International Reviews: Texas Rangers
See also: 2014 Rangers International Review
See also: 2013 Rangers International Review
See also: 2012 Rangers International Review
Top signing: OF Leody Taveras, Dominican Republic, $2.1 million.
Total signings: 30.
The Rangers have built one of baseball’s most fruitful international pipelines, with their previous three international scouting directors having moved on to new roles. A.J. Preller is now the general manager of the Padres, while his successor, Mike Daly, is still with the organization as farm director. In January, Gil Kim left the Rangers to become the farm director for the Blue Jays. Taking Kim’s place in charge of the team’s international scouting now is Rafic Saab, the only international scouting director in baseball who is based out of Venezuela.
The Rangers were extremely aggressive in scouting Dominican center fielder Leody Taveras, going back to when Preller was still in the organization. Taveras, the No. 3 international prospect for July 2 last year, signed with the Rangers for $2.1 million and already ranks as the organization’s No. 9 prospect. In true Rangers fashion, the Rangers have already thrown Taveras into the fire, putting the 17-year-old in a few major league spring training games before he’s even made his pro debut. Taveras has baseball bloodlines, as he’s the younger cousin of former major league outfielder Willy Taveras, who stood out for his speed and defense in his seven big league seasons, including 2008 when he led MLB with 68 stolen bases.
Despite his action in big league camp this spring, Taveras might make his official in the Dominican Summer League, then possibly jump to the Rookie-level Arizona League when that season starts a few weeks later. Taveras, who trained with “Berryu” and played in the Dominican Prospect League, had one of the best overall combinations of athleticism, tools, baseball skills and size in the 2015 class, with the potential for five average to plus tools. Taveras has a lean, athletic frame (6-foot-2, 182 pounds) that he’s started to fill out since signing, with quick-twitch actions at the plate and in the field. He’s a switch-hitter with a simple, fluid stroke from both sides and a clean path to the ball, though more advanced from the right side. Scouts who watched him a lot before he signed said he hit well in games. While there were some concerns about his ability to recognize offspeed pitches, he showed can barrel up the fastball and has made strides with the way he’s managed his at-bats since signing. The ball already jumps off Taveras’ bat with good exit speed because of his bat speed and strong hands, so he should be able to grow into average or better power given how much room he still has to fill out.
Taveras is a smooth player who plays calmly and under control, with plus speed and gliding strides in the outfield to go with a strong arm. Reviews from other clubs were mixed on his outfield instincts, but the Rangers have always liked his reads and jumps off the bat and were impressed by some of the catches he made this spring.
The Rangers second seven-figure signing was Cuban second baseman Andy Ibanez, who they were able to sign for $1.6 million and stay under their bonus pool, to the surprise of many scouts who figured Ibanez would have been able to command a bigger bonus. Ibanez is the team’s No. 8 prospect, with a longer report available on him here. Ibanez has since hit well during winter ball in Colombia and has been mixing up time between second base, shortstop and third base in spring training, since the Rangers like to expose their players to different positions, though his best defensive fit is at second base. He will likely make his official debut with either low Class A Hickory or high Class A High Desert and get playing time around the infield.
While Venezuelan center fielder Miguel Aparicio doesn’t have the same size or tools as Taveras, he’s another athletic center fielder with a well-rounded skill set. Aparicio, 17, is an instinctive player who doesn’t have one 60 tool but does a lot of things well. He has good bat control of a short, simple stroke from the left side, occasionally leaking open early but generally staying back well to hit to all fields and make contact at a high rate. At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Aparicio’s game is more about hitting line drives and getting on base than it is hitting for power, though he could grow into average pop. As he started to get stronger last year, he got away from his approach at times to try to show scouts more power, but he’s at his best when he stays within his line-drive approach and uses the middle of the field. Even though Aparicio doesn’t have premium speed, several scouts felt comfortable projecting Aparicio to stick in center field. He’s athletic with average speed but a quick first step and gets impressive reads off the bat for his age, with a 45 arm on the 20-80 scale.
Aparicio’s overall game has drawn comparisons to David DeJesus and fellow Venezuelan outfielder Gerardo Parra. The Rangers have two DSL teams, so even if Taveras opens in the DSL, there should be plenty of playing time for both in center field. Aparicio is represented by Felix Olivo, whose program also produced Rangers lefthander Martin Perez.
Dominican shortstop Cristian Inoa signed with the Rangers for $300,000 when he turned 16 on July 4. Inoa consistently performed well in games in front of Rangers scouts, then continued to hit well after signing in the Tricky League, an unofficial league for recent July 2 signings. Inoa isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) but he’s a polished hitter for his age, showing a good approach and a line-drive stroke with good contact skills from the right side and gap power. Inoa is a gamer type and a smart player who is smooth defensively but might fit better at second base, with average speed and arm strength.
Francisco Ventura, a Venezuelan catcher who trained in a program run by the father of Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, signed for $290,000 on July 2. Ventura, 17, is another player with strong baseball acumen. He has a short, thicker body type (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) and is an excellent receiver for his age with good defensive instincts and an average arm. His size might limit his overall offensive impact, but he shows a knack for finding the barrel from the right side with a line-drive approach and gap power.
Fernando Valdez, a 17-year-old infielder who signed for $175,000 out of the Dominican Republic in July, has intriguing physical tools. He’s still growing into his body (6 feet, 175 pounds) and already has above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate. When he connects, the ball jumps off his bat well for his size and has a chance to be an offensive-minded player, though he’s still learning to stay within the strike zone to make more frequent contact. Signed as a shortstop with average speed, Valdez has moved around to second and third base, with a plus arm to play on the left side of the infield if his defensive actions progress well enough to stay in the infield.
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Dominican shortstop Welin Liriano, a 17-year-old signed for $125,000 in July, doesn’t have the same game polish as the Rangers’ bigger-ticket international signings, but he’s an enticing physical projection. He’s 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, with room to add another 30-40 pounds to his long, loose, wiry frame. Liriano already flashes good raw power in batting practice, but he’s still learning the game and gaining body awareness of his righthanded swing. Liriano has split time between shortstop and third base, showing good hands in the field. With how big Liriano might get, third base could be his best fit if he can improve his footwork, with an average arm that should get stronger with physical maturity.