Versatile infielder Jonathan Ornelas earned a spot, too. So did righthander Zak Kent, a 2019 ninth-round pick out of Virginia Military Institute, who has shown flashes of brilliance in the last two seasons.
Kent finished the season with a flourish, allowing no more than four runs in 12 of his final 15 starts.
The Rangers see the 24-year-old Kent as a pitcher with a four-pitch mix who could reach the major leagues in 2023.
“I think it’s a lot of different things,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “Certainly, he had a really strong finish to the season and performed well at Double-A and Triple-A.
“I think he’s really talented. We’ve received a lot of interest throughout the industry in Zak. I think he’s got some pitch characteristics that other teams recognize are special, and that’s part of the reason we decided to protect him.”
Kent posted a 6.26 ERA over the first three months of 2022 and had two short stints on the injured list before finding his groove. He posted a 2.34 ERA over the final three months, including a 1.67 ERA in September at Triple-A Round Rock.
He can throw his fastball in the upper 90s, but his best pitch is a slider. It might be the best slider in the Rangers’ system.
Kent figures to be part of a prospect-heavy Triple-A rotation to open 2023. Winn will likely open the season there and could be joined by lefthander Cole Ragans, who made his big league debut in 2022. White might not be far behind.
The Rangers won’t be surprised if they lose players in the Rule 5 after the difficult decision to leave others unprotected.
“I think it speaks to the talent floor of the organization being elevated,” Young said. “Our hope is we’re having really tough decisions and calls every year.”
— Outfielder Aaron Zavala had elbow surgery in late October to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament suffered in the Arizona Fall League. Zavala, who finished 2022 at Double A Frisco, did not have Tommy John surgery and should be ready to return as early as mid May. Zavala was drafted out of Oregon in the second round in 2021.
— First baseman Blaine Crim, who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, decided not to return to the Puerto Rican League this winter after winning the league batting title last season. Crim finished the season at Triple-A and hit .293 with 24 homers and an .842 OPS across two levels