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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The Rangers farm system ranked as the best in game entering 2009, and it began bearing fruit immediately.

The major league team's young core returned it to contention sooner than expected. Texas was just two games out of the wild card and 41⁄2 back in the American League West as late as Sept. 9 before fading down the stretch, but that couldn't obscure a season of positive stories on the major and minor league diamonds.

Elvis Andrus stepped into the everyday shortstop job as a 20-year-old, delivering often spectacular defense and finishing second in American League rookie of the year voting. Julio Borbon added some speed on the bases and in the outfield when he became a regular over the final seven weeks of the season, while Neftali Feliz provided a spark out of the bullpen. Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter each settled into roles in the rotation.

The Rangers also got breakout seasons from young veterans Scott Feldman, who won a franchise-record 12 games on the road and 17 overall, and Nelson Cruz, who based a team-high 33 homers and made his first all-star team.

With improved pitching and defense, Texas ranked fourth in the AL in runs allowed, its best finish since 1983. That probably would have been good enough to make the playoffs had the offense been its usually productive itself. But after leading the league in scoring a year earlier, then getting productive seasons from infield mainstays Ian Kinsler and Michael Young, the Rangers placed seventh in the league in scoring, their worst finish in nine years.

The picture off the field wasn't as sunny, however, as owner Tom Hicks' financial problems essentially ceded fiscal control of the team to Major League Baseball. MLB extended a $15 million line of credit to the Rangers in the middle of the season, and the commissioner's office limited how high the club could go in its efforts to sign first-round pick Matt Purke. The team reportedly offered $4 million, which the righthander turned down to attend Texas Christian.

Three groups pursued efforts to buy the team in the offseason, and the Rangers selected a group led by Pennsylvania lawyer Chuck Greenberg to negotiate with exclusively. If that deal goes through, team president Nolan Ryan would remain in his role and would be a minority owner in the team, as would Hicks.

The new ownership will take over an organization loaded with young talent. Even after graduating Andrus, Borbon, Holland, Hunter and Taylor Teagarden to the majors last season, Texas still has one of the deepest systems in baseball.

No team has a more talented trio of prospects than the Rangers have in Feliz, who hasn't exhausted his rookie/prospect eligibility; first baseman Justin Smoak, who tore up Double-A in his first full season; and 18-year-old lefthander Martin Perez, who established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. Texas is flush with power arms throughout the system, though it's thinner in position players.

Texas tried to make up for losing Purke by adding righthander Tanner Scheppers in the supplemental first round of the draft. The Rangers also continued to spend money in Latin America, doling out seven-figure bonuses to switch-hitting shortstops Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas.

A.J. Preller, who had managed the productive international scouting department, was promoted in the fall to lead all of the club's scouting efforts. Kip Fagg, Josh Boyd and Mike Daly were promoted to direct the amateur, pro and international scouting departments, respectively. Former scouting director Ron Hopkins became a special assistant to the GM.

1.  Neftali Feliz, rhp   Born: May 2, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 180
 Drafted: Dominican Republic, 2005Signed by: Julian Perez/Roberto Aquino (Braves)
Neftali FelizBackground: Originally signed by the Braves for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Feliz came to the Rangers in a five-prospect package for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay in July 2007. At the time, he hadn't pitched above Rookie ball, but Feliz since has made a name for himself as one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. Texas also received Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones in one of the best trades in franchise history. Feliz reached Double-A Frisco at age 20 and led the minors with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his first full season in the Rangers system in 2008. He opened last season working as a starter at Triple-A Oklahoma, moving to the bullpen in late June to prepare him for a big league callup, which came in early August. Feliz electrified the home crowd in his major league debut, becoming the first Ranger ever to strike out four straight batters to start his career and touching 100 mph six times in 30 pitches over two perfect innings. He took the American League by storm over the next two months, dominating in 20 relief appearances.

Strengths: An exceptional athlete with a fluid arm action, Feliz generates premium velocity with minimal effort, and scouts constantly comment that it looks like he's playing catch from the mound. His fastball explodes on hitters, sitting at 93-98 mph and touching triple digits. His fastball also has good late life and he commands it well, making it a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. Feliz made great strides with his changeup in 2009, and it now ranks as his No. 2 pitch. He maintains his arm speed on his changeup, and it can be a plus offering though it's as hard as some pitchers' fastballs at 89-90 mph. His athletic, physical frame should help him hold up under a starter's workload. He has a confident, aggressive mound presence and doesn't get rattled easily.

Weaknesses: Feliz is still working on improving his feel for his breaking ball. In Triple-A, one of every three or four was a quality big league pitch, and he actually was more consistent and comfortable with it after his callup. At its best, the pitch is an 82-85 mph power curveball with 11-to-5 break, but it tends to flatten out at times and will probably turn into more of a slider. When he worked as a starter, Feliz had a tendency to work at 92-93 mph with his fastball in the early innings, then peak in the high 90s in the middle to late innings. In relief, he had to learn to dial up his stuff from the start of his outings. Feliz still is refining his command, particularly with his secondary stuff.

The Future: Because of his ability to hold his exceptional fastball velocity deep into games, Feliz profiles as a potential No. 1 starter if he can improve his breaking ball. The Rangers plan to break him in as a starter in 2010, but if he struggles they could move him back into the bullpen, where he could be a shutdown closer.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Oklahoma (AAA) 4 1 3.49 25 13 0 0 77 69 2 30 75 .240
Texas 1 0 1.74 20 0 0 2 31 13 2 8 39 .124
2.  Justin Smoak, 1b   Born: Dec. 5, 1986B-T: B-LHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: South Carolina, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Jim Cuthbert.
Justin SmoakBackground: A high school teammate of Matt Wieters in Goose Creek, S.C., Smoak mashed a school-record 62 career homers at South Carolina before signing for $3.5 million as the 11th overall pick in 2008. Smoak's first full pro season got off to a good start in Double-A before he missed a month at midseason with a ribcage injury. He struggled initially after a promotion to Triple-A, then made adjustments and finished on fire at the IBAF World Cup, where he hit nine home runs in 14 games to capture MVP honors and help Team USA win the gold medal.

Strengths: The switch-hitting Smoak has well-above-average power potential from both sides of the plate. He has a mature, patient approach and the ability to use all fields. He's also an intelligent hitter capable of making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. A potential plus defender at first base, he has good hands and digs balls out of the dirt well.

Weaknesses: Smoak isn't a finished product offensively yet, as he needs to stay back more consistently and get better extension out front. He also must improve his lateral range at first base, where his arm is merely adequate. His speed is below average at best.

The Future: Smoak figures to start 2010 back in Triple-A, but he could be ready for the big leagues sometime later in the year. He has a chance to be a switch-hitting slugger in the Mark Teixeira mold.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Frisco (AA) .328 .449 .481 183 30 60 10 0 6 29 39 35 0
AZL Rangers (R) .667 .714 2.000 6 3 4 0 1 2 5 1 1 0
Oklahoma City (AAA) .244 .363 .360 197 25 48 11 0 4 23 35 45 0
3.  Martin Perez, rhp   Born: April 4, 1991B-T: L-LHt: 6-0Wt: 178
 Signed: Venezuela, 2007Signed by: Rafic Saab/Manny Batista/Don Welke
Martin PerezBackground: The Rangers saw enough feel for pitching and competitiveness in a 16-year-old Perez to sign him for a $580,000 bonus in 2007, when his fastball sat in the mid-80s. Since then his velocity has jumped, and he ranked as the low Class A South Atlantic League's No. 1 prospect in 2009. His dominance earned him a mid-August promotion to Double-A, where he was pounded in his debut before settling down in his last four starts.

Strengths: Dubbed "The Venezuelan Gator" shortly after signing for his similarity to undersized former all-star Ron Guidry, Perez is more often compared to Johan Santana nowadays for his size, delivery, moxie and electric arm. He attacks hitters with a 91-95 mph fastball, and he's still maturing physically, so he could throw hard. He has exceptional feel for his sharp 1-to-7 curveball, which he can add and subtract from at will, throwing it anywhere from 68-81 mph. He has an uncommon ability to manipulate the ball in a wide variety of ways.

Weaknesses: The Rangers directed Perez to throw a preponderance of changeups in the first half of the season to help him refine the pitch. He still doesn't turn the pitch over well and needs more consistency with it, but he'll flash a plus 78-82 mph changeup with good arm speed. When he got to Double-A, he got nervous, overthrew and didn't repeat his delivery as well.

The Future: Perez has top-of-the-rotation upside, and he might not be far away from the big leagues. He'll likely start 2010 in Double-A, where the Rangers plan to take the handcuffs off him and let him pitch deeper into games for the first time in his career.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hickory (Lo A) 5 5 2.31 22 14 0 1 94 82 3 33 105 .236
Frisco (AA) 1 3 5.57 5 5 0 0 21 29 2 5 14 .326
4.  Tanner Scheppers, rhp   Born: Jan. 17, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 200
 Drafted: St. Paul (American Association), 2009Signed by: Derek Lee
Tanner ScheppersBackground: Scheppers projected as a top-10 pick in the 2008 draft before a shoulder injury dropped him to the Pirates at No. 48. Initially reported as a stress fracture, the injury was later described as significant wear and tear, so he opted for rehab over surgery. He turned down Pittsburgh and returned to the mound with the independent St. Paul Saints in 2009, showing the same explosive stuff as before. He still lasted 44 picks because of concerns about his health and didn't sign for $1.25 million until Sept. 17. He posted a 5.73 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Scheppers has an electric fastball that ranges from 93-99 mph and has excellent downhill angle. He complements it with a plus 82-84 mph curveball that could become plus-plus as he refines his command. He has an aggressive, competitive demeanor and a good work ethic.

Weaknesses: Scheppers can be wild with all his stuff and must do a better job getting ahead in counts. He has some feel for a changeup but must develop the pitch to stick as a starter. He also picked up a slider in indy ball that he seldom threw this fall. He has a hitch in the back of his delivery, but his arm works well and the Rangers don't plan to mess much with his mechanics. They want him to add 10-15 pounds and continue strengthening his shoulder.

The Future: Scheppers could be a front-end starter or a shut-down closer if it all comes together for him and he stays healthy. He earns some comparisons to Brandon Morrow, and as with Morrow, it could take some time to figure out his best role. Scheppers is ticketed for a spot in the crowded Frisco rotation in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
5.  Jurickson Profar, ss   Born: Feb. 20, 1993B-T: B-RHt: 5-11Wt: 165
 Signed: Curacao, 2009Signed by: Mike Daly/Chu Halabi/Jose Felomina
Jurickson ProfarBackground: Profar made a name for himself in the Little League World Series, leading Curacao to the championship as an 11-year-old and back to the title game as a 12-year-old. With a fastball that touches 93 mph, he generated plenty of interest on the international market as a pitcher last summer, but Texas was the only organization that would accede to his wishes to be an everyday player. They signed him right after July 2 for $1.55 million, a franchise record for an international signee.

Strengths: Profar dazzled the Rangers with his savvy and presence during instructional league and at their Dominican academy later in the fall. His advanced instincts, keen field awareness, dogged work ethic and outgoing personality remind them of Elvis Andrus—whom Profar idolizes. He has a chance to be a plus defender at shortstop thanks to his sure hands, plus arm and average range. He also has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball from both sides of the plate, and his offensive approach is advanced for a 16-year-old. His average speed plays up on the basepaths because of his intelligence.

Weaknesses: More than anything, Profar just needs experience. As he fills out, he could develop fringe to solid-average power, but he needs to add strength to his thin, wiry frame. Many international scouts with other clubs aren't sold that he'll hit enough or stick at shortstop. The Rangers vehemently disagree.

The Future: The precocious Profar could follow in Andrus' footsteps and start his first full pro season at low Class A Hickory as a 17-year-old. He has the potential to be a five-tool shortstop.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed 2010 Contract
6.  Kasey Kiker, lhp   Born: Nov. 19, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 170
 Drafted: HS—Seale, Ala., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Jeff Wood
Kasey KikerBackground: Shoulder soreness hampered Kiker in 2008, but he stayed healthy last year and led the Double-A Texas League in strikeouts per nine innings (8.6) while finishing second in opponent average (.231). His velocity and command faded late in the year, as he posted a 9.47 ERA in August, then issued 14 walks in 13 innings for Team USA in the World Cup.

Strengths: Kiker no longer flashes the 95-96 mph fastball that made him the 12th overall pick and earned him a $1.6 million bonus in 2006, but he attacks hitters with a 90-93 mph heater. The riding life on his fastball gets strikeouts up in the zone. His 79-80 mph changeup has blossomed into a plus pitch over the last two years. He's a fearless competitor who loves to work inside.

Weaknesses: Kiker's mid-70s curveball still has good shape and depth at times, but his command of the pitch has taken a step backward. He needs to throw it with tighter break more consistently. Durability will always be a question because of his size, and his fastball dropped to 85-89 mph late in the year. He sometimes has issues with his angle to the plate and leaves the ball up in the zone.

The Future: Some Rangers officials believe Kiker's stuff will play up in relief, and he could get some work in the bullpen in major league camp this spring. Ultimately, his future might be as a middle reliever or set-up man, but he'll open 2010 in the Oklahoma City rotation.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Frisco (AA) 7 7 3.86 25 23 0 0 126 108 9 66 120 .231
7.  Robbie Ross, lhp   Born: June 24, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—Lexington, Ky., 2008 (2nd round)Signed by: Jon Poloni
Robbie RossBackground: The Rangers bought Ross out of a Kentucky commitment with a $1.575 million bonus just hours before the 2008 signing deadline. They were mildly disappointed by his lack of arm speed and fastball life in instructional league that fall, but he dominated in his pro debut last year. He ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.2) and fourth in ERA (2.66) in the short-season Northwest League.

Strengths: Ross makes up for his lack of size with his tenacity and quick arm. He pitches down in the zone to both sides of the plate with a 90-93 mph fastball that bumps 94. The pitch plays up because of its late life—he can cut it and sink it, though he doesn't always know how he's doing it. He hides the ball well and eats up lefthanders, holding them to a .228 average in 2009. He also flashes an above-average, late-breaking slider at 82-83 mph.

Weaknesses: Ross' changeup is a work in progress, though he does have some feel for it. Because of his size, he sometimes gets underneath the ball, which causes his pitches to rise in the zone. He still must add strength to improve his stamina.

The Future: Ross will move on to low Class A in 2010. Texas will develop him as a starter, and some club officials envision him as a mid-rotation starter in the mold of former all-star Danny Jackson.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Spokane (SS) 4 4 2.66 15 15 0 0 74 68 5 17 76 .240
8.  Mitch Moreland, of/1b   Born: Sept. 6, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 230
 Drafted: Mississippi State, 2007 (17th round)Signed by: Jeff Wood
Mitch MorelandBackground: Moreland was a gritty two-way star for Mississippi State, hitting 10 homers and making 16 relief appearances for the Bulldogs' 2007 College World Series team. His plus lefthanded power helped him win the Cape Cod League home run derby in 2006 and finish as the runner-up in 2007, when the Rangers signed him late in the summer for $60,000. Thanks to his low-90s fastball and feel for a tight slider, they dabbled with the notion of using Moreland on the mound heading into 2009, but he mashed his way to Double-A and ended those plans. His .331/.391/.527 season was cut short in mid-August when he fouled a ball off his foot and broke a bone, but he recovered in time to post an .855 OPS in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Moreland has above-average power, especially to left-center field. He's an intelligent hitter who makes adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, and he hangs in well against lefthanders. Club officials say he's the best natural leader in their system. Though he's better at first base, he showed solid instincts and a plus arm when he played right field in deference to Justin Smoak at Frisco last year.

Weaknesses: Moreland has a funky swing with some holes in it, but he has worked to shorten his stroke and pull the ball with more authority. He's a below-average runner whose range is lacking in the outfield.

The Future: Given the organization's glut of first basemen, Moreland's best route to an everyday big league job is in right field. He figures to play there in Triple-A this year and could be a solid regular in the Brad Hawpe mold before too long.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Bakersfield (Hi A) .341 .421 .594 170 34 58 19 0 8 26 21 26 1
Frisco (AA) .326 .373 .488 301 51 98 19 3 8 59 23 42 1
9.  Danny Gutierrez, rhp   Born: March 8, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Drafted: Riverside (Calif.) CC, D/F 2005 (33rd round)Signed by: John Ramey (Royals)
Danny GutierrezBackground: After blossoming into one of the Royals' top pitching prospects, Gutierrez was held back in extended spring training last April while recovering from a minor shoulder injury. The club wound up sending him home over a disagreement about his rehab. It wasn't the first off-field issue for Gutierrez, who has had three brushes with the law in the last two years, including an assault charge last June. Fed up, Kansas City dealt him to Texas in September for catcher Manny Pina and outfielder Tim Smith.

Strengths: Gutierrez has an athletic frame and a live arm. He has excellent command of a 91-95 mph fastball, and his 71-75 mph overhand curveball rates as a second plus offering. He changes speeds well and has a good feel for pitching.

Weaknesses: Gutierrez flashes a quality changeup at times, but it's inconsistent. His fastball is rather straight and could make him susceptible to homers against advanced hitters. His makeup is a major concern, but the Rangers believe he's maturing and that a fresh start will do him good.

The Future: Gutierrez will open the season in Double-A and looks on track to compete for a big league job at some point in 2011. His electric repertoire gives him a chance to be a frontline starter—one evaluator compares him Darryl Kile—if everything comes together.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wilmington (Hi A) 1 0 1.65 8 4 0 0 27 17 0 7 25 .173
Frisco (AA) 0 0 3.60 1 1 0 0 5 3 1 0 3 .158
10.  Wilmer Font, rhp   Born: May 24, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 240
 Signed: Venezuela, 2006Signed by: Manny Batista/Andres Espinosa
Wilmer FontBackground: After his solid U.S. debut in 2007, Font was limited to four innings by shoulder soreness and knee tendinitis in 2008. The Rangers closely monitored his workload last year—he pitched more than five innings just once in 29 outings—and he stayed healthy all season, making one of the biggest jumps in the system.

Strengths: The hulking Font always has had an explosive fastball and has touched 100 mph in the past, but he focused on improving his command of the pitch last year and worked mostly at 93-98 mph. His fastball has heavy life to go with its velocity. His changeup made considerable strides in 2009 and rates as an average pitch at times, with a chance to be plus in the future. He also matured considerably last year, demonstrating a better understanding of the importance of between-starts routines and workouts.

Weaknesses: Font has long struggled to harness his mechanics, and though he's making progress, he still must do a better job repeating his delivery. The Rangers are trying to keep him online and going downhill instead of spinning off too quickly and leaving his arm dragging behind. They hope his secondary stuff will improve as his mechanics do. He's still trying to improve his feel for his breaking ball, which is currently a hard curve but could wind up as a slider.

The Future: Font has a chance to start because he can maintain his plus-plus fastball velocity deep into games, but he could wind up in the bullpen because of his questionable command and secondary stuff. He'll continue working as a starter at high Class A Bakersfield for now, but he also has upside as a closer.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hickory (Lo A) 8 3 3.49 29 24 0 0 108 93 4 59 105 .231

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Photo Credits:
John Williamson (Feliz)
St. Paul Saints (Scheppers)
Bill Mitchell (Profar)