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Blalock is another in the long line of players to come out of the San Diego talent hotbed and powerful Rancho Bernardo High, which also produced Scott Heard, the Rangers' 2000 first-round pick. Blalock's father Dana and uncle Sam are prominent influences in the baseball community-- Sam coaches Rancho Bernardo--and his younger brother Jake is expected to go in the first three rounds of the 2002 draft. While scouts said Blalock was limited offensively in high school, he turned down Cal State Fullerton after being drafted as a shortstop. His stock has soared since. He won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title in 1999 and ranked second in the minors with a .352 average in 2001. Blalock was the No. 2 prospect in the high Class A Florida State League, and was second to none in the Double-A Texas League and the Arizona Fall League. Blalock's strong amateur background shows. He knows how to play the game the right way and has an advanced grasp of using the entire field. He makes solid contact and sprays the ball from foul line to foul line. He has power to the alleys and some scouts project him to hit 30 or more homers a season because of his bat speed and the natural lift in his swing. He has a short, compact swing and handles lefthanders and righthanders equally well. He also has the discipline to sit back on offspeed stuff. Despite below-average wheels, Blalock lets his instincts take over on the bases and can be an occasional basestealing threat. He has improved his defense, committing just 15 errors last season. He can become too selective at times, and the Rangers would like to see him expand his hitting zone and trade a few strikeouts for a few more extra-base hits. Like most young infielders, he needs to devote more time to his footwork on defense. Blalock is six months younger than Mark Teixeira, and two years ahead of him in professional experience. The Rangers plan to start the season with both playing third base at different levels. Blalock is more athletic and more capable of handling a position change, if necessary. He could be a second baseman in the mold of Jeff Kent or handle a move to left field. The platoon of Herb Perry and Mike Lamb buys Blalock a year in Triple-A Oklahoma.
Teixeira turned down the Red Sox' seven-figure bonus offer out of high school as a ninth-rounder in 1998. He was the top prospect in the Cape Cod League in 1999 and Baseball America's College Player of the Year in 2000. Despite missing most of his junior season with a fractured right ankle, he went fifth overall in the 2001 draft and signed for a major league contract worth $9.5 million. Teixeira was both the best pure hitter and the best power hitter available in the 2001 draft, and the most advanced college bat since Pat Burrell went No. 1 overall in the 1998 draft. A switch-hitter, he is proficient from both sides of the plate. Before he got hurt, he had made strides with his running and defense. He didn't play the field after returning from the injury, so there will be questions about his defense until he does. He still has to show he can play third base in the majors, though Hank Blalock's presence and Carlos Pena's trade will make it easier to move Teixeira to first base. The injury and protracted contract negotiations left Teixeira rusty in instructional league, where he hit .246 with one homer in 57 at-bats. He'll stay at the hot corner for now and could debut as high as Double-A Tulsa.
Ramos was the key to the Carlos Pena trade for the Rangers, who lacked a major league-ready pitching prospect with his upside. The Athletics considered him the cream of their minor league crop and compared his ability to learn and make adjustments to Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, two other college lefties who zoomed through their system. After Ramos' first year as a pro, the A's told him to develop a breaking ball to compete at higher levels. So he went to work and came up with a plus curveball that some consider his best pitch. More than anything, he knows how to pitch. He lives by changing speeds off his 88 mph fastball, and both his changeup and command are outstanding. Doubters wonder whether a pitcher who doesn't break 90 can quickly become a force in the major leagues, though Ramos has a knack for putting the ball by hitters. His only real flaw is a tendency to pound righthanders inside. Ramos will compete with Rob Bell, Hideki Irabu and Aaron Myette for the fifth spot in the Texas rotation this spring. If he doesn't win out, he still figures to surface with the Rangers at some point in 2002.
Texas' belated attempt to add more power arms began when it took Lewis with its first choice in the 1999 draft. He had Tommy John surgery after high school but has held up well since. He led the system in strikeouts last season and held hitters in the offense-crazed Texas League to a .252 average. Everything Lewis throws is hard. He has the velocity to be effective with a high, riding four-seamer that clocks in the mid-90s and has late movement. He also utilizes a hard curveball. When his power doesn't work, Lewis has trouble surviving. He didn't make it past the fifth inning in eight of his 24 Double-A starts, and he allowed five homers in a game in which he had a 97 mph fastball. He could avoid the inconsistency by getting a better offspeed pitch. Lewis lost valuable development time when a sore shoulder forced him out of the Arizona Fall League. The Rangers believe the soreness is related to pitching at least 160 innings in consecutive seasons after his elbow injury. They'll monitor him closely this year in Triple-A.
Once projected as a first-round pick in the 1999 draft, Ludwick slid after a shaky junior season at Nevada-Las Vegas. He regained his stroke with the Athletics before being included in the Carlos Pena trade. He's the brother of ex-big league pitcher Eric Ludwick. Ryan has the tools to become a legitimate major league slugger. He's also an above-average outfielder with a plus arm in right field. He lacks the burning speed of most center fielders, but he's faster than most corner outfielders. As he has advanced, though, he has been slow to make adjustments. He doesn't incorporate his lower half well into his swing. He needs to mature as a hitter rather than letting one bad at-bat affect his next trip to the plate. The question remains whether he can develop into a major league center fielder or if he's better suited to right. Ludwick is similar to Gabe Kapler, whom he may have to battle for a big league starting job in the near future. For now, Ludwick will go to Triple-A.
To sway Dittfurth to turn pro rather than attending Texas A&M, the Rangers arranged for him to meet Nolan Ryan. Three years later, Dittfurth won the organization's Nolan Ryan award as its minor league pitcher of the year. He has spent one season at each of the four lowest levels of the system, flourishing at that pace. Dittfurth uses four pitches, the best of which is a 93 mph running fastball. It has heavy sink that makes it difficult for hitters to lift. He also throws a sweeping curveball that's effective against lefthanders, plus a slider and changeup. The key for him in 2001 was much improved command. He gained better control of his body and focused on attacking the strike zone. He uses his gangly body to hide the ball well in his delivery. Dittfurth's mound composure has improved but still needs work. He had shown a tendency to come undone in the face of adversity. He can be difficult to catch, as evidenced by his 15 wild pitches last season. The combination of four good pitches and growing maturity could allow Dittfurth to come on in a hurry. He'll start this season in Double-A but could finish in Triple-A.
The Rangers keep waiting for Benoit's breakthrough year, but so far it has been in vain. After turning in a strong Arizona Fall League performance in 2000, he failed to build on it. He did set a career high for innings in 2001, which wasn't hard considering he was sidelined by nagging injuries through his first three full seasons in the United States. When Benoit throws strikes with his plus fastball and slider, he can be overpowering. He devours righthanded hitters with the slider, holding them to a .216 average in 2001. He also has an above-average changeup. Benoit likes to work high in the strike zone, sometimes too high. He still walks too many batters, and he has a bad habit of showing up umpires when he's displeased by their calls. He tends to shut himself down at the first sign of soreness, which makes it difficult for him to maintain his consistency. There have been some concerns that his delivery could lead to more serious arm problems. Benoit will be just 22 on Opening Day, but it's time for him to step forward after six years in the organization. Slated to open 2002 in Triple-A, he could crack the Texas rotation later in the year if he pitches to his potential.
Injuries struck several of Texas' better pitching prospects in 2001, and no news was more devastating than that surrounding Cedeno. The Rangers had nagging concerns about his slender frame for a while, and had to shut him down after three starts at high Class A Charlotte. Doctors diagnosed a torn labrum in his shoulder that required seasonending surgery. When healthy, Cedeno dazzles with his fastball/ changeup combination. Like his idol and fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez, he gets exceptional movement on his changeup because of his large hands and fingers. Cedeno's fastball is explosive and travels into the mid-90s. He has the same love for the game that Martinez has. Still, Cedeno has pitched just 276 innings in five years as a pro. With only two options remaining, he may have to be kept in the majors before he accumulates the minor league experience he needs. He hasn't been healthy enough to develop a consistent breaking ball. Cedeno threw off a mound during instructional league and could have pitched in winter ball, but the Rangers decided to err on the side of caution. They hope he'll be ready for big league camp, though he might start this season in extended spring training. If he's healthy, Cedeno's ceiling is as high as high as any pitcher in the system.
Mench won the NCAA Division I home run title in 1998 with 33 as a Delaware sophomore. He slipped as a junior, hurting his draft status, but has been a power hitter in the pros. He led the Appalachian League in home runs in 1999 and has 71 in 323 pro games. Mench has been compared to a Pete Incaviglia with better outfield skills. He has become more and more of a dead-pull hitter with exceptional power. He crushed lefthanders in the Texas League last season, hitting .352 with 10 homers in 128 at-bats against them. He has shown slightly above-average speed, but lingering hamstring problems kept him from running last season. He also bulked up last season, which may have been the cause of his leg problems. If he sticks with the pull-everything approach, he'll never hit for average. He hit just .233 against righthanders in 2001 and his patience at the plate slipped. His arm limits him to left field. Mench must keep his body under control. He's in danger of getting too stiff across the shoulders, a development that could tie up his swing. The Rangers hope he'll make some improvements in Triple-A this year.
Another component of the Carlos Pena trade, Hart sped through the Oakland system with .303-70-317 totals in his first 350 pro games. Then everything fell apart for him last year in Triple-A. The Athletics think he may have put too much pressure on himself because of Jason Giambi's pending free agency. Before he got to Triple-A, Hart showed he could hit for both power and average. He used the whole field and was an offensive force. After spending many hours honing his skills, he has made himself into a good defensive first baseman. Hart has to readjust his approach and return to the form that allowed him to terrorize pitchers at lower levels. Getting a bit more selective would help. He doesn't fit at another position, and he could have problems winning a starting job with the Rangers because they have a number of candidates for first base and DH, both in the present and in the future. Had he produced in 2001, Hart might have been Giambi's successor in Oakland. Instead he'll return to Triple-A, where he'll try to rebound and await a big league opening.
Texas ignored Bourgeois' size and took him with the 64th pick overall in the 2000 draft because of his energy. He's an electric player who has had to learn to harness his enthusiasm. Managers ranked him as the Rookie-level Appalachian League's No. 3 prospect last year, when he increased his batting average 72 points from his pro debut. Bourgeois is more than just a pesky middle infielder. He stopped lunging at pitches and showed unexpected power. His motor and instincts prompted Appy League skippers to compare him to Charlie Hustle himself. Bourgeois is an above-average runner with excellent first-step quickness. He gets in trouble when he becomes too power-conscious and forgets to be selective. He has below-average arm strength and his overall defense can be erratic. Playing on rough infields, he led Pulaski with 18 errors. Bourgeois will face his biggest test yet this year when he advances to full-season ball. If he doesn't improve his glovework, he's athletic enough to handle a move to center field.
Former scouting director Chuck McMichael concentrated on big-ticket signings in the Dominican Republic. The Rangers snatched Beltre away from the Reds for a $650,000 bonus at age 17. He has handled the trying move of coming to the United States at such a young age. Beltre has a live arm and can throw his plus four-seam fastball past hitters. He has the frame that should allow him to grow into a power pitcher. Beltre needs an offspeed pitch to complement his fastball and slider. He uses a changeup but isn't fully comfortable with it. He had some control problems last season. A dose of humility also would be helpful. Beltre can be headstrong and reluctant to take coaching. He'll need to develop physically and mentally into a pitcher to continue his success as he jumps to full-season ball in 2002.
Pratt was destined to be a pitcher. His father Tom pitched in the Royals organization and worked as a college pitching coach and major league scout before moving into his current role of minor league pitching coach in the Cubs system. Pratt performs like the son of a pitching coach. He's smart and has a fundamentally sound delivery. He's a classic finesse lefty who's at his best when changing speeds and tempting hitters. Pratt has been able to work the outside corner while still throwing strikes. He can touch 90-91 mph with his fastball, but he fell in love with his cutter last season and suffered for it. He lost command of his curveball and two changeups, and posted a 5.58 ERA in the final two months last season. He did get back on track in the Arizona Fall League. Pratt's pitchability may be unmatched in the system, but he'll need to miss more bats as he heads to Triple-A. He could be an end-of-the-rotation starter in a couple of years.
The new regime of general manager John Hart and assistant GM Grady Fuson reaffirmed that the Rangers will invest heavily in the international market. After allowing their foothold to slip in the Dominican Republic, Texas has re-established its interests there. The club's best Dominican newcomer last year was Jose Dominguez, who made his U.S. debut at age 18. He led the Gulf Coast League club in innings and strikeouts. His live arm and projectable, lean frame have the Rangers eagerly anticipating his future. He throws a plus-plus fastball that touched 96 mph last year. Like Jovanny Cedeno, Dominguez displays a feel for a deceptive changeup. He also has the makings of an aboveaverage curveball. Dominguez is raw but filled with promise and is expected to make the leap to low Class A Savannah.
Michael Young shot past Romano in the Rangers' second-base plans last season, forcing Romano to change positions. With Young quickly establishing himself at second base in Texas, Romano was sent all the way back to the Gulf Coast League to learn center field. With his natural athletic ability and zeal for down-in-the-dirt work, he took to the position. He's an above-average runner with good baseball instincts. The drawbacks about making him a center fielder are his limited arm strength and pop. Romano went into an offensive funk when he began 2001 in Double-A. His average rose after the position switch and a promotion to Oklahoma, but he didn't show the line-drive, gap power that was prominent early in his career. His slugging percentage has dropped from .516 in high Class A in 1999 to .389 and .369 the last two years. With the Rangers trading for Carl Everett, Romano will have a hard time making the jump from Triple-A this year.
Problems with his right wrist have dogged Hafner for more than a year. He left the Puerto Rican winter league early in 2000 because of wrist soreness and had spring-training surgery to repair a broken hamate bone. Limited during the 2001 season at Tulsa, Hafner had only a brief stay in the Arizona Fall League because of more wrist problems that required a second operation. The Rangers hope an offseason of rest will cure the problem. When he did play last year, he showed his trademark farmboy power. The strongest player in the organization, he can drive the ball a great distance to any part of the ballpark. Lefthanders don't give him any trouble, as he has hit .358 with a .575 slugging percentage against them over the last two years. Hafner is a poor defensive first baseman and his slow feet aren't suited for any other position. There are questions as to whether he'll be able to catch up to a major league fastball, but at this pace he'll get a chance to find out. The offseason acquisition of Jason Hart may force Hafner to repeat Double-A at the beginning of 2002.
Nix plays the game with the same toughness that made him an outstanding quarterback at Midland (Texas) High. His brother Jayson made his pro debut last season after the Rockies drafted him in the supplemental first round. Laynce is probably the most intense player in the Rangers organization, a trait that leads to favorable comparisons to Rusty Greer. His mental toughness allowed him to handle a big jump to low Class A in 2001 after he struggled in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. Nix, who overcame a spring-training wrist injury, concentrated on hitting the ball up the middle last season, which served him well. However, he'll need to add more power and patience as he advances. He currently projects as a platoon corner outfielder, but Nix has the drive to accomplish more than that. This year he'll go to high Class A, where he ended last season.
Coming off an All-America sophomore season at Clemson, Boyd looked like a lock to be one of the first players taken in the 2000 draft. But he hit just .293 with three homers as a junior, went in the fourth round to the Pirates and didn't sign. His senior year went even worse, as he had a stress fracture in his back and played in just one game. After getting a medical redshirt he could have returned to the Tigers in 2002, but he signed with the Rangers for $600,000 in mid-January. That's the second-largest bonus ever given to a seventh- round pick, trailing only the $775,000 Matt Holliday got from the Rockies in 1998. Boyd is a tremendously gifted player who has drawn comparisons to Shawn Green. As a sophomore, he showed a sweet stroke that should allow him to hit for power and average. His willingness to accept a walk is commendable, but he's too passive at the plate and allows pitchers to dictate the action. He's an above-average runner and a fine center fielder. It's mainly a matter of whether he can stay healthy and get more aggressive.
The least advanced player among the four the Rangers acquired in the Carlos Pena trade, Laird still has plenty of tools. The problem is that a series of injuries have limited him during his first two full years as a pro. He played just 47 games in 2000 because of hamstring and arm troubles. After he appeared in 119 regular-season games in 2001, the Athletics thought a stint in the Arizona Fall League would be good for his development. But Laird took a foul ball off his throwing hand, leaving a hairline fracture, and exited Arizona after eight games. When he's healthy, Laird he has a strong arm, good hands behind the plate and surprising speed for a catcher--enough that he has visions of becoming a leadoff hitter. Though he hasn't hit much in the minors, the A's believed he had significant offensive potential. An offseason weight program has helped Laird build upper-body strength, which should help him to produce at the plate and to stay in the lineup. He's slated for Double-A in 2002.
Another young and promising Dominican find, Jimenez also came to the United States as an 18-year-old last summer and flashed impressive stuff. He held opponents to a .214 average with an electric arsenal similar to Jose Dominguez'. Jimenez has a plus fastball that can reach the mid-90s, and he already is more than a thrower. He displays a mature grasp of pitching, with the ability to change speeds and work both sides of the plate. He needs to fill out his lithe body to avoid the troubles that have plagued the wiry Jovanny Cedeno. Jimenez will pitch in low Class A this year with Dominguez.
Former GM Doug Melvin specialized in the small trade. He sent backup catcher Doug Mirabelli to Boston for Duchscherer last June and Duchscherer went from being buried in the Red Sox system to the big leagues for the Rangers. He operates with fringe-average velocity but is willing to use his fastball. Helped by a sound delivery, he has good command of a tight curveball that acts like a slider, plus a changeup. Duchscherer has to maintain his fine control because his limited fastball leaves a small margin of error. He won his major league debut as a starter in July, then gave up 16 runs in eight innings after a September callup. All of the Rangers' activity in the free-agent market doesn't bode well for him, but he'll be on call in Triple-A.
Like Justin Duchscerer, Regilio won't knock the bats out of hitter's hands with his average velocity but he understands there's more to pitching than high gun readings. He gets late sink on his 88-91 mph fastball and can throw strikes with his slider. His changeup is an out pitch. He held Florida State League hitters to a .200 average and tossed a perfect game before earning a promotion to Double-A. Lefthanders at that level didn't chase his splitter and teed off on Regilio, hitting .390 against him. Shoulder problems shelved him late last season, and there's some concern within the organization that they could recur. He'll return to the Texas League in 2002 with something to prove.
Based on early results, Botts could become one of the few Rangers draft-and-follows to make a significant impact. A close friend of Laynce Nix, Botts shares the same off-the-charts makeup. He didn't start switch-hitting until turning pro and now displays power from both sides. He showed a bit more power as a righthander but is effective either way. The next step is for Botts to become comfortable at turning the bat loose and slugging more homers. He has a slight uppercut to his swing, but his raw power potential has yielded only 15 homers in 567 career at-bats. Botts runs surprisingly well and ran an organization-best 6.55 seconds in the 60-yard dash last spring. His athleticism prompted a move from first base to the outfield. He's still learning the nuances of the position. A full-time move to high Class A in 2002 will be an important step in Botts' development.
Shortly before the 2000 draft, Heard was a candidate to be the No. 1 overall choice by the Marlins. Concerns about how he'd hit with pro pitching with wood bats caused him to slide all the way to the 25th pick, and the Rangers have learned the hard truth about why Heard fell. He's slow and has the body of "a 40-year-old backup catcher," according to one National League scout. Heard must increase his commitment to conditioning. His lack of offense earned him a demotion last summer, though he returned to low Class A in August with a somewhat shorter swing and hit .257 with three homers in his final 20 games. Heard's defensive skills never have come into question, and he's equipped with plus arm strength. He'll get every chance because he can catch and throw, but he's years away from being considered even a major league backup.
One of the biggest challenges to the Texas player-development staff, Hughes signed as a draft-and-follow in 1998 after leading Cowley County (Kan.) CC to the Junior College World Series title. He has a legitimate mid-90s sinker but lacks consistency with it. The problems start with Hughes' lack of coordination. He can be ungainly on the mound, and that causes his delivery to often go haywire--which leads to control difficulties. He also throws a slider and a changeup, but both pitches need more refinement. Hughes made five starts last year to amass innings, but his future is in the bullpen. His quirk in that role, according to scouts, is a tendency to pitch better after inheriting runners than with the bases empty. Hughes lacks a deep pitching background because his high school didn't field a baseball team. The Rangers saw enough hopeful signs from him last season in Double-A to place him in the Arizona Fall League and on their 40-man roster. He won't be ready for spring training because of an offseason knee injury.
All the tools are there. Morban runs well, has a plus arm and range for a shortstop and hits with above-average power for a middle infielder. He's a fluid, gifted athlete and represents one of the few five-tool prospects in the organization. But he frustrates the Rangers by showing flashes of those raw skills, only to suffer through long stretches of inconsistency. Last year was his second consecutive season with more than 100 strikeouts, an indication of his unwillingness to make adjustments at the plate. He also gets caught stealing too much and makes too many errors for someone with his skills. After nearly two years in low Class A, Morban probably will move to high Class A for what could be a make-or-break season.
Back problems limited Russ to 70 innings in 2001, his first full pro season. It was another setback for the pitching-starved Rangers, because he was building on a solid debut when he got sidelined. He gets groundball outs with a late-sinking fastball that has ordinary velocity. He has a quality curveball to complement his fastball. He tends to pitch backward, possessing the confidence to throw his curveball in fastball counts, taking away an advantage from hitters. Russ uses the angles of his slender body to hide the ball well in his delivery. He's polished and pitches with a plan. Texas expects him to be limited at the start of spring training, and he'll need at least another half-season in high Class A.
Garcia might be the biggest sleeper in the system. He began to make progress in 2001, his fifth year as a pro, despite his 5-10 record. He already had a promising fastball and slider, then added a splitter to give him strikeout potential. He has yet to show much in the way of an offspeed pitch, but hitters still didn't have much success against him last year. Garcia moved to the bullpen in 2001 but shifted back to the rotation at midseason and posted a 3.86 ERA as a starter. He continued to pitch well in the Panamanian winter league this offseason and still has a good deal of projectability. The Rangers are considering moving him back to the bullpen this year in Double-A, where he'll try to further refine his splitter.
Scout Tim Fortugno, a former big league lefthander, relied on the power of projection in convincing the Rangers to draft Wilson with their second pick (fifth round) last June. Wilson's stock suffered after he went 3-9, 6.95 as a junior at Loyola Marymount. He was a two-way player for the Lions, which Fortugno believes hindered his pitching. After signing, Wilson had the best debut of any member of Texas' 2001 draft class, dominating the Appy League before holding his own in low Class A. He threw 91 mph as a pro after sitting at 89 for Loyola Marymount. He also has tight rotation on his curveball, feel for a changeup and the ability to throw strikes. He's a superb athlete who's extremely coachable. Wilson is smart enough to incorporate what he learns in side work into games. He may return to Savannah at the start of this season but could advance in a hurry.
Converted to relief after transferring from San Jacinto (Texas) JC to Houston, Runser hasn't looked back. He had a 1.12 ERA in his pro debut in 2000, then saved 30 games and was a Florida State League all-star in his first full pro season. He's a workhorse who throws a 90- 95 mph fastball, a hard slider and a useful changeup. He pounds the strike zone and has the mentality to handle closing. Runser suffered through a dead-arm period in the middle of the Florida heat last summer, but rebounded in the second half. He earned saves in his first eight appearances in Panama this winter, an assignment that could help him advance more rapidly. He's ticketed for Double-A in 2002.