Join Now! Bundle Print + Digital + eEdition And Save $60/year
Adding Willie Calhoun in the Yu Darvish deal helps Texas keep pace with last year’s standing.
While Willie Calhoun is ready to make an impact in 2018, the players in the system with the most upside are at the lower levels. Leody Taveras is a dynamic center fielder with exciting tools in the batter’s box and in the field. Righthander Hans Crouse, lefthander Cole Ragans, shortstop Chris Seise and outfielders Bubba Thompson and Miguel Aparicio are all Top 10 Prospects who have either little or no experience in full-season leagues.
The Rangers have a promising young core of position players in Texas with Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara, but they are light on prospects at the upper levels. Lefthander Yohander Mendez should help this year, but the arms with the highest ceilings in the organization won’t factor into the 2018 picture.
Notable Graduations: RHP Jose Leclerc (22).
The Rays drafted Calhoun in the 17th round of the 2013 draft, but he opted to go to college instead. He played his freshman year at Arizona, then went to the Cape Cod League that summer. He returned to campus in the fall, but after being dismissed for academic reasons, Calhoun transferred to Yavapai (Ariz.) JC in 2015 and led all junior college hitters with 31 home runs. After the season, Calhoun signed with the Dodgers for $347,500 as a fourth-round pick and immediately showed his bat would translate. In 2017, Calhoun was continuing to rake at Triple-A when the Dodgers dealt him to the Rangers as the centerpiece of the Yu Darvish trade. He stayed in the Pacific Coast League after the trade, then made his big league debut as a September callup. Calhoun has a smaller, stocky frame, but frequent reminders he's too small or too slow help fuel his motivation. Calhoun is one of the most talented hitting prospects in game, with an outstanding combination of barrel control and power. He has great rhythm and balance in the batter's box, quick hands and powerful hip rotation. He has good hand-eye coordination and a compact swing that stays on plane through the hitting zone for a long time. He has great plate coverage, with little problem handling premium velocity or barreling breaking pitches. He seldom swings and misses and struck out just 11 percent of the time at Triple-A. He hit 32 home runs in 2017 and could be a 35-plus home run threat in the big leagues. Calhoun's stature gives him a smaller strike zone to cover, and he doesn't expand it by chasing much. He tried playing second base with the Dodgers, but he's a well below-average runner with a below-average arm who didn't show much range at the position and often struggled to make routine plays. Calhoun showed some signs of progress in 2017, but in June the Dodgers started getting him work in left field. After joining the Rangers, Calhoun played left field almost exclusively. The Rangers still plan to give Calhoun reps at second base, but Rougned Odor will force him to develop into an adequate left fielder. Calhoun will either DH or give away some runs with his defense, but he will create plenty of them with his bat. He's ready for an everyday job in Texas.
Taveras, a cousin of former big league center fielder Willy Taveras, signed for $2.1 million as a 16-year-old in 2015 and has shown the most upside of any prospect in the Rangers' system. Pushed to the low Class A South Atlantic League as an 18-year-old, Taveras' performance was modest but he still stood out as one of the league's premium prospects. Taveras has a chance for five average to plus tools at a premium position. He has a simple, balanced swing from both sides, using his hands well to generate bat speed and a clean swing path. Taveras makes frequent contact and stays through the ball well, which allows him to use the whole field, and he could develop into a plus hitter. His strike-zone discipline continued to improve in 2017 and he started to flash more pop, with a lean, projectable frame that should help him develop average power. Taveras glides around center field with plus speed, good instincts and quick reads off the bat to go with a plus arm that's accurate. Taveras has more risk than Willie Calhoun and is still a few years away, but if it all comes together he has a chance to be a cornerstone player and perennial all-star candidate. His aggressive path continues in 2018 at high Class A Down East.
A fiery competitor who pitched for USA Baseball's 18U National Team in 2016, Crouse passed up a Southern California commitment and signed for $1.45 million as a second-round pick, No. 66 overall, in 2017. He completely overmatched Rookie-level Arizona League hitters in his pro debut after signing, allowing seven hits and one earned run in 20 innings while recording 30 strikeouts. Crouse has the most upside of any pitcher in the Rangers organization. He has great arm speed on a power fastball that sits 93-96 mph and can reach 99, with Crouse cruising in that upper range in short stints in the AZL. His slider has tight spin, sharp bite and two-plane depth, giving him a putaway pitch. Crouse didn't throw his firm changeup much in high school so it's still below-average, but it shows promise with its late fading action. Crouse's delivery certainly isn't free and easy, with long arm action, a short stride and a violent finish across his body. However, Crouse repeats his arm slot well and is able to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate, with his long arms and legs flying at the hitter helping to enhance his deception. Crouse has frontline starter potential, though he's at least a few years away from reaching the majors. Low Class A Hickory is next.
A first-round pick, No. 30 overall, in 2016, Ragans stayed back in extended spring training before pitching in the short-season Northwest League, where he ranked as the league's top prospect. Hitters frequently find themselves off balance against Ragans, who throws off their timing with a promising fastball/changeup combination. Ragans throws his fastball at 89-93 mph and touches 95. It's solid velocity from the left side and plays up because of his fastball life, as its high spin rate allows him to get swings and misses when he elevates. Ragans fools batters with a plus changeup in the low-80s that has excellent separation off of his fastball. His curveball was more of a weapon in high school, but it's now a fringe-average pitch that's soft and sometimes loopy that he needs to tighten. Ragans creates good angle and hides the ball well in his delivery by keeping his front side closed, but he has to do a better job of repeating his mechanics because his control lags behind. Ragans has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter if he can throw more strikes. He's ready for his first full-season test with low Class A Hickory.
Mendez reached Triple-A in 2016 and pitched in two games out of the big league bullpen at the end of the season, but the Rangers sent him to Double-A Frisco in 2017 to have him focus on fastball command. He threw a career-high 150 innings, an important step for his durability given his previous injuries, and came back up to Texas as a September callup. Mendez's bread-and-butter is his 80-84 changeup, a plus pitch he relies on heavily to catch hitters leaning out front for either a whiff or soft contact. For the first 10 starts of the season, the Rangers told Mendez he couldn't throw his changeup until he got to a two-strike count. Mendez already had good control, but the Rangers wanted to emphasize using his 90-95 fastball and hitting his spots with that pitch. The plan worked, as Mendez threw more strikes and missed even more bats in the second half. He throws a fringe-average slider and an occasional curveball that's below-average, but he mostly leans on his fastball/changeup combination. Mendez showed promising signs that he can handle a starter's workload and the Rangers plan to keep him in that role. He should compete for a spot in Texas' rotation in 2018 and could settle in as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
It's the seventh Prospect Handbook appearance for Guzman, who signed for $3.45 million as a 16-year-old in 2011. Guzman spent all of 2017 with Triple-A Round Rock, where he set a career-high walk rate and cut down on his strikeout rate from 2016. Guzman has a huge frame but a hit-over-power profile. Earlier in his career, Guzman got himself in trouble when he got away from his strengths and tried to yank the ball for power, but in 2017 he stayed with a balanced, all-fields approach. Gaining more hitting knowledge has helped and so has being able to learn how to keep his long limbs in sync to maintain a repeatable swing. Guzman has a big strike zone to cover but doesn't swing and miss much and has a sound eye for discerning balls and strikes. Guzman has average raw power, which is less than the traditional first-base profile, never topping more than 16 home runs in a minor league season. He has made significant defensive strides at first baseman, where he's a huge target and turns errant throws from his infielders into outs, but his range and mobility are limited. The Rangers used Joey Gallo at first base down the stretch in 2017, so Guzman could end up starting 2018 back in Triple-A but should make his major league debut at some point this season.
The Twins drafted Cody in the supplemental second round in 2015, but he returned to Kentucky instead for his senior season and went to the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Cody became one of the Rangers' biggest developmental success stories in 2017, pitching well at two Class A levels. Cody has an extra-large frame at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds and drops the ball downhill with a lively fastball from 93-97 mph. He has a plus slider that comes out of his hand looking like a fastball until it snaps off at the end with late tilt and sharp action. Cody could lean heavily on his slider to get outs at the lower levels, but the Ranges instead forced him to pitch only with his fastball the first time through the order early in the season to help him improve his fastball command and learn how to attack hitters. They took off those restrictions in the second half, and Cody posted a 1.32 ERA with a 76-20 strikeout-to-walk mark over 61.1 innings in his final 10 starts. His changeup improved in 2017, but it's still a fringe-average pitch he needs to develop. Cody has the stuff to become a No. 3 or 4 starter. He'll likely return to high Class A Down East to begin 2018, but he should be in the upper levels soon and be ready to help the major league club in 2019.
Signed for $500,000 in 2015, Aparicio was just 18 in 2017, but he played so well in extended spring training the Rangers decided to push him to low Class A Hickory in May. He stumbled there but he looked comfortable when he went down to play at short-season Spokane in the college-heavy Northwest League. Aparicio's all-around game awareness is well beyond his years. His speed and arm strength are both fringe-average, but even without explosive athleticism, he can handle center field because of his top-shelf instincts. Other center fielders have more closing speed, but Aparicio has a quick first step, gets excellent jumps off the bat and takes sharp routes to the ball. Aparicio is a high-contact hitter with good hand-eye coordination and a short, efficient swing. He gained more awareness of the timing with his leg kick as the season progressed and showed a line-drive, all-fields approach. His power mostly goes for doubles right now, with a chance to grow into 10-15 homers. Aparicio is ready to return to Hickory in 2018. He could develop into an everyday center fielder along the lines of Gerardo Parra, albeit with less arm strength.
In a move that shouldn't surprise any Rangers fan, the team drafted a raw, premium athlete out of high school, selecting Thompson with one of their first-round picks, No. 26 overall, in 2017 and signing him for $2.1 million to pass up an Alabama commitment. At 19, Thompson was among of the oldest high school players drafted, and he held his own in his first taste of the Rookie-level Arizona League. Thompson was a standout quarterback in high school who is now committed to baseball full-time. With broad shoulders and a high waist, Thompson is a plus-plus runner with a plus arm who projects as a center fielder, although his reads and routes off the bat need improvement. Thompson has plus bat speed and average raw power, but he has a lot of work to do to smooth things out at the plate. He has an aggressive approach and will swing and miss, though he kept that manageable in his pro debut. Thompson probably won't fly through the system, but he has some of the best tools in the system at a premium position if everything clicks. He has a chance to see low Class A Hickory in 2018.
After Seise made an impression on scouts in high school for his defensive prowess at shortstop, the Rangers selected him with the second of their two first-round picks, No. 29 overall, in the 2017 draft and signed him for $2 million to pass up a Central Florida commitment. Seise hit well in the Rookie-level Arizona League, then struggled when the Rangers aggressively promoted him to short-season Spokane. Seise is a gifted defender with quick feet, soft hands and a plus arm. A tick above-average runner, Seise is an instinctive shortstop with a nose for the ball and good range to both sides. There is more risk in Seise's hitting ability, which he showed by striking out at a 26 percent clip in his pro debut. Seise has to improve his balance and timing at the plate to make more frequent contact, but he has good pop for the position. When he connects, it's usually loud contact, with average raw power that could tick up with physical maturity. If Seise can keep his strikeout rate manageable, he could develop into an everyday shortstop with good defense and power. He should make his full-season debut in 2018 with low Class A Hickory.
In order to access this exclusive content you must have a Baseball America Account.
Login or sign up