International Reviews: Texas Rangers

Total signings: 27. 
The Rangers have been one of the game’s most productive teams in building a pipeline of international talent, with Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara key parts of their major league lineup and Odubel Herrera becoming a 4-win player the last two years for the Phillies. Their top three prospects are all international signees, led by 2015 signing Leody Taveras, the No. 47 prospect in baseball.

The top bonus the Rangers gave last year went to Yanio Perez, a 21-year-old Cuban third baseman/outfielder who got $1.14 million in September. Perez played in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2013, when he batted .351/.448/.523 in 136 plate appearances, then later that year played in the 18U World Cup in Taiwan. Perez didn’t do much to stand out during his brief time playing for Artemisa in Serie Nacional, batting .265/.333/.347 in 514 plate appearances across two seasons.

When Perez left Cuba and showcased in Mexico, however, his strength and tools increased. A physical 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Perez has shown plus raw power from the right side of the plate, impressing the Rangers with his power and what they felt was an advanced hitting approach, though others had more question marks on his pure hitting ability. Perez was a fringy runner in Cuba and never stole many bases there. In Mexico, he ran the 60-yard dash with times that indicate plus speed, though it plays closer to average in games and will likely continue to slide back down further going forward. Perez played all over the field in Cuba, with most of his reps coming at third base but also seeing time at second base, right field and first base. With the Rangers, he has still played some third base but should also see time in the outfield corners, with a solid-average arm that could fit in right field. His defense was erratic in Cuba, so he might ultimately settle in as a corner outfielder.

The Rangers did a great job signing Venezuelan catcher David Garcia for $800,000 on July 2, adding one of the top overall talents in the class. Several scouts considered Garcia the best catcher in the 2016 class and preferred him to Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who got $3.53 million from the Braves. In 2015, Garcia was a slightly built 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, but leading up to his signing he got more physical (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) and improved both his hitting and defense to become a premium prospect in Felix Olivo’s program.

Garcia is a switch-hitter with a mature hitting approach for a 17-year-old. He manages his at-bats well and stays through the middle of the field with a simple, direct swing from both sides of the plate. Coming into 2016 his lefthanded swing would get long, but he’s shortened up to the point that some scouts think it’s even better than his righthanded swing. Garcia makes frequent contact with good plate coverage, a line-drive approach and gap power, with an offensive profile that will lean more on his ability to get on base than power.

Garcia had played shortstop but committed to catching a year and a half before signing. He has quickly become a strong defender for his age, showing soft hands and smooth receiving skills. He’s not a big runner but he has sneaky athleticism with good agility and quick feet behind the plate. His arm was average when he signed but has improved since then to flash plus at times. There is some length to his arm action, but the quickness of his release and accuracy of his throws allow him to get pop times of 1.9 seconds. Garcia has been learning English quickly and earns high marks for his leadership, intangibles and ability to handle a pitching staff already. Garcia will likely follow the Leody Taveras path, starting his career in the Dominican Summer League but with a chance to come over once the Rookie-level Arizona League season begins.

Had 16-year-old Dominican center fielder Leuri Mejia been born two days later, he wouldn’t have been eligible to sign until July 2 this year. Instead, he signed last year with the Rangers for $850,000 on Aug. 30. Mejia is one of the youngest players in the class, which shows in his physically underdeveloped frame (6 feet, 150 pounds), but he was one of the better athletes and defenders in the 2016 class. He’s an explosive, quick-twitch athlete with 70 speed. He looks comfortable and natural in center field, showing good range and reading the ball well off the bat. His arm is a tick above-average and could improve once he gets stronger. Mejia’s defense at a premium position is promising, but his bat will take more time to develop. A switch-hitter, Mejia has good bat speed and shows solid plate patience for his age, but his swing will need work and he might never hit for much power. Getting stronger over the next few years will be critical for Mejia to take the next step forward. Mejia, who trained with Felo and Mendez, is expected to debut this year in the DSL, where he will play all year at 16.

The Rangers also signed 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Emir Velasquez for $150,000 on July 2. Velasquez is listed at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, which might even be generous by an inch or two, but he’s a fiery, high-energy player who stands out for his speed and high level of game awareness. He’s a plus runner and a switch-hitter with a knack for barreling balls in games and a line-drive approach, with power unlikely to ever be part of his game. Velasquez has quick feet and a chance to play shortstop, though his 45 arm might lead him to second base. Given his speed and instincts, center field could be another option down the road for added versatility.

Danny Drullard, a lefthanded Dominican outfielder, signed with the Rangers for $100,000 on July 2. Still 16, Drullard is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and his best tool is his bat. He puts the sweet spot on the ball consistently, showing a high contact rate in games with the ability to square up good velocity. He’s mostly a line-drive, gap hitter right now, but there’s more power potential in his future. He’s a corner outfielder with an average arm.

In Colombia, the Rangers signed 17-year-old outfielder Daniel Quiceno for $100,000. He’s grown to around 6-foot-2, 185 pounds with big hands and feet that suggest he could become even more physical. He played well after signing in the Tricky League until he broke his arm diving for a ball, though he’s back on the field and playing now. Quiceno has a sweet lefthanded swing and the ball jumps off his bat with good exit velocity already, giving him a chance to have a good balance of hitting ability and power. He’s a corner outfielder with a strong arm to play right field.

Among the Rangers’ lower-profile signings, one sleeper to watch is 18-year-old Dominican lefthander Juan Carlos Mejia, who got $30,000 in August. He’s an athletic pitcher who throws strikes with a fastball that has reached 93 mph and shown feel to spin a breaking ball. Another is 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Michael Chirinos, who had been a higher profile player but signed with the Rangers for $10,000 in July. He’s physically underdeveloped (5-foot-10, 155 pounds), so getting stronger will be important, but he’s an athletic switch-hitter with a high baseball IQ and a knack for hitting in games.

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