9
6
15
0
Oklahoma (AAA)
.243
.293
.432
37
5
9
1
0
2
6
3
13
0
Rangers (R)
.800
.857
1.200
5
4
4
2
0
0
1
2
0
0

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Photo Credits: Brian Bissell (Feliz)
Mike Janes (Holland)
Bill Mitchell (Smoak, Andrus, Perez, Borbon)
Steve Moore (Teagarden)
Paul Gierhart (Beltre, Main)