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Volquez draws Pedro Martinez comparisons as much for his electric personality as his electric arm. Though he's a fierce competitor, Volquez often has a big smile on his face when he's not on the mound. He speaks English well and relates well to American players. He's not intimidated pitching in front of 20,000 passionate fans in the Dominican League, and he wasn't intimidated speaking to a group of high-ranking Rangers front-office personnel during an organization banquet. Volquez is even built like Martinez, with a wiry frame and long arms and fingers. Known as Julio Reyes and believed to be 15 1⁄2 months younger until baseball's visa crackdown, he's still advanced and mature for a 22-year old. Part of the Rangers' DVD trio, along with John Danks and Thomas Diamond, Volquez surged past the two first-round picks in 2005. He was the first to reach Double-A Frisco and remains the lone member of the group to reach the majors. He got a rude awakening in Texas, losing his first three starts and giving up six runs over two innings in three relief outings. Though he did not post overwhelming numbers in 2005, Volquez transformed himself from sleeper to top prospect. Both his fastball and changeup rate as the best in the system. His fastball explodes out of his hand and tops out at 97 mph, showing good sink and run when he throws it at 93-95. He holds his velocity late into games, throwing as high as 95 mph in the ninth inning in one outing. His changeup sometimes merits a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Volquez is aggressive and comes right after hitters. He has had little problem throwing strikes as a pro. He has a clean, repeatable delivery and lightning-quick arm action, though there's some effort in it. He isn't the most physical pitcher, but he's athletic and has added 10-15 pounds to his frame since spring training. For Volquez to stick as a front-of-the-rotation starter rather than a power reliever, he must improve his erratic breaking ball. Sometimes it shows big downward break and looks like a curveball, while other times it features more tilt and looks like a true slider. He uses it more as a third option to cross hitters up. After he missed three weeks in July and August with a strained oblique, Volquez got a callup to the big leagues as the Rangers looked for a spark. He struggled with his fastball command in Texas, and overthrowing only made the problem worse. He tends to buckle plenty of knees with his changeup early in games, but doesn't command it as well in later innings. Questions remain about Volquez' ability to reach his considerable potential, but his tantalizing package of stuff and makeup can't be overlooked. He should open 2006 with Triple-A Oklahoma but could be pitching in the Rangers rotation by the all-star break if the staff needs help--which it usually does.
Danks comes from an athletic family. His father John played basketball at Texas; younger brother Jordan, a slugging outfielder, could have been a 2005 first-round pick if he hadn't committed strongly to the Longhorns; and younger sister Emily is a star volleyball player. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2003 draft, John signed for $2.1 million. Danks' best pitch is a plus curveball that's devastating against lefthanders. He can sneak his 87-93 mph fastball in on the hands of righties, and should pick up velocity as he fills out. He has good feel for his changeup, which the Rangers had him emphasize last year to further its development. He has a free, easy delivery and has improved his leverage from a high three-quarters arm slot. He shows poise beyond his age. Not only would getting stronger give Danks more fastball, it also would help him avoid a late-season fade like he had in 2005. En route to a career-high 156 innings, he went 2-8, 6.46 in the final two months. He needs to continue to develop his changeup and avoid leaving his fastball up in the zone. Danks figures to start 2006 back in Double-A, with a Triple-A promotion likely and a September callup to Texas possible. He looks like a safe bet to develop into a No. 3 starter, and he has a ceiling of a No. 2.
Signed for $2.025 million as the 10th overall pick in 2004, Diamond dominated at high Class A Bakersfield last year before struggling with his command in Double-A. Diamond was hit hard in his final start of the year after going home to New Orleans to help his family after Hurricane Katrina. Diamond is tough both physically and mentally, with a mean streak that suits his big, physical frame. He is a classic innings-eating power pitcher with a 92-94 mph fastball that can touch 97. He also has an above-average changeup. The biggest question for Diamond is whether he can get comfortable with a third pitch. He flashes a decent curveball now and then, but the Rangers introduced a slider to him halfway through 2005. Scouts think his arm slot is more suited to a slider. Diamond's arm action is smooth but long and not deceptive, and he struggles to repeat his delivery. His fastball is too straight and often dropped to 89-91 mph last year. His command needs to get better. Diamond projects as a solid workhorse if he can improve his command. He could start 2006 in Double-A but figures to see Triple-A at some point.
Signed out of the Dominican for $300,000, Arias was the player to be named in the February 2004 Alex Rodriguez trade with the Yankees. The Rangers chose him from a list of five prospects that also included Robinson Cano. Typically a slow starter, Arias batted .197 last April before making adjustments and hitting .341 the rest of the way. Like Devon White, Arias is a graceful strider who doesn't look like he's burning, but he's a plus-plus runner who can reach first base in four seconds flat from the right side. His well-above-average arm and above-average range at shortstop allow him to make difficult plays look easy. He has quick, whippy hands and wrists with a good feel for the bat head, letting him control the outer half of the plate. Arias needs to fill out his wiry frame and continue to refine his game. He still can be spastic in the field and butcher routine plays, though his error totals should decrease as he gains experience. He made adjustments after struggling with inside fastballs early in 2005, but he still shows more raw power in batting practice than in games, and he sometimes lets pitchers expand his strike zone. He needs to improve his baserunning instincts. Arias should be a plus defender and has a chance to be a table-setter with gap power. Ticketed for Triple-A this year, he might have to move to second base because the Rangers have all-star Michael Young at shortstop.
Hurley hasn't shot through the minors as quickly as his Wolfson High (Jacksonville) teammate and fellow 2004 first-round pick Billy Butler of the Royals, but he did lead the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts during his first full pro season. His lean body held up well, and he showed maturity living on his own in Iowa and getting married as a 19-year-old. Hurley was able to dominate high school hitters with only his 92-95 mph fastball, which has good life up in the zone and late boring action down at the knees. He made a lot of progress in 2005 with his late-breaking 78-83 mph slider, which looks like it will become an above-average pitch as well. He's confident on the mound and has good command for his age. Hurley's changeup is still a work in progress but could end up an average pitch. He gets a lot of leverage from his long frame, but needs to grow into it and learn to repeat his delivery better. The next step for Hurley is conquering the hitter-friendly high Class A California League. He's not as advanced or as famous as the DVD trio yet, but he may have a higher ceiling than all of them.
After Kinsler's breakout 2004 season, when he hit .345 with a minor league-high 51 doubles, the Rangers moved him from shortstop to second base so he wouldn't be blocked by Michael Young or Joaquin Arias. Kinsler embraced the move and had a solid year in Triple-A. He wanted to work more on his positioning and fundamentals at second base, so he asked to go to instructional league. He turned down an invitation to join Team USA's Olympic qualifying squad so he could do speed and agility drills, hit in the cage and focus on strength training. Kinsler may be an overachiever, but that doesn't mean he lacks tools. He has a quick bat and is a terrific fastball hitter. He profiles as at least an average hitter in the majors, with a bit of power. Defensively, he has a plus arm and made a lot of progress at second base. Scouts criticized Kinsler for swinging for the fences too much in Triple-A when that really isn't his game. He's a slightly below-average runner and still needs to get better at making routine plays at second. After trading Alfonso Soriano, the Rangers will give Kinsler a chance to win their second-base job. If he fails he still could make Texas as a reserve because he has little left to prove in Triple-A.
Brad Wilkerson was easily the biggest name the Rangers received when they traded Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals in December, but the inclusion of Galarraga gave Texas another promising arm. Because of 2002 Tommy John surgery, he pitched just 54 innings in his first three seasons in the United States. He stayed healthier once he began to take baseball more seriously in 2004, and he had his best year yet in 2005, earning a berth in the Futures Game and a promotion to Double-A. Galarraga has a lively 92-94 mph sinker and a hard, sharp slider that he can throw for strikes and use as an out pitch. He has a strong, athletic frame and attacks hitters from a three-quarters arm slot. He's competitive and shows a mean streak. For Galarraga to stick as a starter, he needs to complement his two plus offerings with a third pitch. He must continue to develop his changeup, which shows some promise. He doesn't walk many batters but sometimes misses his spots inside the zone. Galarraga can be a No. 3 starter if his changeup emerges. If that doesn't work out, he could be a powerful bullpen arm. He figures to start 2006 back in Double-A but could earn a big league promotion late in the year.
After bouncing between first base and the outfield for a couple of years, Botts settled in left field in 2005 and posted good power numbers for the second straight year. He held his own in a September callup to Arlington but struggled in the Dominican League. Botts has the body and athleticism of an NFL tight end, and he has more raw power than anyone in the system. He hits for power from both sides of the plate but is a better hitter righthanded. He draws walks and isn't afraid to hit with two strikes. He runs well for his size, particularly once he gets under way. Despite all his athleticism, Botts is brutal defensively and never will be better than adequate in left field. To play every day in the majors, he'll have to hit a lot of homers, but some scouts question how usable his raw power is. He runs into some pitches, but his swing is long and lacks a suitable load, so he has trouble catching up with good fastballs, especially on the inner half. Botts doesn't really have a position, so it's hard to see him playing regularly in the majors in 2006. He should return to Triple-A to continue working on his defense, though he could provide the Rangers with a power boost if needed.
Teagarden was a leader on Texas' College World Series championship team last spring and was the best defensive catcher available in the draft. Because of concerns about his bat and his signability--he's a Scott Boras client--the Rangers got him in the third round. He signed for $725,000, which could be a bargain, and hit well at short-season Spokane. Teagarden has amazingly soft hands and good quickness and agility behind the plate. He blocks balls in the dirt well and has a strong, accurate throwing arm with a quick release. He put on an impressive show in instructional league, hitting balls out of the park to all fields, and the Rangers think he will develop at least average power. Long-term wear on Teagarden's elbow led him to have Tommy John surgery after instructional league. The rehab isn't as grueling for position players as it is for pitchers, so Texas considers it just a short-term setback. He has holes in his swing and struck out in one-third of his at-bats during his debut. He's a below-average runner but decent for a catcher. The surgery will cost Teagarden a nonroster invitation to big league camp, but the Rangers think he'll be able to hit early in 2006 and throw by the end of season. It may be easier to get him at-bats as a DH in high Class A.
Mayberry first joined his father John as a first-round pick when the Mariners drafted him 28th overall out of high school in 2002. After three years at Stanford, he went 19th in the 2005 draft and signed with the Rangers for $1.525 million. Now the goal is to follow in his father's footsteps and become an all-star. The best college athlete in the 2005 draft, Mayberry earns 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale for both his raw power and his arm strength. Though he was a slick-fielding first baseman in college, the Rangers think he can be at least an average defender in right field. His speed is above-average. Mayberry never got comfortable at the plate at Stanford, tinkering with his stance too often and trying too hard to hit to the opposite field. His swing is long and lacks rhythm and balance. He shows light-tower power in batting practice but has to cheat on fastballs to generate power in game situations. Many scouts have doubts he'll be a productive major league hitter. Defensively, he needs to work on his jumps. Mayberry is a classic boom-or-bust first-round pick. His upside is enormous, but it will take a lot of time and hard work on his swing for him to reach his potential. He'll spend six weeks at the Rangers' Arizona complex before spring training working on his stroke, then will open the season at low Class A Clinton.
As a shortstop who also doubled as his football team's starting quarterback, Whittleman tied a school record with 10 homers last spring while leading Kingwood High to the Texas state 5-A title. A local kid, he had played for the Rangers' Area Code Games team before signing with Texas for $650,000, better than slot money for the mid-second round. Texas loves Whittleman's baseball-rat mentality. He's a gifted pure hitter who strokes line drives to all fields and projects to have average or better power. He has a very advanced offensive approach for his age, and had more than 20 two-strike hits in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He's a below-average runner but has plus instincts on the bases. Though Whittleman's actions and hands are sound at third base, he lacks range and body control. He's still growing into his size 14 feet, which leads to some inaccurate throws. He tied for the lead among AZL third basemen with 14 errors in 47 games. His arm is strong. Whittleman has upside but isn't all projection--he can hit already. If it all comes together, he could be a Hank Blalock-type third baseman, or possibly develop into an offensive second baseman. Whittleman is ready offensively and mentally for low Class A.
The Rangers still have hope for all three players they got from the White Sox in a July 2003 trade for Carl Everett. Frankie Francisco joined the Texas bullpen in 2004 before hurting his elbow, while outfielder Anthony Webster remains one of the system's best athletes. In the long run, Rupe should be the best of the trio. Scouts who saw him struggle in the first half of 2005 swear he was a completely different pitcher when they saw him relieving for the Rangers in September. Earlier in the year, his fastball sat in the mid-80s without any sink and he couldn't miss bats with any of his offerings. But his approach became much more professional in 2005, and he was able to work through his struggles. His fastball regained its life in the second half, sitting at 91-94 mph and touching 96 with plus sinking action. His best pitch remains his power cutter/slider, which he throws at 85-89 mph with late movement. Rupe's slow, three-quarters curveball and his changeup are decent pitches but lag behind his harder weapons. He doesn't have a big body and his arm might be more suited for a relief role long term. His four-pitch repertoire still could make him an effective starter if he ever harnesses his command--the perennial question with Rupe, who still has difficulty repeating his release point. He'll pitch out of the bullpen for Texas in 2006.
When the Rangers drafted him out of Wheeler High (Marietta, Ga.)--the same school that produced ex-big leaguer Shane Monahan and recent first-round picks Josh Burrus and Jeremy Hermida--Schlact was built like a deer. Since then he has bulked up his shoulders and back, which helped give him the durability to pitch 168 innings in his first full pro season. Despite the heavy workload, his stuff was actually better in August than it was in April. His command improved, his changeup made significant strides, and his ability to hold runners and overall game awareness improved greatly. Schlact lives off his 90-92 mph sinker and pitches with a lot of downhill leverage. He still needs to tighten his slurvy breaking ball. He doesn't consistently miss bats because he lacks a true out pitch, though his changeup may eventually fill that void. He still has room to add strength to his frame. The Rangers see Schlact's grounder-inducing repertoire as a perfect fit for Ameriquest Field in Arlington. He'll pitch in the same rotation as Eric Hurley for the third straight year, this time in high Class A. Schlact could find himself in the middle of the Rangers rotation by mid-2008.
Wilson missed the entire 2004 season after having Tommy John surgery the previous August, but he came back strong last year. He built himself up by making three- to fiveinning starts in the minors before getting the call to pitch out of the Texas bullpen in early June. In his second big league outing, he struck out Carlos Delgado with a 94-mph fastball. Wilson reminds the Rangers of Neal Cotts, who like Wilson came up through the minors as a starter. Wilson has an 89-94 mph fastball that jumps out of his hand, and he also relies heavily upon an average 80-84 mph slider. He flashes a fading changeup and a mid-70s curveball, but didn't use either pitch much when he pitched in relief. He deals from a quick delivery from a high arm slot, but sometimes his mechanics are actually too quick and he loses his tempo. He's aggressive but needs to improve his command. Wilson's four-pitch mix could enable him to start down the line, but he'll continue to serve as a reliever for the Rangers in 2006.
Another Tommy John survivor, Feldman pitched just seven innings in 2004 but impressed the Rangers in instructional league that fall by filling the zone with strike after strike. He opened 2005 with a dominating April in high Class A before establishing himself as a force against righthanders in Double-A. Feldman's fastball velocity increased from 88-90 mph early in the year to 91-93 by the time he received a mid-August callup to Texas. His fastball has plus life and good sink, inducing bushels of groundballs. He has a loose, whippy arm and a deceptive sidearm delivery. He shows plus-plus command against righties, moving the ball around the zone but typically keeping it down. Feldman complements his fastball with an average sweeping slider. He also has a changeup to employ against lefthanders as a show pitch. He still needs to improve at getting lefties out, and the Rangers think he eventually will become a middle reliever. For now, he figures to be a right-on-right specialist in Texas.
The Royals took Castro from the White Sox with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 major league Rule 5 draft, then sent him to the Rangers in a prearranged deal for infielder Esteban German. After Chicago left Castro off its 40-man roster, he raised his profile with a strong winter in the Dominican League. His fastball was better than ever, sitting at 91-93 mph and touching 94. He was nearly untouchable down the stretch in high Class A, not allowing an earned run while striking out 16 in his final 14 innings. Castro complements his fastball with a good changeup that acts like a splitter at times. He also has a tight curveball with downward spin and a good feel for pitching. Despite his slight frame, Castro is durable and wants the ball every day. His delivery is clean and has some deception, though he needs to work on staying more upright so his stuff doesn't flatten out. His stuff is good enough for him to start, but he profiles as a lefthanded power arm out of the bullpen because of his size. As a major league Rule 5 draftee, he can't be sent to the minors in 2006 unless the Rangers pass him through waivers and offer him back to the White Sox for half his $50,000 draft price. Texas should be able to find room for a talented lefty prospect on its staff.
After setting a Kansas record and tying for the Big 12 Conference lead with 18 home runs as a redshirt junior in 2004, Metcalf joined the Rangers as an 11th-round pick. He was signed by area scout Mike Grouse, who also found late-round steals Travis Hafner and Ian Kinsler in previous drafts as well as short-season Northwest League MVP Steve Murphy in 2005. Metcalf led the NWL with 37 extra-base hits in his pro debut, and he encored by winning the organization's minor league player of the year award in 2005. He profiles as an average hitter with potentially above-average power. He draws some walks but strikes out quite a bit because he has some exploitable holes in his swing. He's no speedster, but he has completely recovered from the knee injury he suffered in a 2002 baserunning collision. For his size, Metcalf has good feet and good actions at third base to go along with quick reactions and a strong, accurate arm. He's already a solid defender and could become a real asset with more experience. He'll advance to Double-A this year.
Sinisi was the most dangerous hitter on Rice's College World Series championship team in 2003, when he was one of the best pure bats available in the draft. Because he had lots of leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore at a strong academic school, not to mention being represented by Scott Boras, he dropped to the second round. The Rangers lavished a $2.07 million on bonus on Sinisi, but have gotten little return on it so far and didn't bother to protect him on their 40-man roster this offseason. He has yet to play a full season. He broke his left forearm in a collision with Joaquin Arias in 2004. His recovery was slowed because he had to have a metal plate inserted into and later removed from his forearm, and he developed a dangerous bacterial infection that could have killed him. Sinisi couldn't start the 2005 season until mid-May. While he tore up high Class A, his health problems seem to have affected his pop. He lost weight during his downtime and got tired after a promotion to Double-A. Sinisi can hit line drives to all fields and knows the strike zone, though he sometimes gets impatient. His smooth lefthanded stroke is tailored to hit doubles in the gaps, but scouts question if he'll ever have the 20-homer power the Rangers hope he'll develop. Sinisi's bat will have to carry him, because his below-average speed and defensive skills limit him to left field or first base. He'll start 2006 in Double-A and hope for his first fully healthy and fully productive season.
The Most Outstanding Player at the 2003 College World Series in a losing effort for Stanford, Hudgins is known for his cerebral approach. But he may have out-thought himself in 2005. He got off to a strong start following a quick promotion to Triple-A, but then he tried to pitch to the radar guns too often instead of being his usual efficient, strike-throwing self. He labored and was shut down at the end of July with bone chips in his elbow. There was no structural damage, however, and he should return healthy in spring training. Hudgins had moved quickly thanks to his ability to throw three pitches for strikes. His best offering is a sinking changeup that he sells with grunts and late violence in his delivery. When he gets in a jam, he can crank his 87-91 mph fastball up to 93. He also has an average curveball that could become a plus pitch. Hudgins is a smart control pitcher with a deceptive delivery that he repeats despite a short, chicken-wing arm action. If he can be more consistent, he can be a No. 5 starter, perhaps as soon as the second half of 2006.
It is a testament to Vallejo's remarkable makeup that he has persevered through tragedy. His father was killed by a drunken driver a couple of years ago, and his mother died of cancer in the spring of 2005. Yet when the Rangers brought the 18-year-old Vallejo to the United States last year, he handled the challenge with aplomb. He started to learn English and working hard on and off the field. He arrived in Arizona as a righthanded hitter, but special assistant to baseball operations Terry Shumpert suggested he try switch-hitting, and Vallejo took to it. In his first summer as a switch-hitter, he showed the ability to drive balls from the left side, though not as well as he does from the right. He has plus bat speed and does a fine job centering the ball on the bat. He's also a good bunter. Vallejo is an outstanding athlete with plus speed on the bases and nice range at second base. His hands aren't good enough to play shortstop, but he has solid instincts and more than enough arm to stand out at second base. Vallejo is young and needs polish, particularly at the plate, but he'll have a chance to earn the second-base job in low Class A this year.
As a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, Santana drew interest from the Braves, Cubs, Mariners, Mets, Red Sox and Yankees before signing with the Rangers for $325,000. He comes from the same town as Rafael Furcal, who served as his adviser during negotiations. Some of the other clubs on Santana's trail wanted to make him a center fielder because he's so athletic. He's a plus runner--not just for a catcher, but for any position player. Texas wants to keep him behind the plate, however, because he has caught all of his life and loves the position. Santana has an above-average arm and impressed the Rangers by throwing behind runners at first base in instructional league, where he was the youngest player in their camp. He's a quick, agile defender with advanced catch-and-throw skills for his age. Santana is still raw in all phases of his game, particularly at the plate. He has quick hands and good bat speed, and he could hit for power as he grows into his body. He likely will debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
After he led the Big 10 Conference with 14 homers as a fifth-year senior in 2004, Mahar signed with the Rangers as a free agent before the draft that June. He already has exceeded expectations with a strong performance in high Class A last year, when he bounced back quickly after breaking his left thumb in April. He wasn't even fazed by having to move from his natural position in right field to center after the Rangers released Adam Bourassa. Mahar's 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame draws comparisons to Dave Winfield's, yet he's athletic enough to play a solid center field. He has power but got too pull-conscious in the second half of 2005, leading to far too many struggles. He runs well for his size and has decent baserunning instincts. He plays the game with abandon and is a hard worker. Mahar struggled in the Arizona Fall League, batting .194 with 24 strikeouts in 67 at-bats, raising questions about his readiness for Double-A. But he's 24, so he's heading to Frisco regardless.
Bannister played at Tucson's Sabino High with J.J. Hardy, but the added exposure didn't get him drafted in 2002. He signed with the Rangers as a nondrafted free agent that August for $17,500 and since has become an intriguing prospect in his own right. In 2005, he learned how to make adjustments and be a professional in an up-and-down season in low Class A. He had some ugly outings, like a one-inning, nine-run disaster in June, but also showed flashes of brilliance, such as an eight-inning, 12-strikeout gem he spun in August. Bannister has a projectable frame, a loose arm and an improving delivery. He has an effective two-seam fastball that sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94, and he sometimes flashes a big league curveball with excellent bite and good depth. His changeup has improved but is still below average, and his command wavers. He's still more thrower than pitcher, though he does show some feel for his craft. He needs to learn how to pitch out of jams better. Bannister figures to pitch in the high Class A rotation in 2006. If his changeup doesn't develop, his future will be as a reliever.
Part of the July 2003 Carl Everett trade with the White Sox, Webster was a Tennessee high school football star at tailback. It has taken awhile to translate his athleticism into baseball skills. He played like he expected success to be handed to him in the first half of 2005, prompting the Rangers to tell him to kick himself into gear if he didn't want to be sent home. After batting .222 in the first two months, Webster hit .345 the rest of the way. His best tool is his plus speed, which he used to leg out 11 triples and steal 25 bases in 30 tries. He has average power, particularly to the gaps. He can spray balls to all fields, though his swing tends to get long. His athleticism should make him a better defensive center fielder than he is, but his routes are suspect. His arm is no better than average. Webster likes to have a good time, but if he can refine his work habits and stay focused, he could become a center- field option for Texas in a couple of years. He faces an important year in Double-A.
Nickeas' father Mark played professional soccer in the North American Soccer League and in England, and Mike is athletic for a thick-bodied catcher. But it was his outstanding makeup more than his physical ability that landed him a spot on the U.S. national team in both high school and college. His strong leadership skills and game-calling ability also led Texas to jump him to Double-A in 2005. Though Nickeas was over his head offensively, the Rangers wanted him to work with their better pitching prospects. He's a good receiver with sound blocking instincts, soft hands and an average arm. He threw out 43 percent of basestealers last year and didn't let his offensive woes carry over to his defense. Nickeas struggled at the plate all year and missed all of June and half of July after a foul ball broke his right hand. He has a bit of power, but his stiff swing has too many moving parts and he profiles as a below-average hitter. He did go 17-for-40 (.425) in the Arizona Fall League, suggesting he'll be more ready to handle Texas League pitching the second time around.
Murphy played with 2005 Rangers first rounder John Mayberry Jr. at Rockhurst High (Overland Park, Kan.) before winning an NCAA Division II championship at Central Missouri State and finishing his college career at Kansas State. Murphy is the latest late-round find for area scout Mike Grouse, who also signed Travis Hafner, Ian Kinsler and Travis Metcalf. Reunited with Mayberry in his pro debut, Murphy outplayed his more highly touted teammate and won Northwest League MVP honors. His season ended prior to Spokane's playoff run when he broke his hand in a late-August game. Murphy is a classic baseball rat with solid but not eye-catching tools. He has average power to all fields and a controlled, disciplined swing, and he handles lefthanded pitching very well for a lefty hitter. His speed is just fringe average but he's a smart baserunner who goes from first to third well. Murphy's arm is average and he's a decent defender who fits best in left field. He could stand to be more selective at the plate, or else he could face trouble against more advanced pitching. The Rangers could push Murphy to high Class A in 2006.
After signing for a $650,000 bonus in 2000, Beltre ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, just behind Jason Botts and Adrian Gonzalez. But while those players have slugged their way to the majors, Beltre's prospect status slid as he was discovered to be a year older than originally believed, his weight ballooned and he was caught in a visa scandal that forced him to remain in the Dominican Republic and pitch in the Dominican Summer League in 2005. Beltre made the best of his situation, getting his weight back down to 215 pounds and dominating the DSL with a mid-90s fastball that reached 97. He also has decent command of a slider that he used as an out pitch in the summer, plus a splitter he featured more prominently in winter ball. Makeup questions used to dog Beltre, but several Rangers officials have sat down with him in the past year and are convinced he's more focused on his career. He has the electric arm to be an effective late-innings power reliever, but he's 24 years old and has to prove himself in Double-A this year.
At this point, there's little chance Meyer will live up to his status as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 draft, when the next seven picks after him all look like winners: Jeremy Hermida (Marlins), Joe Saunders (Angels), Khalil Greene (Padres), Russ Adams (Blue Jays), Scott Kazmir (Mets), Nick Swisher (Athletics) and Cole Hamels (Phillies). But last year went considerably better for Meyer than his disastrous 2004, when he broke his collarbone and fell out of favor with the Rangers. He hit much better in his second full season in Double-A, and worked hard to lose weight, dropping 15 pounds. He doesn't look like an infielder, but he's an average-to-plus defender at shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield positions. His plus arm, good hands and feet and smooth actions work at shortstop. He's also an average runner with outstanding baseball instincts. But Meyer just doesn't hit enough to be an everyday player in the big leagues. He has an unorthodox approach and a hitch in his rigid swing. He struggles to get the bat head through the zone and rarely drives the ball. His versatility could make him a useful utilityman, though he'll have to show he can handle Triple-A pitching first.
Poveda signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela for $75,000 in July 2004 and went to instructional league that fall, where he showed impressive poise for his age. His 2005 debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League was even more encouraging. His ERA ballooned to 5.61 because of two bad outings and belied his sterling 56-12 K-BB ratio. Big leaguer Gerald Laird caught Poveda during one rehab stint and was amazed at how advanced his command and feel for pitching were for such a young pitcher. Poveda's best pitch is his fastball, which jumped from 86-88 mph early in the summer to the 90-92 range by the fall. He also has a three-quarters breaking ball and a changeup, though both pitches have a ways to go. Poveda has a big, projectable body and already has put on 25 pounds since signing. His legs are very strong, but he's still quite lean from the waist up and needs more upper-body strength. Poveda should skip a level and pitch in low Class A this year.
Pina has put on about 15 pounds since signing as a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop in 2004. The Rangers immediately converted him to catcher, and he progressed rapidly in their Dominican instructional league that fall. Pina has an excellent backstop's build and catch-and- throw skills to go with it. He's a good receiver with great hands, a very strong, accurate arm and a quick release. His pop times to second base have been clocked at 1.87 seconds. Pina has made significant progress in blocking balls in the dirt and at calling games. His makeup is outstanding, as he has learned to speak English and handles a pitching staff well. The question with Pina is whether his offense will catch up to his defense. His strong forearms and wrists generate decent bat speed and his stroke is compact, but he can't touch breaking balls and hasn't shown an ability to hit for power or average. Pina is young enough that his bat could still come around, and even if he never becomes more than a below-average hitter he still could be a big league backup catcher. He'll probably play at short-season Spokane in 2006.