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Throughout his career, Danks has been one of the youngest pitchers in his league and has started off each new stop by struggling against older competition. But every year, he makes adjustments, masters the level and advances to the next challenge. After he stumbled to a 7.15 ERA in April at Double-A Frisco, he went 4-0, 2.70 in his next eight starts to earn a promotion. He posted a 5.90 ERA in his first eight starts at Triple-A Oklahoma, then rallied to turn in a 2.32 ERA in his final six. Because he's lefthanded and has a deeper and more consistent repertoire, he has passed the other members of the DVD trio (Edinson Volquez, Thomas Diamond) to become the top pitching prospect in the system. The ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Danks comes from an athletic family. His father John played basketball at Texas, younger brother Jordan is a sophomore outfielder for the Longhorns and a possible first-rounder in the 2008 draft, and younger sister Emily is a standout high school volleyball player. Danks offers a rare package for a 21-year-old lefthander, with a polished three-pitch mix and a track record of success up through Triple-A. His tight 1-to-7 curveball rated as his best pitch coming out of high school, but since then his tumbling changeup has also become a plus offering. His changeup is now more reliable than his curveball. He also has a four-seam fastball that sits at 90-92 mph and tops out at 94. Danks added a two-seam version in 2006 to help him widen the strike zone. He has a clean arm action from a high-three-quarters slot and does a good job repeating his easy delivery. Danks has started to fill out his durable, athletic frame, and he could add a little more velocity. His baseball IQ is outstanding, and he has a better feel for pitching than most hurlers his age. He does a good job of holding runners, as nine of 21 basestealers (43 percent) were caught on his watch in 2006. At this point, it's just a matter of fine-tuning for Danks. He still needs to command his fastball better, because while he can throw it for strikes at any time, he gets punished sometimes when he leaves it up in the zone. His fastball is firm but not overpowering, so he needs to get ahead with it early in the count. Danks' command of his curveball comes and goes, though his changeup often bails him out. He'll need a more consistent curve in order to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter. There was some sentiment that Danks could have started 2006 in the big leagues, but the Rangers were determined not to rush him and will continue to be patient. He'll have a chance to force his way into the big league rotation during spring training, but the more likely scenario is a return to Triple-A and a midseason debut in the majors. Once he settles in, Danks should pitch at or near the front of the Texas rotation for years to come.
Hurley survived the hitter-happy high Class A California League in the first half of the season, though he went 0-2, 9.45 in three July starts after returning from the Futures Game. Nonetheless, the Rangers promoted him to the Double-A Texas League, where he snapped out of his midseason funk and finished strong. Hurley is a true power pitcher with a pair of plus pitches and a chance for a third. He gets stronger as the game progresses, so if opponents don't get to him early in the game when his fastball is sitting around 90 mph, they soon have to contend with 93-96 mph heat, even in the late innings. He has developed enough confidence in his above-average slider to throw it in any count, an improvement from 2005. He's driven to reach the big leagues and receptive to instruction. Hurley's changeup remains underutilized and below-average, though he does have a good feel for it. Hurley could be a top-end starter if his changeup develops. He'll likely begin 2007 back in Double-A, though he could see the majors by the end of the season.
Volquez ranked as the Rangers' top prospect a year ago, but questions emerged about his ability to make adjustments after his disastrous big league stint in 2006. His career 9.20 ERA is the highest in baseball's modern era for a pitcher with at least 10 career starts. Volquez still has the electric stuff that fueled sky-high expectations a year ago, with a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a plus changeup in the mid-70s. He always has been lauded for his makeup and work ethic, and he held his own in Triple-A prior to his big league callup. His curveball is erratic at best, as Volquez struggles to stay on top of it and can't throw it for strikes. He needs to do a better job of getting ahead in the count and commanding his fastball. The Rangers want him to stay on the rubber longer to give his arm a chance to catch up, allowing him to get more downhill plane on his pitches. If he can refine his curve and command, Volquez can earn a rotation spot in the spring and eventually emerge as a frontline starter. If he can't, he soon could find himself in the bullpen.
In his second tour of duty at Double-A, Diamond struggled with his control at times, causing his walk totals and pitch counts to climb. As a result, he failed to last six innings in any of his final nine starts and pitched past six innings just once. But he still led the Texas League in strikeouts and lowered his Double-A ERA by 1.11 from 2005. A big, barrel- chested pitcher, Diamond can pitch up in the zone with a high-riding 91-94 mph fastball that touches 95-96 when he needs it. His plus changeup gives him an effective weapon against lefthanders, and he has found success with his 82-83 mph slider now that he has mostly abandoned his overhand curveball. Diamond began throwing his slider with more conviction late in the season, but he still needs to develop it into a consistent out pitch. He also needs to throw more strikes so he can avoid the long at-bats that plagued him in 2006. Diamond still could become a mid-rotation workhorse if his slider emerges. Otherwise he could be ticketed for a late-inning role down the road. He'll open 2007 in Triple-A barring unforeseen developments in spring training.
The son of a former all-star and somewhat of a surprise pick at No. 19 overall in the 2005 draft, Mayberry pulled a hamstring in spring training and struggled in the first half of his first full season. After changing his batting practice routine and working to shorten his swing, he improved against inside fastballs and hit .304 with 11 homers in the final two months. He kept it going in Hawaii Winter Baseball, leading all hitters with a .545 slugging percentage. Long and athletic, Mayberry's raw tools are exceptional, and he's starting to tap into his mammoth raw power, though the Rangers want him to improve his overall hitting with the belief his power will come later. Mayberry has good speed, a plus arm and is getting more comfortable in right field. The Rangers knew Mayberry would be a long-term project when they drafted him, and despite his progress he still needs to improve his timing and patience at the plate, as well as his ability to pull the ball. More of a first baseman in college, he's working on his jumps and throwing accuracy in the outfield. Mayberry's exceptional tools could make him a superstar if he figures everything out. He'll likely advance one level a year, making high Class A Bakersfield his next step.
The player to be named in the 2004 Alex Rodriguez trade with the Yankees, Arias failed to hit .300 for the first time in the Rangers system in 2006. He got off to his customary slow start, and though he rebounded his performance might have been hindered by a twisted ankle that he played through for a month. Arias always has stood out for his athleticism. His plus range and plus-plus arm allow him to make sensational plays at shortstop, and he's starting to become a more consistent defender as well. Arias has quick hands and consistently puts the bat on the ball. Though Arias flashes power in batting practice, he has yet to translate it into game action. He has an aggressive approach at the plate and the Rangers would like him to improve his selectivity. He still needs to add strength and improve his durability. For all his plus-plus speed, he has succeeded in just 68 percent of his pro steal attempts. Arias will repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2007, as the Rangers will be patient while he fills out his frame and refines his game.
Kiker had a lengthy track record as the ace at Russell County High, winning a national title in 2005 and striking out 143 in 70 innings as a senior. Texas drafted him 12th overall and signed him for $1.6 million. His heavy prep workload mandated a strict pitch count in his pro debut, but he held his own against older competition in the short-season Northwest League. Kiker has a quick arm and a strong lower half, helping him rev his lively fastball as high as 97 mph and keep it at 90-93. His changeup is his second-best pitch, though his 12-to-6 curveball also has tight rotation and hard break. He could have three average to plus pitches in time. He has a clean arm action from a high three-quarters slot. He struggled to command all of his pitches at times this summer, though he was better down the stretch. He also needs to work on holding runners and fielding his position after mostly neglecting those aspects and focusing on fastball command in his debut. Kiker earns comparisons to Randy Wolf but throws harder. His slight frame lacks projection, but he already has quality stuff and could wind up in the middle of a big league rotation. He should be able to handle a promotion to low Class A Clinton in 2007.
Masset has possessed tantalizing stuff ever since his high school days, when Tommy John surgery as a senior hurt his draft stock. Signed as a draft-and-follow for $225,000, he appeared on the verge of big things after his breakout 2004 season, but got crushed in 2005 and was inconsistent in 2006. He finished the season in the majors before dominating as a closer in the Mexican Pacific League. Masset throws his fastball at 89-95 mph as a starter but ran it up to 97-98 in bullpen in Texas and Mexico. His hard 85-86 mph curveball with sharp downward bite rates as a plus pitch. His changeup and cutter/ slider are at least average and help him against lefthanders. Erratic command spoiled Masset's 2005 season and still makes him more hittable than he should be. Despite his impressive array of four pitches, he has yet to locate them well enough to be a reliable starter. He showed plenty of moxie to bounce back from 2005 but must prove he can sustain success. Masset may have pitched his way into a big league bullpen role with his strong winter.
The Rangers summoned Botts to the majors in May when DH Phil Nevin was struggling, and Botts showed flashes of promise in his sporadic playing time. He continued to hit when he was returned to Triple-A before breaking his hamate bone and missing three weeks in August. Botts has huge power from both sides of the plate, and he has shown the ability to hit for average as well. He commands the strike zone and takes plenty of walks. He runs well for a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, especially once he gets going. Despite his sincere efforts to improve his defense, Botts remains a below-average defender in left field and at first base, so he will likely be primarily a DH. His willingness to work deep counts results in more than his share of strikeouts. There's still some question about his long swing and how well it will work against quality pitching in the big leagues. Botts should earn a spot on the Rangers' Opening Day roster, either as the everyday DH or a power bat off the bench. He's 26 years old and has nothing left to prove in the minors.
Part of the July 2003 Carl Everett trade with the White Sox, Rupe entered spring training with a legitimate chance to win a big league rotation spot but came down with elbow tendinitis. He didn't get going until June and the Rangers decided to use him out of the Double-A bullpen to get him back to the majors more quickly. He reached Texas in late July and proved to be an effective reliever. Rupe has a starter's repertoire, with four average or better pitches he can throw for strikes. His 91-94 mph fastball has plenty of late sink and his plus slider is an out pitch. He also throws a solid 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup. Despite his stuff, Rupe hasn't stuck as a starter because he hasn't been able to stay healthy in that role. His mechanics are still inconsistent, though he has settled into a three-quarters arm slot. Barring injury, Rupe will be on Texas' Opening Day roster, likely as a set-up man, though the Rangers haven't given up on the idea that he can help their rotation.
A two-way star in high school, Davis began his college career at Texas but transferred to Navarro (Texas) JC before his freshman season began. He still pitched last spring, hitting 90- 92 mph, but back problems limited his time on the mound. He hit 17 homers and Navarro coach Skip Johnson compared him to another of his former standouts, Brad Hawpe. Drafted in the fifth round--30 rounds earlier than the Angels selected him in 2005-Davis signed for $172,500 and earned Northwest League all-star honors in his debut. Davis' best tool is his above-average power from the left side. A streaky hitter, he's downright scary when he's locked in, as evidenced by two games against Vancouver when he hit four consecutive home runs and just missed a fifth, backing the right fielder up against the wall. Davis could be exploited on the outer half when he was mostly a pull hitter early in the summer, but he adjusted as the year progressed and began hitting with some authority to the opposite field. His swing has some length to it, but he has impressive bat speed and leverage. He'll have to tighten his strike zone at higher levels. Davis played mostly outfield but is more comfortable at first base, where he's an adequate defender with a strong arm. He's a below-average runner. Davis should start 2007 in low Class A and has enough power to profile as an everyday first baseman.
The son of former major league all-star Chet Lemon has baseball instincts to match his bloodlines. Though he had an accomplished amateur career that included standout performances for his father's Amateur Athletic Union club (Chet Lemon's Juice), Lemon's college commitment to Texas scared off many teams in the draft. The Rangers took a shot on him and signed him for $1 million, the highest bonus in 2006's fourth round. Lemon showed off his baseball savvy and solid all-around tools in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He has an advanced offensive approach for his age, plus a short stroke with snap in his hands. He can turn around quality fastballs to the pull side, though his power is more to the gaps than over the fence. Lemon has slightly above-average speed and baserunning smarts. Defensively, he has sure hands to go with an average arm and range, though he needs to work on his consistency. Lemon lacks a standout tool and isn't a sure thing to stick at shortstop, but the Rangers will leave him there as long as possible. He should have little trouble handling the jump to low Class A in 2007.
Teagarden followed up a whirlwind 2005 with a quiet 2006. After helping lead Texas to the College World Series championship, signing for a $725,000 bonus and swatting seven homers in his pro debut, he capped his 2005 by having Tommy John surgery. He missed almost all of 2006 while rehabbing his elbow and a disc problem in his back, getting just 20 at-bats as a DH in Rookie ball. His back was completely healed and he swung the bat fairly well in instructional league, and he even caught the Rangers' final instructional league game, throwing out a baserunner. At full strength, Teagarden is an exceptional defensive catcher, with soft hands, quick feet and a strong, accurate throwing arm. His defense figures to carry him, as he still needs to refine his offensive approach and shore up some holes in his swing. Teagarden does have decent pop in his bat, and his overall package gives him a shot to be an everyday big league catcher. He should be fully healthy by spring training and could start 2007 in high Class A to make up for lost time.
The Rangers believe Poveda's peripheral numbers in his first full professional season in the United States paint a more accurate picture of his performance than his ugly win-loss record. He spent the entire season as an 18-year-old in low Class A and posted a 133-37 K-BB ratio, a reflection of his advanced feel for pitching. He even held his own in an emergency spot start at Double-A Frisco in July, allowing just one earned run in five innings, though he walked five. Tall and rangy with a loose arm and easy delivery, Poveda remains a projection guy, but his savvy and businesslike mound presence are positive indicators for his future. He has begun to fill out his frame and increased his fastball velocity from the mid-80s to the low 90s, typically sitting at 88-92 mph. He easily could add more velocity as he gets stronger. His best pitch is a plus changeup that is effective against both lefthanders and righthanders, and he does a good job mixing locations and keeping hitters off balance. His slurvy breaking ball lags behind his changeup and needs to be tightened up. Poveda figures to start 2007 in high Class A and he could become a mid-rotation big league starter.
Acquired along with Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge in the December 2005 Alfonso Soriano trade, Galarraga was coming off a season in which he pitched 156 innings--46 more than his previous career high. A survivor of Tommy John surgery in 2002, he added another 50 innings in the Venezuelan Winter League, and the Rangers believe the heavy workload caught up with him in 2006. He struggled out of the gate in Double-A Frisco before Texas shut him down for nearly two months with shoulder fatigue. When Galarraga returned to action later in the summer, he once again showed a lively low-90s sinker that touches 94 and a plus slider that ranks as one of the best in the system. He also has shown some feel for a changeup, which he'll need to develop in order to stick as a starter. Otherwise, he has the power stuff and aggressive approach to succeed as a reliever. Galarraga could return to Double-A to start 2007 but should move quickly if he's fully healthy.
A year after smacking 12 home runs for Pepperdine and winning West Coast Conference player-of-the-year honors in 2005, Tracy slumped as a junior, finishing with just six homers in 254 at-bats. He nearly doubled that output in his pro debut after signing for $427,500 as a third-round pick. Tracy, whose father Jim manages the Pirates, has slightly above-average power and could get stronger if he can add about 15 pounds to his frame. Most of his home run pop comes to left field, but he can drive the ball to the right-center gap when pitchers work him away. It will take plenty of hard work to improve his catch-and-throw skills enough to make him passable defensively, but Tracy is receptive to instruction. When he arrived at short-season Spokane, Tracy was putting his body in bad position to catch the ball, struggling to block balls in the dirt and throwing across his body without putting any weight on his back foot. He made some progress correcting the flaws, but he threw out just 23 percent of basestealers and seemed to wear out by the end of the summer. Even if Tracy has to move, he could hit enough for first base. For now, he'll remain a full-time catcher as he heads to low Class A.
A high school teammate of Khalil Greene at Key West High, Harrison has always had good tools, and he finished his four-year college career with 40 homers and 192 RBIs--both good for second all-time in Florida history. His problem as a pro has been staying on the field. Hamstring and vision problems limited him in 2005, and he went down 12 games after a promotion to high Class A with a broken hand. Harrison stayed healthy throughout the 2006 regular season, easily setting career highs with 26 homers and 101 RBIs, but he separated a shoulder trying to make a play in the outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League. He had surgery and should be 100 percent for spring training. An outstanding fastball hitter who can also punish hanging breaking balls, Harrison stands out most for his above-average power. He struggles against quality breaking balls, but his pitch recognition and plate discipline are improving. He plays the game hard and emerged as a clubhouse leader in Bakersfield. Defensively, Harrison has a strong enough arm for right field, but his fringy speed and range probably ticket him for left. He has a chance to be a fourth outfielder in the majors, and maybe even a regular corner outfielder. He should start the year in Triple-A.
The Rangers thought the 19-year-old Whittleman was ready for low Class A in his first full pro season, but he struggled for much of the year against more advanced pitching. He did get hot midway through 2006, and all nine of his home runs came in a span of just over a month between late June and late July. Whittleman showed mental toughness in the face of adversity, not surprising given his track record as a star football quarterback and leader of a Texas 5- A championship baseball team in high school. Whittleman flashed plus raw power in batting practice and in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but his best tool is his pure hitting ability. He has plenty of bat speed and can smoke line drives from foul pole to foul pole. Though he had a rough year, he actually controlled the strike zone very well. Whittleman's lower half is a little stiff, with a small hitch that throws off his timing at the plate, and it remains to be seen if his power will be usable enough for him to stay at third base. He also has to prove he can stick there defensively. Whittleman had 34 errors and an .891 fielding percentage in 2006, though he has the arm strength and instincts to become an average third baseman. Whittleman could return to low Class A to start 2007, with a promotion likely once he has some success.
The Rangers signed Castillo and catcher Cristian Santana as the jewels of a banner haul from the Dominican Republic in 2005. Texas gave Castillo a taste of the United States with one start in the Arizona League last June, and he struck out four in three shutout innings. The Rangers then sent him to the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, where he showed flashes of brilliance, striking out 14 in one outing. When he returned to Arizona for instructional league, he carried himself as a leader among the Rangers' young Latin contingent. With a big, physical frame reminiscent of Juan Guzman, Castillo might have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system. He already pitches in the 94-97 mph range with his fastball, and he has shown a power curveball with tight downward action and feel for a changeup. Castillo is raw and needs experience, but he displays good aptitude and maturity for his age. He should spend 2007 with the AZL Rangers and might not be far from exploding onto the prospect landscape.
The Mariners appeared to have found a steal when they claimed Cruceta off waivers from the Indians in August 2005, as he led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in wins and strikeouts last year. But Seattle placed him on waivers after 2006, and the Rangers eagerly snatched him up. Cruceta has swing-and-miss stuff with a sinking 89-92 mph fastball that tops out at 94, a splitter that can be above-average at times and a decent slider. His major flaw continues to be his command. He doesn't throw strikes consistently and finished second in the PCL in walks. He works high in the zone too often, and he topped the league in homers allowed. Cruceta needs to do a better job pitching with his fastball to get ahead in the count, and he needs to become less predictable in his pitch selection. The Rangers aren't sure if Cruceta fits best as a starter or reliever, but he'll likely get a shot to make the Opening Day roster as a swingman.
Littleton moved to the bullpen in 2005, when his velocity was down early. He was at his best in the Arizona Fall League after the season, but took the entire winter off afterward. He entered spring training out of shape and topping out in the mid-80s with his fastball. But once again, Littleton got stronger as the year progressed and he emerged as one of the Rangers' most reliable setup men. He was pitching at 87-92 mph and topping out at 94 by midseason. Littleton dropped his arm slot even lower than a sidearm angle late in 2005, giving him good deception and sink on his fastball. He also uses a changeup that has proven surprisingly effective against lefthanders, and a sweeping Frisbee slider that he can throw to both sides of the plate. Littleton's herky-jerky delivery also makes his pitches tough to pick up, but he doesn't always repeat it, and the possibility exists that major leaguers will adjust to his funky motion and start to hit him. For now, at least, he figures to be a key part of the Texas bullpen in 2007.
After compiling a 43-1 career record in high school and a 32-11 mark over his first four pro seasons, Haigwood suffered through a losing season in 2006, which he spent in two new organizations. He began the year in the Phillies system, having been acquired from the White Sox in the 2005 Jim Thome trade, and was dealt to Texas in June for lefthander Fabio Castro. An intelligent lefty with a four-pitch mix, Haigwood has an innate ability to pitch his way out of jams, but he needs to do a better job avoiding jams in the first place. His best pitch is a plus changeup that's effective against righthanders, and his sharp curveball gives him an out pitch against lefties. Haigwood also has a workable slider and a fringe-average high-80s fastball that he needs to learn to trust. With less than overpowering stuff, his strength has always been his feel for pitching, but his high walk total in 2006 was indicative of his occasional command problems. Headed for Triple-A this year, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Two years after he was on the verge of winning the Padres' starting center-field job, Guzman was traded to the Rangers with righthander Cesar Rojas last May for John Hudgins and Vince Sinisi. After missing all of 2005 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Guzman won the Pacific Coast League stolen-base title with 42 after doing the same in 2004 with 48. He led the minors with 90 swipes in 2003 and has succeeded on 82 percent of his attempts as a pro. Guzman always has had well-above-average speed and good basestealing instincts, and he has improved his plate discipline and his bunting. His bat remains a question, however. He's not physical and never will hit for power, but if he continues to put the ball in play he could be a serviceable offensive player. Guzman is an outstanding defensive center fielder who gets excellent jumps and has the range to track down balls in both gaps. His arm remains below average, as it was before he blew out his elbow. Guzman profiles best as a fourth outfielder.
Following a breakout 2005 season in low Class A, Schlact took his lumps in 2006, as might be expected from a 20-year-old in the California League. A groundball pitcher, he wasn't helped by Bakersfield's porous infield defense. Schlact, who actually grew another inch in the past year, generates plenty of downhill leverage and gets good sink on his 90-92 mph fastball. Though his changeup continues to be a reliable offering and he made progress with his low-80s slider, Schlact ran into too many deep counts because he lacks a swing-and-miss pitch. Schlact always has been skinny, dating back to his prep career at Wheeler High, the same school that produced recent first-round picks Josh Burrus and Jeremy Hermida. Though he has added some weight since he was drafted, Schlact remains thin. Still, he didn't wear down in 2006, showing life on his fastball late in the season. The Rangers believe Schlact has the strong makeup to learn from his tough season and move forward in 2007, possibly in Double-A.
A Tennessee high school football star at tailback, Webster has never been able to fully translate his considerable athleticism into results on the diamond. Acquired from the White Sox in the July 2003 Carl Everett trade, he put up another solid but unspectacular year in 2006, playing his way out of Double-A and holding his own in Triple-A. Webster has an unorthodox offensive approach, with an excessive weight transfer from front to back, but he remedied that somewhat last year by going into more of a crouch, which allowed him to drive the ball better. With a tools package similar to that of Jacque Jones, Webster has become a better player as he has bought into stealing bases and mixing in some bunts so he can take advantage of his speed. His bat, raw power and defense are all average tools, but he has yet to hit for enough power to stick as a corner outfielder. Webster's weakest tool is his below-average arm and he's more of a left fielder despite spending much of 2006 in right. With another good season in Triple-A, Webster could force his way into the Rangers' outfield picture, most likely as a versatile fourth outfielder.
Ingram dominated in his 2004 pro debut after setting California's single-season save record with 10 that spring. He pitched just eight innings in 2005 before he was shut down with soreness in his rotator cuff, and no one in the organization expected his breakout last year. Ingram's stuff isn't as overwhelming as his strikeout numbers, but his command is impeccable. He thrives on spotting his 90-92 mph fastball on the outside corner against righthanders, and he's not afraid to drop in a back-door slider against lefties in any count. Ingram dabbles with a changeup, but he's really a two-pitch guy. He handled a number of bullpen roles with aplomb in 2006, sometimes closing multiple days in a row, sometimes pitching four innings in a single outing. Ingram's ceiling is not particularly high, as his fastball velocity is nothing special and his slider can be slurvy at times, but his savvy makes up for his stuff. He should return to Double-A in 2007 and might not be far from a role in the big leagues.
Though Mathis had a strong pro debut in 2005, the Rangers wanted him to make some adjustments for his first full season. They told him to focus on getting a more consistent balance point through his delivery so his arm could catch up, and to work on throwing more quality strikes at the bottom of the zone. He struggled with the adjustments at first, posting an 8.61 ERA in April. But he trusted the organization and stayed on the program, and the results followed. Mathis came out of college with a three-pitch mix but took it upon himself to add a curveball. That pitch gives him a fourth average offering, joining a sinker that tops out at 92 mph, a solid changeup and a slider that serves as his out pitch. Mathis commands his entire repertoire well, and he has learned to trust his fastball instead of leaning heavily on his slider like he did in college. Now the trick will be to build on the lessons of the past year and show he can be effective for an entire season. Mathis figures to open 2007 in Double-A, with a chance to be a No. 4 starter in Texas by 2008 or 2009.
When the Rangers were planning their draft, one of their scouts called in and announced over the speakerphone that Herrera can get Albert Pujols out right now, and the room erupted with laughter. No one was laughing after Herrera's tour de force debut, during which he silenced the bats of the offense-oriented California League. Herrera was already accustomed to thriving in harsh conditions, as he posted a 10-0, 2.24 record during his All-America senior season at New Mexico despite pitching in the high altitude of one of college baseball's best hitter's parks. Generously listed at 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, Herrera may be the smallest pitcher ever drafted. He's also unique because he thrives with an 80-82 mph fastball that tops out at 84. Herrera can locate his fastball wherever he wants to, setting up batters for his changeup. It's a tumbler with true screwball action and arrives at 55-60 mph, making his fastball look an awful lot harder than it is. He also throws a sharp, late-breaking slider, and he mixes all of his pitches extremely well to keep hitters off balance. Nobody knows for sure whether Herrera will continue to have success at higher levels or if hitters will figure out his gimmick pitch and render him ineffective, but he'll likely get a chance to prove himself in Double-A this year.
Vallejo persevered through the deaths of his father (killed by a drunk driver in a car accident) and his mother (cancer), and the Rangers firmly believe he'll have no problem overcoming something as relatively trivial as a tough 2006 season at the plate. He didn't learn to switch-hit until the previous year, when Rangers special assistant Terry Shumpert suggested it. Vallejo is making progress from the left side, as evidenced by his .240 batting average against righthanders last year, compared to his .220 mark against lefties. With above-average speed and improving bunting skills, he has a good idea how to play small ball, and he also has strength in his swing and could develop some gap power. Vallejo is a very slick defender at second base, with plenty of range, sure hands, good footwork around the bag and a strong arm for the position. He just lacks polish as a defender, but he's got a longer way to go as an offensive player. It remains to be seen if Vallejo will hit enough to reach the majors, but he owns the tools to do so and may just need time and at-bats. The Rangers could push him to high Class A in 2007, though a return to low Class A seems more likely.
Rasner was set to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Yankees righthander Darrell Rasner, by pitching for Nevada until Texas signed him as a seventh-round pick out of high school in 2005. His pro debut was rocky, but he showed progress in his first full season as a 19-year-old in low Class A despite finishing second in the minors in losses. The Rangers like his intensity, toughness and arm. With a big, durable frame, Rasner pitches from a downhill plane and gets good sink and armside run on his promising fastball, which sits at 90-92 mph and tops out at 94. He flashes a decent slider and began utilizing a changeup in the second half of the season, but both offerings are underdeveloped. Rasner remains raw in all facets, but Texas believes his coordination and delivery will smooth out over time. He has started to fill out his lanky frame, and he profiles as a workhorse starter as he continues to get stronger. He could earn a spot in the high Class A rotation in 2007, but he also might benefit from more time in low Class A.