Saturday Roundup: Louisville, Vanderbilt Among Strong Finishers
Vanderbilt set a new record for Southeastern Conference wins in a season Saturday, beating Alabama 14-10 to clinch the series and finish 26-3 in SEC play. The previous record was [...]
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.
Editor's Note: This introduction to our Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects is presented as it was orginally published, days before the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees.
For the Rangers, last year will be remembered for what didn’t happen. The prospective trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox in December turned into a circus fueled by media speculation, changing deadlines and intervention from the commissioner’s office and the union.
Rodriguez’ $252 million contract has become an albatross for the franchise. Trading him would have increased Texas’ roster flexibility and allowed the club to be more aggressive in acquiring much-needed pitching. In the midst of their fourth straight last-place finish in the American League West, however, the Rangers were able to unload pending free agents Carl Everett and Ugueth Urbina and replenish the farm system. Everett brought in righthanders Josh Rupe and Franklin Francisco and outfielder Anthony Webster from the White Sox. Urbina landed first baseman Adrian Gonzalez—who became the top prospect in the system—lefthander Ryan Snare and outfielder Will Smith from the Marlins.
While both those deals made perfect sense for the Rangers, they and their fans also were left wondering what might have been, after Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro shot down favorable moves for Texas last summer that would have brought in more prospects..
Dealing Rodriguez could have been a disaster, and it’s impossible to argue that the Rangers aren’t better off from a talent standpoint with him instead of Manny Ramirez. The AL MVP will form the heart of a potent lineup along with recent farm system products Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, whose brightest days are ahead of them. Texas brass also is excited about the players on the verge of stepping in for Everett (Ramon Nivar), Gonzalez (Laynce Nix) and Palmeiro (Adrian Gonzalez).
Many of the Rangers’ positives came down on the farm in 2003. Nix would have rated No. 1 on this list had he not graduated to the big leagues ahead of schedule. Nivar and righthander Juan Dominguez emerged as top talents and made their major league debuts. In addition to all the trade acquisitions, Texas also had a deep draft that netted two first-round talents in lefty John Danks (the 10th overall pick) and outfielder Vince Sinisi (a second-rounder only because of signability concerns).
Fourth-round righty Wes Littleton, who entered last spring with first-round aspirations, jumped on the fast track after signing and could reach the majors as early as September. The Rangers also took a chance on righthander Marc LaMacchia in the 21st round though he was just a few months removed from Tommy John surgery. Three other 2003 draftees are already among the organization’s better prospects.
Acquiring pitching depth has been a priority for assistant general manager/scouting director Grady Fuson. His emphasis on college prospects has filled the system with polished arms who could be knocking on the door to the majors before long. Other than Danks, though, they don’t have a frontline pitcher on the way. If they’re going to climb out of the AL West cellar, they’ll need more of them.
Top Prospect: Adrian Gonzalez, 1b
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 190 Bats: L Throws: L
Background: More than any other draft, the 2000 edition was dictated more by signability than ability. Nine of the top 10 picks agreed to predraft deals, including Gonzalez, who received $3 million as the No. 1 pick from the Marlins. While he was regarded as the best pure high school hitter in the draft, he was projected as a mid-first-rounder. Gonzalez has outplayed most of 2000’s first-rounders (save for Rocco Baldelli) and is a safer bet than the players who fell out of the first round because of signability (Xavier Nady, Dane Sardinha, Jason Young). Gonzalez had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right wrist following the 2002 season, which seemed to hinder his ability to drive the ball last season. The Marlins decided Gonzalez was expendable, so they made him the centerpiece of a three-prospect package to acquire closer Ugueth Urbina from the Rangers last July. Gonzalez comes from good baseball lineage. His father David was a star first baseman for the Mexican national team, while his older brother Edgar is a third baseman whom Texas plucked from Tampa Bay in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft in December.
Strengths: Gonzalez’ pure hitting approach and sweet lefthanded stroke have conjured comparisons to Rafael Palmeiro. Gonzalez has great balance with a short, quick swing. He sprays line drives all over the field, hitting fastballs and offspeed pitches alike. Though he’s geared to smoke balls into the gaps now, he projects to develop above-average longball power in time. Defensively, Gonzalez is a Gold Glover in the making. He has soft hands and demonstrates excellent footwork around the bag. He’s already adept at making plays to his backhand and aggressive in making plays with his strong, accurate arm on relays or throws across the diamond.
Weaknesses: The effects of his wrist surgery made it hard for Gonzalez to turn on pitches on the inner half of the plate. Some scouts question just how much power he’ll develop, though he should be a doubles machine—maybe more along the lines of Mark Grace than Palmeiro. Gonzalez isn’t a natural athlete and some scouts are concerned about his soft body. He’s a 20 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. He had shown a fair amount of patience, but his walk rate dipped below an acceptable level in 2003.
The Future: After getting his swing together toward the end of the season and in the Arizona Fall League, Gonzalez spent the offseason working on his conditioning. Texas believes it will get its first look at a fully healthy Gonzalez this season at Triple-A Oklahoma. When he’s ready to jump to Arlington in 2005, Mark Teixeira likely will move to the outfield.