2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Texas Rangers
Some of the most exciting talent in the Rangers' farm system right now is in their teenage international signings at the lower levels, including righthanders Ronny Henriquez, shortstops Luisangel Acuña, Keithron Moss and Osleivis Basabe, catcher Randy Florentino and catcher/first baseman/outfielder/hitter Heriberto Hernandez. They added another layer to the lower levels this year with an international signing class primarily focused around three key players.
The Rangers spent their biggest signing bonus of the year ($3.9 million) on 17-year-old Dominican outfielder Bayron Lora, a massive slugger (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) with the biggest raw power in the 2019 international class. Lora, who trained with Hector Evertz, has 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale, hitting balls over the fence with ease and producing impressive carry off his bat even when he mis-hits balls. He has strength and bat speed that have produced exit velocities up to 112 mph already, with a chance to grow into top-of-the-scale power once he enters his physical prime, making him a potential 40-homer type threat. Lora's power brings monster upside, and while he has shown the ability to translate that power with home runs in games, it comes with risk in his swing-and-miss tendencies. As an amateur, Lora would get pull-heavy trying to swing for the fences, causing him to pull off the ball and leading to empty swings. He has shown signs of improving the quality of his at-bats in an effort to shorten his stroke and take a more middle-of-the-field approach.
Compared to outfielders Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) and Jhailyn Ortiz (Phillies), two of the biggest power bats from recent classes, Lora has comparable raw power to both when they signed, with less pure hitting ability than Rodriguez but more than Ortiz and with a better body than Ortiz. Lora is so big already that there's some risk he ends up at first base, but he's doing to develop as a right fielder. Most of his focus as an amateur was in the batter's box, so he's learning to improve his reads and routes. If Lora can draw walks and keep his strikeouts to a manageable level, he has the potential to be a masher in the middle of a lineup. The Dominican Summer League is likely his first stop.
Lora was an early standout in the Dominican Prospect League and got the third-highest signing bonus in the 2019 international class. However, when our Rangers prospect rankings come out, Maximo Acosta will be ranked higher. That's not through Lora slipping, but from Acosta trending up to the point where he's arguably the best shortstop from the 2019 international class. Signed out of Roberto Vahlis' program in Venezuela, Acosta is a well-rounded, 17-year-old shortstop who has a mix of plus tools without any glaring holes. He's 6-foot-1, 170 pounds and plays with a calmness and ease of operation on both sides of the ball, drawing comparisons to Gleyber Torres both physically and in terms of his skill set. His swing is quick, compact and fluid, with good rhythm, balance and timing. Acosta is a disciplined hitter who tracks spin well and makes frequent contact, barreling pitches in all quadrants of the strike zone. He makes adjustments, uses the whole field and has a chance to be a plus hitter. As he's added strength the last couple years to go with his bat speed, Acosta has at least average power now (he hit seven balls out in BP when he went to Arlington after signing) that should be above-average soon, with a good chance of that power translating in games because of his pure hitting ability and approach. Acosta has a bigger lower half than some other shortstops his age, but he projects to stick at the position. His speed and arm strength are both plus tools. He's a fundamentally sound defender for his age with a knack for slowing the game down. Acosta has a good internal clock, reads hops well and generally makes smart decisions in the field, where he has good footwork, range and athleticism. He's advanced enough to make his pro debut next year in the United States.
Zion Bannister, an outfielder from the Bahamas who has also spent time at shortstop, was eligible to sign in 2018, but waited until the 2019-20 signing period opened this year on July 2 to sign with the Rangers for $836,000. Because of his age, Bannister was able to play right away, so after a warmup in the Tricky League, he played briefly in the DSL and then in the Rookie-level Arizona League after signing. Bannister was born in the Bahamas and grew up there, then moved to Maryland from 2015-17 and played high school baseball there. In 2017, he moved to the Dominican Republic and trained there for a year, then heading into the summer of 2018 he returned to the Bahamas before signing with Texas.
The draw with Bannister is impressive athleticism and the potential for a power/speed threat at a premium position. Built like Mike Cameron at 6-foot-3, 191 pounds, Bannister is a plus runner who moves around well in the outfield. Bannister spent time at shortstop as an amateur, but he has gotten most of his reps with the Rangers in center field, a position that seems like his best fit. He's still learning his reads and routes, but he has fluid, athletic actions in the outfield with potential for good range. Bannister switch hit as an amateur but is now batting exclusively righthanded. His raw power is more advanced than his pure hitting ability, with the bat speed, strength projection and leverage in his swing to develop plus raw power in the future. His swing itself is efficient and he stays through the ball well, but he's still learning to improve his timing and make more consistent contact. Since Bannister signed and has started to face better pitching, the early trends there have been positive.
Prior to July 2 during the 2018-19 signing period, the Rangers also spent $850,000 on 19-year-old righthander Florencio Serrano from the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League. Florencio was stuck in limbo for a while prior to signing with the Rangers, after Major League Baseball didn't approve his original $1.2 million deal with the Cubs. That situation led to a temporary ban on all Mexican League signings, so while clubs scouted Serrano, they didn't know when they might be able to sign him. Once MLB reached a new agreement with the Mexican League, the Rangers signed Serrano and he pitched in short-season Spokane and the AZL, posting a combined 6.49 ERA with a 33-19 K-BB mark in 34.2 innings. Even prior to his deal with the Cubs, Serrano had an unusual path to pro ball. He was born in Corpus Christi, Texas and in 2016 as a freshman he pitched for Robstown (Texas) High. After his freshman season, he moved to Mexico, where both his parents are from, and joined the Toros. A fluent English and Spanish speaker, Serrano is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds with a low-to-mid 90s fastball that has reached 96 mph. When his curveball is on, it flashes as an above-average pitch and he has shown feel for a changeup as well, though after so much time off, he struggled in his pro debut. There's some effort in Serrano's delivery, so some scouts think he might end up in the bullpen.