2023 International Reviews: Texas Rangers
At $4,144,000, the Rangers had the smallest bonus pool in baseball this year. More than three quarters of their pool space went to sign one of the top players available, with the early returns pointing in the right direction based on what evaluators saw this spring in Arizona.
Top Of The Class
Shortstop Sebastian Walcott signed with the Rangers for $3.2 million, the top bonus this year for a player from the Bahamas and the sixth-highest bonus for any player in 2023. Walcott has outlier athleticism, size and tools. He’s a tall, lean 6-foot-4, 190 pounds at 17, standing out early in the process for his physical projection and athleticism, but taking a significant leap forward over the past year with his strength and body coordination. While he’s back at the Rangers academy in the Dominican Republic now and likely starting in the Dominican Summer League, Walcott made a strong impression on the Arizona backfields in minor league spring training, hitting a home run off a 98 mph fastball with an exit velocity of 105 mph in an intrasquad game. With his bat speed and lots of space left to add good weight, Walcott has the potential for at least plus raw power. Teenage hitters with long limbs often come with swing-and-miss issues, and while there is some length that comes to his righthanded swing, Walcott has drawn praise for his hand-eye coordination and ability to keep his swing synced up fairly well. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Walcott’s game this spring has been his defense. Once considered a high probability bet to move off shortstop and go to either third base or the outfield, Walcott has made impressive strides at shortstop over the past year. An above-average runner underway, Walcott has increased his first-step quickness and maintained his athleticism even as he’s gotten bigger, showing good body control at shortstop with improved range to both sides. His arm has ticked up to become a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, giving him more margin for error. There’s still a chance Walcott ends up moving off the position, but he should continue to develop at shortstop through the lower levels and possibly beyond.
Names To Know
Geisel Cepeda, OF, Cuba: After Walcott, the Rangers spread the rest of their pool money around to lower bonus players, with Cepeda ($200,000) the only player to get a six-figure bonus. He’s an usual case, as a 25-year-old who was still subject to the bonus pools, and the nephew of former Cuban national team star Frederich Cepeda, one of the country’s all-time great hitters. Cepeda was a regular during his last three seasons playing for Sancti Spiritus in Serie Nacional, hitting .354/.457/.504 in 317 plate appearances with eight home runs, 51 walks and 15 strikeouts in his final year. A center fielder in Cuba, Cepeda is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and playing left field now with High-A Hickory, showing big raw power from the right side but with an approach more geared toward low line drives and putting the ball in play. He’s getting acclimated to pro ball in the United States now, but at his age, he’s going to have to move quickly and prove he can hit upper-level pitching soon.
Pablo Guerrero, OF, Dominican Republic: Guerrero is the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, the latest in a long lineage of pro players from that family. Signed for $97,500, Guerrero was born in the Dominican Republic, spent a lot of time in New York but was training more consistently in the Dominican Republic over the last couple of years. The family hand-eye coordination is evident with Guerrero, who has a bigger frame at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and has good bat control from the right side with hard contact in games, a skill set that should translate to early production in the DSL. He’s a corner outfielder who has made strides with his athleticism over the past year. He’s also one of the younger players in the class, as he’s still 16 until the end of July.
Braylin Morel, OF, Dominican Republic: Like Guerrero, Morel is a Dominican outfielder the Rangers signed for $97,500, though the two have inverse skill sets. Morel, 17, sticks out more for his raw tools and athleticism. He's a lean 6-foot-2, 180-pound center fielder with plus speed and an above-average arm. He has explosiveness to his game that’s evident in his wheels and righthanded bat speed. His baseball skills are still raw, with some things he will need to iron out with his swing, but his tools jump out, especially relative to his signing amount.
The Rangers still have some room left in their bonus pool, but to this point, the majority of their class has been players signed for $10,000 or less. A lot of those are pitchers, with one that’s already starting to tick up in Frank Martinez. He was way under the radar, a Dominican righthander who turned 21 at the end of April and signed for $7,000. He’s relatively older for a Dominican signing, but he has a fastball that has climbed to 93 mph with the arm speed and physical projection remaining in his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame to potentially climb into mid-90s or better velocity. He’s an athletic mover on the mound and a strike-thrower with a fastball that hitters have difficulty centering thanks to the cutting life and deception that pitch offers. He’s still working to refine the consistency of his breaking ball, but it shows tight rotation already with spin rates that can crank north of 2,700 rpm.
Among hitters, Jesus Gamez is a 20-year-old Mexican outfielder who was with the Tijuana Toros and signed with the Rangers for $10,000. He has a large 6-foot-3 build and good raw power from the right side to put on a show in batting practice. He moves well enough to handle right field, with a chance to get some exposure to first base as well. Gamez has been up to 94 mph on the mound as well, so his arm is an asset in the outfield, too.