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Pena is a classic American success story. In search of a better life for his children, Pena's father brought his family to Boston from the Dominican Republic in 1992. Pena rocketed to prominence with a strong showing in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 1997, leading college baseball's top summer circuit in homers and RBIs while taking his team to the championship. He hasn't stopped hitting since. Pena batted .342-13-52 in 146 at-bats during his final season at Northeastern, after which the Rangers took him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Pena has driven in 100 runs in each of his full seasons as a pro. The Ballpark in Arlington favors lefthanded power hitters who can pull the ball. That's Pena's main asset. He smacked a combined 46 homers in his two seasons at Class A Charlotte and Double-A Tulsa. By comparison, Juan Gonzalez had 29 homers in his two seasons with those clubs (though he was three years younger). Pena is more than an all-or-nothing power hitter. He reached base in 45 consecutive games last season. He also can run, legging out 36 doubles and stealing 12 bases without being caught. Defensively, Pena is excellent at first base. He brings the intangible of outstanding character as well. He's smart and hard-working, and he has an advanced understanding of how to play the game. He can be a franchise centerpiece on and off the field. Pena sometimes gets too pull-happy and out of control with his swing. The elite power hitters can take the outside pitch to the opposite field with force, but he too often tries to yank it to right field. Pena came in with no concept of the two-strike approach to hitting the Rangers stress. He made great strides in that aspect of his game last season, cutting his strikeouts by 32 while increasing his walks by 27 over the previous season. He needs to continue that progress. The Rangers resisted the urge to push Pena to Triple-A Oklahoma last year. They'll continue to move him pragmatically after signing free agent Andres Galarraga to a one-year deal, which should give Pena a full year at Oklahoma. He could appear in Texas late in 2001 and should be the starting first baseman in 2002.
The Rangers once worked the Dominican Republic as well as any organization, but their efforts there dropped off. The organization made a renewed push in recent years. Fernando Tatis and Ruben Mateo are the best hitters signed, while Cedeno is the most promising pitcher. Cedeno often is compared to Pedro Martinez because he's a lithe Dominican righthander with large hands that give him remarkable control of his changeup. Though Cedeno's plus fastball is his best pitch, his changeup makes him a strikeout pitcher. He finished 2000 with a seven-game winning streak during which he had 79 strikeouts in 56 innings. Cedeno needs to add strength. He had nagging injuries the last two seasons. He pitched a career-high 130 innings in 2000 but missed his final start with shoulder stiffness. Cedeno is also inconsistent with his breaking pitch. The Rangers will be careful with Cedeno, giving his body time to mature before piling innings on him. Cedeno may need at least three more full minor league seasons, which could create an option problem. He went on the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason.
Romano developed in the baseball hotbed of Tampa, where he attended Hillsborough High, the alma mater of Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield. Some clubs had Romano ranked among the top 20 prospects for the 1997 draft, but he lasted until the 39th pick overall. His brother Jimmie, a catcher, signed with Texas as a 26th-round pick in 1998. Romano is a ballplayer in the best sense of the word. He's a dirt dog who loves to play and will do whatever it takes to win. Romano is a line-drive hitter with speed. He has shown pop in the past, though his slugging percentage dropped 127 points from 1999 to 2000. He can handle hitting at the top of the order, most often batting in the No. 2 spot last season. The Rangers switched Romano from third base to second after drafting him, and his defense needs work. His footwork can get tangled, and that contributed to his 24 errors in 125 games at second last season. The club has no doubt Romano will work to improve. Romano has stayed on schedule, advancing one level each season. How quickly he improves on defense will determine when he reaches the majors. The Rangers hope it's for the 2002 season.
As a sophomore at Delaware in 1998, Mench led NCAA Division I in homers (33) and ranked fourth in hitting (.455), but it didn't help his draft status. After a subpar junior season, he went in the fourth round. Mench hit .357 in his pro debut and was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A Florida State League in 2000. Mench has been described as a Pete Incaviglia who can play the outfield. Mench has Incaviglia's power and is a more refined hitter. He ranked among the FSL leaders in average and on-base percentage (.427) last season. Mench is muscular but runs well. He does everything with enthusiasm. Somewhat older than the competition in his first two professional seasons, Mench has been able to get away with being a pure pull hitter. He'll need to expand his swing as the level of competition increases. Because he lacks arm strength, Mench probably is limited to left field. Mench batted .354 in the Arizona Fall League, leading Grand Canyon to the league title. He'll move up to Double-A in 2001 and could push for a spot in Texas sometime during the following year.
Former international scouting director Omar Minaya left the Rangers to become Mets assistant GM in September 1997, but his legacy endures. Minaya, who also signed Sammy Sosa, found Benoit, then a skinny righthander, in the Dominican Republic in 1996. Now 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Benoit looks like a pitcher. When he gets to the mound, he operates like a pitcher. He has a plus fastball and a sharp slider. He held opponents to a .237 batting average in the offense-mad Texas League last season. Getting Benoit to the mound has been the problem because he's protective of his body and worries about every twinge. His most serious injury was a strained elbow that didn't require surgery in 1998. Benoit has pitched more than 100 innings only once, and his command suffers from the erratic work. He also needs to work on his changeup to be more effective against lefthanders, who hit .308 off him in 2000. Benoit pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. He needs to put together a full and healthy season to move away from the tease category.
The Rangers re-emphasized power pitchers by taking Lewis with their first pick (38th overall) in 1999. Lewis had Tommy John surgery coming out of high school, but won over the Rangers with 108 strikeouts in 88 innings in his final season at Bakersfield (Calif.) Junior College. He was the top pitching prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in his pro debut in 1999. Lewis throws hard. His four-seam fastball is a plus pitch and at times overpowering, reaching the mid-90s and featuring late life. He has 277 strikeouts in 228 pro innings. Lewis throws strikes more consistently than most young power pitchers. Both his curveball and slider are hard pitches, and his changeup shows promise. His elbow hasn't bothered him since his surgery. Lewis needs experience and refinement. He probably needs to settle on one breaking pitch and his changeup could use more polish. The Rangers drafted Lewis knowing he would need plenty of minor league innings. Their expectation is that he'll be ready to make a push to join the big league rotation at some point in 2003.
Will Young be better than Pirates second baseman Warren Morris? The Rangers essentially traded Morris for Young. Morris was the key player given up in 1998 for righthander Esteban Loiaza, who was dumped on Toronto last summer for Young and righthander Darwin Cubillan. The Rangers wanted Young for his athleticism. He runs well and has an excellent arm, good enough to play the outfield if necessary. The Blue Jays had Young batting cleanup at times, but the Rangers turned him into a leadoff hitter because of his quick swing. He responded, though he still needs to draw more walks. Young is still learning how to use his speed on the bases. He tends to be tentative. Young also can be too deliberate on defense. The Blue Jays had moved him to second base, but he returned to shortstop after the trade. Settling on a position for Young was an issue--until the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez. Young clearly won't be playing shortstop in Texas, and he's probably better suited for second base anyway. Unfortunately for him, he'll have to contend with Romano.
Always considered something of a loose cannon, Myette solidified his reputation by breaking his right hand against a clubhouse wall last spring. After rising quickly through the White Sox system, Myette hit the wall in an organization loaded with pitching talent. As a result, Chicago traded him and righthander Brian Schmack for shortstop Royce Clayton after the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez. Myette has a low-90s fastball with natural sink and isn't afraid to pitch inside. Both of his breaking pitches are considered average. He also has a nice feel for pitching. The key will be whether Myette has the confidence to get ahead against big league hitters. He hurt himself with walks when he pitched for the White Sox. His changeup is nothing special, one of the reasons lefthanders teed off on him in Triple-A and the majors. If Myette had remained with the White Sox, he faced another year in Triple-A. With the Rangers, who need starters, he'll get the chance to make the rotation in spring training.
Pratt was leading the Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts in June 1999 when he was shut down with elbow problems that required surgery. He bounced back strong in 2000. His father Tom pitched in the Royals organization, has been a college coach and big league scout and currently is a pitching coach in the Cubs system. Like many young lefthanders, Pratt relies on a changeup. Unlike many young lefthanders, he's willing to come inside with his fastball to keep hitters from sitting on it. Pratt's fastball isn't overpowering, but it's effective when he throws it in. He has good control. He's competitive and has a mound presence that reflects being around the game most of his life. Pratt's fastball and curveball are average at best. When hitters don't chase his changeup off the plate, he gets into trouble. That's what happened to him after he was promoted to Double-A. He needs to add strength to his slight body. If intelligence and guts count for anything, Pratt will do better in his return to Tulsa. He'll have to prove himself at every level.
Blalock is a product of national power Rancho Bernardo High, coached by Sam Blalock, Hank's uncle. Hank broke into pro ball in 1999 by leading the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in several categories, including batting average (.361), doubles (17) and RBIs (38). He easily held his own at Class A Savannah at age 19 last season. Blalock is already advanced at the plate. He has excellent bat control and good knowledge of the strike zone. In both of his pro seasons, he has walked more than he has struck out. He has power, though it's more to the gaps than over the fence. Blalock also runs well and was caught in just eight of 39 basestealing attempts last year. At times, Blalock can become too pull-conscious and lengthen his swing too much. He's OK defensively, though he's sometimes inconsistent when he lets bad at-bats affect him. Blalock will make a big jump into the pitching-oriented Florida State League this season. Another strong offensive performance would dramatically elevate his standing. The Rangers' signing of Ken Caminiti indicated dissatisfaction with Mike Lamb, so Blalock may be the organization's third baseman of the future. Putting Jason Grabowski, who hit .274-19-90 at Tulsa last year, on waivers also eliminated another obstacle.
Texas did a tremendous job restocking its system with its 1999 draft. Mead is the fourth player from that class on this list, and the Rangers also used sixth-rounder Aaron Harang in a trade with Oakland for second baseman Randy Velarde. Mead went 47th overall based on a projection by scout Dennis Meeks. While many teams saw Mead as a wild stringbean righthander, Meeks saw a budding power pitcher whose body and mind would mature. Mead has a legitimate plus fastball with good late movement. The Rangers believe he has enough power to succeed with average secondary pitches behind his fastball. He has averaged more than a strikeout per inning as a pro, and he also has done a pretty good job of throwing strikes. Mead's secondary pitches are far from average at this point, which is why he has yet to progress past Rookie ball. His breaking pitch has shown improvement, though his changeup is very much a work in progress. He needs to get stronger, which could add more velocity to his fastball. Minor league meal money could stand between Mead and rapid advancement. He'll get his first shot at full-season ball in 2001, most likely at Savannah. If he can't fill out his repertoire of pitches, the bullpen is an option down the road.
No one in the Rangers organization improved more last season than Hafner. Probably the strongest player in the system, he rose in Texas' judgment by dramatically changing his approach at the plate. In 1999, Hafner led the South Atlantic League in homers and RBIs but also had 151 strikeouts in 480 at-bats. He moved up to the Florida State League last season, when he began to understand the concept of hitting with two strikes and using the opposite field. Hafner again ranked among the league leaders in homers and RBIs while cutting his strikeouts nearly in half. The rap against Hafner is that he's a man without a position. He has slow feet and hands that are average at best. He simply doesn't compare to Carlos Pena at first base. Hafner is determined and fearless, traits that can make up for other deficiencies.
The Rangers moved Elder into the Double-A rotation last season to get him some badly needed innings. He missed the 1998 season because of Tommy John elbow surgery and worked a total of just 83 innings in his first three professional seasons. Like many recent Tommy John survivors, Elder has thrown harder since returning from the surgery, and he now can touch the mid-90s. While the added velocity is a plus, he must become more consistent with the command of his fastball. When Elder is effective with his fastball, he can dominate. When he gets overly excited and loses the strike zone, he's in trouble. He also needs to improve his slider. His future probably is in the bullpen, but he must throw more strikes to reach the majors. His height, less than the listed 6 feet, works against him.
If it were a matter of defense, Heard probably could catch in the majors now. He moves well behind the plate and has a strong arm with a quick release. The only catcher better than him in the organization is Ivan Rodriguez, who's the best in the game. There is, however, the matter of offense. Heard's poor hitting in his final high school season hurt his draft status--at one point he looked like he would go to Florida as the No. 1 overall choice--though he did improve once he turned pro. Heard quickly took to the instruction of Butch Wynegar, a former major league catcher, and tore up the Gulf Coast League. The Rangers believe Heard's high school problems stemmed from trying too hard to hit home runs in hopes of impressing scouts. With Wynegar, Heard settled back into a more consistent swing and tried to hit the ball up the middle. Questions about offense will follow Heard at each level while he wows observers with his skills behind the plate.
Dittfurth embodies the Rangers' renewed affection for young power pitchers. He has the frame and the arm that should make him overpowering once he matures. All Dittfurth has to do is find the strike zone with the fastball. In addition to leading the South Atlantic League in walks last season, Dittfurth also threw 16 wild pitches and hit 17 batters. Righthanders need courage to step in against him. He must gain better control of his body to keep his delivery from going out of kilter. Dittfurth doesn't have a way to adjust if he can't locate his fastball. He also throws a curveball and changeup, but his fastball is what will carry him to the majors, and the Rangers hope he'll be able to control it as he gains more experience.
One of the biggest disappointments in the system last year was that Morban couldn't handle the level of competition in the South Atlantic League and had to go back to the Appalachian League. Morban is an acrobatic shortstop with good range, arm and hands. He also runs well and has pop in his bat. All of that makes his performance last year--his first full season in the United States--so frustrating to the Rangers. He didn't make contact and was erratic both on the bases and in the field. The lone positive was that he continued to draw walks, not that it helped his batting average. The Rangers will give Morban a mulligan for last season and hope his talent comes forth in 2001, when he'll get another shot at the Sally League.
Give scout Jim Lentine credit for being able to project Lundberg, a junior college infielder whom Lentine envisioned as a pitcher. Lundberg made the conversion after signing. He lacks power on his fastball but gets batters out by changing speeds and throwing strikes with three pitches: a sinker, curveball and changeup. Lundberg understands his limitations and doesn't overthrow. He also doesn't try to trick hitters, preferring to let them get themselves out by beating the ball into the ground. He allowed only nine homers in Double-A last year. Though Lundberg has two consecutive 14-win seasons as a swingman, the Rangers remain somewhat skeptical. They didn't protect him on the 40-man roster during the offseason, and no one bit on him in the major league Rule 5 draft.
The Rangers gave Beltre a significant bonus when they signed him out of the Dominican last February, and the early returns were promising. Despite being young and raw, he wasn't overwhelmed by coming straight to the U.S. and facing Gulf Coast League hitters. He ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the GCL. Beltre relied on a fastball-slider combination, and he throws hard enough to work high in the strike zone with a four-seam fastball. He doesn't have an advanced changeup, though he can throw strikes and set up hitters. At this point, his biggest needs are to grow stronger and gain more experience. He has a very projectable body and the Rangers believe he can be an innings-eater.
Sensing his career had stalled, Valdez quit for a day during spring training last year. He returned contrite and determined to do something with himself. That new mindset showed on the mound. Valdez returned to the Appalachian League, where he had flopped in 1999, and dominated. He always had command of his low-90s fastball, and last season he was able to throw strikes with his curveball and changeup. He also showed improved composure on the mound, another hint that he is maturing. Valdez stuck with a conditioning program, which is important to him. He pitches best at about 220 pounds but can zoom up 260 pounds if he's not careful. Valdez is finally ready for full-season ball for the first time in his career.
In one year, Runser went from an out-of-shape junior college starter to a closer for the University of Houston, which came within one game of advancing to the 2000 College World Series. Frustrated with his bullpen, Cougars coach Rayner Noble took Runser out of the rotation and made him a closer. The switch turned Runser into a late sensation for the draft, and he went in the fifth round. A lighter and better-conditioned Runser added about 4 mph to his fastball, giving him a 94-mph heater to go with an excellent changeup that can be a strikeout pitch. His third pitch is a slider. He overmatched younger hitters in the Appalachian League and possibly could start 2001 by skipping Savannah and heading to high Class A.
In many ways, Botts is the biggest sleeper in the organization. A draft-and-follow from 1999, he showed a lot more than the Rangers expected after signing last summer. They knew he could hit with power, and he did just that in the Gulf Coast League. They didn't know he could switch-hit, which Botts did when he began batting from the left side after turning pro. He knows how to lift balls and showed power from both sides of the plate. The Rangers also didn't know Botts could be so controlled at the plate. He made acceptable contact and walked nearly as much as he struck out. He fills out a uniform at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, but he has good footwork and can run the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds during workouts. Botts could come on in a hurry.
Almost everyone associated with the November 1999 Juan Gonzalez trade with Detroit had a dreadful 2000 season, and Webb was no exception. He opened the season in Double-A and came undone, continuing a slump that began in 1999 with the Tigers' Double-A affiliate. That earned Webb a demotion that seemed to jar him. His commitment and maturity had been questioned, but he began throwing strikes with his changeup again in Class A and rebuilt his standing. His changeup and curveball are plus pitches, and Webb can throw strikes with a below-average fastball. But not only does his fastball lack velocity, it also doesn't move much, forcing him to pitch backward. The diminutive Webb never will have more than a narrow margin of error. He may be as good now as he ever will be, and he must pitch intelligently to advance.
Dransfeldt has reached the produce-or-depart stage of his career with Texas. He's an excellent defensive shortstop, making up for a big body with good footwork and an accurate arm. He's more consistent with the glove than Royce Clayton, the Rangers' starter for the previous 2 1/2 seasons. But Texas never used Dransfeldt for more than spot duty because he has been helpless at the plate. He has batted .239 above Class A, showing modest power and little sense of the strike zone. He can't settle on a stance and lacks bat speed. Dransfeldt obviously won't move Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup, and he'd be best served by going to a shortstop-needy organization.
A rough delivery caught up to Kolb last season. After pitching in pain for two seasons, he gave in and had reconstructive elbow surgery in June. The remarkable point is that despite the pain, Kolb had a 0.98 ERA for 13 relief appearances with Triple-A Oklahoma before the surgery. He had been capable of touching the upper 90s with his fastball, but has learned that he pitches more effectively at 92-94 mph. The Rangers also like his slider and go-through-a-wall makeup. The concern now is that his makeup may have pushed him too far, leaving him with a career-ending elbow injury. His command has been inconsistent as well. The Rangers hope to have Kolb back on a mound during spring training, but there are no guarantees.
Texas took Nowlin in the second round of the 1998 draft on the basis of power potential, but after three pro seasons he has just a .396 career slugging percentage. He showed some pop in the South Atlantic League with a career-high 15 homers last year, but he also batted .244 with mediocre plate discipline. Nowlin runs well and has an above-average outfield arm, but his success will be determined by his power production. The Rangers still believe he can be a legitimate .280 hitter with power. He probably will be promoted to high Class A in 2001, which should shed considerable light on his future.
Russ had a scintillating pro debut in 2000. He dazzled younger hitters in the Appalachian League, then pitched well against more demanding competition in the South Atlantic League. Russ is the quintessential soft-tossing lefthander. He keeps hitters confused by changing speeds and hiding the ball well. His fastball is more notable for his sink than its velocity, and he crosses hitters up by rarely throwing it in fastball counts. His curveball has developed into a solid second pitch. He's also a superb athlete who fields his position well. Russ has an intriguing ceiling, though he's not particularly polished coming from a small college program.
Some observers believer Regilio's future is as a long reliever, but the Rangers will give him every chance to establish himself as a starter. Regilio has average stuff and never will knock the bat out of a hitter's hands. His best attribute is the late, hard sink on his fastball. He throws strikes, though almost to a fault, as he was hammered at times in 2000. In his first full season last year, Regilio was limited by occasional shoulder soreness. The Rangers don't believe the shoulder will be a long-running problem. He probably could use a return trip to Charlotte to begin 2001.
Former scouting director Chuck McMichael produced promising drafts and increased the Rangers' presence in the Dominican Republic. Urena, who ha an above-average fastbook, came out of the club's operation in Santiago. He pitches down in the strike zone and didn't allow a homer in his U.S. debut last season. Urena must choose between his slider and curveball because the pitches are too similar. At this point, the slider is the better pitch. He's still learning a changeup, which he'll need to progress.
Some clubs believed the Rangers reached by taking Bourgeois in the second round of the 2000 draft. A high school shortstop, he moved immediately to second base as a pro because he has limited arm strength. Bourgeois seems to be a good fit for second because of his range, quick feet and soft hands. He has plus speed and good instincts for the game. The Rangers hope he becomes an adequate offensive player. Bourgeois currently plays a little man's game on offense, focusing on bunts, slap hits, walks and stolen bases. He's effective in those areas, but didn't show much in terms of batting average or power in his pro debut. He'll need to get stronger to survive a full season.
In 1997, Lee was the organization's pitcher of the year. Last fall, he passed through outright waivers without being claimed. Lee's decline can be blamed on a loss of control. He led the Texas League in walks in 1998 and ranked third in that category in the Pacific Coast League last season. Lee's fastball is average at best, and he loses confidence in it when it gets hit. Then he nibbles with his offspeed stuff, falls behind in the count and gets into more trouble. His curveball is his best pitch, and he also has a slider and changeup. Lee bounced back after a rough first year at Double-A. If he does the same thing in Triple-A this season, he could get another chance.