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Background: It seems like Mateo has been around for years and should be getting on the old side of prospect status, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Dominican native played all of 1998, his fourth full season, at 20 years old. Despite a shoulder injury that caused him to miss four weeks and then start slowly, Mateo enjoyed an excellent season. He handled a position change, established career highs in every major offensive category except stolen bases and put together a 27-game hitting streak. Strengths: For pure tools and athletic ability, Mateo is one of the premium prospects in baseball. He's the kind of athlete who would fit in at point guard or cornerback at a top college program if he had been raised in the United States. He successfully moved from right field to center field in hopes of playing there in the big leagues. With his raw speed and cannon arm, he has a chance to be a top-notch defensive player if he refines his routes and jumps. Offensively, the hitting streak and power increase attested to his maturity and improved consistency. Weaknesses: Mateo has a live, tightly wound body that has not shown great durability. He missed time in 1997 with a hamate bone fracture, a month in 1998 with shoulder problems and was hampered by hamstring troubles this winter. None of the injuries is serious enough to cause long-term problems but a six-month healthy streak would be encouraging. Ideally, Mateo would draw more walks so he could use his speed and high batting average from the leadoff spot in the order. The Future: The Rangers likely will start Mateo at Triple-A Oklahoma this spring and probably wouldn't mind if he spent the entire year polishing his game there, as long as they get good production in center field in Arlington. Premium prospects such as Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez carried the franchise for the past decade and the organization believes Mateo could be in that mold.
Background: Always regarded as a superior athlete by scouts, Dransfeldt's performance had lagged behind his potential, even in college. Under the tutelage of former Rangers hitting instructor Don Reynolds, Dransfeldt exploded in 1998. Strengths: Dransfeldt combines the quickness and actions of a smaller player with the power and strength of other players his size. His range and hands are good enough for him to play shortstop, but he will move to second base this season after Royce Clayton was re-signed. Dransfeldt has a tremendous throwing arm and he is "positively frightening" coming across the bag on the double play. Weaknesses: Prior to 1998, Dransfeldt's swing was very long and he was frequently jammed by mediocre stuff. His reconstructed swing is both shorter and quicker. Another factor in Dransfeldt's improvement, according to Rangers officials, was getting him to cut back on his addictive passion for golf. The Future: Dransfeldt could potentially become a spectacular defensive third or second baseman. The key will be maintaining the growth he showed with his bat last season.
Background: Glynn has the determination and self-discipline one would expect from a military college graduate. He holds many Virginia Military Institute records as both a pitcher and a hitter. Strengths: Glynn has four quality pitches that are all major league average to slightly above average. His slider has been his go-to pitch but he has steadily developed a curveball and changeup to go with it. His fastball is in the 90-92 mph range. With sound command of those four pitches, he's been called a "competitor deluxe" on the mound. Weaknesses: Without a single dominating pitch, Glynn has to change speeds and work both sides of the strike zone to have success. He showed great improvement in those areas in 1998. The Future: Though he has not pitched above Double-A, Glynn's polish, competitive drive and solid big league stuff could get attention in spring training. He does not have high-ceiling, No. 1 starter stuff but the Rangers would be more than happy with a Rick Helling or Brad Radke clone.
Background: Pena started college at age 16, just three years after his family moved from the Dominican Republic to the Boston area. As a freshman, he was at Wright State because it was the only school that would give him a scholarship. After a year there, he returned home and flourished at Northeastern. Strengths: Despite his age and small-school background, Pena is poised and polished both on and off the field. He has a classic swing and is equally graceful at first base. Though he has the athletic ability to play the outfield corners, the Rangers have no plans of moving him there. Weaknesses: Scouts had questions about Pena's power potential when he was drafted, but he showed extra-base power in his first pro stint. The Rangers will be careful not to emphasize that skill until Pena has a chance to mature as an overall hitter. The Future: Texas already has one Gold Glove first baseman in Rafael Palmeiro and feels it has a future candidate in Pena. He will start 1998 in the high Class A Florida State League, and with fellow top prospect Shawn Gallagher one level ahead of him, he'll likely advance one level at a time.
Background: Romano was the Rangers' 1997 compensation pick for losing Mike Stanton as a free agent. He was a Baseball America high school All-American at third base for one-time power Hillsborough High, but the Rangers switched him to second base before the 1998 season. Strengths: Compared to other second basemen, Romano has a chance to become above average at all five tools. He made a smooth defensive transition and showed above-average range and arm strength. Offensively, Romano has the speed and raw power potential to become a 30 stolen base, 15-20 home run player. Weaknesses: For the most part, Romano just needs to further develop the skills he has. He will need more repetitions at second base to smooth out his actions. His power probably will lag behind until he physically matures. The Future: Romano is one of the players who meets the Rangers demands for talent and character. The club feels he has an excellent chance to develop into an above average big league infielder.
Background: Lee had good stuff and excellent command in 1997, but his command suffered last year, even as stuff improved. Hits were hard to come by off Lee, who was chosen with the compensation pick for losing Kenny Rogers to free agency. Strengths: When Lee throws strikes, he has a complete four-pitch arsenal. His best pitch for both command and quality is a tight curveball. Lee's fastball is 91-93 mph with good life. His slider and changeup are both solid major league average pitches. Weaknesses: The Rangers say that Lee's command problems were caused by a mechanical problem that left his fastball up in the zone and his determination to throw his "mega-stuff" on each pitch. He has been counseled on paying less attention to radar gun readings, which mean less to hitters than scouts. The Future: The Rangers feel they corrected Lee's control problems in instructional league, where he walked just one hitter in 20 innings. He has the highest ceiling of any of the Rangers prospects and could come quickly if he gains consistency.
Background: The Rangers No. 2 prospect last year after reaching Double-A as a 19-year-old, King struggled offensively in 1998. His season ended prematurely because of a right thumb injury. Strengths: King has outstanding hands behind the plate, a release that is regularly in the 1.8-1.9 second range and exceptionally quick feet. The Rangers give him high praise for his maturity in handling a game, and they point to the improvements made by the Tulsa pitching staff as a product of his work. Weaknesses: King is a front-foot contact hitter who doesn't take advantage of his natural strength and hand quickness at the plate. The Rangers also are concerned with his weight, and they placed him on a supervised conditioning program this winter. The Future: In retrospect, too much may have been expected out of the young catcher in 1998 at Double-A. His offensive struggles last year may be a blessing though as it will give the Rangers more time to develop him as Rodriguez' eventual successor.
Background: Prior to last season, Zywica's main claim to fame might have been the fact that he was the last entry on the alphabetical list of professional players. He made a name for himself, though, by hitting .381 in the Florida State League and winning the Arizona Fall League batting title, at .330. Strengths: Zywica is not your prototypical high average hitter. He has long limbs and a unique "step, wait and swing" approach at the plate. The rest of Zywica's package is solid. He pitched in college and has above average arm strength, along with average speed and defensive ability. Weaknesses: After a promotion to Double-A, Zywica's average dropped considerably and his walk-to-strikeout ratio unraveled, so he is by no means a polished hitter yet. He will have to continue to show his unusual hitting approach is effective against better pitching. The Future: Zywica didn't do anything different last year to account for his huge surge as a hitter. He just got more repetitions at the plate and became more comfortable with his hitting style. He'll try to pass the Double-A test this season.
Background: Zimmerman has an unlikely resume for a prospect. He is a Canadian who was undrafted out of Texas Christian. While coaching in British Columbia, he earned a master's degree in business administration. His only pro experience before last season was in the independent Northern League in 1997. Zimmerman's younger brother, Jordan, is a lefthander on the Mariners' 40-man roster. Strengths: Picture Kerry Ligtenberg, including the independent league background, and you have Zimmerman. He has a sinking 90-92 mph fastball and he can spot the corners. Zimmerman's out pitch is a tight, late breaking slider that is an above average major league pitch. His maturity level and composure on the mound are excellent. Weaknesses: Zimmerman is obviously old for a prospect, especially one with just 77 innings of minor league experience. His changeup has not been a factor working out of the bullpen. The Future: The Rangers think Zimmerman has a strong chance to make their major league team in 1999. Their bullpen is hardly a strength and Zimmerman's slider can get big league hitters out now.
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