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Texas Rangers:
1999 Top 10

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Texas Rangers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Ruben Mateo, OF
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994  Signed by: Omar Minaya/Hector Acevedo

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Juan Gonzalez, of
1991 Ivan Rodriguez, c
1992 Kurt Miller, rhp
1993 Benji Gil, ss
1994 Benji Gil, ss
1995 Julio Santana, rhp
1996 Andrew Vessel, of
1997 Danny Kolb, rhp
1998 Ruben Mateo, of
1999 Ruben Mateo, of

Background: The headline announcing Mateo as the Rangers’ top prospect last year proclaimed "Mateo Performs Despite Injuries." Time for a rerun. A fractured hamate bone in his left wrist ended Mateo’s 1999 season just eight at-bats before he would have lost his rookie status. Stomach ulcers limited his playing time this offseason in the Dominican League, where the Rangers had hoped he would make up for the lost games. Neither Mateo’s recent injuries nor his past hamstring, shoulder and wrist problems have been career-threatening. He hasn’t needed major surgery, but the volume and regularity have to take a toll at some point.

Strengths: When healthy, Mateo has all the tools to become a perennial all-star. He has a lightning-quick bat that projects to hit for both power and average. Mateo’s blossoming power is his most intriguing skill. His home run progression the last four years has been from eight to 12 to 18 to 23, and most observers think he is just starting to scratch his potential. Because of his well-above-average arm strength, Mateo played right field his first two years as a pro. The Rangers, though, shifted him to center field before the 1998 season to take advantage of his plus speed. The conversion has been successful, and the Rangers are completely comfortable with the thought of going for their third straight American League West crown with a rookie in center.

Weaknesses: The infamous incident last summer when Mateo swung at a pitch and missed, only to have it plunk off his midsection, sums up his approach at the plate. He’ll swing at virtually any pitch, but because his hand-eye coordination is so extraordinary, he still has been able to consistently make solid contact. Major league pitchers overmatched him by changing speeds and keeping the ball out of the strike zone.

The Future: For Mateo to become a top-notch center fielder, two factors come into play. The first, obviously, is his health. The second is his ability to make adjustments. Two fellow Dominicans, Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa, had similar approaches when they first reached the big leagues. While they still aren’t imitating Wade Boggs, they have changed enough to become stars.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Oklahoma (AAA)     .336  253  53  85  12   0  18   62  14  36   6
Texas              .238  122  16  29   9   1   5   18   4  28   3

2. Francisco Cordero, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 200
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994  Signed by: Ramon Pena (Tigers)

Background: Texas acquired Cordero as part of the Juan Gonzalez blockbuster trade last November. The hard-throwing Dominican missed most of the 1996 and 1998 seasons with a fractured right elbow that is still held together by screws, but he had no health problems in ’99.

Strengths: Cordero has two plus-plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and can overmatch hitters when he is pitching confidently. His fastball is regularly in the mid-90s and can touch 98 mph, while his high-80s slider has tight, late-breaking action. Cordero’s delivery is smooth and effortless.

Weaknesses: His control unraveled last year and wasn’t sharp in winter ball, either. Indications are that the problem is mostly mental. Cordero’s injury history is a concern, especially after throwing in more than 80 games in the last 12 months.

The Future: Cordero is clearly John Wetteland’s heir apparent, but he may spend a large part of 2000 in Triple-A. The strong right side of the Texas bullpen makes that a possibility.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Jacksonville (AA) 4  1  1.38  47   0   0  27   52  35  22  58
Detroit           2  2  3.32  20   0   0   0   19  19  18  19

3. Jason Romano, 2B
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 185
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 1997 (Supplemental 1st round)  Signed by: Mike Cadahia

Background: Romano played third base at prospect factory Hillsborough High in Tampa, but he switched to second base after signing. His older brother Jimmie is a catcher in the Rangers system.

Strengths: Romano has excellent offensive tools for a middle infielder. His power has steadily improved as he has gained strength and he projects to be a 15-20 home run threat in the majors. He has above-average speed. Defensively, he has solid arm strength and balance.

Weaknesses: While Romano will never be a flashy defender, he has steadily improved with repetitions, especially on double plays. He still lacks confidence on some throws. The Rangers would like to see him draw more walks to better fit the leadoff prototype.

The Future: Romano has taken the standard step-by-step progression through the minors and should continue as long as his offense is ahead of his defense. Expect big numbers in the offensively oriented Texas League in 2000.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Charlotte (A)      .312  459  84 143  27  14  13   71  39  72  34

4. Mike Lamb, 3B
Age: 24  B-T: L-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 185
Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 1997 (7th round)  Signed by: Todd Guggiana

Background: Lamb has made the conversion from a switch-hitting catcher in college to a lefthanded- hitting third baseman as a pro. He finished in the top five in the minor leagues last year in hits, extra-base hits, total bases and doubles.

Strengths: Lamb is a pure line-drive hitter with a simple, no-nonsense approach at the plate. He has an advanced ability to wait on offspeed pitches and manipulate the bat head through the strike zone. His discipline at the plate is excellent.

Weaknesses: The Rangers consider Lamb to be equal to the departed Todd Zeile defensively, which isn’t high praise but isn’t damning either. Lamb’s range is only fair, especially to his left, but he has improved significantly on routine plays. His arm strength is adequate.

The Future: Unless he is overmatched in spring training, Lamb should open the season at third base in Arlington. Given his hitting maturity, he should be up to the challenge.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Tulsa (AA)         .324  544  98 176  51   5  21  100  53  65   4
Oklahoma (AAA)     .500    2   0   1   0   0   0    0   1   0   0

5. Jason Grabowski, 3B
Age: 23  B-T: L-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 200
Drafted: Connecticut, 1997 (2nd round)  Signed by: Joel Grampietro

Background: Grabowski converted from a catcher/first baseman to a third baseman in 1999, a transition made easier by his background at shortstop in college. But it was his bat that made him the No. 7 prospect in the Florida State League.

Strengths: Grabowski is an excellent all-around athlete whom the Rangers say could probably play any position on the field. His above-average arm is his best defensive tool. His bat speed is above average and he may have the best plate discipline in the system.

Weaknesses: Though he has plus raw power, Grabowski is more of a gap-to-gap hitter now because he puts heavy topspin on the ball and has trouble lofting it. His speed under way is below average.

The Future: Grabowski and Lamb are evenly matched in many ways, with Lamb having the edge in experience and, most important in the short term, opportunity. The Rangers’ third-base situation should be secure for many years.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Charlotte (A)      .313  434  68 136  31   6  12   87  65  66  13
Tulsa (AA)         .167    6   1   1   0   0   0    0   2   2   0

6. Colby Lewis, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 215
Drafted: Bakersfield (Calif.) JC, 1999 (Supplemental 1st round)  Signed by: Kip Fagg/Mike Paustian

Background: Lewis missed the 1998 season after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which scared some teams away in the draft. He showed no ill effects last summer, leading the Appalachian League in ERA while being named the league’s top pitching prospect.

Strengths: Lewis’ raw stuff is dynamite. His fastball can reach the mid-90s and has plenty of late action. He throws a hard-breaking curveball and a power slider, and he has a surprisingly good changeup for a young pitcher without high-level college experience. Lewis’ delivery is sound and compact and needed only minor cleaning after he signed.

Weaknesses: Like many young pitchers who throw a curve and a slider, Lewis is working on separating his two breaking balls and developing more consistency with each.

The Future: Lewis has the stuff, skills and desire to be the fast-track power pitcher the Rangers have sought for years. He should start the year at Class A Charlotte.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Pulaski (R)       7  3  1.95  14  11   1   0   65  46  27  84

7. Carlos Pena, 1B
Age: 21  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 210
Drafted: Northeastern, 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Joel Grampietro

Background: Seven years ago, Pena moved with his family to Massachusetts from the Dominican Republic. The move was made with education in mind, but it helped him develop as a baseball player. Pena was an All-American at Northeastern and the 10th overall pick in 1998.

Strengths: Pena has an easy, fluid swing and projects well-above-average power. Before any other comment, Rangers executives always call him a run producer. Defensively, Pena has soft hands and quick feet around the bag–enough mobility to cause periodic talk of his playing the outfield.

Weaknesses: After putting too much pressure on himself to back up his draft status, Pena finally relaxed during the second half of ’99 and started to blossom, especially at the plate.

The Future: The Rangers emphasize that 1999 was Pena’s first year of top-flight competition, so struggles were to be expected. He went back to the Dominican to play winter ball, giving him another experience that should help him in 2000.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Charlotte (A)      .255  501  85 128  31   8  18  103  74 135   2

8. Doug Davis, LHP
Age: 24  B-T: R-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 185
Drafted: CC of San Francisco, 1996 (10th round)  Signed by: Kip Fagg

Background: Davis rode a 33-16, 2.82 career minor league record to a big league callup last year, and he endured a 10-run, take-it-for-the-team outing in his debut. He rebounded by being named the top lefthander in the Arizona Fall League by league managers and coaches.

Strengths: Davis has a full assortment of pitches, including an 88-91 mph sinking fastball, a sweeping curveball, a cutter and a solid changeup. His command of all four pitches is above average and he gains an extra edge on hitters with a deceptive mid-three-quarters release point.

Weaknesses: After his rough big league beginning, Davis may have lost some of his stubbornness about learning pitching’s finer points. He applied the lessons well in Arizona.

The Future: The Rangers plan to continue to work Davis as a starter. That may force him to begin 2000 at Triple-A Oklahoma, but he’ll get an opportunity eventually.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Tulsa (AA)        4  4  2.42  12  12   1   0   74  65  25  79
Oklahoma (AAA)    7  0  3.00  13  11   0   0   78  77  31  74
Texas             0  0 33.75   2   0   0   0    3  12   0   3

9. Jovanny Cedeno, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997  Signed by: Danilo Troncoso

Background: Cedeno made his U.S. debut with eye-popping results in the Gulf Coast League before making a spot start in the Florida State League. A bout with shoulder tenderness cost him multiple starts. In his two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, he went 11-2, 2.36 with 95 strikeouts in 103 innings.

Strengths: Cedeno’s fastball, curveball and changeup can all show above-average life and velocity, with his fastball being a consistent plus pitch. Most impressive is the fact that he throws effortlessly with an instinctive sense of command and purpose.

Weaknesses: Though Cedeno has gained 10 pounds to his listed 160, he isn’t yet physically mature. His ability to add strength and endurance will be key to his future.

The Future: The Rangers consider Cedeno a potential premium prospect, while acknowledging he is still a long way from fulfilling his potential. They will continue their conservative approach to his development this year.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
GCL Rangers (R)   3  0  0.33   6   6   1   0   27  13   4  32
Charlotte (A)     1  0  5.40   1   1   0   0    5   7   1   5

10. David Elder, RHP
Age: 24  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 185
Drafted: Georgia Tech, 1997 (4th round)  Signed by: Jim Fairey

Background: After having Tommy John surgery, Elder missed all of 1998 and didn’t fully recover until midway through ’99. The highlight of his comeback was his five-save season in the Arizona Fall League, good for a share of the league lead.

Strengths: Since the surgery, Elder’s solid fastball and slider have taken a jump forward. His fastball now sits at 94-95 mph and will touch 97. Elder’s slider could become a big league strikeout pitch. He has averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career.

Weaknesses: Elder’s intense personality hindered his recovery at times, as he tried to do too much too soon. With just 83 minor league innings in three years, he still lacks experience. Elder’s listed height of 6 feet is generous.

The Future: One Rangers official described Elder as similar to 1999 rookie sensation Jeff Zimmerman with more juice to his pitches. Zimmerman, as it happens, was the Rangers’ No. 10 prospect last year.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Charlotte (A)     4  2  2.84  24   1   0   4   44  33  25  42
Tulsa (AA)        1  0  8.10   3   0   0   0    7   8   6   7

Rest of the Best:

11. Jose Morban, ss
12. Travis Hughes, rhp
13. Andy Pratt, lhp
14. Corey Lee, lhp
15. Kelly Dransfeldt, ss

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