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Signed by the Braves for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Feliz burst onto the prospect landscape in his U.S. debut in 2006, running his fastball up to 97 mph and striking out 42 in 29 innings as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The following summer, he was dealt to the Rangers along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones in exchange for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. He opened his first full season with Texas at low Class A Clinton, where he overpowered Midwest League hitters. The Rangers say they skipped him to Double-A Frisco in July in order to challenge him to command his secondary stuff better against more advanced hitters. He continued to thrive as a 20-year-old against much older players, finishing the year with a minor league-leading 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings between the two levels. Feliz's fastball might rate as a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. At Clinton, it sat at 94-96 mph and touched 99, and at Frisco it topped out at 101 mph. More impressive, Feliz does it effortlessly, and the ball explodes out of his hand with natural boring life. When he maintains a high three-quarters arm slot, he also gets a good downhill angle on his heater. His secondary pitches both have potential. He throws a power curveball that sometimes reaches 83-84 mph, and it's a plus pitch with 11-to-5 break when he stays on top of it. He shows feel for an 85-87 mph changeup with good fading action. Feliz is a natural athlete who fields his position well. He has a physical, durable frame and an easy arm action, suggesting he should be able to shoulder a significant workload without breaking down. He also has a confident mound presence, and his between-starts routine improved in 2008, demonstrating his continuing maturation. Sometimes Feliz drops his arm slot, causing his stuff to flatten out. He's still fine-tuning his breaking ball, which can become a slurve. The pitch was suspect early in the season at Clinton, but he made strides with it late in the year. He slows down his arm action at times with his changeup, and the Rangers still have to force him to throw it. He doesn't have pinpoint fastball command--team president Nolan Ryan worked with him during instructional league on locating his fastball down and away--but throwing strikes and pitching to the bottom of the zone come naturally to him. Feliz also worked hard in instructional league on quickening his delivery and varying his times to the plate so he could control the running game better. Opponents stole 32 bases in 38 tries against him last season. With perhaps the most overpowering fastball in the minors and the makings of two quality offspeed pitches, Feliz has a chance to be a legitimate No. 1 starter. Rather than pitch in winter ball, he worked out at the Rangers' academy in the Dominican Republic, and he'll get a look in big league camp in spring training. He'll probably open 2009 back in the minors, with a callup to Texas possible in the second half.
Texas took a flier on Holland in the 2006 draft at the recommendation of former area scout Rick Schroeder, who spotted him at the Junior College World Series. Signed for $200,000 as a draft-and-follow, he took off in his first full season, earning Rangers minor league pitcher of the year honors. Holland started the year with an 89-93 mph fastball in Clinton, but his velocity spiked at midseason and he was sitting at 94-95 and touching 97-98 in the Texas League playoffs. His slightly across-the-body delivery and excellent extension give his fastball deception and life, making it a plus-plus offering. He can blow it by hitters up in the zone or command it down. Holland's second pitch is a slightly above-average 81-83 changeup with good arm speed and fade. He's confident enough to use it in any count. Holland occasionally flashes an average 78-81 mph slider, but it needs to become more consistent and he must learn how and when to use it. It should become a solid third pitch because he shows the ability to throw it for strikes. He's still not overly physical and must prove he can maintain his exceptional fastball over a full season. Holland has a chance to be a frontline starter along the lines of Scott Kazmir. He figures to start 2009 back in Double-A but could reach Texas by season's end.
A high school teammate of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters in Goose Creek, S.C., Smoak started every game during his three-year college career at South Carolina, where he set Gamecocks career records with 62 homers and 207 RBIs. The Rangers were elated to get him with the 11th overall pick in 2008, signing him an hour before the Aug. 15 deadline for $3.5 million. As a switch-hitter with well-above-average power from both sides of the plate and Gold Glove potential at first base, Smoak draws comparisons to former Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira. Like Teixeira, Smoak is a patient hitter who punishes offspeed stuff as well as fastballs and uses the entire field. He's a hard worker and a good teammate. Smoak has below-average speed and will always be somewhat of a baseclogger, though he's an intelligent runner. Like most switch-hitters, he's better from the left side. Defensively, he still needs to improve his footwork and get used to the speed of the pro game. One of the most advanced hitters in the 2008 draft, Smoak could fly through the Rangers system. He will start his first full season at high Class A Bakersfield and could be entrenched in the big leagues by 2010. He projects as a middle-of-the-order power hitter and has a chance to be a superstar.
A key piece in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves, Andrus more than held his own as a teenager in Double-A during his first full season with the Rangers. He tried to play through a broken finger on his right hand early in the year--a major reason for his 11 errors in May--before Texas shut him down for two weeks. He came back strong, hitting .311 over the last three months, then spent the winter playing alongside older brother Erold in the Venezuelan League. With plus range, sure hands, a strong, accurate arm and uncanny instincts, Andrus has all the tools to be a premium defensive shortstop. His above-average speed plays up even more on the bases, where he has learned how to get good jumps, run in breaking ball counts and even steal third base. He has a knack for putting the bat on the ball and getting big hits. His makeup is off the charts. Andrus never will have better than below-average power, but he should be able to drive balls to the gaps if he can get stronger and understand his swing better. He has a tendency to lunge on his front foot at the plate. Andrus sometimes relaxes too much on routine plays, helping account for his 32 errors in 2008. Andrus will be one of the youngest players in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2009, and he seems on schedule for a 2010 arrival in Texas. He profiles as an all-star-caliber shortstop in the Edgar Renteria mold.
Texas signed Perez for $580,000, with one club official likening him to Ron Guidry and dubbing him "The Venezuelan Gator." During his pro debut he more than held his own against older competition, ranking as the top pitching prospect in the short-season Northwest League. Perez has a compact delivery and a clean arm action that produces 90-94 mph fastballs with life down in the zone. His tight, late-breaking curveball has good depth, giving him a second plus pitch. He has advanced command of both, and he does a good job pitching out of jams. He's fearless on the mound and mature beyond his years. Perez's changeup is a below-average pitch, but he has good feel for it. He's not big or physical, so his long-term durability could be a question. One scout said his arm action, ability to pitch on a downward plane and power repertoire reminded him of Johan Santana. The Rangers, however, would like to temper the enthusiasm about a pitcher so young and far from the majors. He'll probably begin 2009 on a strict pitch count at their new low Class A Hickory affiliate.
Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Teagarden showed up to major league camp healthy and homered in his first at-bat last spring, only to miss three weeks with a wrist injury. The layoff hurt his offense in the first half of the season, but didn't stop him from earning spots in the Futures Game and on the U.S. Olympic team, as well as his first major legaue callup. Teagarden's receiving, blocking and throwing all rate as above-average. He has excellent recall and pitchers are comfortable with his game-calling. Offensively, he has solid-average power and a patient approach. Texas was disappointed with Teagarden's bat for most of 2008, and many in the organization doubt he'll ever hit for average. There's length in his stroke and he tends to swing through fastballs. He also strikes out quite a bit, a by-product of the deep counts he often finds himself in. With his defense, leadership and power potential, Teagarden profiles as a solid everyday big league catcher and perhaps an all-star. The Rangers have several candidates, but he could get a shot at their starting job in 2009.
The Red Sox signed Beltre for $600,000 in 2006 and sent him to Texas along with Kason Gabbard and David Murphy for Eric Gagne at the 2007 trading deadline. In his first full season with the Rangers, Beltre led the Midwest League in runs (87) and hits (160) despite being the circuit's youngest player. He ranked as the league's No. 6 prospect. Beltre's five-tool package has garnered comparisons to big leaguers from Barry Bonds to Kenny Lofton to Andruw Jones. His wiry-strong frame and quick bat easily generate above-average raw power, and his plus speed is an asset on the basepaths and in the outfield. His arm, which rates as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his good instincts could make him a premium defender in center. He's a high-energy player and a natural leader. Beltre is aggressive in all phases and sometimes has trouble slowing the game down. He's a free swinger who must improve his patience and pitch selection. While he can punish balls out of the zone at times, he'll have to force more advanced pitchers to throw him strikes. Beltre remains raw but his development is well ahead of schedule and his upside is enormous. Down the road, he could be a five-tool superstar center fielder. He'll advance to high Class A in 2009 and could reach the majors before he turns 22.
The 24th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Main signed for $1,237,500. He felt discomfort in his side at the start of spring training in 2008, causing his arm slot to drop and his stuff to suffer, and an X-ray revealed a cracked rib that sidelined him until late June. He returned to pitch well in low Class A in the second half, then stood out in instructional league in the fall. When the Rangers introduced Main to an over-the-head windup to help generate more momentum, his velocity spiked to 92-96 mph in instructional league. He commands his fastball to both halves of the plate, and his tight downer curveball could give him a second plus offering in the future. He's a premium athlete who garnered pro interest as a center fielder, helping him repeat his delivery and throw strikes. He's intelligent and unflappable on the mound. Main still needs to add strength to his slight frame in order to improve his durability. He has good feel for his changeup, which should become an average pitch in time, but right now it lags behind his other two offerings. Main's electric arm could make him a frontline starter after a few years of development. He'll open 2009 with one of Texas' Class A affiliates.
A 2007 supplemental first-rounder who got a $1.3 million major league contract, Borbon was hampered by a minor leg injury in April. The Rangers liked how he learned to be effective while less than 100 percent, and he hit .321 with 53 steals while reaching Double-A in his first full pro season. Borbon learned to take more advantage of his plusplus speed in 2008. More pull-oriented in the past, he did a better job using the whole field and keeping the ball on the ground, and he developed a much better feel for bunting. He has strength in his line-drive swing and will hit a few homers. He also worked hard with Rangers outfield instructor Wayne Kirby on improving his jumps and reads in center field, where he can become a plus defender. Though he made progress with his offensive approach, Borbon still needs to work counts better and take more walks. He's learning to pick his spots on the basepaths and how to get good jumps after getting caught 11 times in 28 steal attempts in Double-A. He has a below-average arm, though his accuracy and transfer have improved. Borbon profiles as a slashing leadoff man and solid center fielder in the Johnny Damon mold. He could compete for a big league job by 2010.
Ramirez was traded from Atlanta to Cleveland for Bob Wickman in mid-2006, then shipped to Texas for Kenny Lofton a year later. He spent the first half of 2008 in a catcher/ DH platoon with Taylor Teagarden before getting his first big league callup when injuries hit the Rangers in late June. Ramirez is a gifted natural hitter who works the count and drives the ball to all fields. His setup has a lot of movement before he gets into hitting position, yet he commands the zone well and is a good two-strike hitter. For the first time in his career, he began unlocking his plus raw power in 2008. Scouts question whether Ramirez can stay behind the plate, where his arm is fringy, his release is slow, his hands are stiff and his agility is below-average. His well-below-average speed could sabotage his chances of being a .300 hitter in the majors. Ramirez played some first base in 2008 to improve his versatility, and his future might be as a first baseman/DH/fill-in catcher. Wherever he plays, Ramirez should hit enough to be a solid big league regular, perhaps as soon as 2009.
Boscan was a skinny 17-year-old with an 82-83 mph fastball when he signed in 2007, and his stuff quickly improved. He always has filled up the strike zone--Rangers international scouting director A.J. Preller remembers seeing him throw 60 strikes in a 73-pitch, eight-inning outing in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League during his debut--and his velocity jumped to 86-92 mph range at short-season Spokane in 2008. Boscan has a strong, wiry frame and a loose, easy arm action that suggest he could have a plus fastball in the future. He already shows the ability to touch 93 mph when he needs a big pitch with two strikes. He locates his fastball well to both sides of the plate and can run it back across the outside corner against lefthanders. Boscan also has superb feel for a tumbling, fading changeup that projects as a true plus pitch and already is at times. He throws strikes with his improving curveball, though sometimes his high arm slot drops to three-quarters when he throws it, causing it to get slurvy. Still, it's easy to project his curve as another average pitch, if not a tick better. Boscan's command of all three pitches is advanced for his age. If he adds velocity as he fills out, he could become a frontline starter, and his feel for pitching is good enough that he could succeed in the majors with an average fastball. He should open 2009 in low Class A and could move fairly quickly.
Pitching just once a week in high school, Beavan routinely ran his fastball up to 95-96 mph, helping him capture Baseball America's 2006 Youth Player of the Year award and anchor the U.S. junior national team's pitching staff. But after he signed for $1,497,500 as the 17th overall pick in the 2007 draft, his stuff was down four most of his first full pro season in 2008. The good news is that he learned how to succeed without overpowering hitters. He also matured significantly, learning how to deal with the media and be a good teammate. Beavan's fastball sat around 89-91 for most of the year, and he had a tendency to drop his elbow and pitch from a low three-quarters slot, causing his fastball to run but not sink. He worked hard to repeat a higher arm slot and pitch downhill, and to use his height to create more momentum in his delivery. Beavan's velocity climbed back to 93-95 mph in shorter stints during instructional league, and he began filling out his frame, particularly his lower half. He needs to add power to his slider, which tends to break too early out of his hand and often gets slurvy. He flashes an average changeup but is still learning to pitch with it. Beavan never has been afraid to challenge hitters, and perhaps his best asset is his ability to pound the strike zone. With a big, physical frame and the guts to match, Beavan projects as at least an innings-eating sinkerballer or perhaps a late-inning reliever. If his stuff bounces back, his ceiling will be even higher. He'll remain a starter for the foreseeable future and should advance to high Class A in 2009.
After failing to make the Texas rotation out of spring training, Hurley struggled at Triple-A Oklahoma in April but started to pitch better in May, earning his first career big league callup when injuries struck the Rangers in June. He made four starts, trying to get by with a depleted 88-90 mph fastball before taking two weeks off with shoulder inflammation. He returned to throw 7 1/3 shutout innings in a Double-A rehab start in mid-July, then tweaked his hamstring while running and missed two more weeks. He returned to make one more disastrous start in late July against Oakland, showing an 84-88 mph fastball and a soft spinner of a slider, and the Rangers decided to shut him down for the rest of the year. They made him the 30th overall pick in the 2004 draft, signing him for $1.05 million. Even at full strength, Hurley has a history of pitching around 88-91 early in games, leaving him vulnerable against quality hitters, before dialing his fastball up to 93-95 by the middle innings. At his best, he features a pair of aboveaverage pitches with his sinker and his firm slider with good depth, but he lacked his best stuff in 2008. He did, however, get comfortable with his grip on a split-changeup, finally giving him a solid weapon against lefthanders. After an offseason spent strengthening his shoulder, Hurley will hope he's 100 percent for spring training, when he should vie for a starting rotation spot again. He still has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
The Angels converted Madrigal from the outfield to the mound after his disappointing 2006 season with the bat, and the move paid immediate dividends. But after his breakout 2007 season at low Class A, they failed to place him on the 40-man roster before the end of the World Series, inadvertently making him a minor league free agent, and the Rangers pounced on him. He skipped a level and started 2008 in Double-A and spent the entire second half of the season in the majors after injuries hit the Texas bullpen. After posting a 7.94 ERA in July, he compiled a 3.28 mark the rest of the way, and the biggest difference was his secondary stuff. He added velocity to his slider, which often graded as a plus pitch after he boosted it to 84-86 mph. He also got comfortable late in the season with a splitter, an above-average pitch at times with late downer action and fade. His bread-and-butter remains his fastball, which sits at 93-94 mph and touches 95-96. His heater is rather straight and gets hit when he leaves it up in the zone, so the development of his secondary stuff was crucial. Madrigal has an aggressive mentality, a durable frame and a repeatable delivery. He'll stay in the big league bullpen in 2009, probably in a middle-relief or setup role. He has a chance to be a closer at some point if he can keep his fastball down and command his secondary stuff.
Ramirez accepted a $1 million bonus as a supplemental first-round pick right at the signing deadline in 2007, too late to make his pro debut. The Rangers wanted to challenge him in 2008, so they skipped him over the Rookie-level Arizona League and sent him to Spokane, where he was the Opening Day starter. Though his strict pitch count limited him to fewer than five innings in 11 of his 13 starts, Ramirez mostly overpowered older hitters and ranked as the Northwest League's No. 4 prospect. He has an ultra-projectable frame and an electric arm. He pitches at 91-94 mph and touches 96, and his fastball plays up further because it jumps on hitters. He's capable of buckling hitters' knees with a hard, late-breaking downer curveball that projects as an above-average or better pitch, but it remains inconsistent. While his changeup is improving, he still has limited feel for it. Ramirez sometimes has trouble getting his delivery in sync, as his arm gets deep behind him and he throws across his body. His difficulty repeating his motion negatively affects his fastball command, and he tends to run up high pitch counts. He missed the chance to work on his shortcomings in instructional league because he broke a bone in his hand when he slammed it in a car door. Ramirez has one of the highest ceilings in the system. If everything comes together for him, he could become a true ace with a pair of plus-plus pitches. But concerns over his delivery and command make him far from a safe bet to reach his upside. He'll start 2009 in low Class A.
Wieland is the latest quality pitcher to come out of the Reno area, following in the footsteps of the Rays' Jake McGee and the Braves' Cole Rohrbough. Area scouts compared his stuff and command to that of a young Mark Prior. A quality athlete, Wieland had committed to San Diego State as a two-way player but chose instead to sign with the Rangers for $263,000 as a fourth-round pick. His maturity and professional approach stood out during his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, as he impressed in his side sessions and had no problems during games. His fastball velocity climbed from 88-91 mph in high school to 90-93 range in the AZL. His projectable frame, smooth yet deceptive delivery and easy arm action lead the Rangers to believe he will throw harder as he continues to develop. Wieland pounds the bottom of the zone with his fastball, a curveball that projects as a plus pitch and a developing changeup. He made significant strides with both secondary pitches after he was drafted, though both must continue to develop. As a fairly advanced strike-thrower, he could start his first full pro season in low Class A, just as Blake Beavan did in 2008. Wieland has a chance to be a No. 2 or 3 starter down the line.
One of the most polished pitchers in the 2007 draft, Hunter went 54th overall and signed for $585,000. As expected, he moved quickly during his first full pro season. He jumped a level to high Class A to start 2008, reached Triple-A by early July and received his first big league callup to make three fill-in starts in August. Major leaguers hit him hard, but the experience reinforced to Hunter the need for a third pitch. When he was sent back to the minors, the Rangers asked him whether he wanted to be a starter or a reliever. He chose starter, so he focused on developing his changeup, which he tends to throw too hard. Hunter attacks hitters with a 90-93 mph fastball that has a natural cut action. His 82-84 mph breaking ball can be a power slurve at times and a true downer curveball at others. It's usually a plus pitch, but Hunter struggled to throw his breaking ball for strikes in the majors and was locked into being a one-pitch guy, resulting in his rough debut. On the day before his scheduled start in the Texas League playoffs, Hunter was hit in the forehead with a line drive during batting practice. Despite a big welt on his head, Hunter returned to pitch well four days later, illustrative of his toughness and competitiveness. A good athlete for his size, he fields his position well and is very durable. He profiles as a workhorse in the Joe Blanton mold, and he could reach the big leagues for good sometime in 2009.
Vallejo has made significant strides during each of his three full seasons in the minors. Since learning how to switch-hit--he was a natural righthander--he has improved his batting average from the left side from .240 in 2006 to .260 in 2007 to .288 last season. He also showed some power for the first time in his career in 2008, prompting some high Class A California League managers to compare him to Jose Reyes. The Rangers originally thought of Vallejo as a leadoff or No. 9 hitter, but after a late June promotion to Double-A, he spent most of his time hitting in No. 3 hole. His best tool is his plus-plus speed, which plays well on the basepaths. Vallejo has stolen 89 bases in 96 attempts over the last two years. Texas still would like Vallejo to make more consistent contact offensively, though he has decreased his strikeout rate from 19 percent of his plate appearances in 2006 to 14.5 percent in 2008. He has very good range and a solid arm at second base, though he has occasional lapses. The Rangers want to increase his versatility, so they planned to work him out at shortstop over the winter. If he can pick up the new position, they envision him becoming a super-utilityman with a chance to be an impact regular, along the lines of Chone Figgins. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Vallejo could return to Double-A to start 2009, with a promotion to Triple-A likely at some point during the year.
Shoulder soreness hampered Kiker in camp and caused him to start 2008 in extended spring training. He went to high Class A in late April and struggled to regain his plus fastball velocity for most of the first half, instead working at 88-92 mph. After he threw six shutout innings in front of farm director Scott Servais in early July, the Rangers talked internally about promoting him to Double-A, but Kiker came up sore after the outing and missed three weeks. At times in the second half, he pitched at 90-94 mph with his fastball, but he didn't touch 96-97 like he did in the 2007 Midwest League playoffs. Still, Texas was encouraged that he learned to pitch without his best fastball. Kiker has learned to command his above-average changeup very well and now has the confidence to throw it in any count. More encouraging, he has gotten more consistent with his tight downer curveball, which now rates consistently as a solid-average offering. Kiker has cut his walk rate significantly in each of his three pro seasons, a sign of his improving command and control. The Rangers' biggest concerns with Kiker center around his body. He let his conditioning go during the season, causing team president Nolan Ryan to talk with him during instructional league about staying in better shape. Kiker vowed to work harder this offseason, and Texas hopes he'll be healthy and strong enough to start 2009 in Double-A. With a quality three-pitch mix, Kiker still has a chance to be a midrotation starter, but his small frame and competitive demeanor likely will make him a better fit in the bullpen.
After his solid U.S. debut in 2007, the Rangers hoped to use Font as a closer at Spokane, but he was shut down with shoulder soreness late in spring training. As he tried to work his way back, he developed tendinitis where his knee meets his quadriceps, keeping him out of action until mid-August. He finally took the mound for three outings in the AZL, getting lit up for five runs in a third of an inning in his first game, then pumping 96-98 mph heaters for two perfect innings in his second appearance and working in the 98-100 range during two more perfect innings in his third. He carried his momentum into instructional league, where he regularly threw 97-100 mph. Font throws downhill with his fastball, which projects as a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale if he can continue to refine his command. He attacks hitters with the heater and has no problem throwing it for strikes. Texas hasn't wanted him to throw his breaking ball much, so it remains raw, but he can spin it. The pitch is slurvy, however, and probably will end up as a power slider. He shows feel for a changeup, but he tends to throw it too hard, sometimes up to 89 mph. Font's huge frame should make him durable, but he's still working on his coordination. The Rangers figure to develop Font as a starter, but he could take a Jonathan Broxton developmental path and wind up as a flamethrowing closer. He likely will start 2009 at Spokane, with the goal of reaching low Class A during the year.
Gomez worked mostly in relief during his U.S. debut in 2007, when his velocity climbed as he added weight to his wiry, angular frame. He stood out in instructional league that fall to earn a ticket to low Class A to start 2008. Early in the year, Gomez was the best pitcher on a staff that included Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, going 8-0, 2.45 through his first nine starts. But the workload proved too much too fast, and the Rangers shut him down for good with a sore shoulder in early July. Gomez's athletic frame and clean, easy arm action evoke Ervin Santana. He has good command of an 88-93 mph fastball with sink and run, and his 75-78 mph threequarters breaking ball projects as a plus offering. Gomez relies mostly on those two pitches but does show the ability to throw a solid changeup for strikes. He'll need to continue developing his changeup and adding strength to his frame to improve his durability. Club officials rave about his makeup, as he's learning English quickly and is very popular in the clubhouse. Defenders love playing behind him because he works quickly. Down the road, Gomez could be a solid mid-rotation starter. A promotion to high Class A seems likely in 2009.
A physical athlete who played quarterback and safety during his high school football days, Murphy was an 11thround pick by the Angels in 2005 as an outfielder. He played both ways at UCLA, spending his freshman year as an outfielder before taking over as the Bruins' Saturday starter as a sophomore. He was UCLA's ace as a junior in 2008 before he went in the third round and signed for $436,000. In his pro debut, he worked mostly in relief after a heavy workload in the spring. Murphy's frame is mature and lacks projection, but his present stuff is solid. After pitching around 89-92 mph during much of the summer, he saw his fastball spike back up to 90-94 in instructional league. A fierce competitor, Murphy is not afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball and does a decent job spotting the pitch to all four quadrants. His best pitch is an average-to-plus curveball, that arrives in the mid-70s and has sharp two-plane drop. Murphy's funky delivery is high on the front side, evoking Andy Pettitte, and deep in the back, which gives him deception but also affects his release point and his command. The Rangers want to force him to throw his nascent changeup to see if he can develop a three-pitch repertoire. If so, he can be a solid back-end starter, but otherwise he profiles as a dogged reliever who could eat up lefties. Murphy should move quickly through the system, likely starting 2009 in high Class A and potentially reaching Double-A Frisco by midseason.
The Rangers alleviated their catching logjam somewhat by trading big league starter Gerald Laird to the Tigers in December, getting promising righthanders Moscoso and Carlos Melo in return. Moscoso had shoulder surgery in 2005 and missed the first six weeks in 2008 with shoulder soreness. When healthy, he threw a perfect game at short-season Oneonta in 2007 and flourished en route to Double-A last season. Moscoso has a quick arm and a fastball that reaches 91-92 mph with late riding action that makes it a swing-and-miss pitch. He can also use his fastball to handcuff hitters and force easy popouts. His delivery has some deception and hitters have trouble reading his pitches. He's very aggressive in the strike zone and confident on the mound. Moscoso shows a curveball and changeup, but neither is nearly as effective as his fastball. His shoulder problems have limited him to no more than 91 innings in a pro season, which raises the question of whether he would be better suited for the bullpen. It might be easier to keep him healthy as a reliever. If he can stay healthy and develop his secondary pitches, Moscoso could be a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors. He could reach Texas at some point in 2009.
Poveda opened 2008 in high Class A with an eye toward a midseason promotion, but after just three starts, he went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him until mid-June. He spent his downtime strengthening his shoulder, and when he returned his fastball velocity gradually increased from 88-91 mph to 91-94. He pitched very well in instructional league and made three appearances in the Venezuelan League before the Rangers protected him on their 40-man roster in November. Poveda complements his fastball with an above-average changeup that he can throw in any count against lefties or righties. His curveball has improved every year and is now a solid-average pitch. Sometimes his fastball flattens out and he leaves it up on the strike zone, and he occasionally falls too much in love with his changeup. Poveda is a strike-thrower with a good work ethic. He's still maturing mentally and needs to get a little tougher and learn to trust his ability. He'll advance to Double-A in 2009 and could be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in Texas in the next couple of years.
The top prospect among Kentucky's watershed 2008 high school class, Ross passed up a scholarship from the University of Kentucky to sign with the Rangers for $1.575 million just hours before the Aug. 15 signing deadline. His bonus was the highest in the second round last year and more than double MLB's $705,000 slot recommendation. Ross signed too late to pitch in a minor league game, but club officials got a look at him in instructional league and came away with mixed impressions. Like he did in high school, Ross sat around 90-92 mph with his fastball and touched 93-94. But some Rangers executives were disappointed with his lack of arm speed and fastball life, two of his calling cards in high school. Ross also features a hard slider that he often throws down and in to righthanders, and he has the makings of a good changeup, though it still needs plenty of work. In high school, Ross showed very good command down in the strike zone and a competitive streak. The biggest knock on him is his size, and there's some effort in his delivery. It's tempting to compare him to fellow undersized lefty Kasey Kiker, but Ross has a lower arm slot and a slider, while Kiker uses a curveball and a more advanced changeup. Their ceilings are similar, however. He figures to follow Kiker's developmental path, starting his first full pro season in extended spring training and finishing the year in low Class A.
The best athlete in the 2004 draft, Golson bypassed a commitment to the University of Texas to sign with the Phillies as the 21st overall pick. He has progressed slowly, showing several premium tools but vexing Philadelphia with his lack of feel for the game. He had his best pro season in 2008 and earned six late at-bats and several pinchrunning chances with the eventual World Series champion Phillies. But they ran out of patience with him and swapped him in November for another slow-developing first-round experiment, John Mayberry. Golson immediately became the best athlete in a Rangers system stocked with good athletes. His plus-plus speed plays very well in center field, where he's a plus defender with excellent range and instincts and a strong arm. Golson also has average power despite a poor contact rate. He always has struggled with pitch recognition and making contact against breaking balls, averaging 1.2 whiffs per game during his career. But after whiffing a minor league-leading 173 times while drawing just 23 walks in 2007, he showed some signs of progress by posting a 130-34 K-BB last season. Rated the most exciting player in the Eastern League by managers in 2008, Golson draws frequent comparisons to fellow Texas native Ron Gant. In order to become that kind of player, he'll need to continue to improve his bat. At the least, his speed and defense could help him carve out a niche as a reserve in the big leagues, maybe even by season's end.
Arias had made steady progress since the Rangers acquired him from the Yankees in the 2004 Alex Rodriguez trade, but he was derailed by a shoulder injury in 2007. He played in just five games before season-ending arthroscopic surgery late that summer. Scar tissue in his shoulder continued to affect his range of motion in 2008, relegating him to second base for much of the season. Still, he had a solid bounce-back season in Triple-A and filled in nicely for an injured Ian Kinsler for the final six weeks of the big league season. Arias has a knack for putting the bat on the ball and spraying it around the field, but he never has grown into as much power as the Rangers hoped. He's an aggressive hitter who still strikes out far more than he walks, but he demonstrated improved patience during his stint in the majors. An excellent athlete with a wiry frame, Arias is a plus-plus runner but hasn't shown the instincts to be a true basestealing threat. He has a chance to be a standout defender in the middle of the field, particularly if he can regain his once-outstanding arm strength. It started to return in the fall and Texas hoped to see him play shortstop in the Dominican League over the winter, but he appeared in just one game. Assuming his shoulder is at full strength, Arias should spend 2009 in a utility role at the major league level. Just 24, he still has a shot to become a solid everyday player someday, but that opportunity might not come with the Rangers.
Diamond ranked as the Rangers' top prospect after his impressive pro debut in 2004, when they made him the 10th overall pick in the draft and signed him for $2,025,000. His climb through the system was slowed by Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2007, causing him to miss the whole season. The primary goal for him in 2008 was to get through the entire year healthy. Texas kept him in extended spring training to start the year, hoping to keep him around 100 innings for the season. While Diamond did not suffer any setbacks with his elbow, he battled fatigue and developed a bone spur in his ankle that ended his season in early August. He had minor surgery to clean up the bone spur and is expected to be 100 percent by spring training. Diamond's fastball velocity was back to 91-95 mph, and he had no problem throwing his quality changeup to lefties or righties. He still runs high pitch counts thanks to his lack of a true putaway breaking ball. He's still trying to add velocity to his curveball to make it less loopy. At full strength, Diamond is a power pitcher with a physical build and a mean streak, but he has yet to prove he has the stuff and command to be a starter against more advanced hitters.
Murphy opened eyes during the home run contest at the 2007 Aflac Classic, pounding long blasts out of San Diego State's Tony Gwynn Stadium with a wood bat. He struggled in fall and winter showcases and battled a quadriceps injury, causing him to slip to the fifth round of the 2008 draft. It took the Rangers seven weeks to sign him from a UCLA commitment for a slightly above-slot $200,000 bonus. Murphy took a pull-heavy approach into pro ball, but the AZL Rangers coaching staff worked hard to get him to use more of the field and he ended his debut on a 20-for-44 (.455) tear. Murphy has a clean lefthanded swing with a load similar to that of Adam LaRoche. His strong build evokes Ryan Klesko, and he has plus raw power to go along with a sound offensive approach. Defense is more of a question mark. The Rangers worked Murphy out at first base and in the outfield during instructional league, but his below-average speed and mobility figure to tie him to first base. He'll go as far as his bat will carry him, and has a chance to be an impact bat in the big leagues. He should get a crack at low Class A in 2009.
Though he was a high school teammate of J.J. Hardy, the extra exposure didn't get Bannister drafted. Instead, he signed as a nondrafted free agent for $17,500 and steadily progressed through the system until Tommy John surgery knocked him out for the entire 2007 season. The Rangers moved him to the bullpen when he returned in 2008 and worked to give him more structure and simplify his game. The shift to relief caused his velocity to spike, and by the time he reached the Arizona Fall League, Bannister's fastball was sitting at 93-96 mph and touching 97-98--a jump of 4 mph from his pre-surgery days. That made for an easy decision to add him to the 40-man roster. Before he got hurt, Bannister flashed an excellent curveball, and it now has developed into a hard hammer with 11-to-5 break. He's still working on gaining consistent command of his pitches, but his stuff is better than it ever has been and his feel for pitching is promising. Bannister doesn't always locate his pitches where he needs to in the strike zone, but he does throw the ball over the plate. If he can stay healthy and refine his command, Bannister has the upside of a big league closer. He figures to return to Double-A to start 2009 and could reach the big leagues by season's end.
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